A couple of weeks ago, just before the Scottish referendum I read an interesting tweet from someone which basically said that since God was on the side of those campaigning for No vote, they were going to win.
It was a pretty bold statement to make but immediately got me thinking.
If God was on the side of everyone on the No campaign does that mean he was against everyone on the Yes side?
Does that mean everyone on the side of No understands what God wants but everyone on the Yes side is deluded or at best mistaken?
What about those on the side of No who don’t even believe in God, is it possible that they could be doing His work without even realizing it?
What about those who on the Yes side believe that actually it was they who were doing God’s will? Were they wrong and did the end result where No eventually won show that indeed God was on the side of No all along?
Or what about all the political powers and corporations that win every single day at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? Does that mean God has no desire to see the poor freed and the weak given strength?
And what exactly was the meaning of the ending of Lost? (No I still don’t know either).
There is a big problem when we state categorically that God is on one side over another in that it actually raises so many questions about who God is; which happens to be the exact opposite of what those sure they are correct believe. We argue whose version of God is more real and because we’re dealing with God, if someone disagrees with us it’s not something we can let go of easily.
But perhaps most damaging is that it creates a huge gulf between the group who believe they are right and the group who they believe are wrong. A short look through history will quickly reveal countries, Governments and individuals who have taken this route with devastating consequences.
Take my home of Northern Ireland for instance.
From the early 1960’s where people like the Reverend Ian Paisley were at the core of movements that coined phrases like “For God and Ulster” it’s obvious the damage that can be caused when the belief that we are doing God’s will results in the idea that the other side are the anti Christ. Violence, bombs, hatred and thousands of losses of life. All because one side thinks they are right about God.
Until it becomes nothing to do with God or even beliefs and all about fearful, unwarranted attitudes about those with a different “label” to you. Eventually, until the point when there is not a lot to distinguish between the two sides, except a common hate for ‘them’.
Sooner or later, one side’s belief that they are completely right about God will often lead to a violent and angry reaction towards those who they disagree with.
So how ultimately do we decide what God is like?
One obvious way is to go to the Bible.
That rich library of books consisting of many different genres, written by a lot of different writers, who each have often very conflicting ideas of God. Middle Eastern writers from incredibly diverse backgrounds with different aims, writing for different groups of people, each with their own unique traditions and beliefs. Words and poetry and stories and long lists of names which describe the journey of a diverse group of people, with vastly different ideas about God which pull and push in a millions different ways, stretched out over thousands of years. People struggling and messing up as they try to make sense of life and their faith in God. Confusing imagery and perplexing stories of fish swallowing men and people prepared to murder their own sons and talking donkeys.
That last one is not made up I promise.
Yep, the Bible is a perfect place to start and make sense of God.
Of course the best way we can understand what God is like is to look at the Gospels and to the words and actions of Jesus. Here we find a very clear and easy to follow set of rules for how to be a good Christian and understand what God is like. (Ok I’m sure by now you know where this is heading but just go with it).
Things like giving all your wealth away. Or loving those whose main goal in life is to destroy you. Or taking off all your clothes and giving them to someone who is also trying to take your money. Or letting someone hit you twice. Or ideas about being poor and actually being wealthy in ways you won’t necessarily understand at the time and may never fully get.
Or how about stories Jesus told about women turning their homes upside down for one solitary coin they lost and farmers leaving 99 of their sheep unguarded, open to attack from predators just so he could find the one who went missing (Some interesting economic applications in there for sure).
Parables which sound like riddles and stories that are just plain mental.
Then there was the way that Jesus upset the establishment which held ideas about God they had worked hard to cement. Upsetting groups like the Pharisees who tried their best to silence and control this rogue Jewish rabbi who called himself the Son of God.
(This is also what the Roman Emperor called himself so you can imagine the kind of stir when Jesus, a poor Jewish carpenter took the name for himself. Also, even our commonly held understanding that all Pharisees were against Jesus shows just how much we get it wrong sometimes. There were some like Nicodemus who stood up for Jesus.)
Then there’s the controversial Jesus who did radically shocking things like talking to a Samaritan woman (mortal enemies of Jews) at a well about her sex life. The simple fact that it was not a man who first proclaimed that Jesus had risen but actually a woman. (And to this day we many churches tell women they can’t preach). Then when even some of Jesus best friends, the people who knew Him best didn’t believe that Jesus was alive and kicking. And we wonder why we struggle to make sense of all that Jesus said and did.
Constantly, Jesus demonstrated a complete disregard for how everyone thought the savior of the world should act. He turned everything upside down forever. He made a fool of those who though they knew what was happening and delighting the very people that were considered the worst people on the planet.
So when it’s pretty clear from the scriptures that Jesus ended up doing the exact thing that was not expected of Him, always keeping his followers on their toes and using weird stories that usually made as much sense as a David Lynch movie, why do we believe that we are so often correct about God?
Time and time again Jesus commands us to do things that just do not make any sense. Ideas so out there that even today with years and years of Biblical scholarship we still don’t know what a lot of it means.
A God who is so difficult to pinpoint to a certain ideal that He is still revealing Himself in new and wonderfully exciting ways through the very people we think we think don’t deserve a second chance.
It seems that the very moment we assume we hold the most correct ideas of God and faith and life that we are missing the point. We can find so many enriching and truths about God in the Bible but over and over it becomes apparent that sometimes the best that Jesus can even come up with is vague ideas about what God or Heaven is ‘like’ rather than concrete truths.
Which when you think about it is beautiful and allows us to flourish in our full creativity and explore God in new ways that could give us new meaning and a new hopefulness.
And then it could bring us to a place where instead of holding tightly to what we think is correct about God we are open to the possibility that in the person who we think is wrong, a truth that causes us to love each other is brought into the light.
This is what real truth looks like. This is what true love looks like.
And something tells me this is what God looks like too.