5 AM Theology

beliefs

Since the recent passing of a beloved Christian writer, a lot has been written in articles, blogs, and opinion columns about her theology, both in agreement and dissent. Her passing—and particularly the ensuing battle of beliefs—has led me to take a long look at my own theology, my own religious practices, and try to articulate the framework I operate in when I conceive of and talk about God. I’ve also reached the end of my Master’s coursework in theological studies. All combined, I’ve had a few things to think about lately.

My brain has been busily pulling out aspects of Christianity and sorting them into piles of “yeah, I believe that” and “no, I can’t go there.” It’s a healthy exercise, if tiring, and it’s one that everyone probably needs to do every few years. Like author Sarah Bessey says, “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”

I believe in a Holy Trinitarian God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three entities in perfect union with each other, mysteriously one. There are days, however, when I don’t believe God is triune. Honestly, some days it feels more like an idea cooked up by the Church Fathers than something revealed in Scripture. But as strange as it sounds, and as much Scripture and as many theological rabbit holes I have to dive into for a full explanation, I always return to an acceptance of God as three in one.

I do not believe God is male. I did, however, grow up in a church where God was referred to using only male pronouns and that is how I formed a vision of my relationship with God. I am not opposed to using the female pronouns to refer to God, I simply choose not to use them myself (as you’ve probably noticed). I am also not opposed to the neutral “Godself.” As with most things, I believe everyone should use whatever pronoun they’re most comfortable with when they speak of God. I choose to use male pronouns. Don’t hate me for it.

And don’t think it means I’m a complementarian. I do not believe God forbids women to preach to men in the church, be it from the pulpit or on the front steps. I’ve met too many women called by God to do both things.  In much the same way, I’ve met too many LGBTQ people who were called to preach for me to ever say that God doesn’t want them in the pulpit. People who are truly called to serve God–no matter who or where they are–will live out that call to God’s glory, and not for my (or anyone else’s) worldly approval.

I believe in Scripture. I believe that God inspired the writers of works included in the Bible and because of that, it should be viewed as holy. I believe the writers of Scripture wrote from Godly inspiration, but I also believe their writings reflect their distinctly male experience in an ancient society as part of a patriarchal culture. Holy? Most assuredly.  Completely devoid of gender and cultural biases? Um, no.

I believe Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection were an act of salvific grace. I believe if I have genuine faith in God, Jesus, and the Spirit, I will show that faith through my actions. I do not believe that I will never act wrongly or badly, nor do I believe I can complete any activities to earn my forgiveness. My forgiveness was given through the death and resurrection of Christ. If there was anything I could do to earn God’s grace or lose God’s grace, then the death of Jesus on the cross was pointless.

I believe God longs for human beings to choose to live in love and peace with each other, and we’ve chosen the path of hatred and war instead. I believe God longs for a relationship with us, but he wants us to freely choose him. God doesn’t want us to love him because he’s our Father or because we think we’re supposed to; he wants us to love him because we feel love in our hearts for him.

Which is what all of this boils down to for me, really:  God is love. God is grace. God is forgiveness. God is relationship. Jesus said the two most important commandments were to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. He didn’t give any exceptions to those two commandments.  And he most certainly did not say for us to love the sinner, but hate the sin.

He didn’t.  He didn’t have to issue any qualifiers like that because he knew ALL were going to continue to sin in thought or action, in one way or another, big or small. In my church, we acknowledge that fact every time we come to the table for the Eucharist when we pray:  Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We haven’t done your will, we’ve broken your law, rebelled against your love, not loved our neighbors, and ignored the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray.

I believe God tells us to just love people the best we can.  Let him be concerned with their (and our) sinful nature and need for forgiveness.  Just love him and each other well.

My theology is actually pretty simple:  Look around you. If it isn’t of love, it isn’t of God. So try to leave everything with a little more love.

 

Want me to write more about these or other topics? Drop me a note in the comments, and we’ll see what happens!

Lent – Day 32

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Today’s Thought:  Can faith and questioning co-exist?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

There have been many times when I’ve read Hebrews 11:1 and felt immediate guilt about the long list of questions I have about the Bible and God. If I really have Christian faith, doesn’t that mean I’m supposed to stop asking so many questions? Aren’t I just supposed to have faith?

Oftentimes, those feelings of guilt originate with the Christian community we grew up with—the faithful around us who told us to stop asking so many questions. I don’t know about you, but that just made me want to ask more questions! Were they afraid of questions? Worried that others would assume they were lacking real faith? Which brings up an interesting question:  Why do questions equate to unfaithfulness for so many Christians?

Author Sarah Bessey writes:

“Just when I think that this time I’ve settled something once and for all, I find a new angle or a new question arises or I read something that pushes against my answer – relationships, encounters with God and Scripture, circumstances even – and I’m left again, wondering. Perhaps this is the shift we’re really talking about – not settling down on our answers, building temples their weight was never meant to hold…. my catalog of right answers grows smaller every year.”  (Bessey, Out of Sorts)

It was a game-changer for me to read authors like Sarah Bessey, Rob Bell, and Rachel Held Evans—questioners who also had deep faith. To know it’s not only okay to question, but to keep questioning, and to keep adjusting the answers, is a truth reaffirmed by my seminary professors and fellow students. Questioning doesn’t even mean that you’re having a faith crisis or some dark night of the soul. It means we can strengthen our faith and sharpen our insights even in the blurriness of not-knowing. Admitting we have questions, yet still believing there’s a God in heaven… that’s real faith.

Thursday’s TheologianI pray that when people, often well-meaning, try to quiet your questions or placate you or numb you, you would remember that God has not given you a spirit of fear but a spirit of love and power and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).  –Sarah Bessey, Christian author and lay theologian