Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This can be applied to so many of life’s circumstances, but it can also be applied to our understanding of God and how we practice our faith in the world.
We have a tendency to think that because God is constant, that our ways of understanding God must also be constant but that is not at all true and I believe it can cause us to limit our faith, especially in times of trial or confusion. We allow for this kind of growth in our intellectual, emotional, and social lives with ease, yet for so many of us, we struggle to extend that same cycle of grace, reflection, and renewal to occur in our spiritual lives. My hope is that through this monthly space, we can explore how to find those places in our faith and discipleship journey where we may be stuck; holding on to understandings or beliefs that suited us well when we were children or teenagers, but no longer fit the reality of our experiences as young adults, parents, empty-nesters, and seniors.
On February 17th I preached about what it means to regard ourselves as “blessed”, offering that when we choose to call ourselves blessed only when we have received an award or money or other mark of our own greatness, that we are, consciously or unconsciously, linking God’s love for us only with our success and prosperity. This is the opposite of what Jesus proclaimed. Jesus was clear that God sits most preferentially with the poor, the outcast, the grieving, the oppressed, and the ill. I challenged us to strive to seek ways that God is calling us “blessed” in the middle of dark times, when we feel most alone, when we are on the verge of hopelessness. And make no mistake, that is an extreme act of faith. When we pray and pray for an outcome we don’t receive, when we experience the injustice of sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism, when we struggle to find a job or save a marriage that can’t be saved, we can certainly feel as though God is ignoring our pleas.
And this is where we must explore our understanding of God and how it informs our faith. The most simplistic message of our Christian tradition has been rather transactional: Believe in God, do all the “right” things and God will reward you. Yet even Jesus experienced that this is not how God works. Christ prayed the night before his arrest that God would “removes this cup from me” in Luke 22:42. Jesus prays that what is about to happen will not happen, that God would stop it. What he gets, in verse 43, is “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.” God granted comfort, but did not intervene in the circumstances.
The promise of God is one of love and connection. Whatever happens, happens. What God assures us is that the divine Spirit will be with us, bolstering our spirit, comforting our broken hearts, grieving our losses, and standing in equally righteous anger at our unjust experiences. This is not to say that what we pray for does not happen or even that miracles cannot occur. I know too many people who have experienced that to deny their possibility. Those possibilities, while hoped for, though are not what we have been promised. Instead, we are promised unconditional love and a place in the beloved community. We are promised that God will hold our hand strongest when we are sitting in the dark. And that is Good News.