Over the past few years as I’ve been wrestling with the faith I grew up in I’ve had a number of people approach me and say something along the lines of, “It’s not just all about love.” This always struck me as odd. Then what is it about?
Anyways, as I’ve been wrestling with my faith I’ve often felt the need to reject the image of God that I was taught to see in the tradition I grew up in in favour of a different image of God. But in the end, I’m trading in one image for another and God is bigger yet. I’m studying theology at a master’s level and it’s tempting in an academic setting to talk in ways you normally wouldn’t and act as if you can intellectually ascent towards God. This is all tiring stuff.
In the end I just want to simply be grasped by the One who is beyond all grasping. I want to be embraced in love and grow to genuinely love others.
God help me and be patient with me as I continue to be slow to understand.
My wife and I visited her family on Christmas Eve and headed to a church service north of Toronto. This church belongs to a family of churches that have a particular interpretation of scripture (theirs!) and most other interpretations are less-than. At any rate, there was singing and story time for the kids. Then towards the end the pastor got up to speak about the birth and story of Jesus. He stood in front of a crowded room and after reading about the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke he proclaimed (in a rather overbearing manner) that this story “demands a response.” According to the pastor there were only two possible responses, you either a) love and follow Jesus or b) hate Jesus (this is no exaggeration, he literally said you either love or hate Jesus). Something about this approach to the scriptures seemed overly simplistic. It just didn’t strike me as a faithful reading of the narrative we have in Luke.
My Old Testament prof likes to compare the reading of scripture to dancing. If you are waltzing there is a leader and a follower and the leader is the person who decides where the dance will go. They make the first move. The follower, well, they just follow the lead. When it comes to reading scripture we ought to dance with the text as followers. The text needs to take the lead and we follow it where it goes. To hijack the text and twist it to make it say what we want it to say is to assume the lead. Now I think our inclination is to want to lead and so we must always be conscious of this and always seeking to simply follow the text in order to remain faithful to it.
Back to Christmas Eve. When we read the story of Christ’s birth in Luke does the story indeed “demand a response” (do we get this idea from the text)? Are there really only two possible responses, love or hatred (again, does the text tell us this)? If that’s the case (although I’m not sure it is) what would these two responses look like? Well, according to the pastor “loving” Jesus meant to accept a certain belief system (his) and to act in a particular manner (according to how he interprets the scriptures). Anything other than this was hatred.
As I sat in my seat and listened to him speak I couldn’t help but think he was leading the dance. I’m not convinced that his interpretation of the story was faithful to the story as Luke himself presented it. I wonder how many not-yet-Christians were sitting there listening and what their impression was? What sort of picture of God does this kind of interpretation paint?
The evangelical Christianity that I am familiar with is one obsessed with destinations. For example, the correct understanding of God is my understanding of God. The correct interpretation of Scripture is my understanding of Scripture. To put it simply, Christianity as I’ve known it has had a strange obsession with having it all figured out. If you seek long and hard enough then you will find. If you ask then you will receive. If you knock then the door will be opened. This all assumes that one can reach out and grasp God and nail Him down (pardon the pun) in order to study and know Him like scientists might do with a butterfly.
One of the problems I see with this is that those who are seeking are understood as having not-yet found while those in-the-know have already found.
Matthew tells us that Jesus said the following: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened,” (Mt. 7:7-8).
Like I’ve alluded to, in my experience of Christianity the western evangelical church has talked about God in such a way that if you seek Him you will find Him. However, we can never fully grasp God because He is Wholly Other than we are. Peter Rollins gives the example of a ship sinking in the sea. While the ship contains the sea it does not contain all of the sea but is consumed entirely by the sea. The ship only contains a tiny fraction of sea. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that we can’t ever arrive at a place where we can claim to know God and contain Him within our thoughts.
Let us look once more then to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7. Generally I’ve heard it taught that seeking leads to finding, asking leads to receiving and knocking leads to opening. These are seen as two separate moments. Seeking being one moment and finding another. However, perhaps this passage can be understood another way. What if rather than being two separate moments ‘seeking’ and ‘finding’ occur at one and the same time. What if seeking is finding? What if asking is receiving? What if knocking on the door is having it opened?
May we let go of our desire to have it all figured out. Let us refuse to settle at a particular destination realizing that God passionately grasps us and not visa-versa. May we realize that when we seek we find because seeking is finding. For as Rollins put it, “Rather than desire being fulfilled in the presence of God, religious desire is born there. In short, a true spiritual seeking can be understood as the ultimate sign that one already has that which one seeks, or rather, that one is already grasped by that which one seeks to grasp. Consequently a genuine seeking after God is evidence of having found…In this way the lovers of God are the ones who are most passionately in search of God,” (53).
Seek on friends, seek on!
I decided it was time to change up the aesthetic around here. It was getting a little old and ragged around the edges and I think this new outfit looks pretty spiffy. You like?
It’s a new decade. Wonder what it will bring.