On Limiting God

June 12, 2017

I have a bad habit of limiting God.

Humanity tends to do that. Rational people typically like to learn and reason until we think we have a handle on the Thing we’re struggling with, until we smash it into a too-small box and tire a bow around it, finally satisfied – but then it inevitably pops open, unable to be contained in such a tiny space, within such a fragile container.

I have called out other people and their theology, their Christology, their beliefs about our Creator and who God is and how we came to be. I knew other people limited God, but I thought I was different, I thought I was doing well.

After all, my God parted the Red Sea and rained manna down in the desert, He healed the blind and the sick, He turned water into wine – my God is the God of Miracles and nothing can contain Him.  

Yet, all along, there it was: me trying to wrangle God into what I thought He was, the plank in my own eye that I was ignoring while worrying about the splinter in everyone else’s. I couldn’t see it until I took a step back from the faith tradition in which I grew up. 

When I stopped going to my evangelical church, I ended up at a progressive United Church of Christ, sitting under high ceilings and stained glass windows, singing hymns of old I couldn’t remember the words to – but my heart remembered the melodies. I sat and I hummed and I waited for God to show up. 

I’m sure He did before I saw Him, but I didn’t recognize it. I was too busy criticizing because this is not where I thought God could move.

It’s a funny thing, wholeheartedly believing and expecting God to show up in one place, among a certain group of people, while being skeptical that He would show up in another way in another place, among another group of people. And why? Because the music is different? Because the pastor wears robes?

We are creations of God, but products of our environment. 

I am evangelical; progressive, perhaps, but I will go to my grave claiming that sect of Christianity as my own. I love literalism. I love reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and imagining the stories playing out exactly as the ancient writers describe: The Spirit hovering over the dark primordial waters, creating light and plants and animals and us from nothing. The plagues brought against the Egyptians to make a way out of slavery for the Israelites. David defeating a giant with just a rock and a slingshot.

I love these stories and the first time I heard literalism seriously criticized was by Rachel Held Evans in a podcast and I almost shut it off because I felt my skin begin to crawl. But as I listened more intently, I realized she wasn’t trying to disprove me or disrespect the Bible – she was simply offering another way to find the same Truth. 

I believe God still performs miracles today, but I sometimes get a little uncomfortable with questions about God’s goodness. Somehow, I inherently know that God is big enough to do the impossible, but I still worry that He is fragile enough to break under our questions. 

I grew up with a male God and my hair still bristles a little when I hear God referred to as female.

I come from worship bands with contemporary music and a centrality around Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins; from pickup dodge-ball games after Sunday service and an indoor skate park built in a barn behind the church. 

In this new church, the pastor is a woman and wears robes, we use gender-inclusive language and sing traditional hymns with the choir, baptism is a sprinkling of holy water and communion is given saying, “The cup of salvation given for you.”

For weeks, I sat in that sanctuary and waited for God, praying that He would show up, all the while skeptical and guarded, using the entire service to build up my case against progressive Christianity, to spew it all out in a rant of how I didn’t feel that my theology was included there. 

And then, all at once, God showed up in all His glory. There’s nothing like a baptism to remind us of who God is and who we are. 

Suddenly, God was everywhere. He was in the organ music bouncing off the walls, in the Cross at the front of the church, in the light streaming in from the high stained-glass windows. I saw Him in the smiles of the people I thought were too different to be friends, in the eyes of the pastor, in the laughter of the children, in the bulletin: a kid who was getting confirmed that Sunday drew the picture of the Spirit in dove-form that’s on the front. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jesus always shows up. Even if it’s not in the way we expect him to.

If there’s anything I’m learning, it’s that we don’t have any answers. We have faith and questions and wonder and it’s all so good. God is so good. 

So here I am, lost in my questions, still begging God to be big enough to handle them. I am growing used to pastors in stoles and organ music and singing the Doxology every Sunday. I am learning to find rest in the predictability of a more traditional service, of knowing when to stand and when to sit and exactly when all the voices will mix together, boldly praying The Lord’s Prayer.

I’ll admit it: I’m not a progressive yet – but I’ll let the argument pass me by if you question a literal six-day global creation. 

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