Sunday, July 13, 2008

My God can Whup Your God! (Wide Open Spaces excerpt)

I read this post today off of Jim Palmer's (Author of Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces) blog.

I have attended church for most of my life and in various denominations. What really bothers me is some of the conflict that goes on in churches over petty stuff. Traditional vs. Contemporary, Liturgical vs. Non-Liturgical, Seeker Sensitive vs. Believers Meetings, House Churches vs. Free Standing Churches, Small to Medium sized Churches vs. Megachurches, Modern vs. Postmodern. I've been on both ends of the conflict myself. I don't let it bother me anymore. Go to a place that you feel comfortable instead of creating a conflict.

And now the post from Jim Palmer called My God can Whup Your God:

These last few years, God has supplied a few jolts of his own to rouse me from my religious slumber. One of those jolts was Connie’s July 13 blog post, only nineteen words long. Connie is one of my MySpace friends, and from time to time I read her blog. July 13 was one of those times. I clicked on her blog and read this:

I Hate You.
You Hate Me.
We Hate Them.
They Hate Us.
What does it take to change this?

These words planted a seed within me that has continued to germinate. Religion teaches that God is synonymous with a specific belief system. Each system claims to have “right” beliefs about God, which are passionately held by its adherents—so much so that hate, bitter resentment, bloodshed, and even war can result from disagreement about God. A brief overview of world history shows that bad things happen when religious belief systems clash. This is what Connie was feeling. She had experienced religious hate in her own world, was fed up, and voiced it in nineteen sobering words.

But what if God isn’t a belief system? What if God is bigger than self, bigger than family, bigger than tribe, bigger than nation, and even bigger than any set of doctrines we try to wrap around him? Whereas religion sometimes brings out the worst in people, could the vision of a bigger God cause us to place higher value on expanding our circles of care and compassion and working toward a more peaceful world?

One of the most freeing discoveries these past few years in my relationship with God (and it’s still sinking in) is that God is not a belief system or a fixed set of theological propositions. On the one hand, it seems patently obvious that a list of claims about God can’t actually be God himself. There isn’t a lockbox at the center of the universe containing a divine computer program with doctrinal code. Hopefully we’ve all realized that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is fiction and that the number forty-two doesn’t answer anything of ultimate significance. And yet for many years, my Christianity was basically a well-worked-out and defined set of propositions and practices in the name of God. I said Jesus Christ was my Savior, but in reality I treated my belief system as if it were my savior. It was my belief in the right suppositions about Christ that made me eternally saved.

When the basis for being a Christian is your specific set of beliefs about God, the most important thing is being right. If someone comes around with contrary ideas, the logical conclusion is . . . well, their ideas must be wrong. It doesn’t take an MIT grad to figure out two people with divergent views of God can’t both be right. Therein lies all religious conflict; there must be winners and losers. It’s a zero-sum game. The “win-win” mentality just doesn’t fly.

For many years, my sense of well-being, comfort, safety, security, identity, and superiority in the world was based largely on being right about God. I was eager to take on theological debates. After I received my masters of divinity degree, I was confident I was “right” about God. When threatened, my response was akin to the little boy yelling, “My daddy can whup your daddy!” I was happy to be counted among the few, the proud, the saved who could emphatically say, “My God can whup your God! My belief system wins over your belief system. My book is better than your book. I win, you lose. I’ll pray for you.”

Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity
Thomas Nelson Publishers



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