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Believing in the Right Way

In all of my conversations about living in the tension of uncertainty, inevitable questions arise. “Should we never pursue certainty?” “Is this just ‘going with the flow’ how we are to live our Christian lives?” “Isn’t a willingness to live with uncertainty just relativism wrapped in different language?”

It is interesting to me how quickly and easily our minds can search for some rule, pattern, or principle. We project one response to a particular situation – and try to figure out if that then speaks more widely and generally. I wonder sometimes if this is our inherent impatience – what I like to call our microwave mentality. We want the response that can become our “go-to answer” – even if the response was never intended to be that in the first place. Part of that, perhaps, is not wanting to have to wrestle with every situation that comes up. Part of that, perhaps, is the anxiety we feel about getting it wrong. I think the pervasive notion for many Christians continues to be that doubt is an enemy of faith and that questions demonstrate a lack of faith – and that if we do either – God is rather disappointed with us. Or if different people come to different conclusions about what God is asking of them on a given issue – that is necessarily wrong because God is not internally inconsistent.

I am increasingly convinced, however, that doubt is a vibrant part of faith and that our questions provide fertile soil for intimate wrestling with a personal God who knows who we are and where our questions come from. It seems to me this is not so much about trying to figure out the right things to believe and then holding onto them, defending them and separating yourself from those who don’t share them – rather it is about an encounter with the kind of God who condescends to put dry fleeces on wet ground and wet fleeces on dry ground simply because the way of faith for creatures made from the dust is most often a non-linear, messy journey.

And given that the journeys are so personal, so unique, so non-conforming to one pattern – I am more and more nervous around forensically systematized theoretical theologies that dot all of our “i’s” and cross all of our “t’s”. It would seem to me that re-engagement with elements of mysticism in our faith is increasingly essential in the answer-oriented church of today. Peter Rollins, Irish philosopher theologian, writes, “For the mystic God was neither an unspeakable secret to be passed over in silence, nor a dissipated secret that had been laid bare in revelation. Rather, the mystic approached God as a secret which one was compelled to share, yet which retained its secrecy.”

Rollins goes on in his book, “How (Not) to Speak of God” to say that he pictures,

“ a movement which rejects both absolutism and relativism as idolatrous positions which hide their human origins in the modern myth of pure reason…… Instead of following the Greek-influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief ….. [we need] to rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as the one who believes in the right way – that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christlike manner. The reversal from ‘right belief’ to ‘believing in the right way’ is in no way a move to some binary opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief); rather, it is a way of transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world…… Orthodoxy as right belief will cost us little; indeed, it will allow us to sit back with our Pharisaic doctrines, guarding the ‘truth’ with the purity of our interpretations. But orthodoxy, as believing the right way, as bringing love to the world around us and within us …. that will cost us everything.”

This past Sunday morning, my pastor spoke on what it means to be a person of the resurrection. In his message he referenced the raising of Lazarus as the point at which Jesus knew that once he crossed this ‘line’ he sealed the deal on his own death. In chatting with him afterwards, I told him about my post on Ontario’s sexual education curriculum – something many Christian parents are strongly opposed to – and how I wondered and hoped that my speaking up was some embodiment of the resurrection for the many children who need aspects of this curriculum for their own safety and wellbeing. But how it also felt like crossing a line that would inevitably alienate me from yet more Christians (and likely donors to New Direction who had already been sending me forwarded emails asking me to speak up against this curriculum). My pastor made the point that even the Jews, in the account of Lazarus’ resurrection noted Jesus’ great love (“See how he loved him” verse 36). To which I responded that some Christians are not yet sure who I would be extending love to with such a stance – or if they were, indeed, worthy of love.

For those who wonder if my ramblings about uncertainty are the easy way out or some way to abdicate responsibility – I would submit that a willingness to crucify systematic right beliefs for the much messier, easily misunderstood, and suspiciously viewed ‘believing in the right way’ is not the easy way out – rather, it is the way to get yourself killed.

I want to challenge the “you’re loving people into hell” kind of certainties – and hear the stories of how they are actually loving people they disagree with. I want to turn the orthodoxy tests that are all about determining if I believe the right things into opportunities to share the ways we are believing in the right way.

I want to stand up for the certainty that love is what we have been called to. I want to speak of our intimate encounters with God where we will be stretched and challenged and enabled to love well. I want to hear of coming to know him more deeply through His Word, our experience walking in step with the Holy Spirit, and encountering Him in the lives of our neighbours who we love and serve, and more fully embodying His love. I want to focus on the witness of stepping out to speak for those who cannot speak, to touch those who are often ignored, and to link arms – even with those with whom we disagree. Such love is costly. It isn’t relativistic or ‘going with the flow’ or abdicating responsibility – it is tangible, transformative and transcendent. It is the secret.

-WG

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