A Holy God

From my earliest recollection I remember hearing the ‘gospel truth’ that God is love and therefore loves everyone. BUT he is also holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. In fact, any hint of sin is an abomination to him. This is the reason (so I was told) that Jesus came to earth: to die on the cross and take the punishment–pay the debt–for my sin, so the holy God could justly forgive me and see me ‘just-as-if-I’ve-never-sinned.’

Jesus then arrives on the scene and plays with my ingrained understandings. Here was the one who ‘showed us the Father,’ whose mission it was to reveal the nature of God to humanity. And he ate with sinners, went to their parties, drank with them, befriended demoniacs and prostitutes, and forgave . . . and loved . . . and healed . . . and made us believe that perhaps God wasn’t angry at us after all.

So what about that perfection that God demanded? The commands to ‘Be holy’ and ‘Be perfect’ ring around in my head. Can I ever attain perfection? Moral purity? No. Does God then turn his face away from me because I am a sinner?

Philip Gulley and James Mulholland in their book If Grace is True have this to say:

‘One of the ugliest ideas I’ve heard about God involves his attitude while Jesus was on the cross. I’ve often heard preachers say the reason it became dark at the moment of Christ’s death was because God, in his holiness, could not look upon sin. Jesus was bearing the sins of the world. Therefore, God turned his back on him.’

So God turns his back on his only son in his dying moments, yet looks on us with love? In any parental relationship, one would call it abusive of a parent to disown a son because of sin. This certainly wasn’t the case in the parable which told the story of love, forgiveness and acceptance that we know as ‘The Prodigal Son.’ Jesus himself, who said to the accusers of the adulterous woman, ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ also says that he did not come to call the [self-]righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).

God loves sinners. And quite frankly, I don’t think he minds being around sinners. He knows we sin. He understands our weaknesses. He comes to us and joins us in our journey–accepting us warts and all. If indeed Jesus was the revelation of the Father to us, then this must be true. His holiness, in my understanding of it, is not so much about not being able to be in the presence of sin as much as it is to be untainted by that sin–or better yet ‘untaintable.’

So God looked down on his son on the cross and his heart broke in the middle of that darkened day. How could he have turned away and ignored the pain and suffering Jesus endured? He looks down in love today at his creation and is moved with compassion. And he doesn’t turn his face away.

Which is the Most Violent: the Bible or the Quran?

I came across this interesting piece from NPR (America’s equivalent to Australia’s ABC) and their program ‘All Things Considered.’ It is a transcript of a program they ran comparing the violence in the Bible with that found in the Quran. You can hear or read it here.

This resounds with the question of the violent God raised by Brian McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity, about which NPR also did a porgram. You can read the article here.

God-in-a-box

I came across this paragraph in the introduction to Rick McKinley’s book, This Beautiful Mess. It sums up a lot of what I’ve been thinking for a long time about the methods of theological study which I grew up around, in, and embraced for many years.

“I love studying theology, but I’ve noticed theology has little tolerance for loose ends. As the study of God, it mostly uses human tools like logic and interpretation and systems to define Him and how He works in our lives. Countless brilliant women and men have written penetrating works that help us think more clearly about God. They give us a rich theological heritage, and I encourage you to read them. But be careful. You can study God expertly in His parts and miss Him entirely in His Being. Sometimes I think today’s evangelicals have dissected God, put Him in jars, labelled all His parts, and then breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Whew. Job done,’ they hasp. ‘Now we have no more confusion about God. Now we have a God we can market. At least now we can be excruciatingly confident that “our team” is right.’ As right as body parts in formaldehyde.”

Too often we  put God in a box, because he’s so much easier to understand, study, dissect, and tame if he can be contained. We are so confident in our human reason and powers of deduction that we imagine God can be understood by using these enlightened methods alone. So we place limitations on God and say things like, ‘God would never do that,’ or ‘God can’t be like that.’ Just the fact that I call God a ‘he’ shows that I have already placed a boundary around an infinite and vastly unknown God. (But that’s another post . . . )

May we allow God to be beyond our understanding and live content in this great mystery. Yes, read. Yes, study. Yes, seek. But in doing so, be always aware of our human limitations and tendencies and let God be God.

Tribes

In Brian McLaren’s new book, several times he offers the image of ‘the tribe’ or a tribal society in referring to questions about God or the Bible. Rob Bell in his timely and enlightening ‘The God’s Aren’t Angry‘ speaks of humanity’s understanding of God from a tribal perspective. In his review of ‘A New Kind of Christianity,’ Andrew Perriman speaks about a panel discussion about the book held at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and, once again, the idea of tribal identity surfaces:

The tribal part has to do with the limits we perceive that we are not willing to cross. I might be highly creative, intellectual, etc. but I might remain so entrenched within a certain religious or ideological tribe that I simply focus my personality on defending that tribe.

I found the So. Baptist Theological Seminary panel discussion particularly fascinating in that sense. It seemed liked the leaders of a tribe were reacting to a perceived threat. How else can one explain the oddness of these academics taking up their intellectual arms in a public forum for no other apparent purpose than to preach to the choir before them?

It was fascinating but also very sad. I wondered what percentage of the audience had read your book, or ever would after such an indoctrination. Yet they gladly cheered on those academic gladiators in that one-sided arena.

Tribal ‘elders,’ leaders, speaking to the tribe about what is happening in another tribe and the threats this poses. This is a strange but interesting take on Evangelical Christianity, and one with which I tend to agree. Whether I intend or not, I am part of a tribe that shares a common story (or common interpretation of that story), a common cause, a common deity, a common ground (home). And while I wish all tribes could agree, that won’t necessarily happen.  But we still share the same space and live under the same sky, worshipping the same God.

That’s a good start.

P.S. I’d like to take this tribal idea further and explore it. Keep watching this space…

Great Song

Brian McLaren just posted a YouTube clip of Michael Gungor’s ‘White Man’ on his blog. Check it out.

In the forefront of all our thinking, dreaming, and journeying should be the truth that God is not bound to our ideas of him, not does he fit well in any box we may construct to hold him. He is unbounded love, expressed freely in Jesus, and given freely to all without exclusion.

The God of ‘Yes’

This is a prayer that was read at our staff prayer this morning. Marianne, our College’s Director of Spirituality, wrote it (actually adapted it from a meditation that meant a lot to her). I thought it was worth sharing.

When the ads offer us everything
If only we have the money
Lord, help us to say ‘No.’
When you offer us everything
If only we do without,
Lord, help us to say ‘Yes.’

When the easier way to succeed
Means we lose our integrity,
Lord, help us to say ‘No.’
When the harder way to succeed
Means we let go of our pride,
Lord, help us to say ‘Yes.’

When people want us to conform
And avoid creating a disturbance,
Lord, help us to say ‘No.’
When you want us to rebel
And bring about change,
Lord, help us to say ‘Yes.’

When our friends don’t respect
What we count as important,
Lord, help us to say ‘No.’
When you cakll us your children
With Jesus, our brother,
Lord, help us to say ‘Yes.’

When we feel like giving in
Just to save face,
Lord, help us to say ‘No.’
When you promise to be with us
Whatever may happen,
Lord, help us to say ‘Yes.’

You, O Lord, are the God of possibilities,
The God of change,
The God of ‘Yes.’
Let me be your ‘Yes’ in the world today.
Amen