God in a box

Published 4:12 pm Friday, January 3, 2020

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By Nathan Decker

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

– Jesus in John 10:16

I need to unpack God. We all do. Each of us has a gathered collection of experiences, thoughts, and traditions about the divine. Some of them are first hand-burning bush moments. Most of them come as heirlooms passed down from generation to generation second hand. All of them tend to create God in our image and justify our own ways of living unjustly. At our worst, we see God as the ultimate accountability judge who will punish those who wronged us. At our best, we imagine God as the ultimate in acceptance of our secret sins and devilish designs. In every case, we put God in a box.

And for the most part, that’s OK. Our society continually insulates and creates islands through denomination, demographic, and social media where most of us have some of the same assumptions about who God is and what God is doing. And this gives us great comfort about who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. But every now and then we encounter someone who has a different set of experiences in their box.

Heretic! We may yell at them. Or we may call them by some tribal name that excludes them from our own tribe. Liberal, Conservative, etc. What we rarely do is vulnerably listen for the possibility of epiphany. In my tradition, the Epiphany was the moment when humanity realized a new light. The wise men see the yonder star and follow understanding that to do so was risky and might change their preconceived notions about who God is and what God is doing. They were willing to go wherever the divine was leading them, even if it meant they might be wrong about certain texts, beliefs, or traditions they held within their box.

The current reality is that we are more polarized than we have ever been human beings. When something challenges us, rather than listen with openness we immediately begin defending our God in a Box. What leaps of faith we miss out on! What potential growth we jettison because it threatens to cause us to change! And all because of our allegiance not to God, but to our box.

Thankfully, God created more than one of us. Thankfully, the One Spirit has a diversity of expressions in each of us. Thankfully, we can grow in community when we no longer assume that our box contains all the ‘correct’ bits of understanding. Even though we may not comprehend everything, we can share what God has revealed to us to each other. Sharing the puzzle pieces will create a bigger picture and will lead us to a clearer light.

Through God’s gift of Holy Conversation perhaps we will encounter new friends in faith. Maybe while we were searching palaces and places of power with the wise men, God will lead us to find Christ where we least expected to find him, in a Bethlehem Epiphany. There will always be differences in our experiences, thoughts and traditions; these differences can be places where we invest in each other rather than divesting in division. Seek out those who are different. Experience an Epiphany through seeing God in each other. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

– Mark 9:38-41