Thursday, January 9, 2014
Constricting or opening up?
It does not help the case that you drive around behind bumper stickers that proudly proclaim: God said it! I believe it! That makes it so! No, it does not help the cause that the media seem to brand all disagreement with the prevailing social and ontological theories as ignorance. I also confess that too often the apologetic of well-meaning Christians is to disparage doubters and to hold up absolute confidence as the hallmark of a "real" faith.
I know that there are some Lutherans who throw the Catechism or a Bible passage at every question, every doubt, and every doubter. Funny that Lutherans would use Luther's Small Catechism in such a way since its author was a man with frequent bouts of doubt and despair. What consoled him was not God in a box but the concrete means of grace that gave access to the divine and saving mystery. We Lutherans sometimes have forgotten that mystery is not some loose end to be tied up and packed away. The surprise of grace is mystery! The means of grace are mysterion, doors and entrances to the mystery -- what we in the West call sacraments.
We have gotten in the nasty habit of boxing up God as if this were the duty He has assigned to us -- cleaning up His messes. Nothing could be further from the truth. God's self-disclosure does not draw a box around Him but honors the real mystery of the Triune God without distancing us from that mystery. Take a gander at the Athanasian Creed and its definitions of God that proceed from what He is not more than what He is. The beginning of that creed is certainly the prologue to the greatest mystery of all. Whoever would be saved must above all confess the catholic faith... and the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance... Almost too abruptly we are thrust into the mystery that is God -- not the God of our imagining but the God who has disclosed Himself to us in paradoxes and contradictions that literally boggle the mind!
How sad it is that we feel we must tame God and disarm the mystery in order to teach it to our children and witness it to the world. The creeds spend very little time defining God -- they confess Him as He has revealed Himself with the faith that this God keeps His promises and does what He says. That is enough. Far from boxing in God, this opens up God to us. He is not some neat and tidy idea that appeals to human reason but God who is incarnate -- who holds all things in His hands, who was and is and is to come but can still fit in the womb of the Virgin!
Any genuine catechesis opens up the door to the grand and limitless imagination of the God who breathed His mystery into the authors of Scripture until His Word became their words -- all so that we might know Him and worship Him. There is no constricting to this God. He refuses to be bound by anything except His own promises and these He is compelled to keep. His revelation blows holes in us and in all our designs to compact Him. Your God is too small -- He insists to us. And this is not the speculation of a curious mind wondering "what if" but the unlimited nature of a life that begins with His because...
Christianity is no small faith with a small God. Just the opposite! Christianity is a great faith and our God is greater than the mind can ever imagine! The surprise of grace is that hidden in all of this grandeur is not some pedestrian idea of glory but the radical glory of a God who comes to suffer and whose suffering redeems us. This is the mystery that has captivated the minds of the greatest artists and artisans! How can it be that we think this God small and this faith constricting? Far from it. Faith opens the door to a grander life and a greater imagination than any of us could conceive on our own. Where is our sense of wonder? Where is our awe? Unless we communicate this with our memorized catechetical passages and Bible verses, we will have given our youth and the unchurched a false idea of God and a sense of Christianity that is too small to be true!