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Once, just before I left a job I had been in for a couple of years, a wise friend of mine suggested that I should ask for some 360 degree feedback from the people I had been working with. This would, he said, be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to find out honestly what I was like, and what I was like to work with, and how I could therefore make sure I was better in my next job or in other future teams. I was to ask them all a list of questions about me, my personality, character, good bits and ‘areas for improvement’.

Assuming that my colleagues would only have nice things to say about me, I charged head-first into the task.

A few weeks later I had breakfast with my wise friend and went through the results.

There were a couple of things that just one colleague had pointed out. My wise friend said that I should take a bit of notice of those things, but not too much. Some of these observations were flattering, some less so, a couple stung quite a bit.

More important though, said my wise friend, was to look for the themes and answers which kept on cropping up. High levels of reoccurrence meant it was probably worth paying close attention to these things.

I was thinking about this exercise as we have been looking a little bit at God this month at St Mark’s and asking “What is God like?”. In order to answer this question I have been reading the Bible a bit and asking people what they think.

There are a couple of things that just appear once in the Bible, or that just one person thinks.

There is one phrase that crops up 9 times in the Bible though.

NINE TIMES!

Reckon that one is worth paying some attention to.

One person who wrote that phrase was a guy called Jonah. He was a bit of a wise mystic who spoke on God’s behalf every now and again, you know, when God couldn’t make the event.

Anyway. One day God told Jonah to pack his bags and travel to a certain city whose inhabitants were not taking a whole lot of notice of the Divine. They were obsessed with greed, wealth, unhealthy sex and themselves. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it” said God to Jonah, “is to tell the people of the city about me”.

What happened next is odd. Jonah went out of his way to travel in the opposite direction. In fact, he went a LONG WAY out of his way in an effort to avoid telling the people of this city about God. His detour led him to get thrown overboard by some superstitious sailors who thought that chucking him off the starboard side would stop the storm that was threatening to kill them all at sea. Luckily for Jonah, instead of drowning he was swallowed by a whale. Lucky huh.

The whale ended up vomiting Jonah on to the beech of the city where he was meant to be anyway, and he ended up telling the people there about God.

So. You gotta ask. Why did Jonah run?

Well, because he knew he was good at his job.

He knew that if he told the people of the city about God, they would most likely embrace that same God as that is the only true response when you understand clearly who God is.

All good…except Jonah felt similarly towards the people of that city as most of us feel towards Chelsea FC! He did not want the people of the city to discover what God really is like, because Jonah knew what God is like; and he wrote it one of the 9 times it appears in the Bible.

“God is slow to anger and ABOUNDING in love”.

That’s who he is.

That’s how he is.

Thousands of years later, (while Jonah was still on the return journey probably) a guy called John wrote a letter to a few people in an attempt to describe God. He had as good an idea as anyone as he had just spent 3 years walking around with Jesus. He describes God like this…

(Wait for it. This is gonna be big, and probably involve some long and complicated words.)

“God is Love”

Full stop.

How different is that to how we normally think of him?! No lightening bolt of judgement, not waiting to stamp on your head for swearing, squash you for screwing up, or smite you for supporting Chelsea. (OK, maybe that last one.)

God. Is. Love.

Full Stop.