Last weekend's festivities are continuing to provide food for thought (and content for blog posts – apologies in advance for the length of this one!) Hot on the heels of Christmas, with its all too familiar images of the infant Jesus, comes this feast of the Santo Nino, where the image which is so venerated is that of a small child (albeit dressed in the rich costume of the Spanish courts, but we'll lay that aside for the moment). Reflecting on this celebration, it seems right to also reflect on the image at the centre of it. I invite you to join me as I meander through a few of my thoughts, and to share your own reflections.
It seems to me we have sometimes become so accustomed to images of Jesus as a baby or small child, or in agony (or with a saccharine smile belying the agony) on the cross, that it is easy to forget just how revolutionary and challenging these images are.
The person of Jesus, and the affirmation that He is God, turns on its head the idea of the all-powerful nature of God.
Here is a human being, born as a baby completely dependent on others, living his early life as a refugee, learning the meaning of inclusion and exclusion and community, growing up under a regime of military occupation experiencing firsthand the effects of oppression and violence and power, standing against the authorities of the day challenging his realities without ever resorting to the use of force, and who suffers and dies the agonising death of those who have dared to challenge the regime.
It is easy to identify how the person of Jesus reveals many facets of the identity of God: the creativity of a creator God, the journeying of a universal God, the forgiveness of a merciful God, the relationships of a loving God, but I think his life reveals a weak and vulnerable God rather than a powerful one.
To suggest that Jesus, in his human life is all powerful and all knowing is to deny his full humanity. Christianity has been quick to distance itself from denominations who deny the divinity of Jesus, and, in words at least, most mainstream Christian denominations would affirm that Jesus is both fully God and fully human; but maybe in practice it is the divinity of Jesus which, ultimately we find easier to believe, and less challenging, than his complete humanity.
The power of love is a very different kind of power. Can God do all things? Well actually, maybe not. God is love, and therefore he cannot "not love". Love never imposes itself, it never forces. So if God were to force us, if God were to impose Himself, he would cease to be Love, and, by definition, if God is Love, if he ceases to be Love, does he not cease to be God? If God can do all things, he must be able to force others to bow to his will, but if he does so, does he not deny his own deepest identity, that he is and only can be Love?
We know from our own human relationships that vulnerability, a willingness to be weak and an openness to the effect of the other on ourselves is an inherent part of true love. That is why those we care about the most have the most power to hurt us or to touch us. If God is all loving, by definition he has to also allow himself to be vulnerable and weak, in order to allow his very being to be touched by others.
So does believing in a God who is not all powerful, who cannot do all things, make Him any less God? Well no, I don't think it does. Maybe the idea of an all-loving and an all-powerful God are not compatible, and actually, I know which I would rather believe in. Maybe the image of an all-loving God is even more special and more amazing than the idea of an all-powerful one.
Amidst the complexity of the doctrine of the trinity, my understanding is it is affirmed that these are not three different facets of God, but that each reveals the full and true identity of God. The true and full identity of God, then, is not an all-powerful being, but a weak, vulnerable suffering servant. The slaughtered lamb is not one image of God, but is the fullness of God. The true identity of God, is that as well as being fully God, he is fully human.
The problem is, of course, if God is fully human - then that makes for a very challenging call for the rest of us!