Saturday, June 16, 2007

Note to a New Reader


One of the most difficult things for some Christians to do is to accept the proposition that two different persons can have different understandings of the Christian journey and yet can both be right, or righteous.


God's truth, while absolute for God, is relative to each of us.

Consider for a moment that God has alwasy related to different people differently. From Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah, from Moses and Zippporah to David and Bathsheba, and on and on in the biblical story. God reveals himself differently at different times in different ways. It would be futile for Moses to try to convince David that a "burning bush" was the primary way God communicates.

Consider a lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A ship (e.g. ship # 4 below) sends out a distress call. It is lost and needs direction to the safety of the lighthouse.

Suppose the other ships, in an effort to help, signalled ship #4 to take their direction to safety. Ship #1 would say, "Go Southeast". Ship #2, "Go Northeast". Ship #3, "Go Southwest".

Ship#4 would be hopelessly lost if it tried to go in the same direction as another ship. The moral: Each person must follow their unique pathway to a full transforming relationship with God. To imitate what others advise (no matter how "right" they are) will not bring safety or lasting satisfaction.


Scripture tells us: Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. 1 Cor 13.12

Some persons have a need to have an absolute authority in their life. This is especially true when we are younger, or when we live in a universe filled with confusion, ambiguity and fear and we are not coping very well. There is a tendency to "whittle God down to size", or to imagine that he exists only to meet our particular needs.

A person getting ready to travel by car across the desert needs to notice that their gas tank is only 1/4 full and be responsible for it. To run out of gas some 100 miles into the journey and then ask God for more gas is totally irresponsible behavior. God does not exist just to bail us out of quandries of our own making.

When we have a "whittled down God" we have falsely expanded our partial knowledge of him to a "complete understanding". We think our understanding of God is the same as his mysterious reality. This process leads to idolatry. We worship our partial understanding as if it were the same as the unlimited, all-powerful, mysterious God.
Anytime we take the infinite and make if finite, that is idolatry.

A Sufi parable tells the story of how different blind persons examined an elephant and tried to come up with a description. One, holding onto the trunk, said, "It seems to be like a large snake." Another, stretching his arms around one of the elephant's legs said, "It appears to be like a large tree." The one with the tail in his hands described it as a "whip".

While the person holding its ears, argued for large thick leaves on a tree. All of the ones involved were "right" in their partial understanding of the elephant, but only by putting all their impressions togeother could they come to a fuller understanding of "elephant".

The moral: Each of bring to the table our own "partial" understanding of God. Respectful dialogue can yield deeper and more complete understanding for all. But, when we refuse to be open-minded to other's witness, we build an impenetrable wall around our own self-authenticated god.


In seminary and through my reading these last thirty years, I have learned many things which have changed my Christian stance. There are things I know now, which prohibit me from "believing" some things I once believed. But on the other hand, there are things I have retained from my early Sunday School upbringing which help form the core of my Christian experience.

I would never expect you to put on my perspective for that would be a synthetic coat of faith for you. Neither am I willing to wear your "coat of faith" for that would not be viable for me. But that does not mean that your current faith stance is invalid or wrong. On the contrary, what you currently believe, live and the way you relate to God reflect your interaction with the faith community and with God up to this point in your life. It is vital that you affirm it, while at the same time, stay in dialogue with others in the broader community of faith.

Where your understanding has rough edges, explore and grow. Where it is satisfying and supporting, deepen it and be thankful. One persons faith position is not better than another's, so long as they are both involved in a transforming relationship with God and are engaged in dialogue with the larger Christian community.


Finally, let us love one another. Let us not be threatened by differences. Let us not feel compelled to force everyone to believe the way we do. In love, let us search for the truth of life, and let us be thankful in all we do.