Something Substantive About God

A couple of days ago, Tony Jones challenged progressive theo-bloggers (his word, not mine) to write about God. His reasoning: progressives have problems talking about God. Now, my name wasn’t included in the august company he specifically named off, like Fred Clark (Slacktivist), Rachel Held Evans (Evolving in Monkey Town), but he did say “all of you I haven’t mentioned or even ever read”. I’m pretty sure I fall into the latter category, so I’m throwing in my two cents. Here goes:

When I decided to do this, I wondered what the heck I could say that meet the criteria and not make me look like an idiot. When I get into these situations, I get intimidated because I’ve never been to Div school, hell, I’ve never even been to college. I’ve spent most of life as a firefighter and only returned to church about 8 or 9 years ago. I have done a lot of reading, especially since I started writing But Not Yet (funny writing leads to more reading). I racked my brain for a topic, but nothing came to me. Then, driving back from yet another doctor’s appointment, I had an idea (I do my best thinking driving). It took me all the way back to Sunday school and VBS at Rehobeth Methodist Church in Greensboro NC, where I grew up. The idea that popped up was something we heard a lot from our teachers and preachers back then. Three little words: God is Love. I’ll admit I struggled with that phrase for a long time and it had a lot to do with my concept of God. That wasn’t really my fault, I got mixed messages,  from church, from Sunday school, even from life. You see, in Sunday school,we’d hear “God is love” and then sit through a sermon about God’s testing of Job or one the other stories that made God sound like a dick. Especially confusing was the reason given for Jesus’ crucifixion. God sent Jesus into the world so he could die a horrible death for my sins? Even as kid, that struck me as dickish and certainly not what I consider loving. As I got older, I read and found even more mixed messages in the Bible and some theological literature. One of the old messages pounded into me was that God never changes. Yet, there are substantial changes between the God of the Old Testament and the New. In the Old, God is a mean, vindictive jerk. In the New, God is a loving parent that wants his children to come and rest. If God doesn’t change, which one is the real one?

It wasn’t until I was back in church, working with the youth group that I began to find some clarity about the subject. A friend introduced me to Rob Bell through the NOOMA videos and the words I heard there about forgiveness, love and God prompted to dig even further. That was when I found out there was more than one theory for atonement, that God wasn’t necessarily a dick that demanded blood sacrifice to expiate sin. I found out the Hell I’d been threatened with may not exist, and that God didn’t condemn anyone to eternal damnation for things that happened in a few short years here on earth. And, I finally understood that it was true; God didn’t change, I did. It wasn’t until I gave up that image of God as an old man with a beard and long flowing robe, hurling lightning bolts at those who displeased him that the words “God is love” finally made sense. Letting go of that image allowed me to see God, not in human form, but as something else. I quit focusing on the God part so much and began to concentrate on the love end of things. When I did that, I’d like to say the picture got clearer and things got easier, but it didn’t. God remains a mystery and I have to love some pretty unlovable people sometimes. But if God is love and I am his child, how I do things differently?