For many of us who grew up in the modern worldview our theological understandings and biblical approaches were built as if they were a brick wall. Throughout Sunday school, confirmation, and adult education classes, we built that wall brick by brick with what we understood to be truths and ways of looking at the world. The problem is that when that brick wall of beliefs interacts with the ever-expanding truths of modern science and our own personal experiences, our wall can be hit with numerous wrecking balls. If one of our bricks is broken or taken away – if for example we can no longer believe that heaven is in the sky because we now explore outer space, or if we start to doubt the historical possibility of some of the stories in the Bible – then the wall begins to fall apart because each brick depends on another to stand. Pull one brick out, and the wall collapses. A collapsing wall means a collapsing faith that leads to ruin.
But what if instead of building a wall, we chose to build our belief system as if it was a pliable web? Of course we still hold beliefs that we work to test against what we personally know to be true, what we have read and experienced in scripture, and what we wrestle with in community. Instead of making them bricks though, what if we were to add them as nodes to an ever-growing web that helps us to understand our lives? This web cannot be destroyed if one, or even several, of those beliefs are taken out. We can simply reweave the web and add new understandings that strengthen and make the web an ever more beautiful structure to live within. This allows us to not only withstand storms that test our faith, but it also allows us to add wisdom and new truths that we encounter along our life’s journey.
Over the course of my adulthood, I have worked to tear down my faith-wall and rebuild a beautiful web in its place. At the center of my personal web are some simple truths that ground me. All else are built around these central assertions: “God loves you. God is with you. Do not be afraid.”
God is love. God is constantly present. God is bigger then human understanding or labels. God is the I AM.
The closest I can come to understanding God is through the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God came and shared our common lot. “For God so loved the world” is a very powerful piece of scripture because of the story it begins to tell. Incarnation is central to my theology because it tells the story of a God who would not give up on humanity, to the point of becoming one of us, fully and totally. And not just as a dignitary who was revered and cared for. God came to us as a child, as a nobody. God tromped in the same mud we tromp in. God was confronted with corruption, pain, joy, hunger, anger, and acts of friendship and love, just as we often are.
God decided to come and join in our story at our most basic level by becoming one of us, to convince us that we are loved, that we are capable of great love and of living that love out in community with one another, and that such love makes a difference. Sadly, in the midst of God trying to teach us and lead us and show us a better way to full and abundant life, humanity still said no. Humanity chose the way of violence and death and a thirst for power.
And so God went all the way to the cross, through Jesus. I believe that Jesus on the cross is a statement of solidarity, the at-one-ment of God with humanity in our darkest hours. When Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of God I believe that this is what he meant. God knows. God has experienced the depths and pains of humanity. If life takes us down a hard path, God goes with us.
Even after we put God’s son on a cross and chose death and violence again for the umpteenth time, God says love is stronger. Love is stronger than killing and violence. Love is stronger than our worst fears. Love is stronger then the depths that pull us down. Love is stronger than death itself. Jesus’ resurrection is a radical statement that no matter what, no matter how bad things seem, or how hopeless the situation looks, or how many tears we have wept, no matter what we need redemption for, God can bring new life where we least expect it. God’s work and best hopes for all of creation lie in our ultimate transformation to abundant life, both here in this world right now, and also in the world to come.