Faith Works 3-26-16
Three questions about God
If you have beliefs about God, and try to explain them to someone else, you're talking about apologetics.
These last few columns were spurred by reading a book by the distinguished preacher and pastor Tim Keller, "The Reason for God." Tim does not just have a reason, he has many reasons, and some cogent reasoning for why belief in God, and a particular way of understanding who God is, can be called reasonable. Pastor Keller is doing apologetics, in the classical sense of the term.
But it also made me realize that in most situations where I'm asked to give an account for the faith that is in me, when I need to explain how my beliefs in and about God are what moves me, I don't have either the time for a book-length discussion, or the ability to hand over a volume and say "read that, then we'll talk."
So I started to ask myself "how do you do apologetics, on horseback, parson?" And I realized I tend to boil it down to three questions.
First, to someone puzzled as to why anyone would build their life around "an old man in a long white beard making you play harps forever when you die" (not what I believe in, exactly, but nevermind), I start with the question "do you believe there is a god of some sort?" I use lower-case there intentionally, because I'm not wanting (yet) to debate what kind of Divine Person we're talking about, but just to start with a basic issue: do you believe that beyond the here and now, from creation to a time beyond the time we know ourselves, there is an entity who is far beyond our everyday existence? Or "God." If someone's quite certain there's no such animal, and that life is all we know because it's all that's ever knowable, we're off onto a different conversation altogether (and another column series, perhaps).
But that's actually quite rare. Most people, in most of the world, believe in something, even a some One who is godlike, if not God per se. Okay then.
Second, I ask if you think this one we will call God is still actively involved in the world. There are not a few who believe some sort of Creator made and moved everything to the point of existence as we know it, but once the merry-go-round was turning, that Being jumped off. Deism, some call it, a Divine Watchmaker who set the cosmos spinning after winding it up, and has laid it aside until some future time . . . but this cosmic watchmaker isn't constantly fiddling with the works.
Again, when asked directly, most people leave room in their beliefs, whether unspoken and unreflected-upon, or even in careful consideration, for some form of God or the angels of God to be directly interacting with creation. God is not done, God is still creating and creative, God's not finished with me, or you, yet.
Which comes around to my third and mostly final question. If you believe there is a God, and that God is still interactive with creation, do you believe that God is caring and even loving in that relationship, or do you think God is capricious, cruel even, playing like a child with toy soldiers and plastic action figures on a landscape of scripted presumption? Do you believe that God is just messing with us most days, or that God loves us?
Tomorrow is Easter. It is, beyond question, the holiest day of the year for Christians. Yes, Christmas is a big deal, and the Incarnation – God coming into the world as Jesus – is significant, but we don't schedule our worship each week onto the day of the week Christ was born. That's why the Sabbath was shifted to "the first day of the week" by the early church from the last day: because it was on a Sunday morning that the women came to the tomb and found it empty, when Mary Magdalene learned that Jesus was alive.
Saturday is a day of anticipation, of expectation, of holy waiting. In some church traditions, tonight is a vigil when new members join the faith; in others, we get up early to re-enact what was going on in that return to the garden, the tomb, to tend a beloved but dead body.
What we really celebrate, on Easter and each Sunday, is that God is, God is at work, and God loves us. Jesus rose so that we might know that those three statements, those answers to three questions, are true, true, true.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he believes in God. Okay, not surprising. Tell him about what you do and don't believe at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.