What really gives me a thrill? It is when a university student from our congregation queries her professor talking about God as being all powerful and says “Shouldn’t we first define our terms and look at what we mean by the word God?” It thrills me because it appears all my sermonising over the years hasn’t all been in vain.
We are in the midst of “a massive rethink” of what we mean when we use the word “God”. The obvious answer to the much polled question “Do you believe in God? is “It depends what you mean by the word God”. If you mean by God an all powerful and all knowing person living in the heavens, then I do not believe in God. That kind of God represents a world view that existed long ago. If you mean by God something like the dynamic energy inviting us to fullness of life then I very much believe in God.
The words “a massive rethink” are those of Rob Bell who goes on to say “We’re at the end of one era and the start of another, an entire mode of understanding and talking about God dying as something else is being birthed.” Rob Bell tells of owning an Oldsmobile when he was twenty years old and how they don’t make Oldsmobiles anymore. My first car was an Austin A40 and they don’t make then anymore. The world and motor engineering have moved on. I would no more think of driving an A40 today than of flying to the moon. Ooops! It is an inappropriate metaphor because we have indeed flown to the moon and a Russian astronaut has informed us that God is not in the space above the earth. All of which brings up an interesting question. Why in the name of God do we continue to speak about Jesus descending into hell and rising into heaven? It doesn’t make sense. It is a world view that has ceased to exist – a bit like my Austin A40! A theological friend of mine maintains it is a question of metaphors and the contemporary world has forgotten how to use metaphors. Not a bit of it! It is a matter of a different world view. In the fourth century they had a world view of a flat earth with heaven above and hell below. To talk in such terms today is simply non-sense. What then do we do with the so called Nicean Creed? We leave it in the fourth century where it belongs. People simply aren’t interested in driving Austin A40s – but they are interested in driving! Well some of them are. Others have given up the car altogether so much so that when preparing a funeral service recently one of the adult sons of the deceased asked “What’s a hymn?” Times really have changed.
Incidentally I had a great deal of time for my Austin A40. It not only got me from here to there (or if you prefer, from there to here) but I drove it in car rallies and had a great time with it. Eventually I traded it in for a better piece of engineering but I still have a great deal of affection for the Austin A40 – notwithstanding the fact that I have not the slightest desire to drive one today.
The aforementioned Rob Bell has a real gift of being able to put things clearly. How about this comment on the articulate and intelligent scientists whose faith is that there is no God
“This particular faith insists that human beings are nothing more than highly complex interactions of atoms and molecules and neurons, hardwired over time to respond to stimuli in particular ways, feverishly constructing meaning to protect us from the unwelcome truth that there is no ultimate meaning because in the end we are simply the sum of our parts – no more, no less”.
I hear what the proponents of this faith are saying (you would have to be deaf not to!) but I also hear Peggy Lee, and an increasing number of young people, singing “Is that all there is?” Her suggestion of “breaking out the booze and having a ball” is becoming increasingly common, as is her comment “about ending it all”.
These really are thrilling times in which we live.