The Nature of God, or Why I Don’t Care About Conversions

First of all, sorry for the break. We’ve had an interesting summer. And by interesting, I mean…challenging. Which means this hasn’t been a priority. Anyway.

Tony Jones recently posted a challenge to “progressive theo-bloggers” (I think that includes me) to write one post about God–not politics, or Jesus, or anything else, just God. Incidentally, the husband and I have been discussing the nature of God as we try to figure out how to lovingly, gently contend with his nearly-fundamentalist brother who has made it his mission to tell us we are wrong. About everything.

Super.

I had been trying to think of what to write about next, what was on my mind enough to warrant a post, but not too chaotic and emotionally charged to make sense. I have about ten drafts waiting to be finished. I don’t know if they ever will be. Tony’s challenge, then, came at a perfect time.

My husband was a reconciliation major, which means that his niche is social justice. This passion has spilled over to me as well. His brother recently sent him a facebook message that essentially said social justice is only good if God is being exalted, which, in his terms, means that justice is only good if people are being converted directly by you.*

It was at that point in reading his message that I realized: our disagreements with him are so much deeper than whether a certain issue is right or wrong. Our disagreements are about the nature of God and of faith themselves.

When you look at what he has said, you can see that what he values most is getting people to believe in God. If this does not happen, unbelievers will be sent to hell by this God, without concern for whether they were good or bad people. Thus, if you have the option of feeding a hungry person with food or with the Bible, you should always pick the Bible, because feeding them mere food won’t “get them saved.”

Beyond the plethora of theological flaws with that way of thinking, there is a bigger issue here: isn’t there more to God than that?

I would like to think that God is at least a little more intricate than your average nightclub bouncer.

There is this fantastic quote by which I form my life: “Do good works, and there you will find God.” I don’t have any clue who said it; I thought it was Mother Teresa for a long time, but when I googled it, her name and the quote were in no correlation with each other. If anyone knows, I’d love to pin down who said it. But, yes, the point. I believe, and have found it to be truthful, that God doesn’t always show up in sermons, or in church, or when someone asks me what I believe in. But God always shows up when good works are being done.

God is exalted when a hungry person is fed. God is exalted when a lonely person finds a friend. God is exalted when a homeless person has a place to stay. God is exalted when a poor person has a way to make ends meet.

God is exalted when all people join hands to serve each other, regardless of their religion.

Because God is bigger than a nightclub bouncer with a list of names; you’re in, you’re out. God does not focus on our words, but our hearts. God understands that our religion is more often a product of our culture and our geographical and historical location than it is our choice of beliefs. God understands that we don’t always get the right representation of love. God knows that it is more important for a person to choose to do good over evil than for them to choose the Bible over any other holy book.

Because God has welcomed all of us–every last one–to the table. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, black, white, male, female, queer, straight–doesn’t matter.

I’m sure God rejoices when Christ is shared and accepted. But I think God rejoices even more when love is shared and accepted.

And if God is willing to forgive our sins time and time again, I think God is willing to look past our religion and see who we truly are.

Do we care most about getting people to believe what we believe, making them like us? Or do we care most about giving love to all people, making ourselves like them?

I think the God who became a person, and a poor, homeless, socially unacceptable rebel at that, would want us to do the latter.

Because God is not confined to religion. God is, however, love.

 

 

*He did go on to explain it this way; I’m not putting words in his mouth, er, hands?

13 thoughts on “The Nature of God, or Why I Don’t Care About Conversions

  1. Thanks for this very interesting post, Denika. (Incidentally, I just discovered your blog via Tony’s challenge for progressive theo-bloggers, and I intend to participate. I will look at your “About” section hopefully soon, and your prior posts, but it sounds like you may have an Evangelical background (or still consider yourself one?), as I do. In my case, now at 62, I left it around 17 years ago, though not to “no faith,” and only recently wanted to re-identify as “Progressive Christian.”

