From the Psalter:
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.
God looks down from heaven upon us all,
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.
Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad;
there is none who does good; no, not one.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 53:1-3 (BCP 1979 Version) – December 19, 2012.)
Recently, following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a bunch of Christian “leaders” (Mike Huckabee, James Dobson, Bryan Fisher, to name a few) have basically said, “God has been taken out of the schools,” or “God has been taken out of our society,” or some variation on this theme. This, they say is, the reason the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place. Because of God’s supposed absence (voluntary on God’s part, it would seem) the horror took place. They seek to blame those who have “put God out,” but the way they make this argument really places the responsibility on God who apparently made the decision to stay away; either that or they are describing a God who is powerless in the face of some alleged official refusal to “allow God in” because our Constitution prohibits state-prescribed sectarian prayer in the schools.
Their alternative theory seems to be that because America now condones some sort of behavior to which these so-called “ministers” object (marriage equality, for example), or disallows some behavior they would champion (that state-sponsored school prayer, for example) God is punishing us. They seem to believe that God shares their judgement and is acting upon it . . . by killing children.
If any of this is true about God then I am in the class of fools who have said in their hearts, “There is no God” because I sure don’t believe in a God of the sort they seem to be describing.
But then, to be honest, I’m finding myself not believing in a lot of the Gods various people have described over the years. I read the atheist arguments of folks like scientist Richard Dawkins or the late journalist Christopher Hitchens; when I read their descriptions of God, I think “I don’t believe in that God, either.”
Recently, I’ve been thumbing through an old theology book, one that I think got me through my General Ordination Exam almost single-handedly (if that description can be applied to a book). It is Theological Outlines by Francis J. Hall (Morehouse-Barlow:1933). I found this description of God in the section on Divine Perfection:
By virtue of His infinite perfection, God is self-sufficient. Nothing is wanting to His essence which is needed for His blessedness. Neither His knowledge, nor His will, nor His love, depend upon the existence of the creature, but have sufficient scope for their activity in the eternal relations subsisting between the Persons of the Trinity. Creation is an act of the Divine will, not the result of necessity.
I read that and (guess what?) thought, “I don’t believe in that God!” I don’t believe in a God that has no need of God’s creation. I don’t believe in a God whose love has “sufficient scope for [its] activity” in God alone. The God I believe in wants to be in relationship with God’s creation! The God I believe in not only “looks down from heaven upon us all;” the God I believe in became one of us! The God I believe in was and is incarnate in Jesus Christ, lived in First Century Palestine, was crucified, died, was buried, and ascended to heaven, and yet is with us always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:20) That is not a God in whom “nothing is wanting;” that is a God who wants to be with his creatures, with us!
That, I believe, is a God who wants to know, who lovingly hopes to know “if there is one who seeks after God.” That, I believe, is a God who, finding instead “ministers” like Huckabee who portray him as powerless or Dobson who make God into some kind of child-killing monster, finding atheists who make God into a caricature that no one actually accepts, finding theologians who describe God as some sort of theoretical philosophical construct with no needs, probably does conclude that “every one has proved faithless.”
Maybe as Christmas gets closer and Advent draws to an end, as we celebrate the birth of the God incarnate in Jesus, as we anticipate his return . . . maybe we could stop trying to define God and start trying to relate to God? Maybe we could turn our attention from describing God and instead simply try to do good? Let’s leave defining God up to God.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.