News flash: My dog, Hobbes, was mentioned in yesterday’s New York Times!
Kierkegaard echoed the apostle Paul’s spiritual counsel to work out our own salvation “in fear and trembling,” and many if not most of us know exactly what that means. “The fear of the Lord” is so entrenched in many of us that we have dearly struggled to ‘fess up to what we do and don’t believe, for fear of angering a jealous deity, or incurring the wrath of fellow believers (and sometimes, strangely as insistently, of nonbelievers) for not “toeing the line” of standard Christian doctrine. I can do little about the latter, what others think, long ago taking as a mantra (though insufficiently realized) the title of a book I never read, What You Think of Me Is None of My Business by Terry Cole-Whittaker.
But it still feels like my business what God thinks of me, and I have had the fear of the Lord assuaged in me by Brother Thomas Keating’s observation that biblical “fear of the Lord” was less that of anxiety than of awe. I do believe in an awesome God, but what keeps me from quivering (most of the time) is that I TRUST God rather than FEAR God, which seems to me what the gist of the biblical witness is about. I say all this as preface to what follows.
I don’t believe Jesus died for my sins. At least, not exactly. Human sin tortures, torments, and kills people every day, and I do my fair share of causing that, either by sins of commission or omission. But a god who requires the blood of a scapegoat, a lamb, or a child of God to forgive me is not worthy of my praise. The God I believe in is bigger than that. I do believe in a God willing to sacrificially forgive, which to me is the spiritual essence of the story. And I do believe that Jesus lived and died and still lives on our behalf.
Jesus is not the only son of God. Remember, the Hebrews thought of themselves as the children of God. And the Gospel of John says Jesus came into the world that we all might be children of God. I do believe Jesus reminded us of our divine imprint, the imago dei of creation, and the apostle Paul called us to live up to our inheritance as sons and daughters of God—an awesome task, not to benefit our self-esteem as in self-help movements or “extend our territory” as in the prosperity gospel, but to “be the change we seek in the world” (Gandhi).
“One holy catholic (as in universal) church.” Notice I did not preface this with “I don’t believe” nor “I believe in…” “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” I would say. I have seen this holy universal church in my dreams as well as in my waking hours. It is not confined to the institutional church, of course, but includes those “standing on the threshold of the church” with Simone Weil, and those well beyond that threshold, “the least of these.” This includes those of us who carry invisible wounds of the church’s abuse and abandonment, like my rescued dog, Hobbes, who ducks when somebody reaches to pet her because she was apparently mistreated before I found her, abandoned in the local park, thirteen years ago. For us and for her, it’s not really about forgiveness, it’s about trust.
I don’t believe in hell. What good is it? What good does it do a deity to enforce eternal suffering? Purgatory makes more sense to me. I’m not quite sure what to make of heaven either, except I’ve long believed that heaven on earth is where God’s will and our wills coincide. I would like to think that those I love who’ve died are with God. I do believe God loves us always, and in that love (again) I trust, so, blessedly, I don’t have to have a fully-formed opinion.
I don’t believe in original sin. This one’s way too easy. With Celtic Christianity and specifically with Pelagius, I believe each of us is born good and essentially are good, though we may be blemished, disfigured, or held captive by sin. Thus redemption may be viewed as liberation to be who we really are.
“Jesus loves me, this I know.” And not only because “the Bible tells me so.” Mere words could never convey the love I have felt from Jesus. It came from my mom and dad, from Christian friends, teachers, professors, clergy, guides, soul friends, and lovers. And it came from the Holy Spirit, opening scripture to me, opening my heart and mind, and releasing me from the whitewashed tombs of doctrines that no longer resonate.
“To God be the glory.” This seems too obvious, but needs be said in a culture and church where everyone’s glory is noted in the phenomenon of celebrity. No matter how “glorious” one becomes, including even Jesus, all glory ultimately rests with God. Else, how would it be there?