It’s funny how we use the phrase “God’s ways or understanding is bigger than our ways or understanding” when we try and pigeonhole God. It’s mostly used when people don’t know how to creatively answer questions about predestination or when it feels like God lets evil run rampant so much.
It’s also used when people question some of the parts of God that we find tricky to digest.
Yet the very people that use it the most when coming up against views of God can’t seem to let go of their own ideas of who God is and why He does or does not do things. After all, an understanding of God which states that some people were born just to go to Hell with no choice in the matter, because God has already decided, can’t see that perhaps this too is a human understanding of God.
Maybe, God’s love is bigger than we have imagined. More inclusive. I hope it is true that God’s ways are bigger than our understanding when so much of our understanding of God does little to welcome everyone in.
“God is bigger than our human understanding” is fine and all until the moment where we are forced to confront whether the ideas we all have about God could simply be our human understanding and not an accurate picture of who God really is. Like my friend Craig Gross calls it, perhaps God is not black or white, but grey.
Take God’s justice.
Most Christians would believe that God hates sin and that He can’t abide it and for such a perfect being to have sin in His midst is detestable. So, it must be eradicated and therefore those who choose to sin in this life and not seek repentance will face an eternal punishment. There is of course some good news in there that we can be saved from this although from what I’ve already noted, maybe not everyone has this opportunity.
This is the good news we’re so passionate about?
This is the God we argue over who has a better understanding of?
You can have Him/Her. They’re all yours.
This idea of God’s justice lies at the heart of this thinking. Eternal damnation is somehow fitting as a punishment for how we spend our 70 odd (if we’re lucky) years on Earth. It is the punishment that fits the crime of sin. The sin that has already been dealt with on the cross? That same sin? Is the same God who sends people to Hell without a say in the matter, the same God whose son healed sinners, healed his enemies, told us to love our enemies, abhorred violence and spent time with the very people on the outside of society?
Something doesn’t add up.
But what if God’s justice isn’t simply about punishment or experiencing the real consequences of our action. What if the idea of justice that says that some have to be punished forever is more our idea of judgment? What if we are placing our perspective onto God’s?
In Colossions 1 v 20 Paul wrote,
and through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Could this be a more accurate description of God’s justice. A justice in which the evil that is in the world is dealt with and everything put back together so to speak.
If we hold true to the idea that God’s ways our bigger and more complex than ours, surely we owe it to God, ourselves and the people in our lives to at least entertain that this might be true?
So many of our ideas about God come from a place of fear. The fear of being wrong about Him and that this will ultimately lead to our deaths.
I believe in a God who is bigger and more loving and more gracious than that. I believe in a God who sees when we mess up but stands by us like He did Peter. I believe in a God who won’t stand for the very real injustices in the world right now, today, and has called us to be a part of doing something about it.
Now hopefully by now you are saying to yourself, “sure Paul, we can’t understand God but you seem to be making some claims to who He is in this very blog post”. And you’d be right, I am. But this is the crux. It is not simply about having an incomplete understanding of God. It is when we believe that we indeed hold an idea of God that is the only true version of God, that things get messy. It is in these moments where Christians can be so sure of their version of God, that they will reject those who disagree.
For long enough we have rejected other brothers and sisters because of their beliefs. From John Piper bidding farewell to Rob Bell, all the way to the Evangelical Alliance rejecting Oasis trust.
How can we tell people that Jesus loves them, that He cares for them and wants them to experience the fullness of life through the church body, when we are turning our faces from those who are already saved? This is not what Jesus had in mind when He told us to turn the other cheek.
God offers Grace to us everyday for not getting it. If anyone has a reason to reject us it is God. Yet in all his power and Love He stands by us. Never giving up on humanity. Striving tirelessly to reconnect this life to Him.
Is having our understanding of God and his ways perfectly correct the new version of the Jewish Law? Is this our “works” that Paul talks about?
We have become so accustomed for the need to label God, and knowing where He fits by ensuring that our doctrine is solid that we forget that God does not fit into boxes. In Jewish custom they often can’t even bring themselves to say His name.
Then when someone comes along who may challenge a commonly held idea about God we are quick to reject not just their idea but them as a person. We come out with stock replies like “God’s ways are bigger than our understanding” all the while failing to see that all of our ideas about God fall incredibly short of who He is. All our ideas of how God loves don’t measure up to the actual reality.
Like the law, doctrine (or beliefs about God) is only useful in how much it allows us to experience the living God who loves us.
Like the law, doctrine can become so much the point to the detriment of enjoying Grace and peace from God and offering the same to others.
Like the law, doctrine can serve simply to create boxes and labels for each other. Where we can keep each other safely tucked away so as not to invade our own box.
But God does not come in a box. There are no easily followed instructions for us to follow to assemble God.
So maybe when we plant our feet firmly in one theological camp or another we should realize that all our ideas however positive or negative will ultimately fall short of how good He is. That when another Christian disagrees with us, we’d do well to start from a place where we admit we don’t have God all tied up neatly in our minds either and we can learn about the beauty of God, from each other.
If we make our “correct” or “true” understanding of God conditional on being part of the church or His family we are simply creating a new type of law that Paul spoke so strongly against.
Is this how God treats us? Does he ask us to leave when we screw up or fail to bring His Peace and Love to the world through or actions and words? I don’t think He does.
why do we?