For Lent I am giving up on a God who can be confined by systems of belief.
James Carse in his provocatively entitled book, The Religious Case against Belief, claims that belief is often the enemy of religion. Really? It sounded odd to me, but it revealed how I have usually equated religion with systems of belief. He asks the question, “What function does a belief serve?” Answer, “It concludes a discussion.” It does not begin a conversation. It ends one.
And it defines who is in and who is out. Religious certainty closes us off from the possibility of growth, because it can make us dismissive of others who hold different certainties.
In my later years of pastoral ministry, my denomination proposed a change in our statement of faith. Denominational leadership invited contributions from member churches. Our church leadership enthusiastically engaged. We tried to encourage conversation on some hard-edged points of doctrine. Conversation was not welcome. I could not sign this new statement without qualification. Qualification was also not welcome. Our new statement clearly defined who was out and, in time, I indeed found myself “out”. By their very nature, belief systems must exclude.
In 2003 Yale University Press published a 672-page volume entitled Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, 672 pages to contain our multitude of faith confessions – each one disagreeing with the others! Yet historically, adherence has been required sometimes on pain of excommunication or death.
Our beliefs become our idols. Herein lies the heart of the problem. James Finley writes in Merton’s Palace of Nowhere:
“We give God a name. We then equate God with the name we have given, and in doing so we make ourselves, in effect, God’s God. Instead of acknowledging God as the source of our identity and existence, we make ourselves the self-proclaimed source of God’s identity. God then becomes the one made in our image and likeness.
The Latin word credo, from which we get our word creed literally means, “I give my heart to”. “Heart” is a metaphor for self at the deepest level – much deeper than thinking or mental assent. In the midst of COVID-19, could this be the “creed” we are invited again to embrace – to “give our hearts” to God in trust?
For Lent I am giving up on a God who can be confined by systems of belief and I am embracing a God who invites us again to give our hearts in trust. How about you?