Friday, January 13, 2006

Elucidation #2—Perceiving God

The second idea that I’ve been deconstructing over the last year is my concept of who God is. Who is I AM? Could He possibly be contained in an ark made of wood with gold overlayment? What about in my finite, human mind?

Thomas Merton asserts, “Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.” I think that is true. We presume that God is more in OUR likeness than we are created in His.

I grew up with this perception that God is both angry with us, yet madly in love with us. This split-personality Deity is mostly angry in the Old Testament, acting out His wrath on those whom He chooses. He is mostly loving in the New Testament, offering up His own Son as a sacrifice for us.

As I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve discovered more of God’s loving-kindness in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I still wrestle with the stories of His wrath…say on Sodom and Gemorrah or on less guilty subjects, like Uzzah who, with the best intentions, touched the ark.

One thing that becomes more and more apparent to me is that the Scriptures were written by human beings, with limited understanding, faulty perceptions and irrational superstitions. Regardless of the amount of divine inspiration—which I do believe was the impetus for the recording of Scripture—there was that imperfect filter called the human imagination that surely played a part in the telling of the grand story.

It goes back to Merton’s assertion that our idea of God is rooted in our own personality, perception and imagination. It’s impossible to separate our ideas from our identity. It’s just as impossible for us to think beyond our limited comprehension. So anything we think we know about God is severely limited by our humanness.

God created us with these limitations. He knew that we could never perceive of His vastness. Yet, we often act like we have Him figured out. How arrogant.

It would be like trying to contain the entire Milky Way in the candy bar by the same name. There’s just no possible way to fit the greatness of God into our human-sized containers. So why do we box Him in by our finite understanding? Why do we even try?

I am discovering that God is so much more than He has appeared to be in my mind’s eye. He is not bound by the black and white text on the pages of Scripture, nor by the black and white thinking of my youth.

He is not some Great Mystery to be solved or a Hidden Treasure to be discovered, but the treasures of His love I continue to discover every year. It is that continuous discovery that makes this journey so worthwhile. My goal is no longer to figure everything out or to hem God in by my vain imaginations. I am just happy to be on this journey of discovery.
In letting go of my black and white presumptions about God, I have found much freedom. I am free to accept more of Him, and to accept others who are created in His image even if they don’t look or act like it to me.

If you are holding onto your perception of God as absolute reality, I ask you to consider the possibility of a much larger, greater, more powerful God than you can even fathom. That is the One True God, the I AM. Don’t settle for a facsimile, no matter how reasonable.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Elucidation #1--The Sacrifice

Well, it’s a new year and time to reflect on the year that just ended. I don’t want this to be a cheesy year in review, so I’ll spare you the top ten list. Allow me a few days to ruminate on all that I’ve discovered in my year of church detox and elucidate for you here.

First, I want to talk about the single most central event to Christianity, the sacrificial death of Jesus. As I was thinking on this, I thought of the oft-quoted line of Paul, part one of the “Roman Road” if you will. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Central to my belief system is the fact that Jesus was God in the flesh. As the perfectly divine, yet totally human Savior, He was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and the only acceptable offering to God, the Father. And since ALL have sinned…and fallen WAY short…we’re covered by this once-for-all offering.

While that may be a given for most, if not all, Christians, the church’s focus on the first part of Paul’s proclamation seems to belittle the second, which is “fallen short of the glory of God” (emphasis mine).

What does that mean, “the glory of God?”

Could it mean that we, as God’s cherished creation, haven’t lived up to our potential? Have we fallen short in areas in which we are totally capable of achieving our best? Living graciously? Being generous, kind, loving, accepting of others, etc.?

I was trying to explain the Passion story to my 4-year-old over Christmas. We celebrated the special day with communion as a family. Of course that raised all kinds of questions about why Jesus had to die. Instead of giving the pat answers I had grown up with, I tried to explain it to her in less gruesome terms with less emphasis on the “sins of the world,” which she wouldn’t understand, anyway.

The most basic way I could explain it is that it takes bread and wine (i.e. food and drink) for us to survive. Jesus told us that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. That means we need Jesus to survive.

The more I thought about my simplistic explanation, the more profound it seemed. I came full circle back to a discovery I made months ago:

A life given sacrificially is a life gained eternally.

Jesus’ death is more than just some cosmic retribution for the sins of all humans. It is the gateway to life and to reaching the glory of God. It represents the way we humans must survive on things that are sacrificed, like the wheat that produces bread and the grape that produces wine. It also symbolizes how we must live selflessly in service to others.

Could it be that the glory of God meant to shine through us burns much brighter when we actually live this way?

Then why do we get so hung up on the sin issue, instead of letting God’s glory shine through?