Constructs

Photo: RonPorter Pixabay via Creative Commons

Photo: RonPorter Pixabay via Creative Commons

Disclaimer: Posts in this series will be my attempts to process what I’m reading in the books of Peter Rollins. They are in no way representative of his actual writings. Also spoilers, sweetie.

I hold an undergraduate degree in Bible and Theology. I paid (a lot of) money to a school so that they would teach me about the historical and cultural contexts of Scripture, the veins of thought about God throughout the history of the Church, and provide me with the tools I’d need to continue to study such things on my own. I have never regretted the decision to obtain this degree, and the information as well as the process were life-giving to me at that time. Professors encouraged me in my understandings of Scripture that stood in opposition to certain streams of thought in my church at the time, affirmed my ability to teach others well, and were instrumental in guiding me past my final internal issues with being a woman in Church leadership.

During that time, I chose to walk away from my second major church home. I was on staff at the time, which meant I would be losing my home (I lived in a house owned by the church rent free as my compensation), my community, a large part of my identity and purpose. All with this one decision. Understand the depth of conviction I had to feel to compel me to do so. I saw this church heading down a destructive path eerily similar to that of my first church home, immersing itself in a Charismatic doctrine of divine healing and miracles and supernatural events and the cultivation of a “desperation for God” that, in me at least, looked an awful lot like clinical depression.

I spent several years worried that I’d made the wrong decision. Yet I couldn’t in good conscience affirm what that line of theology taught people. I saw the harm it did on so many levels and couldn’t participate in that anymore. I threw the proverbial baby (knowledge of God) out with the bath water (God as described in the Charismatic church). I searched for years for a replacement, a theology equally consuming, that would answer all these new questions I had about the nature and character of God.

In the meantime, I continued to study. Continued to teach. Continued to wrestle with the Bible. I did stop praying, because every scrap of context I had for the activity was wrapped up in the confusion I had rejected. Yet this new, palatable, comprehensive understanding of God continued to elude me.

Enter HOW (NOT) TO SPEAK OF GOD. Rollins presents the idea of God as hypernonymous, his way of saying that God is so utterly present all around us that it renders God unknowable.Furthermore, everything we think we know about God is in reality a construct we have created and called “God” based on our own myriad subjective lenses: childhood, personality, education, predisposition, communities, etc.

When I hold one of these constructs, mine or someone else’s (a church’s or particular preacher’s, for example) I create an idol of God. The construct becomes the thing to which I attach myself, meaning, faith, etc. Because it is effectually impotent, and necessarily limited because it will exclude things that are true about God while including things that are not, it becomes an obstacle to actually knowing God.

Both language and experience are equally incapable of actually defining God; theology as the study of God and supernatural experience both fall short. Scripture is also limited; creative a cohesive identity for God from the pages of the Bible is “both violent and irredeemably impossible” (13). Well, shit. What else is there?

The problem in all of these lies in the rendering of God as an intellectual object to be grasped and understood, found in definitions and descriptions and creeds and belief systems. Rather than seeking encounter, response, and transformation from the God who is saturating our world while remaining wholly other, we scratch and claw our way to a mental construct.

We never reject the belief that God is real, knowable, present, interactive. We simply acknowledge that our understanding of God will always, inevitably, be limited and flawed because we are “interpretive beings” who will always be subject to our own influences (pg 11). We continue to speak of God, knowing our words must be held loosely and always open to reexamination. This kind of doubt opens up the possibility of true faith, “operating within faith as a type of heat-inducing friction that prevents our liquid images of the divine from cooling and solidifying into idolatrous form” (28).

Suddenly, the pressure is off. If it’s true that everything I know to be true about God is a construct, if all sources of knowledge about God are also constructs, if God can be encountered despite a lack of certainty regarding belief, then I am free.

My soul feels the tingle of a numb limb coming back to life and begins to move about in flutters at the possibility of an unknowable God who is utterly present all around me.

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5 Comments

  1. hannah blair said,

    May 8, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Reminds me of the numerous peoples throughout time who having no bible, no missionary and no church nevertheless believed God could and would reveal Himself to them and He did.

    • MandyK said,

      May 8, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Absolutely. It’s just amazing to me how much modern Christianity has carved away at those possibilities.

  2. May 8, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I feel like I should offer something profound in response to the profundity that you’re grappling with here. (And thank you for writing this, BTW.)

    But I have to admit, I laughed at the spoiler tag. 😀

  3. Karen Walters said,

    May 8, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    You have to be one if the bravest women I know…especially at your young age. Thank you for sharing your “wrestling” experiences. They mirror my battles in so many ways,and only the experience of a great loss in my life allowed me the freedom to “wonder!”

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. May 21, 2015 at 8:15 am

    […] one thing to say that what I think I know about God is ultimately a construct of my own making. It’s another to say that I am learning to approach God as icon rather than […]


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