Take God seriously. Really seriously. Take your theology less so.
Wedges, squares or more. It’s still pizza.
This is heresy to some of my doctrinally-oriented sisters and brothers, but I don’t consider myself dogmatically-handicapped, just conceptually-flexible. Here’s the deal: our theology only describes what we know and understand about God, it doesn’t prescribe what God has to be like.
A little humility is needed here. I was just reading the last four chapters of Job in preparation for preaching and was reminded by God’s booming voice coming out of the whirlwind that even in our most profound moments, we don’t know squat. At our best we reflect back, in our limited, human way, what we pick up from God.
The theological pizza can be sliced in more than one way; wedges, squares or more, it’s still pizza. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways or more faithful ways to understand and talk about God, it just means that none of them ARE God. They are all human constructs trying to capture to something that they can only point at.
So what does that mean?
- Don’t let your theology or theological traditions limit your experience with God. Expect God to mess with them; stretch them; make you rework them. If you don’t think this applies to you, you’ve parked the car of your faith journey while the world is flying by.
- Be open to other people’s experiences and expressions of God. Their ideas don’t have to be ‘right’ (nobody’s are, remember!) to be an authentic voice for their wrestlings with God right now, and for you to learn something from.
- Value your doubts and tough questions and experiences as God’s way of helping you do #4.
- KEEP GOD BIG! Theology is a box, not the thing itself. We need its categories and explanations to be able to deal with and talk about God, but we need to remember that God doesn’t, can’t ever fit in it. So take the initiative yourself to find the bigness of God that breaks your system. This may be painful but you’re on the way to a breakthrough, not a breakdown!
There is an intrinsic problem in trying to understand God. That is that God is God and therefore beyond our experience or understanding. Our best and most sophisticated concepts and analogies inevitably reduce God to something we can handle. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it just means that we should be careful what we claim. I find that the most helpful isn’t to describe what God is like and doing, but to point towards where we see God showing up.
So, to point in a helpful direction, I like to say God is too big for our world and wants to make us too big for it too and by blowing our minds with thinking that is too big for our world. Too big thinking resonates with and calls to us, but it can’t be managed or accomplished.
What is God’s too big thinking? I’m sure many lists of great length could be put together, but here is one I shared on Christmas Eve at Jacob’s Well that makes a lot of sense to me. What do you think?
God’s too big thinking – we see these all played out in the person of Jesus – says…
- Sacrifice, not self-interest, is the most direct route to happiness.
- Generosity, not accumulation, is the greatest source of wealth.
- Love, forgiveness and mercy are the greatest forces in our world.
- We are loved no matter how unlovable we think we are, and that
- We depend on that undeserved love no matter how deserving we think we are.
- Hope is not wishful thinking, but faith in action.
- Peace is not the absence of violence or trouble, but an active presence in the midst of life.
What makes me think that these are God-style too big is that I want them all to be true and find myself drawn to them, but have to be really honest and say that I neither truly understand, fully agree or practice any of them. I’m ready to follow a God who says they are the real thing though.
I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say this on a NPR Science Friday interview today. Tyson is the noted astrophysicist who recently published The Pluto Files, chronicling the fall of Pluto from planetary status.
I’m not writing about that controversy (I think they are right, however. I was a math and science geek in my earlier life… still am, I suppose), but I am very interested in Tyson who takes his obscure and hard to understand discipline and does two very important things with it. 1) He makes science understandable and very interesting to the larger public. And 2) he steps from his field to make some very clear and important observations that relate to everyone.
That’s what I hear in the quote above; a profound observation that could change the world. The world would have far fewer victims if we all did our homework. His insight applies to religion as well. While I believe God’s truth is from beyond our understanding, I also believe it is understandable. We may not be able to author it ourselves, but when articulated it resonates with us and recognized by us. Something like John 10.4.
When Martin Luther was defending his works in 1521 he purportedly said,
“Unless I am fully convinced by testimony of Holy Scripture and evident reason… I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. ”
God’s wisdom is greater than human knowledge, but not illogical. It is what human knowledge reflects when it approaches wisdom. That was what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and it is the premise of the wisdom tradition in the Old Testament.
The best educated person will not fall for the phony side of religion, but will see the value of God’s wisdom manifested in an authentic community of faith. Education, knowledge, sophistication are not antithetical to God or faith, but innoculations against bad theology and poor practice.
Was not wisdom the first of God’s creations? (Proverbs 8.22)