So the other day I sat down on a park bench and offered God an ultimatum. Sort this out or….
And that’s when I ran out of words, or….what? ‘I’m going to beat you up’ is not the wisest of things to say to the creator of the universe. ‘I’m going to stop worshipping you’ – as if God is going to get all insecure because I stop recognising him. ‘I’ll withdraw my labour’ – as if God needs me.
And so I stopped talking. I realised that whatever followed the ‘or’ harmed me, not God. God was going to be fine whatever I said. I was not.
And in that moment, he simply said ‘I’m here’. ‘Next to you’, ‘On the park bench’. It was not remotely a promise to sort things out, he didn’t say ‘trust me and I’ll make things better’. He just said, ‘I’m here, going through this with you’. And if I’m completely honest, ‘I was disappointed’. I wanted something more. I wanted the transactional God to step in and tell me that if I do this, then he will do that. Or even just the father Christmas God to tell me, here’s what I’ll do for you. But instead I got the friend God, the one who says ‘I can’t / won’t fix this, but I’ll sit here with you in all of the crap’. That was the God who pitched up that day.
So what do we do with that? Well I guess we have a choice. We can stomp our feet and say ‘not good enough’. ‘I want a different kind of God’, or we can say ‘I don’t like it, but I’ll trust you anyway’. And it’s in pursuing this last option that I’ve found Peter Enns’ book, The Sin of Certainty
, really helpful.
Enns’ basic idea is that we make a categorical mistake if our faith is rooted in our beliefs or doctrines or as he puts it, our certainties. Instead our faith needs to be in God. And the thing about God is that unlike beliefs and doctrines God cannot be pinned down. We can analyse, refine, speculate over and formulate precisely a wide range of beliefs, but you can’t do that to a person. And God is a person. He just cannot be defined in the same way.
Enns is not suggesting that there is no consistency to God or that we cannot say anything about God. At the very least to have faith in God is to have the belief that he exists. But Enns’ point is that the degree of certainty we attach to our doctrines is inappropriate when directed towards God. And that trust / faith in God is what we are called to, not trust / faith in our beliefs.
I don’t agree with everything Enns has written, and in making his case, I think at times he tries too hard and in the process is misleading in regard to some of the Bible. But I think his central case is right: faith is trust in a person, not belief in a set of doctrines. Which brings me back to the park bench.
For on that bench, I found myself ditching, or at least putting less faith in the traditional evangelical beliefs: ‘God has a plan for your life’; ‘all things work together for good’, ‘I will give you a future and a hope’, ‘those who honour me I will honour’ etc etc. And instead found myself putting trust in a friend, simply one who comes alongside and says ‘yes, it is rubbish isn’t it, I know that because I’ve been there, and I’ll sit with you and be with you in your pain too’. Cos that is what a friend can do.