What makes God attractive?
Is it his aesthetics—his ability to form grand galaxies, only now seen by us, with a dramatic range of variegated shades, shapes, and brilliance of light? Or his intimate gift of sending small spiders to spin intricate webs that first catch the morning dew and then capture the first rays of morning bright to sparkle against the deep green of the rose leaves, often punctuated by the luster of the roses themselves?
Yes, he is certainly attractive for such handiwork! Yet his beauty is much deeper than what we see in the palette of his unending creative craft.
Is God winsome because he stirs our minds with puzzles so deep and intriguing that we can never exhaust what he offers us? As we discover layer after layer of mystery in the fabric of life and being. Of light as both particles and waves. Of atoms, once the smallest of features, now known to be made of still smaller elements. Of unseen dark matter. Of quantum mysteries and the possibility of parallel realities. Of how Joseph’s brothers intended evil against him, while God intended those same events for good. Of how the death of Christ on the cross is both horrific and wonderful.
Once again, the only true answer is, “yes!” But his attractions are much deeper than what we see in the unsearchable depths of his multifaceted and brilliant wisdom.
Is God attractive in his unending energy that always stirs and stimulates us? In his power to shape and rule a universe so vast that we fail either to see or conceive its boundaries. In his capacity to know every thought of every person in every land and place in every stage of time. In his power to form new life within a womb and then to unfold that life as a human bloom of unique views, gifts, and aspirations—as people who have true freedom to love and not to love, yet always within the realm of his own wonderful plans and purposes. And, in all this, to work it together in a tapestry that stuns us whenever we pause long enough to see his hand at work.
The answer, of course, is “yes!” He is wonderfully attractive when we even begin to glimpse the spectrum of his sustaining power at work in the universe. Yet there is more to his beauty.
But why this question?
I ask it because many of my Christian friends are slow to see that our real joy in God comes from who he is—and not merely from what he does! If we reverse this order of priorities by focusing on what he does for us—including his works of creation and redemption on the cross—we slip into a utilitarian relationship.
It sets up a false vision of faith as our own “doing”—to match what we see in God. Call it a reciprocity of works. And in those works we find only quick surges of enjoyment in God. Why? Because the joy is based on our circumstances. And it keeps the focus of faith on us, with all the instability our own doing brings to the table.
In a “doing” version of faith we are called on to draw upon the benefits God offers us, and to work on being good and godly. And such a focus on God’s activities then sets up a mirror response in our own lives: to focus on our own activities. On our own devotion to do the right thing. To be disciplined to read our Bibles. To journal our religious qualms and doubts. To give at least a tithe. To challenge all others who don’t buy a responsibility-based version of faith.
So whenever I challenge and dismiss any spirituality based on our “disciplines” I get puzzled looks: “So what do you suggest?”
The answer comes from Psalm 34:8, and a host of other similar biblical invitations: “Taste and see, the LORD is good!” And I often go on to apply the answer this way, with a counterpoint question:
So, if a man is on a trip and exchanging emails with his wife, should he gather a group of men to hold him accountable to read her letters? Should he discipline himself to call her every now and then just because he knows that’s the duty of a good husband?
If those are his strategies I’d invite him to go for marriage counseling . . . and also to spend some caring time with her in a setting that might reopen his eyes to a beauty that once captured his heart. Her attractiveness is almost certainly alive and well . . . he’s just been distracted.
So, in suggesting that God’s goodness is available to anyone who ‘tastes and sees’ him, let’s label anything that distracts us from God’s beauty as ‘sin’—as something ‘not good’ which God never intended for us to experience. As something that only occurs because Adam and Eve became self-focused rather than God focused (illustrated by their new awareness of nakedness only after they turned from God). And we are Adam’s children.
Now it’s time to return to our question of God’s deepest attractiveness. Here’s the answer: He captures us by his love! God is a lover and he invites us into his love. His love is also a relational love—a love of God the Father for God the Son; and of God the Son for God the Father; all this by the ministry of the Spirit who is one with both the Father and the Son, communicating that mutual love within the Godhead.
Augustine of Hippo said it this way: God is the lover; the Son is the beloved, and the Spirit is the love they share. Each—Father, Son, and Spirit—is fully personal, distinct in role, and freely active; yet also “mutually within” the others. Collectively the bond of this eternal relationship is called “love”—hence, “God is love” as John affirms in 1John 4:8 & 16.
The basis for distinguishing our first set of statements of God’s winsomeness from this final statement is this: the gifts we enjoy from God are shared with us out of a relational motive: his love. To love the gifts without loving the giver is simply to worship the creation rather than the Creator.
If this leaves any reader wondering: “So why don’t I—if I’m really honest—find God attractive?”
I answer from my own conversion. It went something like this: “Well . . . he’s lovely . . . he loves us . . . and he invites us into his love: all I have to ‘do’ is enjoy that love!” So, for others, maybe it’s just a matter of telling the Spirit—the one who communicates God’s love to us (see Romans 5:5 and 1 Corinthians 2:9-12)—that you would love to have a taste of that love. Be humble: i.e. don’t add any conditions. Just come to him to enjoy him as he is “in himself”. Then read through the Bible in 5 or 6 weeks with an open heart and see what happens. I promise: you’ll be captured!
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron helped to launch Cor Deo UK in 2011, and retired from the ministry at the end of 2015. He continues to blog at his “A Spreading Goodness“. His doctoral thesis on Richard Sibbes is still available from Cor Deo and is well worth reading. For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.