Editors Note: This reflection is taken from a theological paper that was written as partial fulfillment of the requirements to gain standing in the United Church of Christ. Over the next few weeks I will be posting highlights from that paper.
a. God: Creation, Providence, Judgement, and Grace
God is the creator of all and as such everything that is created is inherently good and it reveals the very image and nature of God. I used to think that things had a definite order to them and that there was absolute right and there was absolute wrong. The Orthodox theology I learned did not leave any gray area and was a theology of absolutes. Spiritually I have a different view of things, and as much as I like to put things into little boxes and categories, this is not the case in reality. Our God does not wish to condemn us but seeks to love us and asks that we love him back. God desires that we all know the way, and we find that way through his Son.
God is absolute perfection and absolute love and has promised us that we will have eternal life.
I often think that our particular theological position gets in the way of seeing the great mystery of God; we have to have everything figured out. But I am coming to love the mystery and not needing to know all the answers. It has been said that “God moves in mysterious ways” and I have been witness to that mystery first hand. God’s judgment is grace-filled and hopefilled; God offers us forgiveness and redemption, peace and justice, reconciliation and deliverance.
I had this vision of God as this old man with a long white beard sitting on a throne smiting people, but now I know that God’s love is redemptive, and God works to heal us and our relationships through love. I have often said that the entire message of the Gospel is love, well the whole work of redemption is love, and it is sacrificial and unconditional.
b. Person of Christ: Incarnation, Atonement, Salvation, and Resurrection
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” John 1:14. God sent Jesus Christ to take on humanity: sometimes I have a difficult time wrapping my head around this thought. The one who created all things became a creation! This is the supreme act of love, the love of God for creation. God did this to heal the world’s wounds caused by our selfishness our hatred, violence, injustice, and divisiveness. There is no promise that the world would be freed from suffering or evil but that a new way would be shown to us as a new way of living with God in and through
2. Jesus Christ.
“Christ did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.” Romans 8:1. Jesus came to offer life and to fulfill the promise of God to humanity; this was not a plan to allow evil but a way for an intimate relationship between the creator and creation. There is a commitment to care and love that comes through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and a willingness of the creator to enter into our vulnerability and suffering as a way of redemption.
God’s atonement is a way or reordering the chaos as well as suffering and evil. God’s love overpowered evil, death did not win; the stone was rolled away, and after the long dark night morning came and we saw the brilliant light of the resurrection. The death of Jesus gave us a way, a new way for humanity to be reconciled to God and gave us hope of our salvation and redemption. The atonement provides the path and the example for forgiveness and love through grace.
3. Holy Spirit: Revelation and Scripture
The Scriptures offer us a way to learn about the nature of God and how we follow God and the desires that God has for us in our lives. Scriptures connect us with our ancestors in faith so we understand their story and how they lived their lives also as examples of God’s grace and love in the world. I am of the opinion that the Scriptures were written by individuals to promote their own limited understanding of the world around them and their evolving spiritual belief.
However, many of the authors were severely limited by their tribal culture and by their lack of scientific knowledge. The Holy Spirit helps us to discern in our lives how God speaks to us and works in and through us. The Scriptures invite us to be part of the story of God’s redemptive love and seen through the lives of the people of history. But we have to constantly remind ourselves that the Bible was written some 2,000 years ago and has a place in history and we need to understand that history to fully grasp what was going on at the time. We see God mystery in the Scriptures, and we need to allow room for grace to work in our lives and for revelation to come, through the Holy Spirit, to guide us.
One of the things that drew me to the United Church of Christ was this sense that “God is still speaking.” My previous theological understanding was that God has said all that he is going to say. The Scriptures are the final scene in the movie of creation, and that is all. I do not believe that to be the case; God is still speaking and moving, and we need to be open to the unfolding nature of God and what God has to say to all of us.
I was once asked if the Apostles knew the entire story of what was going to happen. Did Mary, the Mother of Jesus know what was going to happen? My answer was it was revealed to them as they grew in their faith and we need to be open to the challenge of Scripture and God’s revelation and we need to accept the invitation to serve God and help to change the world.