Covenant MCC Birmingham August 13th , 2000
Those of us that come from the more liturgical churches feel theology is best left up to experts. Those of us from the younger Protestant churches disagree. There is nothing daunting about theology. Theology is nothing more than thinking about God. There are several kinds of theology, each determined by approaching the data from different angles. In all, God acts and we are left to understand why God acted the way God did. Although many people avoid discussions of theology, in a real sense, all of us think about God at some time or the other.
As God acts in time God reveals things about God’s self. I want to take a closer look at God, ourselves and what we think about each other.
There are several kinds of theology that vie for our attention. There is Biblical theology, the way the Bible writers thought about God. There is Philosophical theology, the way philosophers have thought about God; usually thought of as the theology of the Mediaeval Roman Catholic Church. There is Natural theology, for which the Anglicans are noted, thinking about God’s revelation about God’s self in the natural order of things. Why, for Christians who do not want to think, there is even “Revealed” Theology- theology given by God about God’s self that is not open for discussion, you just have to accept it on Faith. I am the most suspicious of this type of theology. It tends to reflect more about us than God. When examined closely as to just how we know it was revealed by God, the reasoning breaks down and the proponents for this position become very antszy. No matter what is claimed for this Faith Alone position, I find it is really not that satisfying for me.
Time once was (back when I was in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville Kentucky, getting my Master of Divinity degree.) I thought the only legitimate theology was Biblical theology. What the Bible writers thought about God had to be the most valid because they were closer to the Christ event in history. Then I slowly came to the realization that God is acting today, all around me. An obsolete Biblical world view should have no more validity for us today than a modern world view. So now, I focus on God’s current activity and look anywhere I can for insights into God and the human situation. The Bible is just one of several sources for examination.
From Ideas, Actions spring!
Back in the 1940’s, a British theologian named Braithwaite, came out with a really intriguing idea. He said that theology has a purpose. It is a group of ideas about God that is supposed to get the believer to act a certain way. Christian theology was supposed to get Christians to act “agape-isticly.” All the rest is merely intellectual fluff. Lets look at that.
Take the doctrine of the Trinity. The reading from John’s first letter, specifically 5:5-7, is one of those rare places where the word Trinity could have been used but was not, although the passage says the three are definitely one. When we say that God is a Trinity, just what are we saying and how are we acting to show we believe it?
By saying God is a Trinity, we are saying that the deepest, most abiding reality that stands behind all and under all is God, is Relationship, is Community, is Mutuality, is Love – the give and take experienced by two entities that are involved with loving one another- the lover and the beloved and the aliveness exchanged between them that takes on a life of its own!
The alternative is monotheism, God as a Monad, who is removed from Life – a single, unified entity, at the top of a vertical chain of command and responsible to no one. There are several words used to describe this pattern of Divine organization, but I like the Greek word Despota, feminine is Despina and is translated “Great Lord” or “Great Lady”. It is summed up adequately in the Jewish Shemma “Hear Oh Israel, the Lord your God is One.” Monotheism is the stack pole of Judaism. God shares rulership with no one else and the unseen reality is not fractured into numerous, competitive and mischievous gods.
People who believe in God this way act despotically. They are the typical rigid personality; tight fisted, self-confident leaders who want to control everything, because they think they are the only ones who know best. They inspire people to go along with them but will not tolerate any dissension.
If you saw the miniseries Nuremberg, you know what I mean, people who were so self-absorbed, that they had an inability to empathize. As an aside, the American churches have still not come to terms theologically with the whole Nazis phenomena. It challenges the very foundation of so much pop-theology being espoused today. I find it interesting that American consciousness seems to be being guided back to this time period and reexamining the causes of that whole historical event. Upon examination, the “unthinkable” is not that far removed. It can be uncomfortably close to tomorrow
The leader who believes in the Trinity is geared to be more of a team player. They value consensus and encourage open discussion to check their perceptions of all the facts involved. They lead by encouragement. They delegate easily. They give everyone under them the space to develop their own talents and gifts. They represent what we today would consider “Enlightened Management”.
God is Love
Lets go back to that passage in First John. Written by an older and wiser man in the evening of his life, this saint of God had seen it all. He has had time to sift through all the options of life to arrive at a clear and concise exposition of the Christian Gospel, of the things that were really important and the things that are not. That is why what he has to say is most significant.
