For many years I was raised to think of religion or faith as the belief in certain doctrines or dogmatic assertions. It is true that every Sunday we say the Apostles’ Creed and we begin with the words I believe. We are a church that does believe in certain truths written in the form of creeds, or intellectual claims.
Recently I saw a quote by William Sloane Coffin: I think we know far more of God’s heart than we do know of the mind of God. I can remember lots of hours spent arguing over things like the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin birth, the historicity of various stories and books in the Bible as well as of various people who inhabit the Biblical narrative. For example, did Abraham really live; how do we talk about the Resurrection when we know that dead people are dead, no matter how much we want them to be alive?
There are places in the United States and the world where people want to have an absolute belief system that appears to have no room for doubt. Many years ago, on a trip to Turkey, visiting the churches of the Book of Revelation, I traveled with a group of ministers and their spouses who were from a denomination called Evangelical Free. Many of them had left the ELCA, of which we are a member. They wanted something more certain. Certainty is not something that we can manufacture, especially when we are dealing with faith that requires doubt to truly be faith.
Getting back to the quote that asserted knowing more of God’s heart than God’s mind, I find this to be quite comforting. Where other Christians may find it discouraging, I take heart in the fact that the real revelation is in discovering the love of God.
Sometimes we find ourselves in faith, and we don’t know how we got there. We are just thankful that we are not lost anymore and that we have a healing message that can change our hearts and lives.
In the past, the Christian religion at times lost its way and even distorted the teachings of Jesus. The Inquisition is a case in point, where the Roman Catholic Church forced people to be baptized and to believe certain church doctrines to be true or else be executed. Martin Luther risked his life to go against Church doctrine that he felt was not only oppressive but totally wrong. Today, we see the same thing with ISIS that beheads the infidels and demands total allegiance to its religious beliefs. Here again, a religion is hijacked and fashioned in ways that are cruel, oppressive, and just outright wrong.
Sometimes we become the same way, when we find ourselves not accepting others and wanting to turn to absolute belief systems. In the past these rigid and perverted interpretations of Christian faith led to people being burnt at the stake, witch hunts, and wars, along with personal guilt and unthinkable conformity. This forced compliance takes away Christian freedom and authentic ways of questioning our faith. It also removes the welcome mat for those strangers who wish to join our fellowship. We are not here to examine their heart, but to show them the heart of God.
It’s unfortunate that today Christians think in their search for certainty that what they believe is the absolute truth. In essence, we can’t know the mind of God. As my wife, who is a teacher, would say: “The Why questions are not helpful.”
In essence, when it comes to knowing God, Christians look to Jesus. Jesus is our window into God’s activity in the world. Jesus shows us the heart of God, especially when he journeys to the cross. Lent is about such a journey. I don’t find it helpful trying to prove that God exists. God doesn’t need for us to do that, but God needs us to be beacons of hope, healing, reconciliation and, yes, love. This is the heart of God.