‘If God is Love’ #2

Let me start off by saying this morning’s service was wonderful! Probably the best that we’ve had since I started going to my church a little over a year ago. We had “Sing Out Sunday” today, which basically means that we spent almost the entire service singing traditional hymns that church members had requested beforehand. There was a peaceful, uplifting spirit among us that moved me to tears several times (I know… I’m a big softie). We ended the service by forming a circle that went all the way around the inside of the sanctuary and held hands as we sang “Pass It On.” Truly a beautiful, blessed service.

We also had our second in a series of meetings about the book If God Is Love. This week’s reading included the author recalling how he considered himself unworthy to approach God as a young man. He recounts the many verses in the Bible that actually praise mankind, like God creating things one by one and calling them “good” in Genesis.

We learned that a person’s view of God can usually reflect their theology. If God is a stern, judgmental figure, then the person is probably following the rules of religion instead of focusing on a relationship with Him. If a person has a gentle, loving view of God, then they will focus less on creed and more on the experience of being a child of God. Our belief system is usually a combination of four factors, as seen in the following image:

belief_system

The book also discusses the author’s many born again experiences, because he felt the need to get to get re-saved after every transgression. He finally came to believe that salvation is an ongoing process. We learned that the root of the word “salvation” means “wholeness” or “healing.” The Bible refers to salvation in many different ways, but almost always with reference to this world, not the afterlife. Some of the biblical references to salvation describe it the following ways:

Light in our darkness
Sight to the blind
Enlightenment
Liberation for captives
Return from exile
The healing of our infirmities
Food and drink
Resurrection from the land of the dead
Being born again
Knowing God
Becoming “in Christ”
Being made right with God or “justified”

The afterlife doesn’t even emerge in the Bible until near the end of Hebrew writings in the Bible. Jesus seemed to believe in the afterlife, but didn’t talk about it very much. His message was more about transformation in this life and the kingdom of God being on earth.

The author believes that our concept of sin and salvation enables us to judge others and gives us permission to hate. There are even verses in Psalms that tell of how we should hate those who hate the Lord, while verses in the New Testament instruct us to love our enemies. Many religions certainly seem to foster discord for their own benefit.

Some favorite quotes from this week’s reading assignment:

If Jesus expected me to love my neighbor as myself, I needed to learn to love myself.

Most people talk more radically than they live. The challenge is to live more radically than you talk.

Here are the questions for this week and my responses.

The authors say on page 36, “I was never taught to smile at God.” How were you taught to approach God? Has that changed over the years? If so, how?

I was taught to have great reverence for God and was frankly intimidated by Him. Still am, but I think that my view is slowly changing.

In what ways do you see the church universal giving itself license to hate or judge? What is your response?

Most church people feel that it’s perfectly fine to judge or hate someone that they consider sinful or not enlightened on spiritual matters. I have certainly encountered much discrimination and judgment from religious people because of my sexuality.

In your opinion, what keeps us (individually and collectively) from taking Jesus at his word when he commands us to love one another? What might help us move more fully in this direction?

It seems that fear and ignorance prevents many of us from loving one another, but some are restricted by the belief that they are somehow superior to others in their relationship with God. We must recognize that we are all God’s children, we are all created in His image, and we are all deserving of love.

Author: Brian

Blogger. Bookworm. Michael Jackson fanatic. Lives in Kentucky with partner of 12 years and three fabulous felines.

7 thoughts on “‘If God is Love’ #2”

  1. Brian,

    Thanks for posting this, for being so transparent and sharing your answers to the questions.

    I really like the quote: “Most people talk more radically than they live. The challenge is to live more radically than you talk.”

    Maybe you can help me with a question: While tradition, scripture, reason and experience shape our belief system, do you think they are all equal? Or does, for example, our reason have more influence than tradition, or scripture take precedence over our experiences, or vice-versa?

    If they are not equal, how would you rank them in order of influence?

    I wish I could have been in that worship service–it sounds like a very uplifting experience!

    JimT

  2. Jim,

    I’m sure that some probably do take precedence over others. Many people would rely on scripture/tradition rather than experience/reason, while other’s would do quite the opposite.

    Personally, I think it might be wise to make them a little more equalized. All four are important, but we seem to neglect reason/experience while relying solely on tradition/scripture. Karen raised a good point when she said something to the effect of, “God gave us reason and we should use it.”

    If I had to rank them according to how most people that I’ve encountered in the collective church probably would, it might look something like this –

    1. Tradition
    2. Scripture
    3. Experience
    4. Reason

    I know for a fact that many of the beliefs held by the church of my youth weren’t grounded in scripture, but were based on tradition. I think the same is true of many churches.

    My pastor, Karen, reads my blog and might be able to explain it better than I. ;)

  3. I can take a hint…!

    Each person and church does indeed create an order among those four ways of coming at understanding God and God’s claim on us. It’s just that most of the time we’re unaware of how this has happened or that it continues to happen. How marvelous it would be if we each spent time reflecting on those four domains and how they’ve come to bear (or not) on our theology and spirituality. It might help us understand each other better and support meaningful dialogue.

    I’d caution against thinking of these four areas hierarchically, though. They come together in a dynamic, organic way. It might make more sense then to view them much like we view the three branches of government which (in a perfect world, at least) work together for the good of the nation. Each category is equally important and serves to balance out the tendency toward the extreme that can happen when one quadrant is over-emphasized.

    In case anyone’s wondering, this quadrilateral comes from John Wesley (if I’m not mistaken), one of the founders of Methodism.

    Brian, you did a spectacular job of summarizing what we did in class yesterday. I’m writing my recommendation letter for you today so that you can apply to Yale. Or, if you prefer, Harvard. (You rock!)

  4. Brain (I mean Brian) and Karen,

    thanks for your insights. Karen, thanks for taking the hint.

    The “faith tradition” in which I grew up said, “Scripture first”, so if what I thought (reason) or experienced contradicted scripture, then scripture was right and I was wrong–God knows better than we do after all. While that was stated, it seemed that, in actual practice, tradition often trumped the Bible.

    Karen, I like the idea of seeing them as more organic and synthesized instead of heirarchical. The idea of balance and avoiding the tendency toward extremism is…comforting.

    In actual day-to-day living, it seems that the majority of peolpe nowdays rely mostly on reason and experience with very little thought to what God says through the Bible.

    JimT

  5. Well, I currently find myself trying to balance all of it, and to tell you the truth, I am “struggling” in just what exactly I believe.

    I try to live by the Scriptures, but sometimes they seem to contradict or maybe they just have more than one meaning? Yet the scriptures are a good guidance tool. However, I also try to use Reason and Experiences. I would have to say that Tradition is last.

    Thanks for sharing the questions and your answers.
    Your blogs usually have good-thought-provoking-questions.

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