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04/08/2013

The Song

One of the biggest stumbling blocks about Christianity for seekers of a different way of living are the ideas that they think lie behind the terminology 'God', 'Lord', 'Father' etc (let's leave the Trinity for now, that's a whole other discussion).

In many ways the new proselytizing atheists have won a significant battle here - framing God as a wise old man up in the clouds, a puppeteer, a wrathful judge and so on - and from there arguing, "Can you believe in this God? No? Well in that case maybe you should join our cause?"

But if you ask many Christians, especially so those who stand within 'unorthodox' (for want of a better term) Christian traditions such as the Unitarians (the more classical variety) and the Quakers, they will likely deny such a God with a similar passion to Richard Dawkins.

The video clip below from Rob Bell, which I discovered many years ago and have now attempted to transcribe during a spare moment, is probably the most resonant explanation of God I've ever come across - and one I feel reflects what many contemporary Christians in Western society are now coming to think and feel (whether they feel free enough to say it aloud or not).


(If the video clip has expired, try here or here)

"I recently heard someone saying that they were pulling into a parking lot and the space closest to the building became available and they said it was a sign God was with them. 

And then around two weeks ago I heard somebody talking about two people who had been sick and one of them had been healed, and they were talking enthusiastically about how God had intervened to heal the one person. The whole time I am thinking, yes but what about the other person? They didn't get healed. Where was God? Why didn't God intervene with them?

And then last night, just last night, I heard somebody say they had been in a store and they had seen something they'd really wanted on sale. And they said, "this just shows how good God is..." If God can help people find things on sale, then why doesn't God spend time doing things that seem more important? Like earthquakes, famines or sickness?

When you think about God, when you hear the word God, what images come to mind?

An old man with a white beard behind a curtain working the levers? He's healing some and finding parking spaces for others. For many people, their concept of God is built around a God who is outside of everything, a God who is essentially somewhere else. A God who made the world and then stands back, watching it from another vantage point. A God who is there and from time to time comes here.

The problem with this concept of God is you then have to prove this God even exists. And so what happens is we start with real life, we start with existence, we start with what we all agree actually exists - and then we argue whether the God of somewhere else has something to do with this.

But the writers of the Bible seem far less interested in proving whether God exists and far more interested in talking about what God is like. Like in the book of Exodus, a man named Moses wants to know God's name and God responds, "I am." And later God reminds Moses than when he heard God's voice, he saw no shape or form.

God is beyond anything our minds can comprehend. So what does it mean to have any kind of personal relationship with this kind of God? It's hard to get your mind around. I believe God listens, God cares and God is involved but I find the whole relationship idea hard to comprehend. And then loving this kind of God, what does that look like? What does it mean and how do you do it?

When I think of God I hear a song. It is a song that moves me, it has a melody, it has a groove - it has a certain rhythm. And people have heard this song for thousands and thousands of years, across continents and cultures, across time periods. People have heard the song and found it captivating - and have wanted to hear more.

And there have always been people who have said there is no song and deny the music. But the song keeps playing.

Jesus came to show us how to live in tune to the song. He says he is The Way, The Truth and The Life but this isn't a statement about one religion being better than all other religions. The last thing Jesus came to do was start a new religion. He came to show us reality at its most raw, he came to show us how things are.

Jesus is like God, in the flesh and blood - so in his generosity, in his compassion, that is what God is like. In his telling of the truth, that is what God is like. In his love, forgiveness and sacrifice, that is what God is like. That's who God is, that's how the song goes.

The song is playing all around us, all of the time. The song is playing everywhere. It's written on our hearts and everybody is playing the song.

The question is not whether or not you are playing a song, the question is whether you are in tune?

In the Book of Acts it says God gives us life, breath and everything else. God is generous. So when I am selfish, stingy and I refuse to give, I am essentially out-of-tune with the song.

Later in one of John's letters, he says God is love - unrestrained, unconditional love. So when you see someone sacrifice themselves for another, for the well-being of somebody else, they are playing in the right key. That is why it is so inspiring and powerful. They are in-tune with the song.

Some people know all sorts of stuff about music. They know stuff about pitch and modes and keys and instruments, so they can hear things that other people do not - they may hear subtlety and nuance in the song that other people might miss, they may appreciate things others might miss. But it is also possible to be so caught up in the technical aspects of the song that you miss the simple, pure enjoyment of the song.

There are people who talk as if they know everything about being a Christian and yet they can seem way out-of-tune. And then there are others who say they don't know much at all about the Christian faith and yet they can seem very in-tune with the song.

I've met lots of people who struggle with what it means to have a relationship with God - but they haven't lost faith, and love, and hope, and truth, and compassion, and justice, and generosity.

You may have this sense that you have no relationship with God because of all these ideas about what that should mean, because of all these things you've been told what it is or what it isn't. And an infinite, massive, invisible God is hard to get out minds around.

But truth, love, grace, mercy, justice, compassion - the way that Jesus lived - I can see that, I can understand that, I can relate to that, I can play that song.

So may you come to see that the song is written on your heart. And as you live in tune with the song, in tune with the creator of the universe, may you realise that you are in relationship with the Living God."

Amen to that.

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