I think big thoughts about God, but then end up acting in pretty small ways. One of my favorite things to do is think about, discuss, and better understand faith, theology, God’s presence, and the way God works in the world. But this often doesn’t translate into the way I live my life.
The most obvious example is my fear that if things are going too well, something bad must be about to happen. Like there’s some sort of scale that has to even out; like my destiny is set; like God is doling out good and bad. I don’t believe this about God! I don’t even believe in destiny! I’m an Open Theist who borrows from Tillich’s re-imagining of classical theism and occasionally dabbles on the edges of Process thought!
I’d like to blame this incongruity on my pessimism, not my theology. But my theology shouldn’t even allow for pessimism! I believe in a good God, who loves creation, who is creation, who is so bound up with humanity that God’s heart breaks when we suffer. This is what I teach, what I preach, but man you put me in the shortest line at the grocery store and I just KNOW I’m going to get hit by a car on my way home.
My inconsistency of belief and action shows up in how I interact with God too. I find myself woefully lacking in the things that God has already promised me. Goodness. Love. Peace. God is love, goodness, peace - so God's infinite presence in the world (and in me!) thus includes an abundance of all the things I find myself striving after. Before this takes a turn for the Prosperity Gospel, I want to make clear that it’s still work to cultivate these and other attributes we desire. But maybe it’s a different kind of work than we often think it is.
I first realized the interplay between what I need in my life, and what God has already made available, when I was working to develop more peace in my life. Even that phrase (“working to develop peace”) is a huge inconsistency! My endeavor to become a more peaceful person had a very “striving” quality to it. I continually felt like I was trying to grip peace, to dig into it with my fingernails, yet it kept slipping away; it was a very physical feeling for something so ephemeral.
After months of this, I was reminded of Christ saying “peace, I leave with you. My peace, I give to you. I do not give as the world gives.” Throughout my attempts at peace-gripping, this was a passage I’d thought of many times but something about it struck me at this particular reading. Christ has left peace here. For me. Ready to be tapped into. And this realization changed how I thought about my desire for peace or, really, any other attribute I’m trying to develop in myself.
I didn’t instantly become a peaceful person. Nor, several years later, would I describe myself today as an inherently peaceful person. But instead of thinking that peace was something I needed to find and hold on to with all my might, I started seeing it as an infinite well continually available to me - in me, around me, wherever I could find God (and in my theology, that’s everywhere!), I could find peace.
I’ve thought about this a lot recently as I’ve considered the intersection of theology and raising a child. I’ve found myself frequently searching for wisdom as we make decisions about what kind of parents to be, what kind of environment to create that will allow Junia to discover her true self. I feel the grasp-iness starting to kick in, and I have to remind myself that God is wisdom. And God’s wisdom is all around me, waiting for me to become aware of it, to harness it and - alongside God’s work in the world already - to create the best possible outcome in that moment.
So when I quickly pray, “God, give me wisdom to know how to handle this situation,” it’s more of a reminder to myself than a request that God will give me a quick infusion of divine insight, but only enough for a moment.
My theology leads me to believe that God’s presence is transcendent, and God’s resources are limitless - providing much more than enough for my moment of need.