I struggled with this title; the term personality is more elastic than a spandex jumpsuit, and the phrase loving God is not much more definitive. But my main point is this: We rightly express our devotion to God differently than other people because of the unique ways we have been shaped by God.
Anyone who has wandered through a forest or spent time snorkeling at a reef begins to realize how much God loves variety. Even flowers and trees of the same species are different from each other, and every snowflake has its own unique shape. If this is true of God’s expression of Himself in creation, will not it also be true of His New Creation, of which we are a part?
When all things are fulfilled, I believe the differences of our personalities, unencumbered by social conformity and our desire to fit in, will be more pronounced than now, not less. We will not be drops of water lost in the ocean of God. We will be unique masterpieces reflecting His work.
Even now we should embrace our differences. What great artist designs only cookie-cutter shapes? How then can we not see our uniqueness as the special creation of God? How can we not see how the uniqueness of the other person’s walk with God is something beautiful and valuable? Let us cease trying to make others in our image; His image is quite sufficient, and has enough hues and facets to embrace all His children.
In particular, we should embrace and celebrate the different ways Christians express their devotion to God, according to their temperament, personality and history. Allow me to express how I see some common patterns (though their combinations and particular expressions will be almost infinite):
- Intellectuals love God by forming their mind according to truth. They have an inner drive to know more about God and His world, and abhor shallow or misleading teaching. Books, magazines, and lectures are the tools God uses to shape the intellectual.For the intellectual all truth is God’s truth, and in learning of His Word and His world they are drawn towards Him.
- Activists love God by working for righteousness and societal justice. They are impatient with a faith that does not express itself in transforming the world around them, and feel closest to God when fighting His battles. Their deepest desire is to see “Your will be done on earth, even as it is already done in heaven”.
- Servants love God by loving those made in God’s image. Like the activist, the servant cannot imagine a God-devotion divorced from action; unlike the activist, this action will more likely be in personally serving those in need. They long to be the hands and feet of Christ to the suffering and needy.
- Mystics love God through an inner ardor that others may not understand. In fact, the mystic may not understand the waxing and waning of their passion, just as a married couple may not always understand the same waxing and waning of their romance. But the mystic desire to love God in a way similar to a romantic love (indeed, for a mystic, human romantic love is a foretaste and symbol of the divine romance). Nothing brings the mystic more pleasure than to sit in utter silence for hours before God, contemplating the beauty of God, and praying words of adoration and surrender.
- Enthusiasts find their love for God best expressed in exciting or intense corporate worship. He or she feeds off the enthusiasm of other believers and revels in God’s mystery and supernatural power. This, in turn, often ushers in surrender and submission to God. New and creative expressions of worship are prized by the enthusiast.
- Naturalists worship God through nature. The beauty and majesty of creation speak to them of the beauty and majesty of the Creator, and they often feel closest to God while simple contemplating a mountain lake or a magnificent sunset. For the naturalist, the physical creation is indeed a revelation of God, and they fully understand Wordsworth’s admonition, “let nature be your teacher”.
- Traditionalists eschew the new for the familiar; they find great meaning and spiritual beauty in the patterns of the past. Reciting a creed used for 1500 years, singing a hymn used by God’s people for centuries: these connect the traditionalist to the stream of Church history, and make them feel united to something greater than themselves or their own time and place.For this person, submitting to such tradition is an act of godly humility. A traditionalist is not always High-Church; A Baptist or Church of Christ adherent can find their own traditions as meaningful as an Anglican’s, even if of more recent vintage.
- Sensates worship God through their senses andtake seriously the sentiment that “beauty is truth, and truth is beauty”. For this person, art and music are the portals to heaven, the way that God shines in a dark world. They find the architecture and appointments of their house of worship greatly affect their worship to God, and nothing brings them greater spiritual fulfillment than to embrace, or even create, beauty. A sensate who also values tradition will be very devoted to liturgy.
Not for a minute would I suggest this list is exhaustive or definitive. Nor do I think most people fit neatly into only one temperament. My point is that in 2000 years of Christian tradition, a number of equally valid ways of loving God and following Christ have become evident. At best, these streams of tradition will balance and correct each other, for each has its own strengths and weaknesses. At the very least, let us embrace the fact that not every Christian has to look and think like we do, and not every church worship God in the same way. God is always bigger than our church, and bigger than our understanding of what it means to love Him.
For Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in form, and lovely in eyes not his
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)