The Greek philosophers held that above the quarrelsome pantheon of popular gods there was an ultimate creator being who possessed all the omni-s. In contrast, the accounts found in the Bible resolutely insist that God is recognisable: walking and eating with his friend, Abraham; bearing his mighty right arm in battle; coming among us as Jesus. This should not be surprising—and nor is it an accommodation for our sake—given that human beings are created in the likeness of God. Christians believe that in every moment, Jesus is fully God—not half-God, nor one third of God, nor half one third of God, but fully God—and fully human. Thus, whatever can be said of Jesus can be said of God. Thus, the wonder that the God who created the first humans has human ancestors: this mystery alone should cause us to worship.
Jesus told a story to describe, from the inside, what it is like for God and humans to be in covenant relationship (Luke 11:5-13). In the story, set at night, one friend is asleep in bed with his household, when his friend knocks on the door: another friend has just now arrived at his own door, perhaps delayed, perhaps unexpected, and he has no bread to set before the weary traveller: friend, would you lend me some bread?
This story tells us something of what God, our covenant partner, is like. And it should be read in both directions.
God sleeps, with his children. God sleeps, for in sleep, even God is renewed. Jesus sleeps in the boat, not simply because he is fully human but because he is also fully God. And yes, Psalm 121 speaks of a context in which the psalmist can trust that Yahweh will not be drowsy; but, just as the disciples are perfectly safe in the boat in the middle of a storm while Jesus sleeps, so God’s children are safe in God’s presence even when God lies down to sleep in safety and peace. Even so, the God who sleeps will rise to respond to the plea of his covenant friend.
God has needs, and turns to us, as covenant partners, to supply them. For just as God is the friend who sleeps, God is also the friend who knocks on the door. God is not self-sufficient. God is the infant suckling at Mary’s breast. God is the hungry man in the wilderness who rejects the temptation to turn stones into bread. God comes to covenant partners to meet needs: would you lend me some bread?
God sleeps, and God rises from sleep. God approaches, and God requests. We can say, God fully enters the experience of creation; that God’s reign is in sustaining the order God has created, without violating the dignity and responsibility of creation and not least the humans God has appointed to govern the earth. And because God is like this, so we can sleep in safety and in readiness to arise and respond; so, also, we can approach and request, at any time of the day or the night.
A community formed in response to such a God should be non-anxious and generous presence in the world.