The God of the Outside
“The people who know God well—mystics, hermits, prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator.”—Richard Rohr
I want you to imagine that God is not angry at you.
For some of you there is some instant tension with that thought. Maybe he’s not mad, but he’s got to be at least a little disappointed, right? You’ve got some dark spots. There are things you could be doing better. Surely God gets frustrated at how you keep making the same mistakes and get stuck in cycles of anger, depression, anxiety, stress, or whatever else. The idea that God is not mad at you is intellectually sound, but still might not deeply resonate as Truth within you.
I don’t even know if I believe in God, I left the church years ago but still, I carry the weight of his disapproval.
But I want us to imagine a God that exist outside of everything you've been taught about him.
We are imagining a God that is not only not angry at us, but one that actually delights in every aspect of us. Yes, even that stuff that just popped into your head.
Sit there with that for a second.
At this point, there might be a few thoughts that jump up in your brain. Thoughts about how you used to know the angry God, but that is the god of religion and legalism. You might think about how much better you are now living under grace and freedom. And that’s great. But I still want you to imagine more.
I want you to imagine that God cannot be angry with you. That it's not even possible for that to happen.
That even if you did nothing, you stopped worshipping, stopped acting morally, even stopped believing, God would look at you and smile and see that you are exactly where you need to be right now.
Can you imagine a God that is proud of you for your doubts? Can you envision a divine being that is excited for you to learn whatever you will from being faced with temptation? Even if, or maybe even especially if, you give in to it?
Can you imagine that there are actually no rules to life? That all of our racing and striving to be bigger and better and wealthy and esteemed in the eyes of our colleagues and found worthy of love and affection is only important because we have made it so? That it is just we that have defined success in such ways? Is it possible that there is more than one way to be a human? Even more, what if no one way is superior to the others but all are equally valuable?
Is it at all possible that whatever it is that life is, it is more than just conforming to expectations and constantly trying to not mess it up?
What if God is not an existential accountant keeping precise track of every single action you take? What if God’s plans for you are so long term that whatever mess you get yourself into today won’t even make a blip on the radar? What if it is only you that is concerned, or even aware, of how often you slip up?
Imagine for a second that you didn’t have to give up your dreams. That doing so isn’t “just part of life.” Imagine that those burning passions inside of you, those secret yearnings, those things that give you the greatest joy, imagine that they are there for an actual reason. That those things are there to be used. Imagine a marriage or a family or friends that support those parts of you. Imagine actually having a life of harmony and fulfillment.
Now I know that if everyone got to choose their career as kids, the world would be full of veterinarians, astronauts, and presidents. I know somebody has to do the dirty work.
But we are imagining a world where there are no rules for how to be a human. Which means we can see now how what we do for a living is actually a very small—and truthfully the least interesting—thing about you.
And that means that those things that you had to “grow up” from and put aside because now you are an adult and have responsibility, those things have immense value in our newly imagined world. They have value even if they seem like a waste of time. They have value even if no one else around you values them.
What if art is never impractical?
What if dreaming and idleness and taking the long way are actually virtues?
What if this world was created for our enjoyment?
What if our bodies were not sinful or fallen or the enemy of spirit, but a partner with us? What if good food and good music and good sex were all just a part of worship? What if our spirituality did not stop at the doors of our church, but was simply incorporated into every part of us and emanated out as things like gratefulness, empathy, and compassion?
Can you imagine this world? Can you imagine a God like this? It is so simple, but that’s what makes it so hard to understand.
Imagine a God that does not care about your behavior, but only your attitude.
Imagine the God that St. Augustine was thinking of when he said, “love God and do as you please.”
Think about how that isn’t as much of a license to do whatever you want as it may initially seem.
And because I am one whose doubt is always a little stronger than my faith, and because I think there is value in these words for the atheist and otherwise non-Christian folks out there, let’s reduce things even a little more:
Imagine a world where the only commandment is to “love and do as you please.”
Think about how when you love, really truly love, your actions tend to be organically righteous and kind and uplifting. Imagine how the more you love, the more you see the lovable parts of everyone. And those unlovable, hurtful, damaged parts of people become simply symptoms of growing up in a world where God and society and family and friends have expectations for what a human is supposed to be. The more you love, the more you desire for all of us to finally find the freedom to just be our truest and highest and most authentic self.
Imagine what that kind of love would do for you and that constantly critical voice inside your head.
Imagine loving yourself fully, without exception. Imagine loving your failures, your weakness, your innermost darkness. Imagine loving those things so much that they are redeemed into your greatest strengths.
I can’t tell if you if this God or this world is True. I can tell you that I am learning to live as if it is. I can tell you that I have never known a joy or a peace as deep as when I step into that world.
Though I am deeply flawed and broken, I am perfect. I am perfect because my imperfections help me relate and help others, they drive me to higher truths, they remind me of where I came from and who I am.
And God, whatever it is that God is, would have that no other way.
As I type this, I can already sense some of you working on responses. All I ask is that you don’t be so quick to dismiss what I said that you fail to see. These words come from my human brain are now transmitted into your human brain. As a result the transfer is never fully complete.
Which is why I ask you now to feel before you think. To imagine this God, this world, this moral imperative to love the whole world like a mother her only child. Imagine what that world would look like.
What would change in your life if you got to be your actual true self and never had to worry about the approval of anyone? What would you be willing to give up to experience that? What is stopping you?
Think it over, friends. Allow yourself to dream a little.