Karl Barth said,
“When we talk about God, we talk about ourselves with a megaphone.”
When it comes to quotes about the god idea, that one is my favorite.
That simple sentence challenges all religion and/or spirituality to be honest. And as another saying goes, “honesty is the best policy.”
Honesty is of particular importance when we speak of an issue as important as god. In the majority of christian sects the importance of honesty is replaced with the importance of certainty. If an individual or family unit wants to participate fully in a typical christian community they must pay lip service to certain ideals or beliefs. Some of those beliefs are the same, or similar throughout various different sects. However some of the beliefs vary greatly, and in some circumstances essential christian beliefs stand in direct opposition to each other from one sect to another.
It is not difficult to find examples of major theological differences throughout christian religion. Some denominations will teach you about god’s plan, set in motion from before the beginning of time. Others will teach you about the endless paths before us, all created by our choices. In one church you could be taught that hell is a place of torture that lasts for all eternity, but in a church down the street they will teach you that all people will eventually leave hell to find happiness with god.
The first church that I ever went to was a baptist church, where I learned about the importance of baptism. Later in life I went to bible college, there they taught that baptism was an affront to god. Stark theological differences exist everywhere.
Some of the differences may seem less significant, and perhaps even appear to have nothing to do with theology. However, every choice made by an individual or community is a reflection of the theology they value. For example, some sects may expect community members to dress in simplistic,and modest clothing. While other sects may expect their community members to be keeping up with the newest trends of fashion. In most cases, neither community would actively say that the clothing they wear is essential to being in union with the divine. However most of these communities do view their particular set of beliefs as “the best way” to be in a relationship with the divine. These two ideas create a conflicting set of beliefs within a community.
Here is an example of the problem this faulty thinking creates. A woman finds an anabaptist community that’s teachings on theology speak to her in a very powerful way. However this particular individual prefers to wear pants, instead of the communities expectation of a skirt, and is subsequently treated as an inferior believer by the majority of that religious community. In response to that treatment she leaves the community to find one that will accept pants wearers. The skirt community believes that their sect offers the correct way to have a relationship with divine. To them the clothing issue would not be the primary way of having this relationship. However the clothing issues was what caused this woman to leave the community. She did not conform to the clothing standard set by the religious community, therefore she is not able to participate in what the community believes to be the best way to have a relationship with the divine. As we can see the clothing issues actually supersedes the theology that the community believes offers the best relationship with the divine.
Absolute statements are seldom effective, there are only a few of them i am comfortable with, and when it comes to the divine, there are only two i will promote.
The absolute statement that this writing is about goes like this,
We can’t all be right.
Of course that idea did not begin with me, but it is an idea that i work to spread. From the above discussion and examples we see quite plainly that people believe all sorts of things. There are a few options on how we can approach this spectrum of belief. Whatever option we choose to subscribe to, comes with its own method of questioning everything.
One would be to discredit them all, how could anyone know?
Another would be to call them all good, how could i judge anyones belief?
A third option would be deciding that your way is the best, how could anyone know better than i?
Lastly, we could embrace the chaos of conflicting belief, could god find me?
In my life i have spent time in all four of these mindsets. Throughout the course of your life i imagine you have also experienced thinking in at least a few of these ways. Through my experience with the divine, i have found myself settling into the last category of thought.
In the christian tradition there is a saying, “god makes all things new.”
The saying has its biblical roots in revelation. The last book of the bible, revelation, is a recording of a dream that one of Jesus’s disciples experienced. In that dream the disciple sees god sitting on a throne saying, “i make all things new.”
Interesting as that dream may be, it is difficult to make concrete choices based off of a dream that can be interpreted in many different ways. The idea of god making all things new is best observed in the world around us.
In our bodies, 300 million cells die every minute, only to be replaced.
Scientists estimate that 275 million stars are born and die everyday.
Over 150 thousand people die each day, while over 350 thousand are born every day.
The earth we live on, and the galaxies surrounding us, are in a perpetual state of death and life.
Things are constantly being made new.
As everything around us is being reborn constantly, we too often find ourselves stuck in antiquated and archaic ways of existing.
In the christian tradition we see many stories of people being made new.
Moses was a murderer, he became the leader of the Israelites.
David was sleeping around, he is called a man after gods own heart.
Paul was working to execute the followers of Jesus, he wrote half the new testament.
For many people brought up in christian tradition, those stories become so familiar that they lose any power. For people outside the christian tradition they see so little change they wonder what’s the point in christianity?
The reality is that these stories point to a god that brings about new life.
As Karl Barth pointed out, god has too often become nothing more than a reflection of ourselves. We use god as a divine parent. We can’t get in trouble if we ask permission, so we create a god that gives us permission to be the way we want to be. This way of thinking leads to thousands of different gods, each one tailor made to fit your specific set of desires. A god for skirts, and a god for pants.
An american god. One that endorses excess, ignores the impoverished, and encourages aggressive foreign policy.
A god that allows his followers to say, “who could know better than i?”
This god makes nothing new.
This god continues cycles of poverty, cycles of religious abuse, and cycles of violence.
Thankfully we can find another god.
A god that’s worth existing doesn’t need a pulpit, or even a building.
A god worth following is not found only on sunday mornings or in an ancient book.
A god worth dying for, is one that won’t ask you to kill.
Sometimes it can seem hard to find this god.
But in reality it is quite simple,
if we simply stop and look.
We see the homeless in need of a home.
We see the sick in need of healthcare.
We see the refugee in need of shelter.
When we see those people, and when we act to help them,
We see a god that can make all things new.