When doing biblical studies and research in seminary, a question we were frequently invited to use to interrogate the text is this one: Who is God, and who are we because of God. As an ordained Christian minister, a variation of that for some of our sacred texts would be: who is Jesus, and who are we because of Jesus.
This is not idle speculation. How we treat each other within our respective religious circles will often depend on how we answer those very basic questions.
When God is a condemning judge who tolerates no deviation from clear, specific, and immutable laws then we become a religious body who judges, condemns, and vilifies any whom we deem deviant from strict interpretations of the law.
When Jesus is the only way to eternal salvation, the one true light to whom all must willingly submit, then non-believers are, within this circle of logic, irredeemable and fair game for our vitriol, judgment, and condemnation.
This was on full display not long ago when 49 Muslims were gunned down by a Christian terrorist in New Zealand. His combination of as the only way, white supremacy, and Muslim hatred created a perfect storm of Christian arrogance and contempt that authorized him on behalf of the Jesus he knew to slaughter innocent worshipers in their sacred house.
So, yeah – how you answer these basic questions does matter.
It took me a while to get there, but I settled on a theology that is very basic: God is love; God is just. My entire worldview gets filtered through that lens. Who is God? God is love and justice personified. Likewise, Jesus is for me the embodiment, the incarnation of that God – fully expressing and manifesting love and justice.
Who are we because of God?
We are practitioners of love and seekers of justice.
In my very simple theological worldview, believing in this God requires of me an assumption of love and an expectation of justice towards all. There can be no exceptions. My years of living with our sacred texts have me fully persuaded that these statements are consistent with what our canon reveals about God, and what my lived experience also teaches me.
What new faith would emerge on the other side of these revelations? That is what I am most interested in, and have been throughout my years in ministry. Love of God, love of self, love of neighbor are core, foundational, primary obligations for those who worship to God of my religion’s sacred texts. And the pursuit of such love cannot mean anything if we grow comfortable with the unjust suffering of others.
New Zealand worries me terribly. The particular brand of Christianity used to justify the murder inflicted on those Muslim worshipers, and the particular brand of white supremacy found in the writings of that terrorist are not unique to America. But the exporting of the mass shootings is. We failed to deal with this expression of fulminating hatred on our own shores, and are now exporting it to the world.
Would that we could now import back from New Zealand the remedy for this – the swift passage of stricter gun laws in response to the mass shooting.
That may not happen, but every spiritual seeker has an obligation to pursue answers to the questions “Who is God, and who are we because of God” that do not serve as a present and imminent danger to any of God’s precious children.
Let us walk the way of love and justice. Let us pursue peace with our neighbor, whoever they may be. Let us discover the God among us who engenders love, who calls for justice, and who abides with us every step of the way on this, our journey Into the Mystic.