I used to think of God as a fairly passive presence in the universe.
I had a “clockmaker”, slightly Deist view of God. God cranked this whole thing into motion, and then sat back and observed, not interfering in the world.
I still have some leanings this way.
I’m definitely not a believer in miracles, or in God playing a role in personal or natural disasters and outcomes. I think the universe is an orderly, rational place that God did in fact set into motion, but that he allows to run by the laws of science for our sake, that we might understand and navigate the way things work.
But I’ve evolved in my thinking. I have a more open mind towards how God interacts with creation. I wrote a blog post on the subject around this time last year, saying:
I was created and born with certain gifts and abilities. As I grow and learn and realize who I am, I awaken to those gifts and abilities and recognize my proper place in the world. And that has lead me to ministry.
To say that God played no active part in this guidance is to deny the existence of God.
God may not have reached into people’s bank account and moved money. He didn’t whisper in my ear saying “You should go into ministry.” But God’s mark is all over my journey. And that is the true essence of a “Great Clockmaker.” Even in things that seems completely disassociated from any mention of God, God’s touch is still present in the very existence of those things.
I think that these three chapters from Paul’s letter to the Romans really affirm that. Paul is still making an argument for justification by faith and why it is necessary that God provided salvation in that way. He ties it back to Jewish tradition by expounding on Abraham and Adam and how God acted in their stories.
And that’s really the key here: God was, and is, and always will be, acting.
Justification by faith, the idea that we are reconciled to God by God’s act of grace, is the ultimate proof of God’s agency in the universe.
As Paul explains, Abraham didn’t receive God’s blessing because of his preexisting righteousness and good deeds; he was blessed because of his faith in God. He trusted that God would act, that God would make good on God’s promise to give him a son in his old age. Paul uses Abraham as the quintessential example of faith.
Paul moves on to Adam, and compares him to Jesus, as the two men standing athwart history in a sense, one succumbing to death, the other overcoming it. Again, God acts through the example of Jesus, affirming that those who have faith even to point of suffering and death are not doomed, a la Adam, but instead are resurrected through reconciliation.
God is not a passive deity, sitting high above us, watching us scurry about. But neither is God reaching a cosmic finger into our world, pushing cars out of the way or misdirecting bullets. God has acted in the most perfect and necessary way, and has in consequence left us free to act and make choices on our own. Paul summarizes his thought process in the beautiful opening to chapter 5:
since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand;
and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Again, the action of God, spurring us onto a life of lived enveloped in love.
The wondrous thing about God is, God doesn’t act to exert power.
God doesn’t need to control.
God doesn’t need to show us who’s boss.
God acts from love, not power.
God acts with mercy, not condemnation.
Grace showers grace freely,
None of this makes sense. Gods are supposed to be the embodiment of power, of control. Gods are like absolute monarchs, acting in ways that showcase their power.
Our God is not that kind of God.
Our God is a God standing in opposition to the ideas of deity throughout history.
Our God is a God who exists in contradictions.
A God who chooses to identify with the weak and the small and the oppressed.
Our God is a God who picks a 100-year old man and his wife to father the chosen people.
Who picks a stutterer to lead the people out of captivity.
Who picks the youngest son to be the greatest king.
Who chooses an single teenage mother to bear the ultimate expression of God amongst humanity.
Our God makes no sense, at least as far as the world is concerned. And that’s the best kind of God.
It’s like Rob Bell says in Velvet Elvis:
“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up. And if we made him up, then we are in control. And so in passage after passage, we find God reminding people that he is beyond and bigger and more.”
Paul wants us to understand that this is all about God, not us. God is reconciling us, and we are acting in response to God. God is in charge, even if God doesn’t feel the need to flaunt it.
And we should emulate the example of Godliness we see in Jesus, in order to bring the Kingdom here, every day, in a little way.
Next: Romans 7-9