This weekend we hear the familiar story of one of Jesus' conversation with his apostles. He asks his closest friend, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answer him by saying that people think he might be Elijah, might be John the Baptist, might be one of the "ancient prophets" come back to life.
The crowds are trying to make sense of what they are seeing in Jesus, trying to reconcile him to their old, existing images of what someone sent from God would be like. They are unable to "think outside the box" and instead, try to make Jesus fit the boxes they're familiar with.
I think we do the same thing with God. We have images of God that we cling to, even when they're unhelpful to us. We hang onto our images of God so tightly that when God doesn't behave in the way that fits our image, we give up believing. We create God in our own image, and then measure God's behavior (or lack thereof) against that image. When things don't go according to our plan, we decide that it is God who's at fault (or, non-existent)- not our images. We find it easier to discard God than it is to discard our boxes.
Of course, Jesus was way beyond what the crowds could understand him to be, and of course, God is beyond our reach of understanding too- Jesus calls us not just to change in behavior but a change in thinking- a paradigm shift. We have to stretch our understanding, dare to imagine that God could be something beyond and different from what we expect and are comfortable with. How do we do that?
The Apostles knew who Jesus was, and it was because they spent many hours face to face with Him. The crowds only knew pieces of Jesus, gleaned who he was based on his appearances and sermons. But the apostles, they logged time with Jesus. It was because they spent time in His presence that they could see Him for who He really was.
So, to follow their example, if we are going to be able to shift to a new paradigm, a new understanding of this God, we can't step away, boxes in hand, self-assigned images intact. We have to log time with God. We need to be face to face with God, spend time in His presence. Just like the Apostles, getting to know Jesus is not a promise of a life without pain- but there's a promise of a happy ending that we cannot find in the boxes we create.