Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It Makes Sense to Me

Some time ago, I started a series addressing the question of why I believe what I do. The writing emerged from a question from one of my students, a tenth-grade Orthodox Jewish boy who is eager to explore the world of faith. He and I still haven't had the conversation. I wish we had, because I got stuck after the second of my five-part answer, and the sorting of thoughts is generally helped by conversation. But, this being Lent, I've been pondering his question, and I'm going to get the ball rolling again, in a small kind of way.

Let me preface this by stating that my beliefs are fairly standard Christian ones, slanted liberal/progressive and Protestant. That means that I can say the Apostles' Creed without difficulty; that my reading of the Bible, while extensive, is not literalist; and that, for me, the church is an institution of vitality and inclusivity. In practice, I am a liturgical and musical traditionalist and, in spirituality, catholic with a little "c." Just so you know.

So here's the third part of the "why": Christianity makes sense to me. It makes sense to me that there is a god, and one god, and not a multitude of gods. It makes sense to me that God is known to us through the three persons of the Trinity ~ moreso one or another at one time or another. Christianity makes sense to me as an explanation for the magnificence of the created universe, and for the sense of presence and grace that flows through my life.

The person of Jesus Christ as God's self-expression and hope for ours makes complete sense to me. What could the God who loves us possibly do, in the face of who we are, other than come to us as one of us, as a companion and friend and guide, as someone who knows and suffers as we do? There is no other way for God to be that makes sense to me.

I am familiar, of course, with the arguments con. I teach in a Jewish school and am used to hearing the phrase, "Beware of false prophets." I have been studying Islam, and have read the Qur'an's warning to the people of the Book (that would be us) not to mistake the Son of Mary for other than a prophet, and to understand that God would never father a son. (God, in the Qur'an, as far as I can tell, is distinctively masculine.) I understand that both of the other monothesist religions view ours as verging (okay ~ more than verging) on the polytheistic, with our outrageous God in human form. It's the outrageousness of it, I suppose, that makes sense to me. For what would God be, if not so wild and creative and giving as to take on human form?

That question gives rise to the other argument, the one made by so many of my friends, the one I encounter so frequently from those who would, perhaps, identify themselves as post-Christian: it's all an elaborate fantasy or hoax; a fairy tale that cannot stand up to the horrors of the twentieth and now, the twenty-first, centuries; a childish farce in the face of Enlightenment brilliance. It is difficult, I will grant, to grasp the scandal of particularity that is Jesus Christ. Why would God do that? Why would God come in the form of a particular person in the context of a particular people at a particular time? Why wouldn't God be, somehow, more general ~ more universal ~ more helpful?

It makes sense to me that much of what happens in the Bible, and pretty much all of what happens with Jesus, is the opposite of what we would expect. A god who behaves as we do would not be anything more than a projection of our own psychology. A god who did not exude love where we cannot find our way; a god who did not undergird everything with the expansiveness of a love that we cannot comprehend, much less replicate; a god who was more clarity and less mystery ~ who would that be, other than a creation of our own? And a god who was not capable of human particularity, which is all that each of us is capable of ~ how could such a god be our companion and friend and saviour as well as our creator and the spirit that guides all?

This is, I will be the first to admit, a paltry description of whom I have found God to be. And that finding has not been without significant effort and some cost. But the discovery does, in a confusing and ironic and mysterious way, make complete sense to me.


Kathryn said...

Writing about one's faith is an ambitious assignment. I hope you have a chance to continue the discussion with your student at some point.

I am doing two weekly retreats during this Lenten season. One is a deeper examination of the lectionary. The other a variety of speakers on the topic "What keeps me coming back to the Catholic (large "C") Church?"

It has been a Lent filled with deep thoughts and much work for me. Your student sent you down a difficult path too.

Quotidian Grace said...

Your point about the mystery of God is profound. So often we project our own desires and needs onto God. It's a good reminder to embrace that mystery.

more cows than people said...

i needed to read this today, for so many reasons, thank you for posting it.

Jodie said...

This is such an excellent post. I love the personal nature of it. A true witness to faith.


Lisa :-] said...

Why wouldn't God be, somehow, more general ~ more universal ~ more helpful?

Not really one of the questions I have been asking, but a good one nonetheless...

Singing Owl said...

Wow! Just read this. Sometime before Easter I'm quoting you on my blog. Thank you.