God is not a hippie. He’s also not a backwoods preacher. God is neither Gandhi, nor Hitler for that matter. I often like to think I’m an insider on God, that all those years of sitting on a church pew and reading my Bible qualifies me to truly know what makes God, well… God. But do we really know Him?
C. S. Lewis wrote that “the conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer’” (Lewis 19). I think we all tend to fear this possibility with Lewis. What if our perception of God fails to live up to reality? What does it mean if God’s personality and character doesn’t fit our preconceptions? This issue of God’s identity can cause intense emotional division among Christians. Our doctrine influences how we see God and the world around us. Diverse views of scripture can make us uncomfortable because a different presentation reveals an alternative angle of who God could be.
JJ Heller wrote an amazing song a couple years ago called “Small.” It adds a lot of depth to the discussion:
Cardboard cutouts on the floor / People wish that you were more like what they wanted you to be / Eventually they won’t have much of you at all in their theology / The walls are closing in on you / You cannot be contained at all.
Broken moldings all around / Broken people hit the ground / When they discover that you’re not here for our benefit / You love in spite of us / You use the least of us to prove the strong aren’t really strong at all.
I don’t want to make you small / I don’t want to fit you in my pocket / A cross around my throat / ‘Cause You are brighter than the sun / You’re closer than the tiny thoughts I have of you / But I could never fathom you at all.
Heller reinforces the idea that God is a lot more complex than we think. We often become stagnate in our thinking, viewing God as a concept rather than a living Being. Yet God transcends our humanity. Brokenness clouds our standpoint; we cannot imagine anyone who functions perfectly, not to mention God’s omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and so forth. Scriptural references to God’s personality, attributes, behaviors, and thoughts are all finite ways to help us grasp God on our level. And on top of all that, the Bible at times even trails away from human reasoning and hints at principles that are not comprehendible, such as the Trinity.
I have spent my entire life in one denomination. I have nothing against denominations as a way of organizing shared opinions on doctrine and scriptural principles. Denominations can be helpful in finding a church that generally asserts doctrines and practices that resonate with our interpretation and understanding of scripture. We may choose a denomination that shares our cultural identity, which is not necessarily bad, but we shouldn't fear diversity either. God is not a WASP or Republican. Personally, I don’t define myself by my denomination. No denomination, organization, church, or individual has a monopoly of the truth. Frankly, each individual has some variation in how he or she examines scripture, so no church will be quite the same on every topic of theology. I’m not a relativist—orthodoxy must be maintained, but churches need to steer clear of pride as well. We all share a love for God and His Word. We can learn a lot from each other.
I freely admit I have strong reformed inclinations when I read scripture. I have been taught all through life (through different degrees of orientation or perspective) the doctrines of predestination, foreknowledge, and election. These doctrines radically affect how I look at suffering, redemptive history, engagement with culture and evangelism, and so many other facets of my life. As I have aged I’ve also learned to appreciate Arminian perspectives of God. I am a naturally curious and open-minded guy, so I enjoy dialogues with other thinkers. I’m always interested to discover where common ground can be found. There have been times that I have not received the same degree of respect though. I have been told “I could not serve a God who does that.” But what if you do? I can only submit Paul’s rebuke, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:19-20 ESV). Readers of my previous posts know I’m not shy about expressing anger to God when I don’t understand something. But Paul makes it clear in Romans 9 that I must submit to God and His sovereign will. I have the freedom to imagine whatever I want about God’s character, but my design doesn’t change who God is. It’s one thing to have a perspective built upon scripture, another to force an interpretation based off of preconceptions. It’s theologically dangerous to tell God who He can be. Once we take that path there’s no telling where it will end.
God is certainly not small. Hopefully no matter how we perceive our Heavenly Father, our conclusions come from years of dedicated study. Regardless of how well we know scripture we must have humble hearts. We must realize that as humans we don’t see the whole picture. Only God knows every crevice of His personality and the infiniteness of His goodness, love, and justice. We should be extremely careful of being too emotionally attached to our perceptions. God may shatter them. Truth and reality are funny and elusive concepts to hold onto. There’s a lot of tension and a lot of gray for humans to grapple with. I’m learning to simply let God be God. He does a much better job of being Himself without my input.
Lewis, C. S.(1961). A Grief Observed.
HarperCollins. New York
JJ Heller. (2007). The Pretty & the Plain. Stonetable Records