''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 05/15/2019
All religions have various levels of adherents. There are the nominal -- those in name only -- all the way to the devout. There are liberal Muslims who don't take their Qur'an seriously but still classify themselves as Muslims and there are the devout Muslims who really practice what it says and ... well, we know the outcome of that group. There are the liberal Catholics who don't read the Bible -- "We leave that up to the priests" -- but call themselves "Catholics" while seeking to change the Catholic church and there are the devout Catholics who go to Mass every week and practice all that their religion tells them to. There are liberal Christians who hold loosely if at all to anything "biblical" while practicing their comfortable beliefs -- mostly "be nice and you'll be fine" -- and there are the devout Christians who structure their faith on their Bibles and live it. Even among unbelievers there are the agnostics who don't know, but don't think there is a God all the way to the anti-theists who are so sure there is no God that they feel they need to go on the offensive to eradicate any belief in a deity ... at least among Christians. And in every religion, there is everything in between.
It's not surprising, then, that theology is in such disarray. By "theology" I simply mean "the study of God" -- what we believe about the Divine. Given the gamut in every religion of the source of information about who God is, it would be surprising if there was not disunity in what we believe about God. On the other hand, there often is a unified, majority version out there. It's not because they share a common belief, a common source book. It's because they have a common core -- the nature of Man. The most common version of God we see is a God built in the image of Man.
Do we make God in our image? I'm afraid we do. Even Christians. Even devout Christians. We hold to the Book and we call it our primary authority on matters of faith and practice, but we aren't really comfortable letting God define Himself. We are most comfortable when the God we worship is the God that, well, we're comfortable with. I've seen it far too often. When Jesus says, "God loved the world in this way; He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16), we nod and say, "We like that God." When Jesus's disciples asked Him why the man was born blind, He told His disciples, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). Now that couldn't have been God, right? God doesn't have children born blind so that His works might be displayed in them. No, no, that was something else.
When God says, "I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11), we nod and say, "We like that God." When He says, "I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isaiah 45:7), we aren't as happy. "Oh, no, the God I know doesn't create calamity."
When Job says, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21), we admire his courage and appreciate that the Lord gives (without thinking too much on "the Lord takes away"). When Job says, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2), we pause. "No purpose? Oh, I don't know. I think we can thwart God's plans."
We have a really, really hard time doing our theology by the Book. Our natural instinct is to have a God in our image, one we can manage, understand, grasp. A kind of "Santa Claus" God who is always kind and warm; not that "Whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:38) kind of God. Not that "I create calamity" kind of God. Not that "No purpose of Yours can be thwarted" kind of God. A God who is more malleable, more conformed to our comfort zone. We will let God speak for Himself only so far, and then we'll need to ... adjust things. Even us devout Christian types.
All religions have various levels of adherents. It seems as if the largest number of adherents in most religions are the nominal, the "liberal," the ... non-devout. The actually-devout worshipers are few. I want to be among the few. The difference between the actually-devout and the rest is that they are serious about their faith rather than building their own version that makes them comfortable.
I don't want to do that. I want to worship the God who is, not the one (lowercase) that I create. Not the one that makes me comfortable. I want to worship the God who breathed the Bible and told me all I need to know about Him. Not the one I make up. In fact, if I find myself completely comfortable with the God I worship, I think perhaps I'm not taking the God of the Bible at face value because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and a God I don't fear in some sense is a God of my own making. Because a "holy God" is a God who is "other" and a God that I'm completely comfortable with is not "other." I want to do my theology -- my study of the nature of God -- from God's Book rather than from my own mind. A study like that will take a lifetime because I'm always having to correct my own mind when held against His Word. That's okay. I have a long lifetime -- an everlasting one, in fact.