First of all he is the only divine writer to define God, to make the connection of the spiritual with human feelings – God is Love! This has profound implications! In clear and simple, unambiguous terms he tells the reader how they can tell if they are in God, how they can tell if others have God in them, and how to tell if other’s are lying about having God in their lives. What he says is most condemning to the “homophobes”. Their thinking is so turned around, they see love between two people of the same sex and call it Evil. They see God and call it the Satan! You can’t get more twisted around than that! They are literally committing the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, mentioned in the New Testament. (Math 12:32)
All the while, they think they are defending God’s righteousness! It just boggles my mind! If they hate another person so strongly, God is not in them for God is not a God of hatred. Lamentably, around the world, religion is used as the theater for humankind to express all their hatreds. When they do, God is not in them, for God is Love. You can’t get it clearer than that! When you get yourself involved with such hard feelings, you are exiting yourself from God’s Kingdom.
By tying God to a feeling -Love- John is being even more profound. He has connected God to human love. In all the sermons we heard as children, I heard that there were three types of love – agape, philos, and eros. Many of us thought this meant three different kinds – Godly love, brotherly love and erotic love. Because of our inborn prudishness about being biological entities, we thought of these three as different kinds of love, when we should have realized they are three forms of the same thing! This is what the doctrine of the Trinity does. Tying God to erotic love makes a perfect place for that less often recognized exposition of human erotic love- the Song of Solomon- , as the love God feels for the Church, the Bride of Christ. But this connection of the Divine with lust makes many very uneasy!
If we were on a roller coaster, I need to warn you to hold on to your seat. A lot more uneasy stuff is just over the next hill! Lets take the Trinity one step further. By being created in the image and likeness of God, humankind also possesses a Triune nature. We are created in the form of the Trinity. But just what does that mean?
A Blind Alley
When I was younger I heard it preached that we were created with three parts- a body, a soul and a spirit – but I never could put my finger on the difference between soul and spirit. I don’t like hearing it expressed that way for I found it confusing. When you are dealing with consciousness and awareness, you aren’t talking about something that can be neatly divided into discrete parts. When you talk of our “parts”- our heads, our hearts, our mind, our id, our egos, our superegos, our subconscious, our unconscious, our inner parent, our inner child, our adult self – you are talking about things which bleed into each other, things which interpenetrate, parts that blend in around the edges. Therefore the distinction between soul and spirit gets pretty fuzzy at times.
So much so, that the Spanish and European churchmen could come to no agreement concerning the natives of the New World, as to wether they had souls or not and thereby necessitating treating them as human beings, instead of animals. While they argued, we systematically destroyed their cultures in the name of Christianity and kept the gold flowing out of the New World to pump up the decadence of the Old.
Allow me one karmic comment. As to what goes around, comes around … sowing and reaping. I can only watch with bewilderment as the gold of the West moves back in the opposite direction, back to the Mexican and South American drug cartels as drug trafficking wrecks havoc on our western societies, this time making slaves out of us to drugs. These two historical events are morally connected and that is not so surprising at all! It will not be over until we have suffered all the pain and injury we inflicted on them!
The Image of God
So lets look back on the Trinity and see if we can redefine it in broader, clearer terms. John the Apostle, says the essence of God (the Trinity) is Love, the Loving Interaction taking place between the Divine Lover and the Beloved. Let’s substitute the word intimacy. God is the intimate interaction between an entity and it’s environment in this three dimensional plane. Mutuality has created all that is.
From the early portions of Old Testament, we are told the human being is made in the Image of God, meaning we share the same Triune nature – not a nature of three parts but a similar nature. We were created to enjoy intimacy with matter as we express ourselves in this three dimensional world. We are driven to seek intimacy and interaction with other entities in this world. I am saying we are created to be attracted to intimacy with others. To put it bluntly, lust was divinely implanted into us so that we would not get lost in self-absorption, but relate to others in a Trinitarian way. Human beings were created as entities wanting to interact with other entities in the most meaningful way imaginable. In this we are only following God’s example.
Some of you have already started turning red as beets. Keep holding on to your seats, we are almost finished.
God created sex
Genesis 1 uses sexual imagery to describe God creating the universe out of nothing. The wording “God brooded or hovered over the face of the deep” are sexual in intent and action but as to just how, the writer remains mute. This is why Judaism could never be seduced into believing that ever present heresy of Spirit being Good and Matter being Evil! Matter, this cosmos, was the expression of the sexuality of God and by its very nature could not be seen as Evil in nature or intent.
God created human beings as sexual. He pronounces “it is Good” but many people would beg to differ with that assessment. Every prayer you make asking God to take change your sexual preference is a slap in God’s face. It comes from a rebellious spirit who is rejecting it’s very nature. Every attempt at abstinence says you know better than God, and is cursing the way you were made. The road to peace is a quiet acceptance of the way things are, of an acceptance that you were created the way you are for a reason and that God loves you all the same.
