REV. DR. MICHELLE J. MORRIS HAS A MASTER OF DIVINITY DEGREE AND A PH.D. IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES BOTH FROM SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY. SHE ALSO SERVES AS A UNITED METHODIST PASTOR IN ARKANSAS. SHE STARTED THIS BLOG AS A PLACE TO HAVE INTELLIGENT AND FAITHFUL REFLECTIONS ON THE BIBLE.

"If I had a Different Theology..."

For about a month I have been playing the “If I had a Different Theology” game.  How do you play, you ask? Well, here is how it has gone recently.

When I had a congregant bless me out, and then less than 24 hours later needed a pastor due to a crisis, I thought, “If I had a different theology, I would say that is God’s retribution for cursing the pastor. But I don’t have that theology, so instead I will see how I can be helpful.”

Or how about this…

Two hurricanes of monstrous proportion have hit the United States.  “If I had a different theology, I would say that God has turned God’s back on us, or worse, that God has brought God’s wrath on us.  But I don’t have that theology, so instead I will see how I can be helpful.”

Or to explain my adventure yesterday…

My GPS was directing me to a location, and showed I would be about 20 minutes early getting there, so I sort of half wished for a scenic redirect. Then one of the entrances to my neighborhood was blocked, so I just let the GPS redirect me. Now when it directed me to turn on a gravel road named Road 23100, I did not have to take its advice, but I did.  “If I had a different theology, I would say that God is teaching me about being careful what I wish/pray for by leading me into the wilderness. But I don’t have that theology, so instead I will look for some help by getting the hell off Road 23100.”

I do know, however, that I could have the theology I described. I know the Bible has passages that would totally back up that theology.  For instance…

Elisha went up from there to Bethel. As he was going up the road, some young people came out of the city. They mocked him: "Get going, Baldy! Get going, Baldy!" Turning around, Elisha looked at them and cursed them in the LORD's name. Then two bears came out of the woods and mangled forty-two of the youths. (2 Kings 2:23-24, CEB translation)

Yeah, that’s right. Mock one anointed by God, and you could get mangled by bears. Just sayin’.

And there are countless passages about bad things that happen to people who turn against the Lord. There is even one verse that implies hurricanes:  "There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves.” (Luke 21:25 CEB)

We almost always have some public figure come out saying these natural events are the result of God’s displeasure with some human something or other. This time it is Kirk Cameron, who apparently said that the hurricanes were sent to teach us humility.  “If I had a different theology, I might think Kirk Cameron was a prophet, but I don’t have that theology. So instead, to be helpful, I won’t listen to such crap. And also I will hope I am right that KC is not a prophet, but just in case, I will keep my eye out for bears. And also I will ask God why so many of the people dear to my childhood turn out to be loony.  And I will ask God why Pat Robertson is noticeably quiet on this one (is it because Texas is a conservative state and not some heathen place like New Orleans, or is it because he is way in bed with the current administration and can’t say anything bad about who we are now, or is it because he was unsuccessful in praying these hurricanes away, or did he actually learn his lesson from Katrina?).  But I digress.”

I will say this, though. Those folks have a theology and they are sticking to it. Now, I think we all have some room to grow in our theologies. None of us have God totally figured out.  That is what makes God… God, and us… not. But what I do not appreciate is when people waffle back and forth from this theology to that because they are picking the easy path. Or worse – the path that backs up their own privilege and power. That is making God subservient to us instead of the other way around. So I appreciate allegiance to that theology even if I think it is dead wrong.

The theology I do have says that God loves us and seeks the best for us. Not in some material, prosperity gospel way, but in shalom – utter peace in ourselves and our world. All this mess we are confronting now is because the world is broken, and honestly it is our fault. It is our fault mythologically from the standpoint of Adam and Eve, but that story is just representative of the state of things. God wants us to walk with God in the cool of the day in a paradise where everything is in balance. But we keep choosing our own convenience and desires, and that comes at a high cost. If God is at fault at all, it is because God loves us enough to give us free will, even when God knows what dumb heads we are.

We may really be at fault for these hurricanes. And I think, in a weird way, humility is exactly the problem. We keep saying things like humans aren’t significant enough to actually impact the climate. That is a bizarre place for our humility to pop up, because we are using it to cover over our extensive overreaching hubris that makes us think we can manipulate creation to our own ends without restriction and there will be no consequences because we are so “insignificant.”

We make decisions, and there are consequences. Here’s the thing, though. Whether God is pleased with those decisions or not, God is with us. As mad as God got at Israel in practically every book in the Bible (I think Israel is all good in Philemon, or at least isn’t mentioned), God has never abandoned God’s people.

I know that God is with us, because I felt shalom all along Road 23100. There were narrow stretches where I was afraid my car might slip into a ditch, a couple of shady looking bridges, sharp rocks flipping up and smashing into my poor van, and washed out paths that required very careful straddling of my wheels, not to mention one very isolated trailer straight out of Deliverance. But there were also butterflies, and hawks, and flatlands that jutted up against mountains, and a clear sky and bright sun.  I recognized I had made a bad decision turning down that road, but I was remarkably calm, feeling the warmth of God within and around me. Shalom.

But I also know God continues to call out to me and to try to bring me home when I have made such errors. So when I reached a fork in a road, and one GPS had me continuing on Road 23100, and another GPS pointed me in the direction of Cemetery Road, I had a decision to make. And I knew which one was the right one. Head down Cemetery Road. I knew from a practical standpoint that named roads are more likely to be paved than vaguely numbered roads. But also, I follow a God who brings life out of death, so Cemetery Road to me is a sign of getting back to life. And I was not disappointed. It was paved and everything, and led eventually to a road that brought me home.

God was with me, and God made something beautiful in the midst of my error. But God was also glad when I overruled my original GPS and found a paved road again.  And that is the theology that I do have.

Who will separate us from Christ's love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter.” But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.  I'm convinced that nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:35-39 CEB)

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