What is God like? What is the nature of God? There could hardly be a more important question for us to ask. Yet, if you’re like me, this question doesn’t instantly inspire great curiosity because I have mistakenly assumed that I have figured God out, so I’ve become bored with the topic. But have I really wrapped my mind around the God of the universe?
Miroslav Volf, a theologian at Yale Divinity School, has written a book entitled: “Free of Charge”. In it, Volf makes the claim that at the heart of what God is like, God is a giver. At the very center of who God is, God is someone who gives. If this is true, think about it: the very idea of a giving God is something to be grateful for.
Just as significant for you and me are the implications of the nature of this God, as we are human beings created in the image of God. We are like God, and yet unlike God at the same time. Of course we are unlike God in that we are created and finite beings; our very existence is the result of God’s creative and giving nature. We are created to be receivers of God’s gifts; our very life is God’s gift. God on the other hand is not a created being nor can He receive anything that He doesn’t already have.
Yet, we are like God too, in that we are designed to be givers as God is a giver, and not just receivers. Everything we have including our very life is a gift from God. But God has also made us to be channels of His giving, as we give to others. Our giving isn’t just monetary gifts nor even just material things. Our giving can look like time spent with others, energy spent working for others, investing in relationships with others. Our giving means that we do what we can to seek the best interest of others.
“That’s the paradox of self-love: The more you fill the self, the more it echoes with the emptiness of unfulfillment. Living in itself and for itself, the self remains mysteriously unsatisfied and insatiable... The paradox of true love is exactly the opposite of self-love: When loving truly, the self moves outside of itself to dwell with God and neighbor, and only then is it truly home.” (Volf, pg. 52)
Take a closer look at what Volf says about the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary life:
“You sit on your couch, beer or soda in your hand and junk food by your side watching TV for hours - that’s ordinary. You work around the clock not because you have to feed your family, but for no other reason than to park a better car in your garage than your neighbors have - that’s ordinary. You get up from the couch to play with your kids or you give your time and energy to help educate a prisoner or lend an ear to an elderly person, that’s extraordinary. Why? Because you are giving. Every gift breaks the barrier between the sacred and the mundane and floods the mundane with the sacred. When a gift is given, life becomes extraordinary because God’s own gift giving flows through the giver.”
Volf describes our American culture as one that is “stripped of grace”. The culture in which we now live is in direct opposition to the extraordinary life. The cultural message is simple: you need to receive more than what you have. In the face of this culture maybe God is saying something more like this: you’ve been given so much; it’s time to give what you’ve already received. (see Acts 20:35)