Encouragement for the Journey.
Greetings fellow travellers,
Last week I handed in my final assignment for the internship study programme. It was for the module entitled “Presbyterian and Reformed”, and my focus was on how the theological flavour of the Church of Scotland has influenced the overall shape and identity of the PCANZ.
While Calvin can be hard going to read, his overriding passion was to make known the great mystery of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Calvin had a deep sense of God’s awesome, overwhelming nature – what the King James version would call ‘fear of the Lord’. And at the same time, he had an equally deep sense of God revealed in the tender, humble and grace-filled life of Jesus. But from Calvin’s beginnings, John Knox and others took a rather harsher theological stance. Their understanding of God was weighted toward the distant and immutable Father in whose presence human beings are less than worms. The person on Christ takes a subordinate role as the means by which God makes grace available to the selected few, and the person of the Holy Spirit is mostly made redundant.
The church that grew out of this image of God had a far greater focus on rules, obedience, laws and conformity – anything less than a spotless church cast doubt on the reality of salvation. Grace, tenderness, forgiveness and reconciliation are overshadowed not so much by fear of the Lord, but abject terror!
What is so striking as I reflect on this in a broader context is how deeply our image and understanding of God affects all of our aspects of ministry and witness. While theology may seem like an academic exercise in describing the indescribable, we are all theologians at some level – we all formulate some kind of understanding of who God is – and where God is. And those understandings have a massive impact on how we approach every other aspect of our lives. Who is God? And where is God? And so what? Are pivotal questions for our journey of life and faith, and they are questions that need to be considered both individually and in community so that we are able to provide balance and counter-balance to each other, and so that none of the vast fullness of our responses is lost or compromised. We cannot know God on our own.
God is mystery, but not in the sense that God can never be known, but in the sense that there is always more to be known. It is God’s delight to be an ever-unfolding mystery, so it may be our delight to journey deeper and farther into revelation.