Tuesday, December 2, 2014

God in a Box

When I was younger and pretty sure I had Christianity all figured out, I was sometimes frustrated by all the different streams of Christianity…and even the different ways that my individual friends perceived Jesus. You see, I thought that the way I saw things was the right way, so it followed logically that the way others saw things had to be the wrong way. What can I tell you, I was young and knew less about the human heart’s propensity for self-deception. I’ve grown to see that my perspective is heavily influenced by what I am comfortable with, which is formed less by what is true and more by my background, temperament, education and experience.

That is one reason I’ve become leery of systematic theology as I’ve grown older. I studied it in college (back in dinosaur days) and believed what I was told, because it was in thick books with small print. Systematic theology interprets Scripture so that it fits within a particular system, or point of view. It neatly folds and even cuts and pastes where necessary in order to make the mysteries of God fit within that logical framework. My issue lies in the fact that godly, sincere scholars, pastors, seminaries and authors pick a side, then hunker down behind the barricades of dueling systems, all sides claiming to interpret the Bible “correctly.” I wonder if these good people ever consider the confusion they cause regular folks when thinking biblically changes depending on which camp you’re in.

I’ve come to the conclusion that God must look at how seriously we take ourselves and shake his head. I cannot believe the first thing that will happen when we all get to Heaven is a theology seminar, ironing out every tiny wrinkle in every single verse, until everything in the Bible makes sense to human minds. I don’t think there will be celebrating from one camp and mourning from another as we finally discover who was right after all. I think I’ve read something about a giant wedding reception, which sounds much more fun.

A more Hebraic view of things might help here. Systematic theology grew out of Greek philosophy. The Greeks believed it was possible to use human reasoning, step by step, until they found the one, right answer to a question. But the Bible comes to us from the Hebrew culture. Hebrew scholars believed that God was bigger than their theologies, and that there were bound to be disagreements, and that debate wouldn’t necessarily end with the “right” answer. It is a given, in Hebraic thinking that some things are simply beyond our understanding. Therefore debate can be a spirited discussion among family members, not a death match to decide a winner. We could benefit from thinking like that.

God created a diverse population, full of unique individuals. Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus loves us enough to reveal Himself to us in the way we can receive Him best? Then once he has captured our hearts and made us his own, we are able to share that aspect of him with the world. No one person or church or denomination has the complete picture of Jesus. One may know Him mainly as a God of love; another may be more familiar with his holiness; still another may love His majesty and justice. This is an evidence that we need each other, not that a lot of folks need straightening out. It is only when we honor and receive the vision each of us holds that the body becomes more complete.

In these troubled days I need input from other lovers of Christ. I need to stretch my boundaries to include what others have received from Him. Not to swallow whole everything that ends up on my plate, but taste and see...then eat the meat and spit out the bones. Only a child turns up his nose at something he hasn't yet tried. So instead of looking with suspicion at other denominations, or other believers, I can ask myself what they might have that I lack. What has been deposited in them that can enrich the church at large? Because a day is coming when we will be less concerned with whether someone was baptized in Jesus’ name only; or whether someone speaks in tongues; or whether some go to Mass; or whether one is Calvinist or Arminian. All the differences which now loom large will shrink to insignificance when the world decides it has had enough of its conscience and moves to silence it. Those who truly know Jesus will be identified by their refusal to reject Him when it becomes easy and even prudent to do so.

I am looking forward to the day when we lay down what divides us as Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodists, Charismatics, and all the rest and gather around the few (and I think we will be amazed at how few) theological imperatives that make us disciples. I believe that true unity, forged in great trouble, will make the church a force to be reckoned with. I believe that is the church which will blaze like stars in the growing darkness.

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” Philippians 2:14-15 NIV


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