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What Does This Say About God?

May 3rd, 2013by Mary Anne Bressler

I ask my students at Xavier this question fairly regularly. When we read various creation stories, some of them quite bloody and violent and compare them to the accounts in Genesis. When we talk about the stories of the birth and crucifixion of Jesus. When we talk about suffering. What kind of God do we believe in?

I get the impression that many people take a pretty dark view of God. They seem to think that bad things happen because God wants them to. God is teaching us a lesson or punishing us or testing us. When I think of God, I think of my parents or of any good, loving parents. My parents never hurt me deliberately to teach me a lesson. They never tested me by depriving me of that which I need to thrive. Parents who behave like this are considered neglectful or abusive. I can never understand why we suggest that God is like a bad parent.

In the gospels, Jesus describes God as the parent who welcomes back the son who turned away, as the person who drops everything to search for the lost coin or sheep, as Abba (Daddy). This seems more like a God who is empathetic toward our suffering, not one who causes it. This isn’t a God who is wishy-washy, though. God forgives and welcomes us back, and expects us to do the same. To me, that is hardest task we face—far more difficult than giving up meat or going to Mass when I’m exhausted or memorizing the Ten Commandments. God expects us to forgive as God forgives: prodigally, beyond any reasonable measure. This means forgiving the most heinous human beings we can think of. And it isn’t hard to think of them because we experience them far too often and far too closely.

As we reach the time of year when we honor mothers and fathers, I think it is important to think about what the people in our lives show us about God. The people we love most are the people who comfort us in our sorrow, encourage us when we are frustrated, feel our pain. They are the people who bring us light in the midst of darkness. That is the God I believe in.

Mary Anne Bressler

Mary Anne Bressler is a parishioner and Pastoral Associate at St. Anthony Church in Madisonville and an adjunct faculty member at Xavier University.