Time: Let’s play an
imagination game. If you were going to play hide and seek in this
church, where would you hide? OK, now what if I change the rules?
If you were going to try to hide from God where would you hide? Is
that a ridiculous question? Why? (OH…. you can’t hide from God
because God is everywhere? Well, then let’s thank God for that!)
“The One in whom we live and move and have our being,” is a
description of God used by Paul in the book of Acts. It is one of my
favorite descriptions of God, because it fits so well with my
experiences of the Divine. I FEEL surrounded by and supported by the
Holy One. I love the idea that the boundaries between “me” and
“not me” are irrelevant to God, and God is as much in me as as in
you as in the air between us. Thus, the phrase “the One in whom we
live and move and have our being” is often repeated inside my head,
a regular reminder that the God of Love is the foundation of all that
is, and can be accessed in all times and places. I suppose it would
be fair to say it is one of my faith mantras, something I come back
to regularly, ponder often, and draw strength from.
Acts, when Paul uses this phrase to describe God, he is intentionally
appropriating a Greek poet speaking of the Greek god Zeus, and
applying the idea to YHWH instead. This makes me giggle, but it
doesn’t make the attribution feel less true. At the core of our
faith is a believe in God who is “omnipresent”,
a Latin-derived word meaning All-present, used to say that God’s
presence is everywhere all the time. This is why you can’t hide
from God. Further, this idea means that God is within us as well as
around us, so that not only our words and actions but even our
thoughts and feelings are known to God. To believe that God is
omnipresent is to claim that nothing can separate from the presence
of God, just as nothing can separate us from the Love of God.
Jesus-following faith also teaches that that God is “omnibenevolent”
another Latin word that means that God is “all good” or “all
goodness.” It might make more sense to say that God is “all love
for all of creation.” It isn’t JUST that God is with us, it is
also that God is FOR us, seeking good at all times. I’ve said it
before, and I think it is worth saying again: I don’t find it
particularly important whether or not people believe in God. I do,
however, find it VERY important how they understand God. Whether or
not a person believes in God as all-present and all-loving is
significant in who it is they think God is. Very different belief
systems develop when you believe in a God who is all-present and
all-loving … or not.
we’re going to look at two belief systems that disagree with my
belief system at the core. Right now we are comparing three
different belief systems: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the
Christian Right, and “Jesus Following”1.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism was identified by sociologists through a
large research project with US teens, and is the actual belief system
of most teens, despite any religious tradition they claim.
Furthermore, as teens are most heavily influenced by their parents
when it comes to faith, we have reason to believe that a rather large
segment of the population actually believes “Moralistic Therapeutic
Deism.” So, we are looking at it, and finding where it does and
doesn’t match our actual faith tradition.
Therapeutic Deism” has 5 salient points:
god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human
life on earth.”
wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in
the Bible and by most world religions.”
central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when
God is needed to resolve a problem.”
people go to heaven when they die.”
week we are taking a closer look at the fourth one: "God
does not need to be particularly involved
in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.“
In essence, I think this statement stands against the idea that God
is “all-present.” Or, at least, makes God so irrelevant that
God’s presence doesn’t matter. Now, the Christian-Right definitely
believes in God as all-present. However, I am not convinced that
they believe in God as all-loving. (Or, if they do, the words mean
something so different that it doesn’t count as the same idea.)
look at Moralistic Therapeutic Deism first. This perspective, which
reflects the generic belief system in the US, says, "God
does not need to be particularly involved
in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
This makes God the last resort – and our LAST resort tends to be
something we don’t have much investment in. It also seeks to control
God. (Which those famous 10 commandments seem firmly against.) A
person who only reaches out to God when that person wants God to DO
something for them …. that person is thinking of God like a big
gumball machine. That is, “Insert prayer, and God gives you what
you want.” God becomes a means to an end, de-personalized,
unimportant for God’s own self, just there to please us.
suppose the statement doesn’t actually SAY that God isn’t all
present, but it make’s God’s presence irrelevant – other than as a
TOOL one uses for one’s own needs. I think it also denies God as
all-loving, because if you believe that God is all-loving, then you
believe that there is a SOURCE OF LOVE IN THE WORLD YOU CAN CONNECT
TO. And if you believe that, then I guess I figure you’d do so. Or
try to do so at least. Because humans are hungry for love – so we
seek it out (in productive and unproductive ways) all the time! So
this indifference to the Divine itself tells me that people aren’t
thinking of God as GOOD, or LOVING. Rather, they’re thinking of God
as …. well, meh.