    I think Tony’s flushing out the fact that progressives, broadly, have a lot of confusion as to what they DO believe about God, God’s nature, God’s actions, etc. As I posted in his thread of Aug. 1 (or so), I think a solid remedy for this lies in Process Theology.

  2. It is so hard to have discussions with people who have a different paradigm – because paradigms are so often mutually exclusive (in fact that’s probably part of the definition of a paradigm) and so conversation becomes next to impossible.

    I love the way you describe God. I’ve been feeling that for a while but you just put it into words.

  3. Some of your ideas here sound awfully Catholic! It is always amazing to me just how much we all have in common, and how we often instead focus on our differences (which are often misinterpretations).
    First off, I love your passion for the poor and those in need. Christ did indeed charge us to take care of those less fortunate. However, he did make it clear that being fed with earthly food was not sustaining. I’m sure you have read the story of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus in his love for the people following him made sure that their hunger was taken care of. However, the next day, those same people came to him in Capernaum, and this is how he answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him God the Father set his seal (Jn 6:26-27).” Our Lord is very clear here. It is important for us to feed the poor, but if that is all we do, we have given them nothing.
    I believe that you and your brother-in-law are both right! We cannot just be Bible-toting, unloving caricatures of Christianity. We must have compassion and love for those in need. However, we cannot simply improve their lot in this world. As the Catholic Church teaches, we do not know exactly who will and will not enter heaven, but we know that to truly enrich a person’s life is to bring to them the Christ. It is just that we must do this in the way that you are speaking of.
    I pray that you continue in your faith journey, and that you may see from your brother-in-laws side, while sharing with him in love yours. God bless!

    • I actually grew up Lutheran (and am still mostly Lutheran), so Catholic isn’t far off. And yes, I agree with you–there is more to life than just our bodies. The problem is, we often choose to ignore our physical needs, or, rather, the physical needs of others, and choose only to nourish them with Scripture. I would rather feed a hungry person and wait for them to ask why I’ve done so than make them feel like they have to believe what I believe in order for me to serve them. It’s less about one or the other and more about the order of things.

      • Denika…I heard it said at one time that you can’t expect someone to hear you speak of God or their need for God when all they hear is their stomach rumbling. You can’t just give someone a solution to their eternal state without first addressing their here-and-how state. Isn’t that the whole of the tension of living on this side of the cross-the tension of the Kingdom of God is here but not yet?

  4. Beautifully said. I couldn’t agree more and couldn’t have said it better. I’ve subscribed to your blog and look forward to hearing more. Thanks to Tony for connecting us all to another wonderful writer and thinker!

  5. I love what you’ve said in your blog. It so echoes what I think in so many ways. I wanted to share an experience I had with feeding the “spirit”. I used to go with some family members and friends to visit some people who live under an overpass in a large American city. I was especially drawn to a couple about my own age (late 50s) and spent most of my time chatting with them. After a couple of visits I felt I should bring the wife a flower the next time we visited. I first thought…what am I thinking? I should bring something more practical. But I listened to that inner leading and took her a lovely purple carnation with some baby’s breath in a vase, tied with a purple ribbon. She was thrilled and her words were, “How did you know I loved flowers? I used to have so many flowers when we lived in an apartment? And purple is my favorite color.” The next week when I returned she told me how she’d cared for that flower all week and it was still beautiful. I had fed her spirit. And mine was fed as well.

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  7. God is exalted when a lonely person finds a friend.

    Thank you for including this. For some reason, I found it very moving (and I’m not usually moved by things I read on Christian blogs). In any case, I think it’s a very important point to include. There are more lonely, alienated people in this culture than most would like to acknowledge.

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  9. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been wrestling with my faith a lot lately (I’m drifting post-evangelical), and I’m drawn so much to the progressive-christian politics/social critiques, but I do find it harder to find straight-up inspiring pieces on God. This moved me. Thank you for taking up the Tony Jones challenge!

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