What is it that God is up to? What is it that God preoccupies himself with? If he had a hobby, what would it be?
The answer is simple and obvious and yet we get it wrong more often that not when I ask people the “if God had a hobby” question.
The simple answer is life. God is a creator — The Creator — and he is always creating. And what he mostly creates is life. Lots of life. A super-abundance of life.
In my glass of kombucha, I’m told there are billions of living organisms. Billions! In a single glass! What kind of creativity is required and what kind of commitment to life is required to fill a single glass of liquid with billions of living things?
There are fields of flowers in alpine meadows that no human looks upon. There are galaxies and planets out there which are not empty of life, life we will never be in contact with. And each day on our planet, thousands of human children are born. Again and again, life bursts forth.
I was often stumped by the cryptic seeming line in Psalm 8:2 —
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
What does this mean? How is it that the cry of a newborn silences God’s foes?
The sound a baby makes silences the enemy because it is the sound of life. The foe may strike me down, but I am replaced by the birth of a new human being. Life keeps on going and the enemy has no answer to it, even in his dealing out of death. God wins. Life wins.
The Psalms point to this connection between God and life in many places — the two main story themes of the Psalms being creation and salvation — but the wonderfully long meditation on this is Psalm 104. Here is a pertinent snippet of this lovely creation hymn:
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:27-30)
God is the one who hands out and takes back life. All of life is his. No creature has life in and of itself. All life derives from God’s Spirit and it is his joy to send out his Spirit and renew the earth.
Life is the what. Life is what God is on about. It is his hobby, his great preoccupation. And love is the how. Love is the means by which God’s purposes are are fulfilled.
The book of Genesis is a odd and wonderful narrative of the unfolding of the what and the how of God’s purposes, of life and love struggling to take root in this rebellious world.
Genesis is built on ten genealogies. A list of them and an entire post on God’s preoccupation with life can be found here. (It’s worth the read on its own.)
Genesis is also built on the start and growth of a family that, against all odds and all kinds of dysfunctions, will become a blessing to all nations.
In both cases — the birthing of children (life) and the formation of a family (love) — there is a massive struggle. Life is difficult, as seen in the struggle to even get pregnant. Love is difficult, as seen in the constant squabbling within this chosen family. But it is because of these struggles that we come to the conclusion that God must be the force seeing his purposes through. This family does not have it within them to be agents of life or of love. That either life or love happen at all is evidence of God’s grace in action.
I have written elsewhere that we need a wider view of the Fall in order to have a deeper understanding of what God’s purposes are in the world and where we fit into them. Related to this, I have also written elsewhere about how Paul shows us throughout the entire letter of Ephesians that unity/oneness is what God has achieved and is achieving through Jesus. (I encourage you to read both posts. They include some of my best exegetical work and I think are quite illuminating.) All of this points to love as the means by which God achieves his goal of redeeming the life of his creation.
OK. So, we’ve dealt with the what (life) and the how (love), but we still need to get to the why. Why is God so focused on life and love?
In a word: Trinity.
God is in himself abounding in life and love. God is in himself a living relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And he wants us and all of creation to participate in that life and love.
God’s love is generative. It has to create. It has to give birth to new life. This kind of love can’t be kept to itself. It has to be shared.
Medieval theologians were the ones who first articulated this about the Trinity. They recognized that if God were purely one (a monad), he could conceive of nothing other than himself. In the brilliant little book Flatland, the characters take a journey to Pointland. It’s a frustrating journey, because the Point they visit can hear them speak but can’t engage with them because it simply can’t imagine anything other than itself. It is a singularity. One is in fact the loneliest number. And if God were purely one, he could not have created anything beyond himself. In strict monotheism, there can be no imagination for more.
These theologians also recognized the problem of God being only two persons (a binity, if you will). With two, there is an other and love can exist between the two of them. But the problem arises that the two may be satisfied with their shared love and need no other. I’m sure you’ve met couple who are like that. They have eyes for each other and for no one else. I need say no more. Get a room.
But when there are three, when the love between two is shared with a third, the potential for it to be shared with a fourth and a fifth and so on is raised. This potential for increasingly shared love gives rise to the possibility of creation. This sets in motion the desire of God to create and to invite those he has created to participate in the life and love that already exists within the Trinity.
As we would expect, we see this alluded to in the Scriptures.The heart of John’s gospel is the upper room discourse and the crown jewel of those five chapters is at the climactic prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23 —
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
I find that deeply moving.
Unity. Relationship. Participation in the very life and love of God.
What is God doing? Making life.
How is God achieving his goal? Teaching us how to love.
Why is he doing this? He wants us to participate in his own life of love.
So, when I see comments like the David Platt quote in the accompanying image, I realize that we haven’t done a very good job of articulating what I’ve been trying to put into words above. When he says, “We are not the end of the gospel; God is,” I wonder what he thinks about God. Is God some super narcissist who requires everything to be focused on him? No! God is entirely other-oriented. Within the Trinity, the Father focuses on the Son and the Spirit, just as the Son focuses on the Father and the Spirit and the Spirit focuses on the Father and the Son. The attention is always outward, other-oriented, not self-oriented. The entire flow of the biblical narrative is one of God moving toward and acting on behalf of humanity, redeeming, reconciling, renewing. If you took that out of your Bible, there wouldn’t be much left. What we don’t find in our Bibles is a “Here I am, worship me!” attitude from God. We worship because that is the appropriate response to who God is and what he’s done for us — the appropriate response to grace is gratitude. And when we read in the Westminster Shorter Catechism that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” we are not surprised, because that’s what God himself is doing to us. Yes, God desires to glorify us and to enjoy us forever, too. That doesn’t mean we become equal in divinity. It means that he lifts us up, exalts us, and enjoys us. That’s what adoption is all about.
“We” is the end of the gospel. God, who is a “we” as Trinity, invites us to participate in that “we-ness.” That’s the whole enchilada. That is God’s preoccupation.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14 — koinonia means participation or fellowship)
May we all have such hobbies — life, love, participation.