God-Talk: Acknowledging the Individual and God

(P)rogressives have a God-talk problem. That is, progressives write lots of books and blog posts about social issues, the church, culture, and society. But we don’t write that much about God. That is, we don’t say substantive things about who God is, what God does, etc.

You might say the same thing about conservative Protestants (i.e., “evangelicals”). But the thing is, their people pretty much know what they think of God. It’s well-known and on the record.” — Tony Jones, A Challenge to Progressive Theo-Bloggers

“Well-known.”

“On the record.”

“PR problem.”

These are some of the phrases that jumped out at me when Tony Jones issued his challenge to write about what I believe about God.

I’m not supposed to tell you what I believe about Jesus, or social issues, the church, culture, or society. This is specifically a request to write about the nature of God. Frankly, this is what I prefer to do anyway, and I’m with Mr. Jones in that I think slipping away from strong and articulate conversations about the nature of God is not doing progressive believers any favors. Part of the problem is feeling revulsion at the twisted theologies of God as politician, angling for a particularly powerful nation-state rise to global domination. Defining God as uniquely interested in one society over another is definitely not part of my God-talk. This makes me neither atheist, nor agnostic, nor unloving toward my own country.

I believe the nature of God is individual, and I wonder sometimes if this may be a major divide with believers who identify as evangelical or conservative. There is the “two or more gathered in my name” teaching, but all indications are that those are two or more individuals with a common devotion and general intent born of an individual relationship with God.

I believe the spirit of God seeks to be alone with every person on Earth. I will go so far as to say I believe that only that still and exclusive connection can save a life. I shudder when I see large groups of people pursuing some “lost soul” who they believe is in need of their assistance to be saved. I have to assume that their intentions are good, but God doesn’t need a gang. In fact, God “needs” nothing but the listening and sincerity of the individual.

I believe that Christians must be vigilant in our desire to know the difference — or to at least try to know the difference — between our agendas and the nature of God. The only way to approach clarity in this complicated zone is to, again, find a way to be alone as an individual with God and be willing to practice discernment in our faith journeys.

I often go back to the film Dead Man Walking. Matthew Poncelet has a close and devoted human friend and counselor in Sister Helen. He would never have reached his redemption moment without her unrelenting message of confession and forgiveness. But only he could choose to encounter God’s grace. In the end, he was alone with God. I believe that is the nature of God. God’s love and saving grace wants to mend a shattered soul, but it happens only when we say, “Enough of everyone else. I choose to be alone with you.”

Choosing to be alone with God is serious business. It is not just sitting quietly and thinking nice thoughts. It is choosing to let down walls you may not have acknowledged yet. It is choosing to be willing to hear that you need to put down your nets. We like our nets, don’t we?

I think progressive believers need to work through these questions of how to honor beliefs about God’s connection to us as individuals without being co-opted by the right-wing politics that claim the individual is all that matters. This will require getting more comfortable with keeping our social justice leanings out of every conversation, and doing more to talk about how individual devotion to God can change the world.

You can read some of my other writing about:

Faith and Sciencehttp://essediemblog.com/category/faith-andor-science/

Spiritualityhttp://essediemblog.com/category/spirituality/

An excerpt from an essayhttp://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/2011/05/where-is-god-in-chronic-illness.html

7 thoughts on “God-Talk: Acknowledging the Individual and God

  1. Good thoughts, insightful and illuminating as always. I’m often perplexed why it is so hard for humans to remain in balance, especially as it relates to God. There is one-on-one with God in which you have nowhere to look but in his face, and he in yours. There is deeper group relationship with God in which you share God with people close enough to feel safe in sharing all your real junk that needs help, and God works through them (sometimes speaks through them) to help you. And there is public, corporate worship, in which collective joy or pain is offered up, and the body of believers here’s the Word together.

    All three have immense value, and if neglected, can lead to spiritual illnesses. For example, I think the emphasis on big public mega-church services can generate more of a “Let’s rally and fight for traditional marriage!” emotions, while missing the opportunity in 1-on-1 or small group settings to actually get to know, oh let’s say, a gay person and understand how that sounds to him or her. But if you limit yourself to the individual sphere, you can miss the collective impact that moral decisions can have on the broader community.

    Entire denominations, or theological positions (progressive, conservative, blah blah blah…these labels seem to get tossed around like weapons. “Oh, well I get it now…you think that because you’re a ‘progressive/conservative.’”) seem to emphasize some preferred God engagement tactic over another, as well as emphasizing a preferred end result (help the poor, fight for morality in the public realm, etc. etc.). My examples are probably not that helpful, but personally I find that usually God seems to encourage “all of the above.” This somehow seems like too hard work for us humans, I guess?

    • Thank you. I always appreciate your take on these issues. My personal concern is that too many people jump to a group thing before that lovely first step you mention. They have needs they are looking for other people to fill, and they confuse “the church” with God.

    • Thank you for your comment! Yes, I just walked my first labyrinth. It was an incredible experience. I definitely heard something I was not expecting in that meditative calm and purposeful openness to the voice of God.

  2. Pingback: A Substantive Post About God

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