Divine Vulnerability

241In his book, Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr writes,

It is almost impossible to fall in love with majesty, power, or perfection.  These make us both fearful and codependent, but seldom truly loving.  On some level, love can happen only between equals, and vulnerability levels the playing field.  What Christians believe is that God somehow became our equal when he became the human “Jesus,” a name that is, without doubt, the vulnerable name for God.

— Immortal Diamond,  p.  171

I love this idea — that, for Christians, “Jesus” is the vulnerable name for God.  It is the idea that makes all of our incarnational theology, and the mystery of the cross, sensible:  that in Jesus, God comes toward us in a vulnerable act of self-disclosure, and the supreme moment of vulnerability is the crucifixion, the moment in which Jesus is made our victim, only to appear as the Risen One who overturns and subverts all of humanity’s victimizing ways.

Rohr, it seems to me, is picking up on something that should have been obvious to Christians, but has largely been obscured by our tradition over the centuries, and that is the notion that in Jesus, God seeks to be known to us as an equal.  This truly is the self-emptying that is sung about in the Letter to the Philippians (Chapter 2):

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

Perhaps this is, indeed, the true sacrifice of Christ:  not his death on the cross, but his willingness to sacrifice majesty, power, and perfection in order to expose God’s love for us from within.  John’s Gospel points us toward the equality of relationship that is created between us and God in Jesus when it has Jesus saying,

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

In Jesus, God seeks to make us God’s friends, and true friendship is not about power or perfection, it is not about judgment, it is not about reminding another about how very much more you are compared to them.   True friendship is about two people placing themselves deliberately on a level playing field, so that each may safely disclose to the other in a way that creates an intimacy of the heart.  These are the friendships we seek to cultivate, these are the friends that we cannot wait to spend time with.

It has been hard for Christians to imagine God as our friend, despite the mystery of Jesus.  It did not take us long to put Jesus on a pedestal that made him unreachable, a pedestal that God has occupied for a long time.   We can barely imagine speaking about occupying any sort of level playing field with God.  And this is because we tend of focus on God’s majesty, power, and perfection.  We have created a distance between God and ourselves, and failed to truly understand the way in which Jesus bridges this distance, seeking to restore intimacy between God and ourselves.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his book “The Life of Moses”, writes,

[W]e regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire…..

And the only way we ever fall from God’s friendship is when we decline to return it when it is offered.

So the central task of the spiritual life seems clear:  to get over our fear of God, and allow ourselves to fall in love with our Divine Friend, allowing God to open God’s self to us, as we open ourselves to God in return.   This is ready and waiting to happen at the depths of our being, if only we would be willing to go there and discover it.

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