Coming Out: This Is Me (Part 2)

In a way, this sort of follows on from my previous two posts… In that I am about to begin to reveal that I am in some way ‘other’ - and I hope that, if your first reaction might otherwise be to react with anger and condemnation, that you will first read this post, and that you will also remember Jesus’ words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

This post has its origins right back at the beginning of my Christian ‘journey’. I had become, it appeared, a fully ‘signed up’ charismatic evangelical Christian, believing all the ‘right’ things, saying all the right things and gradually learning all the ‘right answers’ to the permitted questions… Generally not being guilty of ‘rocking the boat’.

But underneath it was, and remains, a somewhat different story. I am an intellectual. That doesn’t sit easily within evangelicalism - thinking too hard is seen as asking for trouble - because apparently thinking leads to doubting and doubting is bad because it leads inexorably to a loss of faith. But I am driven to learn, to try to understand. For many years I tried to suppress the urge, and to be that ‘good Christian’. But in 2011 I began to write for this blog, and that required thought - at least in order to marshal cogent arguments.

Then 2015, as I’ve said several times previously, was an ‘annus horribilis’; followed by 2016 which turned out to be, astonishingly, an ‘annus mirabilis’. 2016 was a year in which something ‘clicked’ in my faith…

I finally realised that God loved me: as well as just generally loving mankind, God’s love for me was special, and incredibly personal (as I believe it is, I hasten to add, for every other human being, whether they know it or not). In effect, if I was the prodigal younger son of Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:11-32), God had run down the road to greet me, given me a huge hug, clothed me in a fine robe, put a ring on my finger and sandals on my feet, and then thrown a massive party.

That led me, almost inevitably, to questions; chief among which was ‘Why me?’

Why me indeed…

Could it be that my saying of a ‘sinner’s prayer’, more than thirty-five years earlier, had ‘qualified me’ for this treatment? Somehow, that seemed unlikely, especially as I have never been able to find any evidence for such a prayer in scripture, nor any demand, from Jesus or his disciples, that anyone pray such a prayer. How was I special, therefore? Why was I, apparently, singled out for this deluge of blessing? It continued, anyway, uninvited and undeserved. In some ways it became more ‘normal’ - almost what I dared to expect on a day-to-day basis, but in other ways, it became even more extraordinary. Blessings I’d barely dared dream of becoming a reality this side of the grave came to pass.

The blessing and the outpouring of love made me feel very secure - certain of my status as a beloved child of God. And that, in turn, made me feel that asking questions, like ‘Why me?’, was something God didn’t mind… In fact, if anything, I felt as though he was encouraging me - at least in a sense that He seemed to be saying that if my faith wouldn’t withstand a few questions it wasn’t worth having.

I had been taught that doubt was the enemy of faith; over the next several years I came to realise that actually, certainty is the enemy of faith: if everything is understood, tied down, black and white, there is no room for faith. Actually, little is certain about God once you start to really look - if we’re being honest, there is far more that’s enigmatic than there is comprehendible. We definitely can’t claim, as many in the church do, that everything about the whole of the universe is contained in the words of the bible; we can’t even claim that the bible explains everything about our relationship with God; let alone that the bible explains everything about God.

If we think we understand God, then what we understand is not God… It is, instead, something we have devised, and projected onto the space where we think God ought to be. It is our way of making God small enough that we feel ‘safe’ because in a sense we can control him.

But the bible points us to Jesus - to the incarnation - to the time when God became human and lived among us. That’s the bible’s main job. It tells us about how things were before that momentous event - the Old Testament gives lots of pointers to what’s coming next in the story; the gospels tell us about those years when Jesus of Nazareth walked among us; the rest of the NewTestament tells us the beginnings of what happened as a result of the incarnation.

While He was here on earth, Jesus said:

Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:19

and

I and the Father are one. John 10:30

And He told us:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?John 14:6-9

What those quotes tell us is that God is exactly like Jesus. And that, in turn tells us that any other picture we may have of God - those images must submit to what we see of Jesus’ character. Any image we have of God, which doesn’t reflect the character of Jesus, as revealed to us in the gospels, must be mistaken somehow…

If we see God as angry, vengeful, disinterested or disconnected, we need to think hard - how have we arrived at those pictures of God? Do they reflect what we know of God from Jesus - the perfect revelation of God? And, if not, why not? And what if those very images derive from the bible?

I refer you to the quotation from Matthew at the beginning of this post, and pose the following question:

If God tells us to love our enemies, does that perhaps give us a clue as to God’s attitude toward his enemies?

It seems to me that God has nothing but love, mercy, and compassion for them all - even on the occasions when he feels it necessary to rebuke them.

Of course, I can’t deny that there are many portrayals of God in the Old Testament which appear simply incompatible with what is revealed of God by the life and ministry of Jesus. My current ‘modus operandi’ is to compare everything I read in scripture against the clearly revealed character of God in Jesus, and if it doesn’t ‘fit’ then I have to think again about that image of God… Why does it seem to say what it says? I realise that this places me somewhere on a theological ‘slippery slope’ - but nevertheless I am convinced that the only sure way to understand God’s character is to view him through the interpretive lens of Jesus Christ. Jesus is, clearly, and as he says himself, the true revelation of God. Any portrayal or perception of God which doesn’t reflect Jesus is therefore likely to be flawed, inaccurate and potentially dangerous, wherever we find it - even in the pages of scripture. We have to remember that Jesus is Lord of all - including scripture… If and when scripture disagrees with Jesus, Jesus must take precedence: otherwise scripture is God instead of Him. We must beware of making scripture into an idol.

I shall, over the course of the next however long, be looking further and deeper into topics like this. Keep looking here if you want to discover what tentative conclusions my encounters with God and my subsequent studies have led me to.

God bless you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022