I spend a fair amount of time surfing, lurking and commenting on the various religious blogs online such as Patheos, Sojourners and miscellaneous personal blogs, and have been struck by a curious observation. The comments that seem to be the most stridently adversarial to inclusivity, acceptance and extending mercy seem to be the ones most adamant about either defending the inerrancy of Scripture or the “Holiness of God.” In other words, those who most clearly understand God’s “attributes” and that the Bible is “God’s Word,” are the most likely to exclude those individuals that are somehow “outside the box.” The result of such an attempt to “defend” God results in a theology that seems to be intent on excluding the most amount of people possible from the “Kingdom of God.”
What I think we have illustrated here is what I would call “bad theology.” Bad theology starts with trying to figure God out, define Him, take Him apart and see what He’s made of. This is the stuff of classic Reformed theology. Generally over-thinking things, taking God apart then remaking Him with our personality traits, just more “Zeus-like.” Do we categorize and ostracize people, so must God. Do we get angry, God’s anger must be terrible. We put troublemakers in jail, there must be a hell. The list goes on. We end up with a God that reflects our imperfect nature and a Gospel that is not “good news.”
This is the theology I grew up with and accepted for some 50 years. During those years I never heard anyone say “if you want to know what God is like, look at Christ.” God the Father was always treated separately from Christ. In my Christian education, College and Seminary, we scoured the Bible for descriptions of God. His Omnipotence, His Holiness, His Eternality, His Foreknowledge, His Righteousness, His Holiness, the different names of God: Elohim, El Shaddai, Jehovah Nissi, etc. These are all well and good but tend to obscure God, limit Him and put Him in a box of our understanding. Philip asked Jesus to “show them the Father.” (John 14:8-9) Jesus’ response was “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” So the simple answer is that God is like Jesus, loving, forgiving, sacrificing and shares in our suffering, our humanity. That seems to be too simple for a lot of people, however, and therefore we turn to long-dead theologians to build fancy, intricate webs of theological certitudes for us. We end up with a theology that is “us vs. them,” the privileged “chosen vs. the Lost.”
Starting our theological framework with “proving” the inerrancy of Scripture, or attempting to describe God’s nature and defending His Holiness points us invariably in the wrong direction. When we start with Christ we end up hitting the mark. Looking to Christ and his cruciform life and death tells us not only what the Heavenly Father is like, but tells us what God expects of us: to copy Christ, to manifest his love, his mercy and his forgiveness. And how exactly do we copy Christ? The answer is found in Christ’s “kenosis,” his “emptying” of his privilege of deity in order to fully share our human suffering and predicament. We are called to lay aside our own self-serving interests and in the process be filled with the spirit of Christ so that we too may share in others needs and love one another. This is theology that is practical and prepares us for the coming Kingdom, the Age to come. In the coming months I will explore how Scripture itself reveals a Christlike God and how, ultimately Love wins and Wrath and condemnation will lose.