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You matter enough to move God's heart
I start seminary today. I’m looking forward to thinking together with a group of people about God, Jesus, faith, the Scriptures, and even myself. I wonder about these things a lot. And I wonder what the value is in thinking about them, and what the value is in focusing on more practical items. Some might say it’s more prudent to help people follow Jesus than to discuss the nature of humanity. Others may give you the Judas answer, "Shouldn't we be feeding the poor instead of having this arcane discussion?” But I really do wonder how our thoughts about God and Jesus and our faith affect those very things. Don’t our thoughts about humanity and poverty affect how we serve the least of these? Or how we minister the Gospel, so to speak? That’s my thought. However, there is a time and a place for these discussions, and they can get quite pedantic and not helpful. So we need to exercise discretion when we are having a boundaried discussion.
The theology we make, I think, is best if it's in line with where God has directed us so far and, moreover, it has to be applicable. It can’t be 30,000 feet in the air. It needs to be on the ground with the incarnated God, Jesus Christ! I am interested in developing a “community hermeneutic.” We need to think together. Not just to understand God, but also to understand ourselves. I think God is involved in that communal hermeneutic too. I think God is moved by our community and by you!
We are working out our theology in a relationship with Him. We aren’t just trying to “figure him out." As we learn more about ourselves, we might actually want to pray for something or act for something that moves God’s heart. Or does it?
Artistotle came up with the dominant idea that God might be immovable. He called him the Unmoved Mover. Basically, he said there is a “prime mover” that puts all things in the world in motion, but that power does not move. St. Thomas Aquinas elaborated on this in his five proofs for God’s existence. One of them was that there are things in the world that move that cannot cause their own motion. A great use of it, if you ask me.
This theory basically gave birth to two large ways of thinking about how God works: he is rather an Unmoved Mover who controls all other movement. Or he gives birth to being who can move on their own, though he himself remains the all-knowing Unmoved Mover. This division in how we think has caused a lot of divisions among us. Some argue that everything is pre-ordained, and others say that humans have free will. Both camps agree that God still knows what is going to happen.
If God knew exactly what was going to happen, how much control do we really have in it? Does it really matter? Can God really be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good if he doesn’t stop bad things from happening that he knows will happen? Those are good questions, I think. And I suppose we should be thinking about these things, but how grandiose can we be? We might be doing it because we've experienced trauma and we need to figure out a way out--I'm not sure our mind is the way out of our trauma.
But, I don’t want to leave the discussion there, because I think we do matter. And at the heart of the issue at hand, we really face these poles. But I’m not sure figuring how important our thoughts are versus God’s unmovable nature is. I’d rather really just try to have a relationship. I’m going back to a familiar passage to some of us. Check out Mark 7:24-30.
It’s weird a scene because it seems like Jesus is moved. Like he changes his mind.
First of all, he’s way out of his zone. He’s in Tyre, which is North of Israel, in modern-day Lebanon. He’s out of his zone, he’s experiencing new things. He is purposely hiding, and he wants his presence to be secret, but he can’t. People are moved by him.
And all of a sudden, he sees this unusual woman who is asking him for something. He’s a Jewish Rabbi and he responds as such: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
What, Jesus? What’s he even saying? He seems like he is being prejudicial. And really, Jesus did have a specific mission in Israel to Jews and not Greeks, but even his understanding of his mission is moving. Moving north in this case and encountering people who are demonstrating faith that is even impressing him!
She gives him a response that is relatively brilliant: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Before we keep going, I want to note that what we might consider prejudicial today may have been more figurative then. In fact, some would find this statement offensive today because she is using submissive language—she’s using “Lord.” And “Lord” implies a greater-than hierarchy, which is offensive by itself. She’s not owning her dignity and denying the person who just insulted her, in fact, she is using language, in this case “Lord,” that maintains the status quotient. I’m not sure I agree with that line of thinking, but everything can be deconstructed. Everything can be moved into oblivion.
Nevertheless, Jesus is impressed by her reply, probably because she is being so obedient and so submissive, and he heals her possessed daughter.
So what does this mean? I suppose it can mean anything. God could have determined all of this from the get-go. On the other hand, maybe it was incumbent upon this Syrophoenician woman to say what she said so that she might pass Jesus’ test. But another view would say that Jesus actually changed his mind in this moment. He came in with a prejudice and he got convinced of something else and he moved.
This is a nice philosophy. But at this point you might be wondering, who cares?
I want to tell you that God is moved by you. That he created you to be so significant and substantial on this earth that you could think and act in a way that moves all of Creation. That moves God too. That your prayers might move God’s heart to act in a way that He may not have previously. You matter.
God is moved by our community and the work we are doing together. And God moves among us and in us too. I don’t to just have a philosophical issue here, but I want you to leave with the hope that you matter—just like that Syrophoenician woman did. We have a real, body-to-body relationship with God. We can touch each other and affect each other. How rigid do you think Jesus was?
God loves us. I’m not saying this so that you understand how any of these “works.” We aren’t thinking together so that we figure it out. We are thinking together so that we might be impacted and the world might be changed. Your thought matters. Your action matters, who you talk to, how you relate, how you commit, and share, and give of yourself. Your prayer, your spiritual disciplines—these things move God and also move the whole world. You are a significant person, created by the prime mover—created by God to be a vessel that holds him and changes everything.