When you think of God, what comes to your mind? What words and images do you see? Perhaps you see Him as a shepherd, gently and quietly guiding His sheep along the pasture. You may see Him as a counselor, whispering words of guidance in moments of uncertainty. You may even see Him as a friend, comforting you when you’re down, and celebrating with you when you’re happy.
Let me ask you this, though: What about Jesus, who argued tirelessly with the people who thought they knew what was right, because He wanted so badly for them to truly understand? What about Jesus, who loves His church so much that the relationship is likened to the relationship between a man and the one he desperately loves? What about Jesus, who wept drops of blood in the garden, but went willingly to His gruesome death, because He knew that it was the only way to be reunited with us forever?
As someone who has grown up in the middle of white Christian church culture, I’ve noticed that we generally like to focus on the image of God that I described in the beginning. We like the idea of a God who guides gently, and counsels quietly, with an emphasis on quietly and gently. The moment anyone mentions the possibility that, just maybe, God really isn’t the soft-spoken guy we paint Him as, we shake our heads and peg that person as radical. Well, sure, we know Jesus did flip a few tables in the temple, argue with the religious scholars for a few verses, and willingly die to save the human race, but let’s not put too much weight on that. We’d rather talk about something else. Something that makes Him seem safer, less passionate, less personal, less (dare I say it?) human. And yet, this image of God that our culture seems to prefer is the furthest thing from safe. He is distant, and though He cares about His people, He is too feeble to truly fight for them.
As I said earlier, I’ve grown up in white Christian culture. As a result, I’ve learned all about this “safe” image of Jesus. I’m also a person who has been disabled my whole life. For the first years of my life, when I was mostly oblivious that my disability would really affect my life, this image worked for me. I was okay with a God who was there when I needed comfort, but didn’t speak up unless and until I asked Him to. I wasn’t aware that I really needed a God who would speak up and fight for me, because I didn’t know I needed to fight.
And then, kids at school started to feel obligated to point out that I was different, as did people almost anywhere I went. Along with that, all the many health issues that are included in the package deal of my disability started rearing their ugly heads. The surgeries, medications, broken bones, and doctor lectures seemed to come spinning at me in an endless cycle with no escape hatch or hidden trap door. I was fighting to stop the chaotic storm that my life had become, but the wind and the waves that furiously rocked my boat paid no attention to my voice. If I had ever needed God to fight for me, it was then. There was only one problem. He wasn’t strong enough.
No, that wasn’t it. He was strong enough. It was my perception of Him, because of the image of Him that I had accepted, that was weak. Once I finally realized what the real issue was, I began to see that everything I read about God in the Bible was, in fact, pointing away from this soft-spoken, fragile image. I saw the God who created everything with His words, but took the time to create humans in His image. I saw the God who watched the people He loved separate themselves from Him over and over again, and never stopped making a way for them to come back. I saw the God who came down to earth, knowing that He was going to die, so that He could show the world how much He loved us. I saw the God who came back to life, defeating death, Hell, and the grave, so that we would have a way to be reunited with Him. I saw a God who was not gentle, quiet, or passive. He shouted reckless, unconditional love with everything He did, fighting to win the hearts that He willingly died to save.
The wind and the waves were crashing around them. Their boat tossed back and forth, threatening to throw them out into the raging waters. Jesus was with them, but He seemed to have no idea that they were all about to go down. He just lay there, asleep. Only when His disciples woke Him, asking if He even cared, did He silence the storm. I believe Jesus knew all along what was going on. He was just waiting for His disciples to call for Him. He wanted them to have faith that He was strong enough to save them.
So have faith, my dear friends. God is not weak. He is not standing quietly, watching indifferently in the distance as you struggle. “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there. If you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath” (Psalm 34:18, MSG).