Increasingly these days, I have been wondering if one of the biggest problems with church attendance and even with people’s general disbelief in God is the way chest-bursting-with-pride-Christians throw out statements about God, himself; the Bible; and Christianity in general that either have no real meaning and come off as gibberish or are so off the mark that anyone with even a bit of knowledge can say, yes, but what about this?, blink, and walk away.
Not sitting back and admitting that understanding all the subtleties in the Bible, in God, in religion, is more than a lifetime’s challenge, or, worse, pretending to actually have answers to everything, as though it all can be reduced to some sort of formula, like counting calories in order to lose weight, probably does more to keep seekers on the other side of the church door than anything else.
I can’t even keep track of all the gobsmackingly head-twisting flouts about God and The Way He Runs The Universe that I hear. Even this week alone. And I’m not even including Sarah Palin’s threat to use the sacramental rite of baptism to torture suspected terrorists. Or perhaps it was her idea to implement a Crusade-like mission to convert Muslims to Christianity through torment by water.
People slip these easy answers about God into conversations as effortlessly as they pick up a mint at the hostess’s station on the way out of a restaurant. It doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just The Truth. I know it. You should too.
Get with it, Julia.
So sometimes I find myself thinking over my life. Life lived in the armpit of God, I would call it. Life lived like a human bumper-car, going this way, no, that’s not it, straighten out, oops someone hit me from behind. Because God isn’t what we think he is. Never was. Never will be.
God is a constant surprise. If not a constant shock to the system.
And I realize that as horrid as I have considered the living of my life, I have come away with some kind of knowledge that lets me step away from these wave-of-the-hand statements, sweeping God and all that he is into a well-defined corner, restricted to a low stool to wait out our plan for him.
That’s really it, isn’t it? A whole lot of theology, from the bindingly strict to the flamboyantly loose, is really about us telling God what he is. What he’s up to.
We have come to think that theology is all about us defining God.
But this is nothing new, really. Is it? I mean, even Peter and the other rough guys who hung out with Jesus tried to tell him his business. Even his death was the expression of one of his bad boys thinking that Jesus just really didn’t get it. And had to be destroyed before he ruined everything.
Perhaps the only word for it is, doubt.
I would consider settling for, presumption. But that would make it a very serious matter. At least in the eyes of God.
But who, in general, really cares about what God thinks? I’ve yet to meet more than a handful of people who put the thoughts of God above their own.
Much too long of an introduction to the subject matter, I realize.
But it’s been a long Lent for me.
One of these phrases that I happened to catch the other day, like being in a field and grabbing at a passing dandelion seed blowing in the wind, was the statement, God doesn’t need us.
And it stopped me. Froze me right on the spot.
I don’t like when that happens because my whole schedule gets blown, like the seed, across time and space. I know there’s something profoundly wrong with the statement and my mind insists that all life stops NOW for me to sit down and figure it out.
And so I did.
Fortunately, I have a lifetime of experiences with God to sort through. Perhaps not completely fortunate. I mean it takes time. It takes effort. And it takes a kind of internal smoothing out so that disparate threads can come together and form a new insight.
To say that God doesn’t need us puts us immediately into either a class of porcelain figurines that God made to set on a shelf and gaze at for his enjoyment, or, alternatively, we could be his pets. Not really needed, just there for his pleasure.
Which could be a kind of need. But, well. Just, well.
But what would God’s need for us be?
If God is the Holy Trinity, if God has himself, as it were, expressed in various ways, why us?
Well, for one thing, we are in body. I don’t know why no one else ever brings this up. As though God went to all the trouble to create us but really didn’t have any real reason behind it. Just an impulse he had one day.
Being in body does a whole lot. It takes our souls, our containers for awe and bitterness, our swirling of the divine and the mundane, and makes our existence concrete. We have to eat to live. We have to use our feet if we want to get across the stream.
In other words, we function. And on a whole lot of levels.
We can take all the information we learn from living life and feed it back to God.
It’s called prayer.
People, I think, in general, believe that God has all this down already. That he somehow knows what devastation feels like. Or what it really means to get the job you have longed for.
But how can he?
He’s never been in body.
It’s told to us from the beginning of the Bible straight through to the end. His plans. His creation. Never a smooth relationship.
Life as a boulder-making-for-God machine.
So what does this do for God?
Well, there are three aspects of The Trinity. And then there’s man. That makes four. That’s how many legs are underneath a table to make it stand steady.
The number that describes balance.
Man can stand with God and be the literal expression of his ideals. As imperfect as we are. As wrong as we are in all things.
This wrongness, in a way, is our rightness. It’s our means of understanding. Which is no small thing. Everything teaches. Everything shapes. Everything is filtered down into our souls so that we, in turn, create life and love and happiness for ourselves.
And for God.
The more I think about it, and I’ve thought about it a lot, the more I think that transforming our souls, making them something that they weren’t when we first began our lives, is the reason that we are here.
It’s a kind of spiritual evolutionary process. In the works.
Not that it always works necessarily. Like the seeds on the wind. Some get blown to where they will never take root.
And not knowing what we’re really supposed to be doing in life is a definite drawback.
As we need God to show us the way to go, God needs us to exercise the muscles of our hearts, our minds, and our souls in order to come up with something, become someone, new.
We connect. With one another. With God. With ourselves. And through these connections, we find our balance in life.
And through our finding our way, God, in a way, is completed.
The Other becomes one with the other.
And while I don’t like the concept of unity as a way of describing our relationship with God because it implies that things were separate and have now come together, this is perhaps what I am trying to get at. That through our existence, through our living, our humanity can unite with the divine.
And both are enriched and thrive as a result.