The Nature of our Easter God
In reflecting on our recent Clergy Retreat where we were challenged to not just expand our spirituality, but to seek greater depth, I realise that I need to re-explore my understanding of God. The complication is that I am comfortable with the ‘limited’ God I believe in; the God defined by Christian doctrine and Anglican tradition.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the ‘God’ of plaster and gold – imposingly 27 metres high and almost 3 metres wide – created by King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3); and I ask why did Nebuchadnezzar find it necessary to create such a God? His anger at the three’s refusal to bow down in worship seems to have little to do with the ‘God’ and more to do with his own desire to control: “Who is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?” Nebuchadnezzar asks. He clearly believes this wondrous statue has no power, yet demands its worship.
And so I reflect on my ‘limited’ God, as magnificent and wondrous as my Christian faith and Anglican tradition proclaim God to be; and I wonder how much I truly believe, how much I –like Nebuchadnezzar – seek to use God as a form of control in a world increasingly chaotic?
I do not question God, exactly, but the limits we have placed on God. Can God be defined? If so, what drives us to define God? And if not, why do we place so much effort into doing so? And then what is the basis for our Easter hope?
Scripture and human experience point to God being both absolute and infinite.
That which is truly absolute and truly infinite cannot really be defined by what it is or is not (define ‘0’ for me …), but only, perhaps, by what it is greater than. To do otherwise is to declare it finite, and what is finite cannot really remain absolute. And so, because I am limited in my use of words, in my ability to fully imagine an absolute and infinite God, I – like Nebuchadnezzar – create a ‘limited’ God, designed to my own specifications, empowered by my own need and human limitations, and I become unhinged when you challenge my creation.
I am thus challenged to begin to believe in God who is always substantially greater than my ability to define ‘God’, who is continuously ‘beyond’ my understanding, who remains absolute and infinite ‘mystery’. Anything and everything else is anathema, without substance, without power, without true existence; unless it is embraced in the absolute and infinite mystery of God. A reminder, too, that all that I am, all that I have, is through the grace of God: absolute, infinite, mysterious.
I’ve always been attracted to the Baptismal Creed (An Anglican Prayer Book 1989, pg 59) because of its simplicity, its willingness to sacrifice the complexity of belief described by the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. What better describes God than ‘Creator’, ‘Redeemer’ and ‘Life-Giver’? What better describes the absoluteness of God than declaring God to be ‘One’? What better handhold to the absolute, infinite mystery that is God than these concepts?
And yet we insist on defining God further, on making God like us, on using God for our own ends. Idolatry is, then, not the worship of other gods, but the worship of God diminished by our own attempt to define the absolute and the infinite, to demystify the mysterious. And then what is the basis for our Easter hope?
Our limitation of God is most visible in the religious rules and regulations we adopt. We see Jesus in his own context lifting two laws out of the plethora of Jewish rules that define not God, but our response to God: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind (Deuteronomy 6:5); and love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). And so our Easter hope begins to find value in our active response to God and neighbour.
Our Easter hope is manifest in the activity of the one and only, the absolute and infinite God: Jesus’ death and resurrection reveals God’s faith in us, and God’s gift of abundant life unlimited now by sin or death.
All things become possible because I have faith in God who is beyond my ability to comprehend.
And I respond by caring for my neighbour.