The Openhearted God
Do you picture God as having a closed fist or an open hand? Do you picture God as clinging tightly or giving generously?
The way we answer these questions affects the way we interact with God in prayer. If we perceive God as tightfisted, why should we bother praying? Why should we waste time or energy waiting for an answer from a miserly Deity? Why would we expect a clinging God—a selfish God—to give open-heartedly to us?
But if the material world reveals anything to us about its Inventor, we find evidence to the abundant generosity of God. Jill Foley Turner remarks, “We know that the whole of creation declares the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), but it also demonstrates His generosity. Our…Creator perfectly crafted a world which sustains our human lives…. But God did not stop at life and breath and sustainability. Beyond our survival, the Bible says He considers our delight (1 Timothy 6:17). He made seas and mountains and rivers. He made 750,000 species of insects, 400,000 species of flowers, 200,000 species of edible plants, 10,000 species of birds, and stars too numerous to count. Every good thing a person enjoys in life is a gift from God (James 1:17). He created our universe with perfect elegance and complexity. He designed with superfluous creativity. Then He gave us senses of sight and sound and touch and taste, so we could experience the richness of these gifts. The Provider of our needs is also our source of never-ending pleasure (Psalm 16:11).”
No wonder Psalm 145:16 proclaims, “You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
We see the generosity of God in nature because God is generous by nature. God’s heart is inclined toward giving generously to His children. In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus announces, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
God is generous toward His children whom He loves, but His generosity is not a fairytale—they-all-lived-happily—kind of generosity. Kate Bowler, an Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School, has experienced this. At 35 years of age, when her son was just 1 year old, Bowler was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Despite surgery, her cancer is considered incurable. Every two months, her doctors decide whether she is able to continue with the trial medication she is taking. As a result, she says that she lives in two-month increments. In the preface to her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, she describes what went through her mind when she found out about her cancer: “One moment I was a regular person with regular problems. And the next, I was someone with cancer. Before my mind could apprehend it, it was there—swelling to take up every space my imagination could touch. A new and unwanted reality. There was a before, and now there was an after. Time slowed to a pulse. Am I breathing? I wondered. Do I want to? Every day I prayed the same prayer: God, save me. Save me. Save me. Oh, God, remember my baby boy. Remember my son and my husband before you return me to ashes. Before they walk this earth alone. I plead with a God of Maybe, who may or may not let me collect more years. It is a God I love, and a God that breaks my heart.” (p. xiv-xv)
The struggles Bowler faces are real and daunting. The conclusion to her story is uncertain. But later in her book, Bowler shares, “At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus. When they sat beside me, my hand in their hands, my own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others, a world of those who, like me, are stumbling in the debris of dreams they thought they were entitled to and plans they didn’t realize they had made.” (p. 121)
Bowler experienced the generosity of God amidst her struggles through the care of others. No wonder Jesus goes on to instruct us in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” As we receive the open-heartedness of God toward us, we are called on to pass it along to others.