I had the privilege of attending a conference at Glen Eyrie this weekend - Brennan Manning's Healing the Image of God. The company I work for is publishing his next book, so my presence there was somewhat as an ambassador of publishing-will. I took him to dinner and tried to wine and dine him as best as I could. My girlfriend tagged along for the meal; we had a wonderful time and he told me I had good taste in women.
However, I was trying to be very aware that I was not there solely as an ambassador, that God might have something to say to me through the old, ragamuffin priest. And he did. I was re-minded of God's tenderness; of the reality that God is "our Father" - our "Abba." When the nutty disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, that's the entry phrase Jesus gave them: "Our Father/Abba." It was not "Our holy LORD, high and lifted up" or "Our Rock" or "Our Shepherd" or any of those other perfectly legitimate biblical images of God. No, when it comes to relating personally to God (prayer), it's "Abba" or "Daddy" - the image of a little Jewish boy or girl running into the arms of their Abba. And that is an image of immense tenderness: "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Matthew 12.20).
Some folks have problems with Manning's theology. Some folks are convinced he's a universalist. Some folks. I'm convinced that some folks, or maybe most folks, have an image of God that needs healing. I include myself in that number. Relating to a "tender" God is almost unthinkable for us and so we respond by picking apart the messenger's theology or accuse them of being some "-ist" or anything we can come up with to keep that kind of thinking at arms length. We throw sticks and stones at best, and crucify at worst. Times haven't changed. People haven't either.
I did not attend any National Day of Prayer festivities last week. That stuff's always got the flag wrapped around it and I'm never sure what image of God folks are praying to. We'll go stinking hog-wild critical over a room full of Muslims because they're praying to the wrong image of God, but what about us? And if somebody says, "Well, it's not about us" then I think I'm going to stick bamboo shoots under my fingernails or something. It's always about us. Maybe we should have a National Day of Healing the Image of God for a few years and then, ever so slowly, move into a National Day of Prayer. Because if we don't have the image right, then we always get the prayers wrong. But some folks probably wouldn't go for that. Some folks.