There are some phrases that come to mean a great deal to us, often because they are simple and honest. ‘In the cool of the day’, a perfectly simple and everyday phrase, translated in some versions as ‘in the evening’ has taken me on such a good journey of discovery;
As a young Catholic I learned a whole load of Catechism verses but not many have stayed with me. One of them (which probably stuck in my mind because I have a little argument with it) was the answer to the question “Why did God make you?” and I would dutifully trot out the response “God made me to love him, know him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him, forever, in the next.” My argument with that statement is a quibble, a sort of ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ argument so I won’t waste your time with it, but surely the question posed is one we often ask ourselves?
Why did God make me? Why did he make anyone? Or anything? As he’s all knowing, all powerful, all complete, why did he make anything beyond his own divine nature? Here’s the big thing that life has taught me; To be complete we need to love. It’s common place to say that a child needs to be loved, but we don’t often turn that around to say that a child needs to love. To be complete there must be both, the loving and the loved, in any one consciousness. If we are loved but do not learn to love, there is something seriously wrong, damaged and damaging. If we love but are not loved , we are lost and sad, broken. To be complete there must be love and loving.
Growing up I didn’t learn to love. Attending 10 schools (that I can remember) and moving house 12 times by the age of 12, I learned how to leave people, how to pack up and move on, never looking back but I was neither loved nor loving. There! Confession time, eh? Loving is still something I need to learn, better, more fully, more experientially… how to love.
A little while ago one of my teenage granddaughters said that a hurdle between her and God is that he demands to be worshipped. I understand her problem. We had a good discussion about worship, and then about ..oh, all sorts. And in the course of that conversation we started talking about religion. Of course we did! My granddaughter wanted to explore the difference between knowing God and having religion, and I remembered Isaiah 1:11-15
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
That, I told her, is the perfect picture of religion. God is not interested. Doesn’t want it. In the words of the Beatles, all you need is love. If you know God, really know him, you cannot help but love him. and that is true worship. Forget the words and flummery, the incense and the blood of bulls, the hurdles we have to clear….
I was reading Genesis 3 this week, and the words ‘in the cool of the day’ hit me with such force. I don’t know how you regard the first few chapters of Genesis, whether you think of them as a history or a metaphor, and I don’t really have any opinion about your opinion (!). Either view may be entirely correct, or entirely wrong, and the truth may lie somewhere in-between. The important thing is that there is truth in the Genesis story, it’s a theologically rich picture of God and a devastatingly honest picture of man. Here we have a man who had walked with God, and lived at peace with God, but now this man is ashamed, deceitful and afraid. In the cool of the evening he’s hiding from Love itself. He’s hiding from forgiveness and unending kindness, just as every human being has ever since. This has crippled every man and woman since the world began.
What’s so great about the cool of the evening? The person who wrote Genesis was writing in the Middle East, to his own people. I lived in Egypt as a child and I remember so clearly that on a really hot, unforgiving day, we longed for the evening. That’s when the chairs were taken outside, families sat around, men drank their beers and smoked and talked, women caught up with neighbours, children played. The mornings were cool too, but the dew was heavy and even the corn in the field around our home would be bowed down by the weight of it. The sandy track leading to the front door would be deep red with morning dew, step into the house and red footprints followed you. Mornings were good but evenings were the time for company and walking together, wandering along the banks of the canal, strolling through the corn fields.
God came to man in the best part of the day, to walk with him, to be with him, to love him. And God doesn’t change. His intentions don’t switch and waver. He created us because he is love, to be loved by him and to love him, and to enjoy the best of the very best, not just in the great bye and bye, but now. Today. 15.02 on Tuesday 5th April. When we walk with God we experience the very best that every day can give.
God is complete. He is complete love. Why did God make me? Nothing to do with me, mate. He didn’t need me. Absolutely nothing to do with me. He has never needed anyone, and will never need anyone. Why did God make me? Because he is love.
That’s a huge truth to get our heads around. My head is jangling with it. God is love personified. Solid, unbreakable, unbreachable love. And it’s there, for anyone, for everyone, now. I mean, seriously, NOW.
This morning a friend told me that she has prayed for the first time, ever. And immediately she felt peace and freedom from the worry that’s been plaguing her. She was amazed. Really amazed. She didn’t know the verse “Come to me, all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” but she didn’t need to know it… she just needed to turn to God. When I told her that those were the words of Jesus she was delighted.
So, in conclusion, my answer to that Catechism question?
“Why did God make you?”
“God made me to be loved by him and to love him, and to be happy with him, now and always.”
It’s not pie in the sky bye and bye. It was never that.
It’s our reality, now.