ONE WHOLE CLOTH
September 25, 2013
by Jonny Rashid
Our image of God informs our faith, by and large, and I think it we need to work it out with some sensitivity. Many Christians live as though Christianity in the United States is a subculture that we are trying to protect, an institution that needs defense, whose principles are under attack. We separate the sacred and secular all of the time. The idea that Jesus is present over all things, and that everyone and everything can be redeemed might seem a foreign concept.
We want to be on the right side of things, to believe the right things and make the right choices —and so rather than discerning things with God and in community, we try and come up with rules and literally start a culture war.
And to be honest, we find comfort in the subculture, complete with its own music, magazines, and comedians. There is something great about knowing the scripture passages, the weird Biblical references, the theological terms. Jesus’ world redemption project is reduced to an inside joke or worse, a holier-than-thou fraternity.
When we long to see God in a whole way, it is tempting to mischaracterize who God is. Here are a few myths about the Lord of All.
God wills everything. We might find some comfort in that idea. We want to serve a God who “won’t let bad things” happen to us, but the danger that we face with that is two-fold. We might be inclined to lose our faith and ask “where is our God?” Or we might just reinvent our perception of the entire world, to keep our faith in God, despite circumstances that are painful.
We either create a reality where God no longer exists, or we create one where reality on earth as we know it is altered. It’s a dangerous cycle. We try to explain things like Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake in Haiti, or the tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the cyclone in Burma. We try to give meaning to the most tragic things in life and end up hurting people’s faith altogether.
For some of us, rather than blaming God, or ourselves, for all of the bad things in the world, we turn inward and think that our own self-actualization, self-realization, and self-consciousness is a relationship with God. We view the path to spiritual well-being as merely a process of self-awareness, introspection, and self-discovery. We think that our experiences, perceptions, and understanding begin and end with us, and that God is only alive through us and our interpretations. That’s the second myth—I am everything, including God.
The myth is that prayer is nothing more than introspection. Spiritual development and psychological development are one in the same. And our relationship with God is really about learning who we are.
Finally, there is a distinct philosophy where we think God is everything. It’s hard for us to believe that life in Christ in one whole cloth, that we’ve all been redeemed by God and everything can be, without mistakenly thinking that everything is God. He is beyond our collective experiences and ideas. We serve the God of all and everything, yet God is in everything without God being everything.
If God is in everything, than isn’t everything by definition redeemed? The universality of God, in the fact that everything can be redeemed, might make us inclined to a pluralistic and universalistic understanding of our faith. But let me be clear, just because everything can be redeemed, doesn’t make everything redeemed. Just because we are redeemed, doesn’t make all of our actions so.
Practically, we can do a few things to worship this whole and complete God.
Be in creation. See God in creation. Watch a sunrise, take a swim in a lake, a hike up a mountain, camp in the forest, fish in a stream, pick flowers in a prairie, go birding, start a garden and eat the veggies that you grow, go apple-picking, visit a pumpkin patch. In all of the mystery and wonder of the creation, know your creator.
Be generous. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Try to see God in the people with whom you interact, the media that you consume, and in the world that’s around you. Don’t be dominated by all of the evil in the world, try to see God in it all. It doesn’t have to be just God that you see. As you expand your eyes, you’ll notice even more.
Be humble. Don’t judge people, situations, or ideas as Godless. Try to see God in them; try to see the good in them and the same love that God offers to other things. Don’t be so certain that you are right about who and where God is. But understand too that you have an idea and a perspective that is very noteworthy. God is also in you.
Jonny Rashid serves as Pastor for Circle of Hope, Philadelphia.