Paradox

I’ve been wondering about the first commandment recently:

“I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me.”

It seems like a fairly straightforward commandment: basically, don’t worship anyone or anything other than God. I always assumed that this commandment at least was one that I didn’t have to worry about. But recent online conversations I’ve both been watching and a part of have made me start to question that assumption.

I think evangelical Quakers (and other conservative Christians) are right to criticize us liberal Quakers about the fuzziness of our faith. Let me be brutally honest and not stereotypical: they are right to criticize me about the fuzziness of my faith. Ask me if the God I worship is the God of the Bible, and I’ll reply with something like: “Well, yes, I think so, but I think I maybe see a different side of Him than what’s portrayed in parts of the Bible.” Ask me if Jesus is the Son of God and part of the Trinity, and I’ll say, “Well, I don’t know, but I do believe he led his life in accordance with God’s will more than pretty much anyone else.”

Fuzziness. Ask me any specific question about the God I worship, and my answer will be fuzzy. Even the most basic question of His existence, and I’ll account for the possibility that I could be wrong!

How can I be sure that I am worshiping God and not an idol of my own creation if I don’t know — can’t say — who He is? I want to be right, but I don’t want to be right when it means other people are wrong. What’s left? How can I say or think things like “I believe in God, but it doesn’t bother me if you don’t”, or “I could always be wrong”? What kind of commitment is that? If I’m too scared to jump in, to have a faith that has real definition, why should I be disappointed when I don’t feel God’s presence as often as I’d like?

And yet, there are problems with defining God, and I don’t just mean philosophically. If I can say without any uncertainty that I know who God is, how do I reconcile that with my flawed humanity? (Perhaps humanity isn’t flawed, but that’s another discussion.) How can I relate to people who don’t know God, or know another God, or know God differently, without making myself superior to them? And any who say that that wouldn’t happen, frankly, have some trouble with empathy. If knowing God is better than not knowing God, then knowing God is a good thing, then those who know God are, at least in that aspect, better than those who don’t. Frankly, I’m not comfortable with that. How could I respond to that of God in them if all I see is that of God in me?

(There are also theological questions about how the nature of God could possibly have limits, but I’m not interested in a theological debate here. I’m interested in a purely practical one.)

I just feel very stuck here. If I can’t move past the fuzziness, I feel my faith will suffer, as it is hard to maintain a relationship when one party is undefined (and that’s what faith should be: an ongoing relationship between deity and person). But if I move past the fuzziness to a solid definition, I worry about that knowledge, that certainty, feeding my ego and diminishing God’s other creations.

So the question remains: how do I truly follow the first commandment without breaking Jesus’s commandment (…“that you love one another as I have loved you.”)?

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5 Comments

Filed under belief, different faiths, discernment, faith, God, Jesus, pride, quakerism, struggling with faith, that of God, the bible, universalism, worship

5 responses to “Paradox

  1. It is a common impression that a strong relationship with and faith in God means that one is lead to feel “superior” to others. This is most definitely a danger to be guarded against. Such a state of spiritual pride is, according to C.S. Lewis, the most deadly of sins.

    However, my experience is that when I am most in line with God, I am humbled and shown for the helpless sinner that I am, who, only through the grace of God, has been saved from a hell of my own making. When I am in relationship with God, it is only then that I can truly begin to glimpse humility and genuine love. In this state of love, I desire to speak only truth and to offer up to my fellow men and women a witness to the Truth which I have experienced and which is saving me.

    When I am truly loving, and truly humble, I wish that all men and women could experience the love of God that has been so lavishly poured out on me – a sinner, without any merit of his own.

  2. A Friend whose faithfulness seems to me, at least, to be very strong recently remarked to me that he was not sure God wanted us to believe in Him as to listen to Him.

    I’m not certain certainty about beliefs has much to do with listening to God, so I find that I myself am more comfortable with Friends whose beliefs are “fuzzy”–though not because they don’t challenge me to live more faithfully myself, but because they so often do.

    Sometimes I think it is our certainties about God that constitute the most threatening form of idolatry in the world of Spirit. Do we worship and commune with God, or with our ideas and convictions about God? And wouldn’t it be better just to listen carefully, and admit to uncertainty when it is what we have?

    Isn’t that a form of humility, in fact?

  3. David Schoen

    You could ask the same question about the second commandment as well, since one who loves is ostensibly “better” than one who doesn’t — or about anything else for that matter! Perhaps you are a “better” writer or cook or musician than others. God doesn’t expect us to make ourselves as inept as possible in all things — even that would fail since some would be “better” at self-abasement than others!

    Loving God means you realize that you are part of a whole, as Paul said, a member of a body. Even those who don’t love God may be performing a service by helping us to understand the misery that causes, or by giving us a chance to get clearer about our own commitment, for example. “Loving” by definition means taking the focus off our competitiveness with others, putting all that aside and looking to how we may be of service to them.

    Blessings,
    Dave Carl

  4. Thank you all for your comments. Since posting this, I’ve begun to wonder if this apparent paradox is not just one of the theological trappings I was trying to avoid… Just because I can’t say who God is does not necessarily mean that I don’t know who I’m worshiping. It’s just that I don’t have the words available to articulate it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Also, Cat, thank you for reminding me of a concern I’d forgotten:

    Sometimes I think it is our certainties about God that constitute the most threatening form of idolatry in the world of Spirit. Do we worship and commune with God, or with our ideas and convictions about God?

    I think that’s a very real concern and one that every person of faith should keep in mind every day.

  5. Chris

    As someone who continually tries to find and understand God I thought fuzziness was normal, part of a learning process. At first I saw through a glass dimly and now many years later it’s maybe cleared a small amount, but maybe not. I personally believe fuzziness can be translated as Honesty. The whole truth and knowledge of God has not yet been revealed to me. So I am in a state of fuzziness, and no doubt I will continue to be for many years yet. That’s just the honest truth. Frankly, I’m amazed that there are people who think they are in a state of total clarity!