I got stumped the other day by what would seem to be a rather easy question: "Would you say something to us about God?"
I was meeting with a dozen members of an important committee in the denomination to which I belong. The members were asking me all sorts of questions about my calling, how it has unfolded, how I foresee it at work, how I will pursue it in the future. I answered the questions as honestly and succinctly as I could. I thought it was going pretty well.
And then the committee chair asked me, "Would you say something to us about God?"
My mind went utterly blank. I sat in silence, my brain trying to reboot. That's a rather large topic, I thought to myself in a slight but growing panic. How do I grab onto it and say something relevant and inspiring without sounding pedantic or clichéd?
After an eternal 30 seconds or so I started saying something about something I'd read that morning, which was sort of about God, failing to even get close to quoting it, and then I meandered onto another train of thought about something else, until I finally concluded with an embarrassed, "Well, that was a very rambling response!" The questioner, perhaps attempting to make me feel a little better, simply said, "It's a big topic."
The rest of the meeting went fine. But that question has haunted me in the weeks since. I have a master's degree in theology. I've written several books about God. I produce a weekly radio program on which exceptional preachers talk about God. I believe in God!
So why, when put on the spot, couldn't I say anything meaningful about God?
Of course, God is a big topic. God is too vast to fully comprehend or pigeonhole. God is too dynamic to pin down, too infinite to be contained in a box of beliefs.
I thought back on my early days as a Christian. My father was a Methodist minister, and my mother's father was too. So I was raised in a loving, church-oriented home. When I was in college, I became involved in Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as "Cru"), a boldly evangelistic organization. The founder, Dr. Bill Bright, had written a little booklet summarizing his version of the Christian faith as the "Four Spiritual Laws." You may have seen one of these booklets.
The "Four Spiritual Laws" declare in a rather simplistic fashion a typically evangelical approach to God. I shared them with many a fellow collegian all those years ago. They were a very easy way to "say something about God." (And by the way, don't miss Dr. Greg Carey's exceptional post that also references the "Four Laws.")
But over the decades since then I have continued to grow and evolve theologically and now consider myself a passionate progressive Christian. Simplistic approaches to understanding and relating to God no longer work for me. I don't think they come close to doing justice to who God is and how we relate to God.
But that question still hung there on my conscience like a heavy, wet towel. And I started thinking about what I would say if someone asked me again to say something about God.
What I came up with are not "Four Spiritual Laws"--I never did like the judgmental sound of that title. Let's call them "Four Spiritual Invitations."
These are four primary concepts that motivate my faith as a Christian, that capture what I think is an essence, a starting point, of the spiritual reality that beckons us all. They attempt to capture God's loving and gracious invitations to each one of us, God's welcoming of our souls to commune with God and to share with others out of the love we discover there.
So here are my "Four Spiritual Invitations":
1. God is real.
You know this within yourself. God is everywhere--above you, beside you, beneath you, around you, ahead of you, within you. Experiencing God's presence calls for awareness and intentionality in the present moment. We can find God in the loving embrace of a friend. In the hands that prepare Meals on Wheels and kettles of soup for the homeless. In the prayers of the parents worried about their sick child. In the spectacular creation we're supposed to care for. God is in the heart of each one of us.
2. God is love.
1 John 4:8 says this. And Jesus couldn't stop talking about this reality with his followers. Love is the motivating force of God toward all humanity. Sometimes religion can really screw this up, but it's true nevertheless.
3. Jesus is the fully realized human expression of God's love.
He is the model for how God yearns for us to live--with a love that's wholly sacrificial. So we ought to pay attention to what he said and did. If we only would, it would revolutionize our political structures, our churches, our very lives.
4. Love one another.
Love everybody, in Jesus' name. Jesus tells us not to judge others, but to love others, even our enemies, those who hurt us or disagree with us. And to live in that love. Literally, by coming together in community, by serving others, by standing up with our sisters and brothers for the oppressed, by seeking justice for the marginalized, by making a difference for God in this hurting world.
So that's what I'll say about God today. Yes, these "Four Spiritual Invitations" are simple--far too simple. There is so much more to consider in the spiritual realm. But maybe they are a starting point for understanding life from a refreshingly different Christian point of view.
These "Four Spiritual Invitations," for me, compel me forward on a meaningful life journey, and God knows where it will take me.
So what would you say about God today?