Pictures of God
I used to think that God had certainly made it difficult for ordinary people to understand him. Countless sermons, books, and articles had impressed on me the certainty that only someone with a master’s in Theology, a doctoral Thesis under their belts, and the time to study Greek conjugations and ancient Rabbinical teachings at their leisure would truly be able to properly interpret God’s Story for us. I used to think that the slide into heresy was lurking just one verse misinterpretation away, and if I disagreed with, or if I questioned, a pastor or teacher on a particular interpretation I was surely destined to tumble off of the balancing act of Biblical interpretation into either the pit of Legalism or Liberalism.
I often approached God feeling pretty dumb. “Hey God? I know I don’t have a theology degree or anything, and what Paul was writing here is Greek to me, but…I don’t get it. Why would you say that or act like this?” “Hey God? The preacher said that CLEARLY this verse is saying one thing, but it just doesn’t seem that clear to me. I’ve heard good arguments for other points of view. Am I going to hell now because I’m not sure? Oh yeah, and…IS there a hell? That kind of seems like a big issue that I’d like to not be wrong about, but I don’t want to go all Pascal’s wager on you and just opt for the belief that maximizes the expected utility.” “Hey God? Do we have free will or not? What does that really mean?”
I don’t like to feel dumb. It’s one of my biggest insecurities. Logic tells me that I am smart, or at least, that I have some type of intelligence that seems to mesh well with the ways the world works and allows me to present a moderately successful façade, answer basic questions without stammering, and perform well on nearly every standardized test. I can tell you that earthworms have five hearts, that both cattle and deer are ruminants, and the difference between when to use lay versus lie. (Most of these facts are of little use to me in daily life or standard conversation. Discussing digestive systems of land mammals is kind of frowned upon at dinner parties.)
I can attain practical, factual knowledge when I lack it, but the mysteries of the study of the Divine seem beyond my grasp. And that doesn’t make sense to me.
Here’s what I know. Jesus showed up to some pretty ordinary people. He didn’t emerge on the scene, hand people the 30 volume set to understanding the Son of God and expect them to read up for the coming quiz. He did stuff. He spoke through stories they already knew, and he told them parables and then didn’t always tell them what they meant. He knew perfectly well that we were always going to be a little confused and muddled about him because the people with whom he hung out were sometimes confused and muddled about him. Sometimes they were REALLY confused about him.
I’m beginning to think that if God is as smart and as omniscient as we give him credit for being, he has not been shocked by our difficulty in the twenty-first century to interpret and understand a Bible written through the eyes of a people who lived centuries ago. He knows that we’re going to get confused about him, and he isn’t out there rolling his eyes at our wrestling and saying “You idiot! I made that so clear!” I think that he gives us space to wrestle and engage with him. I think that he’s not a theology professor bent on giving us a failing grade if we fail to subscribe to the correct view of the atonement. He’ll work with us where we are at as long as we want to know him more.
That’s pretty much what God has done all throughout history. He’s related to people through their culture in ways that they could understand him. He’s the God of four thousand years ago, the God of two thousand years ago, and the God of today. He is more ancient than we could imagine, and more present in the NOW than we could possibly hope for. He’s the God of Moses, the God of Esther, the God of Israel in exile, the God of Peter, the God of Mary Magdalene, the God of Martin Luther, the God of Pope Francis, and the God of that middle-aged woman living just down the street who isn’t quite sure what she’s making for supper.
He’s a God who isn’t afraid of a mess. He’ll let us paint our portraits of him, and I think he looks with delight on each one, whether they are finely honed photorealism, impressionism, or finger-painted abstract portraits that put an eyeball where a chin should be and use purple when he really should have been green. I used to think that God wanted me to paint the perfect portrait of him, but now I think that just maybe the point of it all isn’t who paints the best portrait, but who’s willing to sit with the subject long enough to try.
Sometimes an author comes around who just so completely captures the struggles and joys of living out our faith that I want to drink in and linger on every word. Sarah Bessey is one of those authors. She loves Jesus with a passion that makes me want to know him more. I planned my entire Tuesday around a trip to the bookstore to pick up her new book on its release date. Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith is a book where Jesus sings off of every page, even in the midst of questions. Sometimes I want to read it quickly in big gulps, like water when I'm parched. Other times I want to sit and sip the words slowly, letting them warm me and chase away the chill. I'm linking up this post today to her synchroblog celebrating the release of her book, and prompting us to consider the statement "I used to think _________ but now I think _______."