I suspect this meh-ness about God is actually reflecting some of the
influence of the Christian-Right.2
(The Atlantic seems to be agreeing with me on this, they’re writing
a lot these days about how the decline in US religiousity is linked
to people associating the Christian-Right with Christianity and
opting out of it.) Now, I’m pretty sure that the entirety of the
Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- teach and
believe that God is all-present. I don’t know of any part of any of
those traditions who argue against it. There are some stronger
understandings of it, like pan-en-theism which says that everything
that is exists within God and yet God is more than all that is. (I’m
a panentheist.) But the all-presentness of God isn’t in any way
the all-loving part of God IS. In fact, I think this is the breaking
point between the Christian-Right and Jesus-followers. While both
sides may make the claim, what we mean by it is profoundly different.
When I say God is all-loving I mean:
loves and wants good for ALL people, regardless of their
acknowledgement of God, desire to “worship” God, or the
morality of their actions.
seeks the COMMON good, and works to create the kindom in the world –
a time and place where ALL people can both survive and thrive.
one is more valuable than anyone else, and no one is less valuable
than anyone else in the eyes of God.
encourages us, nudges us, and calls us into loving words and actions
– all of us all the time – and we get to pick whether or not we
nature is to be loving, which is an awesome and delightful reality.
If we want to respond to that love, then we are led by gratitude and
by love itself. God’s request of us when we attend to God’s love is
that we RESPOND to it – by letting love grow in us and change us.
The love that grows in us is for God, for others, and for ourselves.
Another way to think of this is that deepening our relationship to
God is growing in compassion.
no NOTHING – not death,
nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to
come, nor powers, or height, nor depth, nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
the Christian-Right says God is all loving, it starts from a
different place. The Christian-Right worldview starts with “the
fall” – the idea of original sin. Within this perspective, there
is a separation between God and humanity that exists in two parts.
First, the fall itself is understood as fundamental to reality, it
create a separation between God and humanity as a whole. Secondly,
as each individual person sins that sin separates them from God.
From here, the Christian-Right considers ways to move from this
brokenness into “right relationship with God.” God as loving,
then, is God who gives humans the means to move from broken
relationship into right relationship.
relationship with God consists of fulling a required set of actions
and beliefs. In this view, because God loves everyone, God gives
everyone the opportunity to be in right relationship. As God wants
to be in right relationship with everyone, God steers people towards
the correct actions and beliefs. Thus judgement and even punishment
by God of people are seen as corrections that are part of love, like
a parent correcting their child for the child’s development. (The
fact that punishment is a terrible motivator and, at the core,
doesn’t work, isn’t acknowledged from this perspective.)
the Christian-right view, wrong belief and/or wrong action can
distance one from relationship with God. And, at the point of death,
the opportunity to move into “right relationship” is cut off.
Thus, those in the Christian-Right try to encourage others to choose
right beliefs and right actions, so that they too can be in right
relationship with God and thus not spend eternity in hell, cut off
from God. It is possible to see, from this viewpoint, how judgement
could be seen as an expression of love.
haven’t actually been directly exposed to much Christian-Right
theology, but I actually was exposed to the core of this viewpoint,
one time when I was a teenager at my Annual Conference session. The
Bible Study leader showed us a video in which the human sin created a
chasm with us on one side and God on the other. The video then
showed us how Jesus’s death on the cross changed the nature of
reality, and that if we accepted God’s forgiveness (right belief),
then the cross would become the bridge we could walk to connect with
think I was 13. The next day I complained about the video to my
pastor, and that particularly youth bible study leader never
returned. At that point I didn’t understand exactly how that
viewpoint was different from mine, but I could FEEL it. Somewhere
along the line I realized that I think the idea that sin separates us
from God is blasphemous because it indicates that SIN is more
powerful than God and God’s love.
the passage from Matthew suggests, God does not call us into being
afraid of God. Rather, God is with us and we need not be afraid. God
loves us, all of us, and nothing can separate us from the love of
God. Thanks be to God. Amen
feedback leads me to add a PS to the end of this sermon: Therefore,
as people connected to the all-present and all-loving God, as people
freed from the fear that pervades the world around us, go and be
present and loving in the world!)
use of the phrase “Jesus following” is not meant to suggest that
the Christian-Right are not Jesus followers. Rather, I find that
because of the hateful action of many people who claim the word
Christian, many of us are uncomfortable claiming that language and
prefer to take on “Jesus-follower” as a way of recognizing the
core figure of our faith tradition without the baggage of the word
love it when people do research that supports my assumptions:
(Don’t we all?)