I am grateful for my upbringing in evangelical Christianity, but there is a major weakness in that tradition. The evangelical emphasis on systematic theology leads to an unwarranted, if mainly sub-conscious, assumption. I grew up believing that I could comprehend God.
When we approach the idea of God as a subject to be studied much like any other academic discipline, and when we look to the Bible as a comprehensive theological textbook made up mainly of propositional assertions that define and describe God, we can come to the conclusion that we actually understand who God really is and how and why God acts in particular ways. But we really cannot.
Now this doesn’t mean that God is not at all knowable. It is only to suggest that too many people have taken a little knowledge of God and from it have constructed a system that enables them to make use of the concept of God for their own benefit. At the same time, they exclude any alternative understanding of God by branding it as unorthodox.
The more I learn about the vastness of the universe, the more that knowledge affects the way I perceive the idea of God. An infinite God whose presence permeates the entire universe cannot be fully comprehended by finite humans or contained within any single theological system or faith tradition. That’s why I so much appreciate this quote from Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz Weber.
I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.
Everything concrete that Christians know about God, we learn by looking at Jesus. Anything else is speculation. For this reason, it makes little sense to assert or imply that orthodox faith requires embracing the intricate minutiae that arise out of any single creedal formulation or statement of faith. Theological certitude is simply not possible. This should promote humility among Christian teachers. Unfortunately, it generally does not.
Here is one example of how this change in my perception of God works out in practical terms. It used to make sense to me that God could create humans and then condemn many of them to eternal punishment because they didn’t embrace the gospel in the same way I understood it. That doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I really do see God differently now.