Been reading our Sunday School lesson about some differences of opinion between the famous preacher and composer of hymns, Harry Emerson Fosdick and the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. Two of their issues still speak to our condition: Grace vs. Accountability and God as a best friend vs. a transcendent Glorious, Almighty and Powerful God.
To nobody me, the unconditional love of God does not preclude consequences to our choices. Those are more or less built into the nature of things and are how we learn from our bad choices. So we are loved at our worst, but are unfinished at our best. And the way we grow more loving is from a combination of learning from unpleasant consequences and being able to change through the grace of unconditional love. It’s not either/or. It’s a paradox. And after a while we should learn to avoid those bad choices. (Some of us are slow learners.)
When I got to know Jesus not only as my Savior, but as a friend, I was still Catholic. The liberal priest had changed the golden tabernacle to one of simple wood and moved it from the main altar to a simple table where we walked close to it. I was so full of love for Jesus then that I thought of the “Presence” in the tabernacle as the “Body of Christ” and I would gently and tenderly pat the top of it as I went by. The next priest was an old fashioned conservative and he moved the Host back into the golden tabernacle and put it on the central altar and expected people to genuflect when they were going to walk anywhere in front of it. I wasn’t into the genuflecting bit, but I recognized how much it expressed many people’s adoration of God. The next priest was another liberal and without telling me, he added a Directive to the list of parishioners that were Welcomers and Scripture Readers for each Mass that I created for each month without adding his name to it. It was a Directive to NOT genuflect. So many people got mad at me. And I was mad at the priest because I didn’t see why genuflecting, if it expressed their love of God, couldn’t be allowed, so the next time I was a Reader and had to walk across in front of the Tabernacle, out of sheer perversity, I genuflected. When I did, I was suddenly completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness and glory of God. I didn’t want to get up from my knees. Once again it is a paradox. Jesus is the physical human expression of the Love of God. God is Love. But God is so much more than our tiny brains and hearts can grasp, in the times when we get glimpses of God’s awesomeness, glory, power, brilliance, and love all we can do is kneel and bow in awe and joy.
It seems to me that Christians, and I guess all humans, spend centuries arguing, even warring over, things that are both true. Somehow we don’t know how to educate humanity to understand paradox.
“Absolute faith and its consequence, the courage that takes the radical doubt, doubt about God into itself, transcends the theistic idea of God.” a quote from the Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich. He describes this as when we realize that God is the “ground of our being.”
This resonates with me because by my age, I’ve walked through not only my own valley of doubt, but that of beautiful life-long Christians who in the last stage of life come to grips with the challenge of recognizing their own limits of understanding.
This isn’t loss of faith, but instead the loss of the delusion that we can grasp what God is by cutting God down to our size. It is facing our own limits and becoming comfortable with our “unknowing,” because we have simply finally become grounded in God. God, whatever God may or may not be, has become our home.
I studied Tillich many years ago and didn’t have a clue what he meant! Recently, this spoke so clearly that I was dumbfounded. It was a bell ringing, a moment of clarity, a light bulb going on in my mind! But even more, it was a sense of finally being home.
Wow! I am filled with wonder, but also humbled. It has taken me until the age of seventy-eight to experience this. I am a very, very slow learner.