You can love Gød or not, but you don’t have to necessarily love all of Gød all the time.
We believe . . . in One Lord, Jesus Christ . . .
I love, love Jesus. Ever since I opened the Gospel According to Matthew for the first time in 10th grade, still reeling from the suicide attempt that disrupted my world, still in the shadow of the existential depression that led me there, I’ve found him to be intensely compelling, deeply fascinating and inexplicably attractive but also the most compelling picture of God that I could have imagined. To then hear the words (for to read Scripture truly is to hear) ‘Follow me,’ I was lost to anything else. ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ honestly didn’t enter into it until after the fact. I just cared about Jesus and the increasing probability that he actually intersected with my life. This gets at why I’ve never been comfortable with bad-news/good-news style evangelism—whatever the bad news is in your life, you probably know it better than I can; the good news is that Jesus is who Jesus is; the real bad news, come to find out, is that you didn’t know Jesus until you did.
My journey since as a Christian (whatever that might mean) has more or less been a story of forgetting and remembering Jesus. The gospels record several instances in which Jesus’ friends completely fail to recognize him on sight after he’s Resurrected from death—is this some magical spell they’re put under, or is it that the images we create from this larger-than-life person are so deeply impressed upon us that the real Jesus becomes unrecognizable next to our memories of him? I find a footing in my religion, and then Jesus upsets it; I settle into a healthy equilibrium in my life, and Jesus turns that over; I find peace in my understanding of what Jesus is about, and he shows me how inadequate my understanding is.
One imaginative site in which this forgetting and remembering has taken place for me is in conceptualizing something called the Kingdom of Gød, which can have a lot of robust theology behind it and pithy definitions that immediately require a great deal of unpacking. But to strike to the heart of it, I might say that it’s what society and the world would look like if Jesus was in charge based on how Jesus lived from humble baptism to self-sacrificing crucifixion—if Jesus’ own life (not Christianity) was the dominant reality. It’s what the world would look like if our neighborhoods and capitals were absolutely full of people living Jesus-shaped lives, who loved like Jesus did and never ever sought power or used violence. If any kind of evangelism has settled in for me comfortably, it’s something that revolves around this idea, because however unsure I might be that Jesus will solve your problems, I know with all conviction that the best thing for the world in toto is Jesus’ cross-shaped way of life. Even in seasons where my understanding of who Jesus is seems far from me, I passionately love the world he imagines in his teaching on the Kingdom, that he promises. It makes me fall in love with him again; it gives me bread for the journey. And when I’m worn out from my continual failure and the world’s failures and the far-ness of this Jesus Kingdom, I remember that he was a human with tired, dirty, sun-scorched flesh, flesh that faced weakness and human limitations and sexual temptation and possibly doubts, and I feel at least understood and not alone.
We believe in . . . the Father Almighty . . .
My relationship with the Father is different. If Jesus to me is compelling because he bears all of the epical ideals of the Kingdom of Gød but can do nothing to bring them all about except live them and get himself killed, to me, the Father is someone that has the power precisely to do anything and everything and in some real sense does very little. On a theological level, I get that inasmuch as Jesus is the very image of Gød, Jesus’ life reveals how Gød wants to accomplish things in the world: through weakness and peaceableness rather than through power and divine fiat. And this is everything I love about Jesus. But while Jesus has an inborn excuse for every good unaccomplished, the Father has to bear the brunt. The writers of a collection of poetry in the Bible called the Psalms also tended to think that Gød is too powerful to escape culpability.
Just to bring this home on a very real level, we have very real questions like, Why did God let my aunt get cancer? Why did God take my child away? How could God allow this epidemic of child abuse to happen? And for as big as these are, I admit that the questions I ask are, Why do You keep letting me fail at life? Why am I still such a shitty Christian if only You can save me in the first place? Why don’t you just tell me what You want and help me to do it or else do it Yourself? Stop hiding behind Jesus, and talk to me.
Considered together, I’ve not always been sure how much I can trust the Father. I find it very hard still, after some 12 years at this, not to see the Father as stern, distant, maybe hopeful and maybe very generous, but ultimately disappointed and probably, if we’re honest, always waiting to be disappointed. And in the disparity between my requests for help and help received, I struggle to be able to see the Father as eager to help. Father all-powerful, all-parsimonious, all-inscrutable. These are not at all the images that the Bible gives me, not at all the images that Jesus gives me, but it’s the one I have to work with until it gets trained out of me, as all good discipleship is training. Tonight, I’m going to have to work on this exact thing, when I pray to Gød the Father and bear a really currently fragile heart and a really frankly confused mind with many contradictory desires and make all of that vulnerable and subject and entrusted to the Father, believing that that’s a good thing that will lead me to more good than bad.
We believe in . . . the Holy Spirit . . .
If Jesus is the one I trust and the Father is the one I distrust, then the Holy Spirit is the one I don’t know if I can trust. I often don’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit. There are times my Trinitarian dynamics are so fragmented that I can only pray to Jesus (one of the benefits of Trinitarianism, theists take note), because I won’t talk to the Father and I’m not sure if the Spirit isn’t just ‘working for Him.’ Other times, I just don’t understand the involvement of the Spirit in the lives of people around me, who are given fleeting and sometimes habitual gifts of prophecy, who are sometimes immediately healed as a result of prayer, and I’m mistrustful from feeling so neglected as one to whom the Spirit does not whisper.
Theologically, I’m weak on an understanding of what personhood looks like regarding the Spirit, how not to think of the Spirit as mindless, faceless go-between that the stoical Father sends out to the Earth whenever He elects to get involved in creation, how not to credit the compassion shown by Spirit’s activity to the Spirit alone and not the Father who sends the Spirit, how not to give all of my love to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and leave none for the Father, my own divine scapegoat, who carries all the sins of gods that a man can lay upon the heavens. It’s a divide-and-conquer theology of convenience that could probably work, but I would rather they be unified for me in the image of love and conquer me.
We believe in One God . . .
In tellings of my story of coming to my faith, I love relating that I began my quest for Gød by immediately ruling out Christianity because I thought the Trinity was bullocks; it’s by cosmic irony become the most sacred treasure of my faith. At times it’s perhaps burdensome and not merely in theological formulation—rather, if you think it’s hard working out your image of the divine, try doing it for three. Yet it has also given me the opportunity to fail at this, to get the Spirit wrong and lean on the Son, to get angry at the Father and speak to Jesus about it, to feel so impossibly far from Jesus’ example and just picture myself being embraced by a Father’s great big arms.
None of this Trinity business means that you have to be on your way to figuring it out. And even that doesn’t mean that no one has gotten anywhere working this out and so it’s all bullocks. What, for my money, it seems to mean is that there is so much play that’s allowed as we swim in this mystery that Gød can help us figure out Gød, even when we’re so mad at Gød that we can’t even talk to Gød, we can talk to Gød instead.
Bless, and be blessed.