Thursday, May 14, 2009

God as Art Materials

One of the more intriguing ideas I heard at the Create in Me retreat involved us thinking about God as art material.

We like to think that we can understand God. Worse, many of us like to think that we can control God. If you don't believe me, head to your local Christian bookstore and take a look. If we pray this prayer, we'll get this amount of wealth. God wants us to do this and that and then God will bless us as a nation. If we pray this way or behave that way, God will grant us good health.

Those of us who have been around for awhile understand the problems with this thinking. What happens if we live upright lives, but bad things still happen to us, as bad things always will? How do we cope with that, if we have the view that God will reward the upright exactly the way we think that God will? Many a crisis of faith is born in just that situation.

Far better to think of God as an art material. God will be God, no matter what we want, no matter how we want to control God.

Many of us approach God, and like with many of our relationships, we try to change God. It's as if you looked at your clay and wanted it to be steel, worthy of holding up a skyscraper. Clay can be many things, but it will never hold up a skyscraper by itself. It's as if God is a beautiful shade of blue, and we fume and fuss and wish that God could be a shade of green that we need God to be.

Unlike humans, art materials have their own properties. They're very happy with who they are and see no need to change. Clay doesn't want to be steel. Blue doesn't want to be green. God wants to be God, not your giant cosmic Santa Claus.

Some of you might say, "Well how do we know who this God is?" I'd suggest something old-fashioned: return to the text. Go back to the Bible. It's an incomplete picture of God, but it's more complete than many of the books published for the Christian market, and sadly, more complete than many people ever will discover in churches.

Of course, I'm a Lutheran. Of course I'd say, "Return to Scripture." Of course I'd be skeptical of religious authorities and anyone else who wants to navigate God for us. Sola Scriptura!

And for my atheist friends who would worry about all the human hands and minds that are part of that Scripture project, I'd acknowledge those fears and remind us all that there's always first hand knowledge of God. We can pray and listen and be alert and come to know God too. It's fraught with some danger (how do we know for sure what we're doing? it's good to have some kind of community for guidance, I suspect, and wisdom through the ages instructs thusly), but it's a time-honored path as well. Having just celebrated the feast day of Julian of Norwich last week and returned to her meditations, I'm reminded of the alternate paths that she illuminates.

Here's a fun meditation for you today (along the lines of Julian of Norwich, who had rich metaphors for God that were highly unusual for her time): if God is an art supply, which art supply would you choose to most adequately symbolize God?

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