August 14, 2012

Big God? Big Problems, Perhaps...

This is in response to Richard Beck's response to Tony Jones' challenge to progressive theological bloggers.

As a psychologist, Beck is acutely aware of the attitudes and actions of his students when they speak of religion, worship, and theology. He has written several times about the emphasis of the "awesomeness" of God in contemporary worship, and what attitudes this might bring about.

Yes, God is big. Immense. Over-Arching.

Awesome, to be sure.

But more importantly, he is, and embodies everything.


Big, small. The universe and the atom. The Alpha and Omega.

We tend to love the ecstatic feeling of the big worship services that declare and magnify His greatness and glory, yet we tend to become uncomfortable, as a society, when challenged to look deep inside ourselves for Him in the smallness of our being.

We love to enjoy His beneficence in our comfortable churches and "family centers", yet when we are confronted face to face with His smallness in the suffering of those we somehow feel are beneath us, we become strangely uncomfortable and distressed.

If you're not familiar with Elie Weisel's story of the young boy executed in the Nazi prison camp, please read all of Richard's previously referenced blog post. Think about Weisel's thoughts, "Where is He? He is--He is hanging here on this gallows..."

That is where God has come to us; in the small loneliness of our death and pain.

When He gave His life on the cross, it wasn't in all of His majesty and splendor, it was in the body and life of a simple carpenter from a city considered to be the boondocks of Israel.

You can easily imagine the disciples having the same thoughts as the people in Weisel's camp at seeing their beloved teacher dying at then hands of the Romans. Yet, there He was, hanging on a tree of shame and suffering.

It's not as hard for us to contemplate His death and suffering on the cross, as it is to look for God in the smallness of the suffering here on Earth. He died for us a long, long time ago; so long that it tends to become enshrined as little more than legend. So much easier to focus our thoughts on His immense glory and splendor in light of His sacrifice.


It feels good to look only at His wonder and glory. Looking for the small God in the pain of others, brings that pain of our own existence to the forefront of our thoughts. It makes us acutely aware of our own pain.

And most of us instantly reach for a painkiller when we hurt.

Truly touching the pain of the suffering in a personal way tends to focus our thoughts on our own pain, if only momentarily. It's hard work to get through that short-term pain to realize that we can only find true relief from our own pain by helping to relieve the pain of others. We try to alleviate our consciences with donations, telling ourselves of all the good our money can do. And it does do good, a lot of good. But is that all that God wants of our hearts?

Jesus told the Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means, "I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE.""

A big, immense, awesome concept of God necessarily demands sacrifice from us.

The small God within us, hungry on the streets, tortured in the prison of their own minds, hanging on a rope in the concentration camps, begs us for mercy.

Perhaps, it is that in the ecstatic worship of the big, awesome God, we only touch ourselves. Yet we simply walk by all of the suffering around us, failing to see Him in His distressing disguise, failing to see Him in the smallness of our own human suffering.

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