They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27
What happens when someone “radical” comes into our world bringing changes we aren’t particularly happy about? Most of us fight it, and often we fight it with anger. When it comes to politics, we at least have the power of voting to express our opinion (even though we don’t always manage to vote in the person we want). But when it comes to theology – the church – that’s a whole different story! It’s probably better to separate theology from ecclesiology (the church), though.
Theology is about our spiritual connection with God, and even though it is informed by church teachings and tradition, when we look at our personal understanding of God, it will vary with our experience, background, and upbringing. When we have been brought up to believe that God has a plan for each of us, one that is mapped out and prefigured, it can be quite difficult to accept that God would plan for some of those things to happen. For example, why would God plan for our child to die young? Why would God plan for us to get cancer? Why would God plan for us to go through a divorce? Get the picture?
God’s plan for the world was to save the world because, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God is a god of love. 1 John 4:8 says, “. . . God is love.” So why would God – who IS love – bring bad things on those of us who are God’s beloved children? When we look at Jesus’ actions throughout the gospels, they are acts of justice – to correct wrongs, acts of love – to heal, acts of compassion – to bring wholeness.
The Biblical stories that tell us that God punishes mostly are found in the Old Testament, and yet, even there, we find that God is gracious and merciful, always giving a wandering and disobedient nation of Israel an out – a way to make the covenant work again, to make it new again. Jesus clearly says that he has come to make all things new: a new covenant, a new relationship with God, a new and open connection directly with God, and new life through his life, death, and resurrection.
Yet when new ideas or new ways of teaching the Biblical story come along, we resist them. We may not want to hear some new interpretation that might pull the rug out from under our childhood ideas about God. While there are those who see God’s plan as a blueprint God printed out for their lives, others think that God is going to come down to earth and interfere and correct things. I once heard a mother joyfully praising God because her child had been spared in a bus accident when other children had been killed. So what does that say about God’s attitude toward those children who didn’t survive? Does God randomly pick those who will make it and those who won’t?
When we think in those terms, we miss the teaching of Jesus that he will be with us always – even to the end of the age (Matthew 28). Jesus’ promise isn’t that we will be saved from loss, pain, hurt, sorrow, and suffering – he certainly understood all those experiences and couldn’t avoid them himself even though he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that God would take that away from him. Jesus’ promise is that he has overcome death, reconciled us with God, borne our sins so that we are forgiven, and that we will never have to walk this path alone.
I just finished reading a book about message that loved ones received from those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. Consistently, the messages are “I’m okay,” “I love you,” “Don’t worry,” “I’m not alone.” When we walk through this life and experience the entirely – the fullness – of life, we will lose loved ones, be betrayed, laugh, sing, dance, weep, struggle, have illnesses, and the list could go on and on. The assurance we have is that we have a companion on the journey in Jesus Christ who walks with us, giving us strength to keep on keeping on.
The new theological ideas may actually hold some hope and promise in them. Maybe we should keep our minds, hearts, hears, and eyes open to the possibility that God may be speaking to us through them. It’s a thought!