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 fa├žade, 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.



http://www.amazon.com/Out-Sorts-Making-Peace-Evolving/dp/1476717583/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1446722835&sr=8-1&keywords=out+of+sorts


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 _______."

Comments

  1. Hi Rea ... just wandered over to visit from Sarah's synchroblog. I appreciate the richness of your heart words and the insightfulness of your questions.

    He loves us so ...

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  2. Rea, I'm making my way through Sarah's synchroblog entries. I know I'll enjoy so many of them. I've been where you are. Even still as I write on the blog about religion, a voice whispers to me, you'll probably say that wrong. You're not educated in this. I love how you pointed out that Jesus met with some pretty common folk. They were His best friends! You encouraged me to keep seeking Him today. Thanks.

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    1. I'm so glad this encouraged you! And its good to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with writing about religion and worrying that I'm wrong because I'm not educated in it.

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  3. Rea,
    I don't think it's dumb to ask questions but I know what you mean. I think in my head: If I ask a question, then I'm showing that I don't know and that means I'm dumb. But I'm learning that if I ask a question and it shows that I don't know, it also shows that I *want* to know. And that's smart! :) I love what you said about Jesus using ordinary stories the people already knew. Yes to the yes!

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    1. Thanks! :) Sometimes I don't know if it is the asking questions that makes me feel dumb, or the mistaken idea that I just truly don't have what it takes to figure out the answer and need someone smarter to explain it to me. But yes, WANTING to know makes us smart!

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  4. I just love your image of sitting with the subject vs. trying to paint the most perfect portrait. I think Jesus does like our messy portraits of him and isn't as worried as we might think about the mistakes we make. And maybe sitting with Jesus is the key to looking more LIKE Jesus.

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    1. Yes! And looking like Jesus is what I want more than anything.

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  5. I have such an insecurity of being viewed as dumb or not knowing enough. I so love that you remind me that Jesus came for the ordinary - that his message is for all of us, not just the intellectual. Thanks!
    Annie
    annierim.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. I have to keep reminding myself that he is the God of the ordinary. I suppose we all need that reminder.

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  6. Oh yes, this: "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." because in the end what really matters is our willingness to know Jesus experientially. And that will look different on each one of us as He works with who we are and where we're at. Thank you, Rea. Blessed to stop by here from the synchroblog! :) x

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    1. That was my favorite line, too!

      I am also making my way through Sarah Bessey's synchroblog. Whew, it's going to take me a while. But I have been able to read some truly wonderful entries - this one included- while I'm at it!

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    2. Thank you both! I am enjoying my trip through the synchroblog entries, even thought the list keeps getting longer and I fear I'll never finish! But they are all so good!

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  7. LOVE, LOVE, "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."

    THIS! The part about sitting with the subject...and even then, if there were 10 artists painting the same subject, there would be 10 different beautiful interpretations. The more I admit I don't know and the more I ask questions and wait, the more beautiful the relationship actually becomes. Thanks for sharing your perspective on the writing prompt. Gorgeous!

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    1. I also love that line. Rea, thank you for writing!

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  8. Rea, this was incredible. It made me cry! Your line here: "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." WOW.

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  9. I love these words: "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." Just beautiful. That is my heart's cry, to sit with God long enough to try. May we all know God more and more!

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  10. I love this. I can so relate to being that recovering know it all! Learning to wonder at mystery is new territory. And not as scary as I had assumed.

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  11. Thank you so much for writing these beautifully articulated words. They minister God's grace in a special way that only your voice could whisper into the internet. (I found your blog via Sarah Bessey's synchroblog prompt.)

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