But, since the roller-coaster ride is almost over, lets go one step further. God created us as sexual beings but when it comes to the physical world, some of us have male plumbing and some of us have female plumbing…….and in rare instances, the plumbing doesn’t match the mindset. God said it was good that we were created sexual, then he plunked us down into this world so that each would function somewhere on that 16 point Kensey scale between absolute male and absolute female.
As any good physiologist will tell you, we all begin life with a complete set of plumbing. As the baby develops certain hormones come into play and cause certain sets of organs to over develop at the expense of the others. As human adults we still have the remnants of the complete set within our bodies. For me, this means that we are both male and female in our bodies, with one predominating. Psychology shows that mentally we are also a combination of both male and female in mindset.
This being so, it is not psychologically sound for us to identify exclusively with one extreme or the other, with masculine traits or feminine traits. It is theologically and psychologically unsound for us to hate the other gender, for in so doing we hate a part of ourselves. In this there can be no real peace. You are all aware of those segments in the gay world who hate the opposite sex. You are probably aware of how unbalanced they really are as human beings. The truly human being moves freely in their minds from male to female, from active to passive, and relishes the physical interaction with other persons on an intimate level, no matter what sex. All of this because we are made in the image of God and God is Triune in nature.
God created us humans with this Triune nature to serve us as we project ourselves into this reality. God expects us to exercise our sexuality responsibly, causing no harm to anyone. In the midst of all this loftiness let us not fall into the same trap as the average church person. According to them, the only conversations allowed about sex must be highly somber in tone because they revere sex to the point of idiolatry. There is no room for lightheartedness with these people, only deadly seriousness.
Many church people disagree, but there is a place for playfulness within the Trinity. Consequently there is a place for playfulness within each of us. For many, it is really a hard thing for them to let their inner child come out and play! They age prematurely and their Spirit dies long before their body does. God has a sense of humor and enjoys playfulness. How can anyone look at a giraffe and not see the humor in it!
Let me bring this theological roller coaster back into the station and draw some conclusions.
You are created in the image and likeness of God. Since God is triune, you should handle yourself and others as a democracy among equals.
Since God is Love, you were made with a similar nature, being attracted to all kinds of love – physical as well as spiritual love.
God made you a sexual being, a good thing, but God did not intend it to rule over you or enslave you. To deny being sexual, is to deny Life – to deny God!.
Total abstinence from sex is rarely an option for everyone. Most folks just aren’t made that way. We have a craving for companionship “It is not good that the man is alone. We will make a helpmate for him.” Some there are who disagree and are celibate. But they are the minority and can not be held up as a model for all. When examined closely, you can see how highly eroticized their everyday world is, as a compensation, but ultimately is a temptation.
Asking God to remove your homosexuality is like wanting to be an Aztec sacrifice, is like wanting your heart ripped out of your body. It is just not a option for most human beings. Some there are who function right in the middle of the two polarities of male and female, according to the Kinsey scale. It is relatively easy for them to function one way and “change” to the other. But they are not the average, and it is cruel for them to be held up as a model for gay people to follow. They are simply humans for whom behavior modification works. When you inquire deeper, the impulses are still there but they are manageable.
God expects you to exercise your sexuality with responsibility and respect for the other. That is what it means to be gay and Christian. This does not rule out playfulness, so long as there is a mutual give and take among equals.
So what am I really saying. If you think you have three parts – a body, spirit, and soul, your jar lid ain’t fitt’in right. You are a soul, a spiritual entity who is incarnating into this three dimensional reality for purposes. Every millisecond you are recreating every atom of your body by bundling up God stuff, or energy, and arranging it into a pattern called your body, which is a three dimensional statement about who you are. This is a sound theological basis for miracles or for instant healing. As the Dalai Lama says in the movie Seven Years in Tibet, snapping his finger as he does, “Things can change, just like that!” As Einstein says, matter can be rearranged into different forms, but energy, the God stuff of the universe, cannot be created or destroyed.
Sexuality was created by God for reasons far beyond mere procreation. Its roots go down deeply into the Godhead itself! To try and deny our sexuality is to slap God in the face. As homosexuals get older, they eventually come to this understanding and accept themselves for who and what they are, but not without much pain, suffering and distortion.
Hear the Good News today. You don’t have a soul, you are a soul – a spiritual being, whom God loves because it is God’s nature to do so. You have been made in God’s image and likeness. Just as God loves loving, we too quest for loving, in all its many forms. To deny this is to deny our very nature.
As Saint Augustine said “Our hearts are restless, til they find their rest in thee!”
“God opened doors for me to help people and I stepped through them,” said pastor and horticulturalist George Robert Stritikus, who served as associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Brewton (Ala.) before returning to horticulture and serving as a county extension agent until his retirement. He earned a bachelor’s in ornamental horticulture from Auburn University and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.