Friday, March 27, 2015

Deficit in Spiritual Worthiness

"Why does God love me?"

You might answer that question by arguing that God has to love you because God is love; if God is love and God's nature is to love, then God has to love you.  What if, however, the key word in this question is the word you?  Why does God love you?  Why particularly you?  You might answer that question by arguing that you try to be a loving person, treating others as you would like to be treated, a person who contributes time and talent and treasure to your family or your church or your community.

I wonder if these answers miss the mark.  If God loves you merely because it's God's nature, that God has to, then God's love is generic, not really related to you specifically.  But if God loves you because of how you treat others or what you contribute to society, then God's love is conditional and is offered or withheld depending upon your attitude or performance.

Does God only love you because God has to?  Does God love you only when you prove by your words and actions that you are worthy?

In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus looked into the crowd and saw a little child, and he called to the child and placed it before his disciples and said, "I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!" (Matthew 18:3)

For those who are truly familiar with the New Testament Gospels, they know that when Jesus speaks of entering the kingdom of heaven he is speaking of present participation in a powerful yet mysterious relational reality that is already here ("The kingdom of heaven is among you." - Luke 17:21), and yet it has not fully come ("Thy kingdom come..." - Luke 11:2).  Jesus insists that the kingdom already belongs to children, here and now ("Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." - Matthew 19:14).

Think of an infant, perhaps your own.  Why do you love it?  Do you have to?  Is it required?  Do you love it because of how much it contributes, how hard it works, how well it treats others, how well it performs?  What I am getting at, and what I think Jesus' illustration was getting at, is that children have intrinsic value and so do you.  In the here-and-now relational reality that Jesus called "the kingdom," children are innately worthy of love and so are you.

The lie we too often believe is that we have to justify our existence, that we have to prove our worthiness to take up space on this planet and to use its oxygen, that every day we have to try to convince others and ourselves and even God that we are worthy of love.  Chaplains sometimes call this "a deficit in spiritual worthiness."  I don't particularly like that phrase, but I know what it means.  It means that we human beings have a hard time trusting that the kingdom of heaven is among us, that it values infants as much as presidents, and we are infinitely prized by God because each of us is God's uniquely beloved child.