Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Finding God Again

I have written in previous posts about Changing Our View Of God. Today I want to summarize and move on to a new series that follows from it, which for convenience I am calling Finding God Again. I am going to take my time on this one so probably only one or two posts in the series each week. But I will write about other matters in between and reply to any comments there may be.

Changing Our View of God: Summary

I have tried to describe some of the key ways I believe that our view of God has changed over the time that I personally have been actively involved in Christian ministry. The reasons for this change are simply put. We wanted an end to patriarchy and for there to be a greater openness to the feminine with more priority given to women’s issues. We wanted less emphasis on sin and more emphasis on the goodness of creation. We wanted to define ourselves in an inclusive way by what we are for, not in an exclusive way by what we are against. We preferred to see Jesus' death as an example of how we should live rather than as a response to how we have lived. We wanted acceptance and forgiveness rather than judgement and condemnation.

I have suggested that because of this, we have, at the very least, modified our view of God to take on these concerns, while some have gone even further and have changed their view of God altogether. Out with the Authoritarian God I have written about and in with the Benevolent God, a God who addresses our concerns. A God who is both male and female. A God who created a good world. A God who showed us in the ministry of Jesus that we should welcome everyone and anyone without passing judgements on them or their lifestyle. A God who is less concerned about sin and more concerned about love. A God who never gets angry with us and never gives up on us.

I have suggested that there are problems with this for anyone who still holds to a view in which the Bible is, in some way at least, authoritative. For in the Bible, while there is truth in the above description of God, it is not the whole truth or anything like it.

The problem is that, in the Bible, God is described in predominantly male categories. God may indeed have created a good world, but we screwed it up and now it shares in our sin. Jesus did welcome everyone, but he also had some hard things to say about people and their behaviour. Jesus’ death is predominantly portrayed in sacrificial terms as being because of us and for us. And in the Bible, to put it at its simplest, God does get angry and punish people.

How are we to reconcile these two different views of God? Can they in fact be reconciled or must we choose between one or the other? The problem is not so much of a problem for those from a liberal Christian background. If you do not see the Bible as normative in the first place, there is no problem in rejecting those parts of it that are not congenial to your view of God. However, for those of us from a background in which the Bible is taken seriously, the problem is much more acute.

I wish now to talk as one from such a background. I have written of how many of us from such a background found the Authoritarian God of our background oppressive and, frankly, at times repulsive. We have for some years been on a journey trying to find a nicer, kinder God. Most of us have ended up with a version of the Benevolent God. Many of us are happy with this, and are keen to introduce this God to those who still haven’t made the journey and to those who are outside the community of faith altogether. I feel sure we were right to embark on the journey. I am just not sure we have ended up in the right place. I don’t want to go back to where I was, but I am not sure here is any better. Well, no, that’s not quite true: it is better here, actually. People are a lot nicer and kinder for one thing. Sadly, however, just because the place you get lost in is nice doesn’t mean it is the place you should be.

I do go back and visit the old place from time to time. I meet with Christians from a very evangelical and traditional background. People who sincerely and devoutly believe in the Authoritarian God and I just don’t feel at home. I went to a very successful local evangelical church recently. The people there were all kind, sincere, deeply committed, and spiritual. Do you know the piercing sound chalk sometimes makes on a blackboard? It goes right through you and you can’t stand it? Well that’s the feeling I get. It’s unfair, it’s not even rational, but I know I just can’t stay there a minute longer.

I am listening to some mp3s of a well-known Christian speaker at the moment. I agree with just about all that he has to say. I think he is right on in his analysis. But I end up sympathizing more with those he criticizes than those he supports. Now you are probably thinking that I have some real issues that I need to deal with. No doubt you are right. But I don’t think I am alone. In fact, I know I am not.

I keep referring to ‘we’. Preachers often do this so they don’t sound so egotistical by saying I or too direct by saying you. So ‘we think’ really means, ‘I think’. And ‘we need to repent’ really means ‘you need to repent’. But this is not what I am doing. At least not all the time!

Over the last 15 years or so a movement has been growing rapidly principally, but not exclusively, in the US. It is now making its presence felt in other parts of the world as well. It is a movement of people many of whom share my experience and perspective, and who want to move towards a new way of being and doing Church.

I have only become consciously aware of this movement comparatively recently, but I realize that for quite some time I have been a part of what it stands for. I wish I had known about it much earlier as I would have appreciated sharing in the conversation. I feel it is as if we have been going in the same direction but with them on the A road and me trying to keep up on the B road! Tragically for me, now I have caught up and our paths have crossed, I feel we are all going in the wrong direction!

I’ll begin to tell you more in the next post in this series!

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