A lot has changed for Britt and I during the last year. We have left our community and family in Belfast to move to Detroit. We have deepened already existing friendships here and made new ones. We haven’t found a church in a traditional sense that most people mean but we have found church in people and places that encourage us (and hopefully vice versa) everyday.
We’ve also made extremely good use of Skype.
But perhaps on a more personal level a lot has changed about what I believe about God.
Specifically, my main core belief about God is that there is no way for me to have a full proof belief in God. Not that I don’t believe He exists but rather that I will never fully be able to know God and how He works.
A favorite Christian cliche of ours is that “God’s ways are not our ways”. Commonly we use this when referring to tragedies or when our plans don’t work out or for discussing theologies like trying to reconcile the idea of a loving God with some of the more unpalatable theologies we have created e.g. Predestination.
Yet, many of the people who use this phrase the most are the ones who have a very confident stance that God works exactly the way they think He does. It is often their attempt to deal with doubt. And I don’t blame them for doing that one little bit.
But what this phrase really does, is to say, “We can have very good guesses about God and perhaps we can even be extremely sure about certain aspects of God’s character but ultimately we will never fully understand. And this means that we have to be open and awake to the idea that God may operate in ways that could go against all of our existing theologies about God.
We could be wrong.
For example, for us to be open to the idea that God might allow someone to die for some reason that we may never fully comprehend we need to be equally open to the idea that God could be much more loving and creative than we allow Him.
Put another way, when something tragic like death, happens to someone we know and love and didn’t deserve it and hadn’t even really started to do all the wonderful things they should have on Earth; and God allows it because there is some reason that goes way beyond our human understanding, then surely God can redeem people and situations in ways that don’t fit into our traditional Christian paradigm too.
We can’t say God does things that we won’t understand in one case and not at the very least be open to the possibility that in other cases He can bring life and beauty and redemption in crazy, unexpected ways that we won’t understand.
A case in point.
Last week on Youtube I saw a video of Comic/Activist/Philosopher/Prophet Russell Brand talking about spirituality and meditation. One of the commentators on the post remarked on how Russell needed to be saved by Jesus.
And I started to wonder. How do we know he hasn’t already?
He regularly talks about the very things that Jesus was passionate about like justice, the greedy and the poor. He shows love to his critics with a grace they so often don’t offer him. He clearly has a deep respect for Jesus based on how he speaks about Him. He is great at seeing past the face issues and digging deeper into what is really going on, dare I set it, in the heart. He even talks about the Beatitudes (9:40) in a way that is not mocking but exhibits an understanding of what it means for us today.
But…he swears, and he doesn’t use Christianese language. He probably doesn’t go to Church either. And of course he has a sense of humor. There’s no way he can be a Christian.
He doesn’t say the right words that make us feel safe. He doesn’t talk about having your soul saved or any of the ‘important’ stuff. Just the Earthly issues that are causing people to endure Hell everyday, right now.
So is Russell Brand saved? Well that could actually be the wrong question completely.
The question we really need to answer is, do we believe God’s ways are so much better than our own or only as long as they allow us to keep God neatly packed and assembled like an IKEA God?
Now of course all this then raises questions like, well if something horrible with no Earthly explanation does happen, should we just accept it?
Well what if the answer is not some concrete solution which remains illusive but actually in the process of asking questions, poking boxes and turning our expectations of Jesus upside down? Of being brave enough to say, maybe Jesus is bigger than I think. Maybe it is in the pain that we find our answers.
What if the process is far more important than the result?
So, it would be pretty crappy if God went to the length of allowing Jesus to go through something so horrific as crucifixion if we can only approach it one way. My way or your way. What Jesus did on the cross was not give us a nice easy to understand approach to being saved but a new radical, bewildering, exciting, engaging, loving, graceful, approach to our enemies, to our neighbor, to powerful establishments, to the Earth, to sin and to ourselves.
A new way of thinking about God and about how He works.
Not to argue over how whose version of God is right.
For all of us I believe this is a terrifying place to be. It turns what we know upside down but it’s also a place I would rather be. I would rather have my expectations of God constantly evolving to lead me into increasingly wider ways of loving people than keeping people out because they don’t fit into my program.
And the result has been a fresh new perspective to my faith where I don’t have to fight people about what they believe anymore. One where the curtains I have draped because the God I understand does not match the God you understand, have been split in two. Which opens up my clenched fists allowing me to be better equipped to love everyone.
Last week this article appeared about Tony Campolo’s son Bart coming out as Humanist after giving up his Christian faith. Yet, Bart’s love for people and the poor and needy represents an understanding of what Christ stood for, much more than many of us who claim Christ as our savior. I can’t help but feel that this is what God is looking for, not correct doctrine.
Which begs the question.
Who really needs to be saved? Bart Campolo? Russell Brand?