When you get into college, most people recommend that you study something concrete. Gain some skills, get yourself ready for work, they say. Math, finance, engineering — those are the fields rich with jobs. Don’t waste your time in social sciences — such things are interesting, but won’t really affect your personal life.
If you’ve been in a church for any length of time, you may have heard someone state that everyone is a theologian. Books have been written on the premise; countless sermons have begun with that line; all making the claim that, though most people think of theology only as the discipline of dry seminarians, all people actually operate on the basis of some conclusion they’ve made about God — consciously or subconsciously.
While I don’t particularly like the attitude with which the statement is usually offered — the intention is usually to say something that seems counter-intuitive, in the same way that one would mention at a party that flying an airplane is many times safer than driving a car — I believe it, and I also believe it is more meaningful than one would casually think at first. I suppose this betrays my own intention to write something that would strike a reader as counter-intuitive, but… I digress.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in God — you have still reached a conclusion about God.
Your theology may simply be that God doesn’t exist, or it may be every bit as deep and involved as that of the oldest Presbyterian seminary professor. If you are yourself an atheist, know that I don’t consider the atheist’s conclusions to be necessarily shallow — I know that many of us religious types could be one cataclysmic life experience away from drawing the same conclusions ourselves.
But belief in God’s existence or non-existence doesn’t change the fact that one has at least considered the concept and come to a conclusion.
The God-concept conclusion governs all other conclusions, decisions, and emotions.
I’m hoping the reader will allow me the leap I’ve made with the above heading — the “God-concept conclusion” is our answer to the question of God’s existence, along with all of our beliefs about that existence. In an effort to spare us a lengthy trip through the usual “I think, therefore I am” paths that these discussions usually take, I am making this claim without much justification, hoping that it will be received with an open mind: our conclusions about God’s existence govern, consciously and subconsciously, all of our other conclusions, decisions, and emotions.
I realize that I’ve just made a rather large claim; however, taking that for granted a little bit, I’m choosing to limit the discussion at this time on the decisions that one makes in one’s lifetime — and limit that even further to the kinds of decisions that are rather large and involve large sums of money, time, or personal energy. The conclusions and emotions, we can talk about at a later date.
Most of our big decisions come from somewhere deep down
One may say that they bought their house because of their preference for its red door or white picket fence, but before seeing the house, value judgments were no doubt made, and those value judgments necessarily came from some value system in one’s head where one has made a conclusion about God’s existence. The fact that one would see the location of a domicile as completely unconnected to a belief about the existence of God betrays several related conclusions that had been made long before the purchase of that home became a possibility. Conversely, choosing a location because of some idea about God and his ongoing activity in one’s life also betrays an alternative set of conclusions.
And I believe it is fair to suppose that a change made to the basic God-concept conclusion would necessitate — at least eventually, as subsequent conclusions succeed in seeping out into the rest of one’s life — life-altering decisions made down the line.
Weirdly enough, there is an application for this post. Go out there and read. Read, read, read — and then think, think, think. It just happens that my reading recommendations are generally Christian, as my understanding of God is from a Christian perspective. But I believe not only that he exists, but that he is living and active, and is able to lead those who honestly search for him into all truth.
So at the very least, invest some of your mental energy into the God-conclusion. I believe it’s worth the time.
In order to understand my world you need to meet my kids.
I have a son, aged 6 years, and a daughter, aged 3. About once a day, I hear something from my son that I usually never believe. Sometimes he screams it at me, sometimes he says it while crying, and sometimes he is just slightly upset.
It usually goes something like, “Daddy, Hannah is hurting me!”
There are many other versions. “Dad, Hannah is not being fair.” “Dad, you need to tell Hannah to give me that toy.”
Sometimes, there is …violence. It’s usually me saying, “Hannah, did you hit Tyler? Why?” And her reply is usually, “Tyler took my toy.”
In this situation, I almost always take issue with my son, as I remember my father did with me when I was young. I think the reason why is probably obvious to most adults.
Here it is: my son is 6. My daughter is 3. That’s it. That’s the reason.
My son, at 6 years old, highly intelligent for his age, of slightly above average size for his age, is perfectly capable of resolving most cases of sibling rivalry in our home. His sister, at 3 years old, is simply not.
The answer, as I still tell him almost every day, is usually very simple. Just walk away. Give her the toy. Be nice. You are stronger than her. She doesn’t understand yet. You do.
Is it really important that I step in and mediate the discussion between my 6-year-old and my 3-year-old and decide who should really play with the toy, or who should eat the banana, or who should be able to do whatever they wanted to do before someone started crying? No. The winner of conflict is not important. I don’t want my son to think that it is; I want him to learn that his sister’s feelings are infinitely more important than anything they were fighting over.
Now, the truth is that he doesn’t really understand. He won’t really understand the importance of choosing peace over conflict until he is much older. But he understands enough to diffuse most of the situations he faces with his sister right now.
Do we ever really learn?
The lesson that my son is trying to learn is one that never really goes away. There are times throughout life, even as adults, when we have the opportunity to choose peace over conflict.
Someone cuts us off in traffic. Someone cuts in front of us at the grocery store. A coworker is inconsiderate of our needs or desires. We get left out of a night out with friends. We get made fun of at the water cooler at work.
I could go on, but I think the picture is clear: part of being an adult is being able to choose peace over conflict. There are a multitude of situations where this kind of decision is necessary.
But there is something even better, and more difficult, that we must learn as adults.
It’s not just about peace.
At this point, I believe choosing to simply end the conflict before it escalates is about all that my 6-year-old son can grasp on his own. But the peace is not a real peace — it is simply an end to violence. There is no understanding, no clear declaration, “Now, in this situation, daughter, you were wrong. Son, you were correct…” The parties involved don’t understand each other more clearly. They don’t resolve to work together in the future. They just know that a third party, their father, is forcing them to end their conflict.
One day — probably as an adult — my son will learn not just the value of mere peace, but also the value of true reconciliation.
That which sets us apart
…therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:7-8)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)
As a Christian, I would not say that we are better than others. We are not. The thing we ought to know, because of our faith, is that we aren’t better. The thing we ought to know is that we are in fact worse than we could have imagined.
And in the midst of our fallen, broken human nature, we have one truth that ought to hold us afloat in the midst of conflict: we are forgiven. Because we have been forgiven much, we are free to forgive others.
But that’s only one side of it, because the power to forgive implies that we are the ones who have been offended. We are not only free to forgive — we are also free to admit the truth when we are wrong and seek the forgiveness of others.
That’s a truly adult thing to do, and one that we usually only truly appreciate far, far into our adulthood. This is what sets us apart: not the ability to do right, but the ability to seek reconciliation when we haven’t.
This is our war.
Oh, if this was just about personal relationships, who spilt the milk and who kissed who, it would still be so simple. But there is so much more to this. What some might say sounds like a happy-go-lucky, touchy-feely gospel is actually the greatest battle we fight as lovers of our Savior, Jesus.
We get to bring reconciliation into this world. We get to fight against the comfort-loving, tit-for-tat status quo of our society with truth that will change people from the inside out. We do not have to be right — we get to be stronger, admit the brokenness of our society, and promote peace, justice for the downtrodden, and true reconciliation.
I believe the time has come when we — when I — can no longer settle for comfort, for the status quo. There is something greater. There is something greater in all my relationships, in all my conflicts, and in all the messed up brokenness that I am met with every day, in my life and in the lives of others. It is the all-encompassing, profound, deep, counter-cultural peace of Jesus.