When a Christian outlines if God believes in him, he reveals a great deal about his attitude toward God and his attitude about man. More significantly, he discloses his core beliefs about the divine-human relationship and the ultimate purpose of Creation.
This leads to many platitudes about God’s infinite love for man, which are then sharply contrasted by the insistence that God does not need man. It also leads to grand proclamations about God’s personal nature, which are then juxtaposed with descriptions of a great mystery one can never truly hope to know. And so on . . .
And don’t even get me started about Jesus.
I have categorized and described Christians in many different ways on this blog over the years. In addition to focusing on several denominations, I have written about liberal Christians, conservative Christians, traditional Christians, orthodox Christians, mainstream Christians, conventional Christians, System Christians, solitary Christians, mystical Christians, and Romantic Christians. I consider some of the Christians noted above to be serious Christians; others, far less so.
Though I will likely continue to refer to these categories in the future, I am becoming increasingly convinced that after 2020, serious Christians can and should be placed into two distinct, overarching categories:
Immature serious Christians and mature serious Christians.
The simplest way to distinguish immature serious Christians from mature serious Christians is to ask them why and how God believes in them.
Answers that mention love but then focus exclusively on human fallibility, human depravity, submission, fealty, fallen-ness, contingency, unworthiness, doctrines, worship, sin, rebelliousness, churches, obedience, authority, bending the knee, and the like are hallmarks of an immature serious Christian.
Not necessary a bad Christian, or an evil Christian, or a stupid Christian, or a wayward Christian, or a heretical Christian, or an apostate Christian, but an immature Christian – as in unripe, undeveloped, unformed, half-grown, callow.
Answers that mention love and then go on to describe something similar to what William Arkle outlines below are signs of a mature or, at the very least, a maturing serious Christian (bold added):
We can realise for ourselves that love can be passive or active. We can know for ourselves that it is possible to sit down and simply radiate love, like a light bulb radiates light, in all directions but not directed in any particular way to any particular thing. This is passive love.
We can feel that love becomes more active if we begin to direct it onto an object, say a stone; but we can feel a difference if we direct this loving attention onto something more fully alive, such as a plant or a flower.
This time we recognise a relationship which has a wider range of responses in it, and it is easier and more satisfying to love such a responsive thing. But now, if we look at how we feel if we direct our loving attention to even more living objects such as pet animals, human beings and children we realise that our love and relationship can grow again and become even more valuable.
And if these human beings are of a more deeply beautiful and gracious order, then the activity of our love leaps into higher and higher expressions which are more valuable and delightful. Finally from the experience of our love directed actively to a most valuable human being, we can move again to a situation in which we are able to love a perfectly beautiful and gracious person, and this is our God of love.
Because our God is the most alive and responsive being, this experience of actively directed love can be the most sublime.
In this highest form of active love we must therefore have the one who loves and the one who is loved in order to arrive at a responsive situation. So we have two individuals, our God of love and the one who loves God. In this situations, the one who loves God enters into a Divine relationship in which both individuals are of the same order, even if God is far more mature than the individual who is loving him.
So, at the moment that the individual really loves God as another individual who can be loved, then the two of them become friends in the Divine nature to which they both belong.
This means that God no longer has to be God, but can become a friend to the one who loves Him and can love his friend back again in the way that love must if it is to express the fulfilment of its nature.
The one who loves God also gradually realises that he is loving a real responsive individual with whom he is now a friend, and this experience is confirmed by all the other experiences of love to be different from worship. For worship is a sort of one-sided love which does not allow for a response and therefore cannot move into friendship, because in worship we do not relate to God as a living being but we idealise God in a fixed image that we have in our own understanding and thus we prevent Him coming alive.
We do this, no doubt, out of a diminished sense of our own value and adequacy and out of a sense of modesty. But we only have to look at the nature of love for a moment to realise that the truest form of love does not have to behave in this manner. In fact it is unkind to worship others, rather than to love them, because it fixes them in a mould they do not wish to be fixed in; in fact by worshipping people we imprison them.
But love does not wish to imprison the one it loves, above all, love longs to give expansion and enhanced beingness to the one it loves. Love longs to be in a creative and growing relationship with the one it loves.
Love is the highest expression of life itself, and life is never static, but always wishes to be aspiring and developing towards new and untried possibilities ties.
So what I feel the term a loving God really means, is that this God is trying to develop us to a stage where we can become His friends in this deeply loving, active, personalised way which allows the creative fruits of a friendship to arise between them which constantly keeps pace with the liveliness and creative aspiration of the living spirit of our common Divine nature.
Note added: As far as I am concerned, the distinction between immature and mature Christians is the only one that matters in this time and place. I firmly believe that immature Christians will find it increasingly hard to remain immature Christians in the coming months/years. They will either choose the path of maturity or they will become stunted and, eventually, cease being Christians altogether.