When we say God is “eternal,” we mean that God is eternally young. (Meister Eckhart)
The traditional image of God as an old man encrusted in tradition and sitting on a throne encased with the cobwebs of eternity just doesn’t seem appropriate at Christmas when we celebrate the coming of God in a Baby. In fact, that image of God, which to a certain extent all of us (even progressives) hold if only in our subconscious, is never helpful and is responsible for a lot of lifeless theology, uninspiring worship, and truncated expectations. Perhaps, at least occasionally, we would benefit from imagining God as a child—as an eternal youth. As we enter the New Year I believe this image can transform our own personal pilgrimages and our communal life as we seek God’s presence and guidance in our time and place.
Henri Boulad, the Jesuit Provincial of Egypt, offers an intriguing and fertile suggestion for our understanding this aspect of God. Perhaps we could picture God as a living spring of water. Boulad points out that this image is so profound and rich that early church theologians and pastors often used it as a metaphor for God. I suggest that our rediscovery of this image could empower our faith, increase our joy, and deepen our experience of life.
A spring is always new, always bubbling up, always flowing. It never exhausts itself and never grows old. In one sense it is the same spring year in and year out—decade after decade, century after century. And yet it is always renewing itself, always fresh, and always young. The secret of God’s youth is that God constantly empties the divine self and constantly renews the divine self. God’s being is not an infinite repetition of self which would be an eternal monotony (Boring!). Rather God’s being is a constant renewal, a continual rebirthing. And so just like a spring is eternal and yet always new, always bubbling up with new life, so God is eternal and always new—an ever-flowing spring of inexhaustible wonder and infinite self-giving.
There is great significance in this image of God. The ever-changing nature of life and the probability of radical instability at least at some point in everyone’s existence can be met with courage and expectation if we view God as an eternal spring. Because in Christ God has cast the divine lot with this creation, we are able to share in this eternal youth. We are able to drink from this ever-flowing spring as we are refreshed and empowered to face and embrace life with all of its challenges and opportunities. God, the inexhaustible spring, teems with new possibilities and overflows with creative potential. Whatever the circumstance, God can allow life to begin again for us—perhaps not in the way we have experienced it in the past—perhaps not in the way we would prefer it—but in ways which may prove more redemptive, growth-producing, and joyful than we could ever imagine.
Ultimately, there is no room in the Christian faith for a static God burdened with inertia. We are promised that God who comes to us in Christ can and will make all things new—all things, from heaven and earth to the common circumstances of our little lives. This promise of Emmanuel/God With Us should inspire us as individuals and as communities of faith to welcome the New Year and every new day with joyful confidence, enthusiastic expectancy, and thankful serenity.
As this New Year unfolds its potential, whether we be young or old in age (for the youth and spring are talking about has nothing to do with chronological age), may we receive our inheritance as we share in the eternal infancy of God. Such openness will make us ripe for the new creation God can bring into our lives and into this world God so loves.