I am in a weird place these days. I think it was Bono who was talking about his experiences in school as a kid. In a writing class his teacher was talking about “writer’s block” and said that it happens to all writers at one time or another. She said that when this happens, writers struggle to write anything until the block somehow goes away. Bono innocently asked, “Then why don’t they write about having writer’s block?” His teacher proceeded to scold him and said that was not how things are done! But I wonder if he was on to something. Maybe I’m having a “God-block” these days—who knows for sure? So I will follow Bono’s advice and write about what’s going on.
The weird place I’m in at the present time—I think—has to do with two or three factors.
One of the most significant things is the reality that hit me a year and a half ago or so. I realized then that I did not have what you might call a “relationship” with God, as one person to another. In fact I’d never had one at all. Yes, I knew a lot about Him—all that eight years of Bible college and seminary could teach me about theology—which turned out to be quite a bit, in fact. But what I realized, after reading Searching for God Knows What, that what I had was a relationship with a set of theological concepts—and not a real person. But theology is not a real relationship. So in a sense I said, “I reject God”—not that I rejected Him as a person, but rather jettisoned the false belief that I had a relationship with Him. The problem is this: where do I go from here? This is uncharted territory for me, and to this point I’m not sure if I’ve had a lot of success in that department. So I’m in a weird place there.
A second problem I’m having is with church. When I came to the realization about theological concepts acting as a substitute for a relationship with God, I started to see and hear that kind of stuff all over the place in church. For the first time I realized that mainly what church leaders tell people to do is to read their Bibles and pray more, and in this way they will get to know God better. And worst of all, when I was a pastor, I did the same thing for years too. But it’s all I knew to do, because I thought it was the truth. Is there some truth to it?
But do you know something I have just found out? Did you know that in Biblical narratives, God—as He is portrayed by the human author—is just another character? In that sense He is no different than David, Abraham, Moses or Paul. All Biblical characters we read about are to some extent abstractions from the real person who lived in time and space. We read about them from the ideological perspective of the actual author. J.P. Fokkelman says that when we read about God in the Bible, that He is a character—a language construct—a creation of the narrator and the writer. In other words, it’s not as simple as merely a one-for-one correlation, of black-and white theological statements made smugly about “who God is” and what He is like.
Now I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t accurately portray God; I think what I’m saying is that the observation I just made challenges everything we have come to believe about our nice, safe categories of theology proper. What I’m actually saying is that I think God is so much bigger and more incomprehensible than what we read about Him in Scripture. Surely words on a page can’t contain all of Him.
Therefore can church leaders just sit back and tell people to “read their Bibles and pray,” believing that will solve all their problems of what it means to have a relationship with God? It sure sounds spiritual, doesn’t it? But I just can’t believe it’s that easy. Guess what then? You guessed it—weird place.
And here is what I believe is my final problem: lack of authentic, intentional, Biblical community. For a lot of years I had a taste of inauthentic and unbiblical community, but then, before I came to the U.K., I had an all-too brief taste of the real thing. We helped to start a new church in Portland that is all about authentic community. And now that I’ve been without it for almost two years I see the difference. I need people in my life who love me enough to tell me the hard things that I need to hear, to point out my blind spots that I inevitably have. I need people around me who will challenge me to grow, who will help me to become who I am. I need people to help me process these kinds of challenges I’m having right now, who will offer unique insights from a whole bunch of perspectives, all of which are valuable and necessary. I need people around me who have the attitude that when they win, I win too. So without community, I’m in a weird place.
Anybody else in a weird place?