December 3, 2007

To See It For Themselves

I've heard a lot of people say something like, "When it comes to a church movement, I'm uncomfortable when a church won't clearly explain its positions." Even in the poll we did here last week, people expressed a desire for strong, clear doctrine from the church. But I think the edges of the church are beginning to move away from this kind of detailed, inflexible doctrinal statement. In its place are the kinds of statements that vaguely point to the spirit of what the community believes. Many see this as a weakness, but it resonates with my experience with God and doctrine.

For instance, if I saw God's face (and somehow didn't die), and I came back and tried to explain the experience to you, I might find myself having trouble finding the words to say. I might start out by saying, "He looked like... a mixture of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman -- stunningly gorgeous and yet incomparably wise. And with a Santa-like twinkle in his eye." And yet, this wouldn't really describe him well at all. So instead I might say, "He had the eyes of a lion." But that wouldn't really be true either. So I might try to describe the attributes of his face, to say his face was kind but fearsome, gentle but terrifying, wonderful but awful.

And you, the listener, might start to make fun of me and my descriptions. "Did you seriously just compare the LORD of all Heaven and Earth to Brad Pitt?" Or for using contradictory terms, or for relating him to both a white man and a black man (he can't be BOTH black and white). The way these explanations contradict would seem irreconcilable.

So at some point, I finally say, "His face was love." And that's it. You might beg for more details, but I begin to realize that the more details I give, the more wrong I start to become, and the more wrong ideas I give people. So instead of details, I give a vague description and then encourage people to seek his face out themselves. To see it for themselves.

When you think about it, every detailed description was true in the way that it highlighted certain features of God, but in all the ways it fell short of describing his wonders, it misled. To see him for yourself is to begin to understand how far beyond our descriptions he really is, and longing to see more of him again and again.

Even Jesus presented his teachings about God, his own father, in parables and mysterious proclamations that urged his listeners to chase after understanding and to ask questions of him and of each other. He could have given clear, simple answers in our language that would have seemed like enough, but he knew that the complexity and greatness of God required paradoxical, profound descriptions that didn't always satisfy our thirst for easy answers.

When I think about it like that, and when I think about all of the divisive fighting that detailed doctrine has caused, I have to wonder why we should settle for these misleading descriptions?

1 comment:

jadanzzy said...

Hi Jason,

I agree. I don't know to what degree I agree, but I do. And that's what matters. We can work out the nuances of agreement later, or never.

It's kind of like how postmodern churches are now starting to use the nicene or apostles creed as their statement of faith rather than a list of doctrinal beliefs.

Moreover, the more books I read, the more Reformed terms like "Sola Scriptura," "Sola Fide," etc., become much more dynamic and less static in their meaning. And that's a wonderful thing.

This is why I value deconstruction of language, ESPECIALLY christianese.