“If we fail to recognize that the term ‘God’ always falls short of that towards which the word is supposed to point, we will end up bowing down before our own conceptual creations forged from the raw materials of our self-image, rather than bowing before the one who stands over and above that creation. Hence Meister Eckhart famously prays, ‘God rid me of God’, a prayer that acknowledges how the God we are in relationship with is bigger, better and different than our understanding of that God”. ( Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God19)I've been thinking about conceptual idolatry. In the fundamentalist theological system that I was taught growing up, doubt was the opposite of faith, essentially equated with disbelief. Any attempt to question the faith or the biblical text was seen as Satan trying to get me to not believe in Jesus and thus "red rover, red rover, send Nadia right over" to his side. This was dangerous business obviously as any questions one might have about, I don't know, maybe the logical inconsistencies of biblical literalism, or the fact that God sends all people who don't believe in Jesus to Hell (even those who never heard of the guy) all potentially meant putting your soul in eternal peril, so they largely just went unasked. Of course now I see doubt as a cornerstone of faith. To strenuously engage with, struggle with and question the text and the faith is a deeply faithful act. The faith and the text can take it. really. it stands up to what we throw against it. This is not to imply that there is a singular, orthodox truth which always shines through, but that the wisdom contained in the faith and the text does not go up in smoke when we question it. Paradoxically the wisdom of the faith and the text comes alive when we dare to wrestle it ... and then ask for its blessing. This critical, often angry engagement is the opposite of idolatry. Kenneth Leech in Experiencing God": Theology as Spirituality, says "Such doubt is not the enemy of faith, but an essential element within it. For faith in God does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes. Rather it can be seen as a process of 'unceasing interrogation'" (25). OK, so here's the rub. As a progressive thinking Christian, I'm totally on board with this critical engagement and not making the biblical text an idol. But what about my own theologically sacred cows? What about the all-star notion that God is Love? Let's question that. (actually, my friend the Hebrew Bible professor thinks that there are enough texts in the Bible to support a book called "God is a Tyrant") What about the liberal notion of Jesus as one who favors women and the poor? Let's question that too. I'm not trying to imply that these two ideas are not true, only that when we hold onto them too tightly we may do so at the peril of a richer theological understanding. When we are unwilling to doubt or question the theological ideas we cherish the most, we are in danger of reifying our own conceptions and thus allowing them to limit what they point to.
Forgive me when I confuse YOU with my limited idea of you. Help me faithfully to wonder, question and engage my assumptions and beliefs, not so that they dissolve in the process, but that they then become more alive. Show me how my strangle hold on ideas about the Bible and the faith keep them from breathing. Destroy my conceptual idols. When I seek the comfort of sure answers, discomfort me. When I seek you instead, give me comfort.
In Jesus' name,