It was Christmas time. Children from the local school were doing their bit for the community by visiting the homes of the elderly to sing carols and distribute chocolates. It was their way of spreading some Christmas cheer to those who would otherwise miss out.
The children arrived at the outside of one particularly miserable looking home. The garden was overgrown and full of old appliances, and a window upstairs was missing a pane. They approached the front door nervously and paused for a moment. Finally one of the older children mustered up the courage to knock, and they began to sing their first carol.
There was a shuffling from inside the house, and then – to their great surprise – a new voice joined their singing. It was a deep, rich, vibrant voice that added new, unimagined harmonies to their own. The door opened, and an elderly man – the owner of this new voice – stood at the door.
Acting on autopilot, the child in charge of the chocolates held out a handful. The man smiled broadly and accepted them, even as the singing continued. And then, to their astonishment, he reached back inside the house and began handing out to all the children the largest bars of chocolate they had ever seen.
The carols came to an end, and the children turned, and walked back up the garden in awe and wonder, clutching their giant bars of chocolate with the elderly man’s voice still reverberating in their ears.
This blog series has been exploring the question of ‘Where is God?’ Part 1 focused on an ancient line of thinking that leads us to seek God in The Church. Part 2 revealed an alternative perspective that locates God within the God People, whose responsibility it is to bring him to everyone else – the Other.
The final twist in the tale is that the God People do not bring God to the Other – they find him there. 1 John 4 says:
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them
These verses begin on the familiar territory I explored in Part 2 – God is to be found in the God People. But then there’s a twist – we stumble on one of the most simple and often quoted three words in the Bible: God is love.
Have you ever noticed how odd the grammar of this statement is? We might expect the author, John, to say ‘God is loving’ or ‘God is lovely’, certainly if he was seeking to describe God. But he’s not: instead he is locating – or possibly even defining – God.
We get a similar idea from Jesus when he talked about sheep and goats in Matthew 25. The sheep represented the people who would receive God’s blessings and inheritance, which he explains is because they are the ones who have blessed Jesus, the King. The sheep (i.e. the God People) are puzzled by this:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
It is precisely through acts of love – the incarnational ministry modelled by Jesus, described in Part 2 – that we ourselves find God and are blessed by him. These acts and the life choices that enable them are not optional add-ons for those with God dwelling within them. They are foundational to being one of the God People in the first place. Like the children walking away from the elderly man’s house with more chocolate than they imagined, it is only by taking God in love to the Other that we truly find him.
You may think this is a new idea. But it’s not – we can trace its origins all the way to God’s original covenant to Abraham, which included a calling for him to be a blessing to all nations (I’ve explored this idea in more detail in a previous blog). It was by abandoning this calling, and instead falling into the corrupt ways of every other nation and neglecting the Other in their midst, that the people lost God.
In Jesus day, the Other included tax collectors who collaborated with the occupying Roman government, and skimmed off extra for themselves – a betrayal and an exploitation of their own people. It included a Samaritan woman – a looked down upon foreigner and national rival. It included lepers, prostitutes and beggars – those considered unclean and immoral, company not to be kept by any self-respecting religious person. It included a Roman centurion, a man who represented all that was dark in the Jewish world, and a worshipper of false and foreign Gods.
Who then are the Other in our world – those we are called to love and embrace, through which we will truly find God? In a world broken by war and natural disaster; in a church beset by challenges; in lives defined by constant ups and downs; there can be no more important question.
As followers of Jesus we have a calling: to follow in his footsteps as beacons of hope in a world that has lost its way. The world needs God more than ever. If there’s one thing we, the God People ought to be clear on, it’s where God can be found.