By Beth Demme
A healthy and sustaining spirituality anticipates new knowledge, welcomes the search for truth, and dares to live with uncertainty.” –EfM
I read this quote recently and instantly loved it.
Sometimes I dare to live with uncertainty. Other times, I find myself stuffing God into a set of too-small boxes.
The first box I try to squeeze God into is the Bible.
I feel uneasy admitting this to you because I love the Bible so. I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that I think the Bible is ancillary or unnecessary. The Bible is a place God and I meet daily. The Bible is vitally important to me.
Still, I have to admit the covers of my Bible don’t have the capacity to hold all of God.
Anyone who has experienced the love of God knows that God exists outside the Bible. The Apostle Paul knew it. He wrote in Romans 1:20, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s external power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.”
That passage gets a resounding “Amen” from me every time.
If we pretend otherwise, we make the Bible into an idol, a paper and ink substitute for the Ultimate Reality.
The second box I try to squeeze God into is my box of American culture.
In America, we prize independence, success, and material wealth. At least, I prize these three things and I am an American. But really, I don’t think it’s just me.
Our foundational document is the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers used the Declaration to enumerate the ways King George was messing up trade and commerce (their businesses) and then concluded with a mutual pledge of their lives, fortunes, and honor.
So, no, I don’t think I’m the only American who tends to place a value on independence, success, and material wealth. I think those things are foundational to the American Dream.
The mistake comes when I think that because God is on my side God also prizes those things.
When I make that leap, I fall prey to the prosperity gospel, “the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.” (Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me by Dr. Kate Bowler) A phrase like “the right kind of faith” is a warning sign that I’ve opened up the flap of the box and I’m trying to stuff God into it again.
It also smacks of judgment. People who believe there is a “right kind of faith” always believe their brand of faith is that right one. This is closely related to box number 3.
The third box God overflows is my good-behavior box.
You can also think of this as my morality box. The problem here is that morality is cultural (or, if you want to be picky, morality is expressed in cultural ways). If I believe God is bigger than my white-suburban-American culture (and I do), then I can’t limit God by the morality of that culture.
And yet, I try.
I mistake “right-living” for real transformation. I reinforce my ego by making my relationship with God about my choices regarding language, alcohol, and sexuality. (Since I struggle with food and gluttony, those rarely make it to the top of my list of right-living choices—that’s one of the advantages of controlling the box.)
After years of trying to restrict God with my limitations, it’s time to admit why I do this.
Putting God into boxes is an attempt to avoid uncertainty. It prevents the real transformation mystery can bring. It smacks of spiritual immaturity.
This year, in 2017, I want to let God out of the box. I want to be open to the mystery of God.
Maybe you do, too? Maybe this year we can both let God out of the box and open ourselves to an even deeper, more meaningful relationship with the God who loves us.
By coincidence, I found this photo on my computer as I was preparing to upload this post. I took this photo in the Cathedral of León (Nicaragua) in July 2012. Yes, it’s Jesus … in a literal box.
More Like This From Beth:
- Finding Dory and Me, Sometimes I Forget God is Waiting
- How Do I Relate to an Invisible God?
- What I Learned in a Jungle in Nicaragua