What Others Teach Us about God

When people live through crisis and find faith to be the necessary tool to survival and wellbeing it is almost always described as a personal journey. God is their new parent, or Jesus is their new best friend or the Spirit is now the energy they need. In each case something or someone mystical has kept them going, helped them find direction and provided a new path to follow. I have seen and heard this time and time again. Some more secular and even mainline Christian people can be dismissive of this transformation on the grounds that it is too “me focused” and suggests a God who becomes so personal as to suggest God is just like us. I share the concern about the “domestication” of God, mostly on the grounds that coming from the crisis the newly transformed person can forever be orientated by the conviction that they know God and they know exactly how God works because this is what God did for them.

I believe this explain one of my early frustrations with people who had come out of crisis and into new life. It used to confuse me why a person who had been lost and then found would assume every other person who was lost must be just like them and in need of the identical road map. Given that these persons would name all kind of persons who had let them down because they had not “listened” to the personal and unique story this same person would then approach another lost person exactly like those they were disappointed in. The hurt associated with receiving a “one size fits all” approach to healing would then be inflicted on another. This cycle confounded me.

I think I understand it better now. Most people just don’t reflect on another’s experience that would be different than their own. The impulse to fix another with the same tool that fixed you would be overpowering, hard to pass up. But the result is the same, I hear a lot of people who have gone through painful crisis unable to communicate with one another as each has the “magic bullet” that they consider the “only” solution, making dialogue very challenging.

I am deeply moved and inspired by these stories. It is why I find myself very connected to evangelical Christianity and wishing my own liberal denomination made more room and respect for these kind of testimonies. In our mainline churches there lives a lot of pride and shame associated with admitting loss and failure and thus we are closed off to something that is potentially healing. I often hear mainline people tell me after hearing a testimony in church that they are conflicted by a) a feeling of deep inspiration and b) an embarrassment for the person who is sharing, “I could never do that.”

But my concern for those who have this personal experience with God, Jesus and the Spirit is that if it stay there, stays focused on the Divine and me, it risks becoming a very domesticated and limited relationship. God is so richly mystical and mysterious and cannot be jammed into the tiny space that is my own life. God is found in other lives too and not just in the way that allows me to preach my solutions to them. In other words God didn’t place other people in the world so they could learn from me, it is a reciprocal relationship. Hear me when I say that humility is NOT just being quiet and staying out of the spotlight, humility in its deepest incarnation is being convinced others have the same dance with God I do. And if I really believe that surely I will be open and interested in their testimony, in their way forward, as I hope others will be in mine. A very personal relationship with God is likely a very necessary step to recovery but for lasting and deeper revelation a sense of God in Holy Community is the next step. Both are important because God has much to teach us in the lives of others.