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.”)?