I’m not a great one for formulas and creeds when it comes to shaping my Christian faith. Rather, give me a good story, a character, or a song. You know, the concrete stuff of lives lived; that’s where I feel most at home.
Take for instance the eternal Lord God, who may well exist as ‘one being in three persons, the Blessed Trinity’ that our various creeds declare. Who am I after all to argue with centuries of learned debate?
But such a doctrinal formula is almost meaningless to me. What does speak to me though are stories and images: Lady Wisdom calling to me from her door; the creative Spirit hovering over a restless sea; Saul being confronted by a voice and blinding light along the road; the image of a loving father running down another road to embrace me; the jilted lover in Hosea; a potter forming me like clay from Jeremiah; the stern face of the judge separating the sheep from the goats; the playfulness of a child from Proverbs; a pillar of fire and cloud guiding the people; the water of life springing from the rock… Here is God for me, in these and a myriad of other images, parables and songs.
Now, do all these various stories point to a tidy, unified theory of who God actually is? Maybe, maybe not. For myself, personally, it doesn’t much matter. What does matter, however, is that each time I am pointed closer in the direction of God and that my eyes are opened in some new way to who God is.
By this time it won’t surprise you to hear that the most significant story for me is the big one that gathers around a dusty Palestinian Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, I may well feel a sense of God as I pray in the morning or as I delight in the birds and flowers of my garden, but such experiences are fleeting and I don’t always trust myself with them. But then I look at this person Jesus and I know that God truly is. I look at this beautiful life with all its justice, integrity, compassion, wisdom, insight, playfulness, celebration, acceptance, courage, sacrifice – indeed, his sheer humanity – and I know absolutely that God is real.
Just left to my own devices, alone with my own little story, I don’t know if I would believe in God. It’s all too nebulous and I know the world will keep on spinning whether I believe in God or not. But then I look and see the glory of God shining vividly in Jesus’ face and I am confronted with a reality I can’t dismiss. Here is the ‘Transfiguration up on the mountain top’ for me.
In Jesus’ life I find for myself the tangible reality of the God he points me to, and of the God who shines through his very self. At times within the church we want to take up arms about which formula or doctrine we should be following, or which theological tribe we must belong to.
‘I’m progressive, she’s fundamentalist, he’s evangelical, they’re reformed, and someone else is liberal.’
Apart from the fact that I find myself contorted in some churchy game of Twister with a hand or foot in each of a half dozen different theological camps at any one time, the actual systematic formulation doesn’t mean much to me. What does matter though is that God would be there; living, breathing, and interacting in the space between our own little stories and ‘the story’. What draws us together, despite our differences, is that we have all met God in some way through this life of Jesus of Nazareth.
At some point, and however we may each choose to explain it, we have gone to the mountain and seen Jesus shining, so we listen to him and let him point the way.
Rev Gordon Scantlebury