KEEP THINKING – IT'S SO RELIGIOUS … [A slightly edited version of a 2005 column by Bill Lewellis, published in The Morning Call]
A conclusion, according to Mark Twain, is the place where someone got tired of thinking.
God wants us to keep thinking. That’s why we have so many parables, images and themes in the bible without one-size-fits-all conclusions. I think.
On the other hand, the bible does contain a lot of plain teaching.
Look not beyond the strong verbs of God’s word. Repent, be, do, give, forgive, feed, clothe, go, sow, pray, judge not, fear not.
Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Heal the sick. Welcome the stranger. Visit the imprisoned. Proclaim good news. Sell what you have and give the money to the poor.
Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Be reconciled. Take up your cross. Find your life by losing it.
That’s just some of the bible's plain teaching … plain, hard teaching. Not even the plain teaching, however, comes with one-size-fits-all marching orders.
The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer pulls much of the plain teaching of the bible into the promises made during baptism and in the occasional renewal of baptismal promises: “Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers… Persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord… Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ… Seek and serve Christ in all persons loving your neighbor as yourself… Strive for justice and peace among all people… Respect the dignity of every human being.”
Mark those pages well, 304-5, if you have a Book of Common Prayer. Make those plain promises part of your daily prayer.
What about the not so plain? I’ve wondered. Why is the bible filled with stories, images and themes that mess with our heads? The Good Samaritan, the Forgiving Father, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, an innocent man on a cross, resurrection.
Might it be because these invite us into the mystery of God’s mercy and compassion, challenging us to imagine what is beyond ordinary imagination?
I’ve been thinking during this last quarter of my life that the hardest thing to accept about God’s relationship with us is not the strong verbs. The hardest thing to accept about God’s relationship with us is that God loves us unconditionally. It is so hard to imagine. We hesitate to trust anyone, even God, in that regard. We hesitate to say that’s what we believe when we say we believe in God.
Do we want unconditional love, even God’s?
The lingering grip of evil – from which we need salvation – has not to do with doubts about dogma nor with sins we have committed through refusal to make God’s strong verbs part of our lives. Evil’s last hope is our shred of pride that suggests we have done or can do something to earn God’s love – and so should others.
We’d rather that God not love us unconditionally. If God does, that is how we will need to relate to others, loving one another as God has loved us.
Our lives are based on a true story that cannot be captured in orthodoxies, human certainties, laws, sermons or newspaper columns. When we discover the story of God who loves us beyond worth and measure, beyond understanding, beyond whatever we can imagine, however, we will have the ability to recreate our world.