Bad God/Good God

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE

June 18, 2019

I was ten or eleven when my older brother mustered the courage to ask the question every kid on the Vacation Bible School bus was dying to know the answer to. “Hey, so what happened to your hand?” Our bus driver was also the preacher at our Grandma’s little church. The convenience of the bus pick-up service meant my brother and a bunch of our neighborhood friends and I all went to Grandma’s church’s VBS instead going to our own churches scattered across the city. When John asked, the bus driver stopped the bus, turned around in his seat and held up his right claw-like thumb and pinky of a hand. “Children, I’m so glad one of you asked. God did this to me.”

His story was God wanted him to be a preacher, but he didn’t want to be a preacher, so he ran away from God and went to work in a lumber yard.  God cut off his fingers so he couldn’t work there anymore, and he gave in to God’s call on his life and became a preacher. Moral to the story? —don’t mess with God or God will get you.

That’s some messed up theology!

I was just a kid, but I knew the preacher’s story about God didn’t sound at all like God who loves us. Love doesn’t chop off fingers.

Later that week my best friend, Carla and I were scooping ice cream in her kitchen and I told her about my day at Bible School. I’d been “saved” because if you got “saved” you got to go to the stage and pick out a prize. My prize was a short chapter book about a girl who was kidnapped, but because she loved Jesus, she was able to escape from the back of the trunk where she had been stuffed. Carla’s mom was in the kitchen. She said, “Becky, I don’t think that’s a good way to think about God. God doesn’t scare us into loving him. God loves us into loving him.” (God doesn’t bribe us with prizes, either).

Carla’s mom that day in her kitchen was my first theology teacher. I had good Sunday School teachers since pre-school, but Mrs. Acker was the first person who taught me to think critically about what was being said about God rather than simply absorbing a story and believing it hook, line and sinker solely because it was about God. Theology means to study, to think about the nature of God. (“Theos” –Greek for “God” and “ology”—the study of something). Theology requires of us some wrestling with God (like Jacob in the Old Testament and like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Bad theology does a lot of damage. Bad theology keeps women in abusive relationships. Bad theology causes gay kids to commit suicide. Bad theology fuels racism. Bad theology combined with nationalism fuels wars. Bad theology denies science and skews priorities.

Humans are spiritual beings.  We all need to nurture our spirits. We benefit from being in relationship with God and from gathering with others to practice being together in loving community. We also owe it to God and to our neighbors to think, to wrestle with our ideas about God so that what we claim in God’s name does good instead of harm.

You are always welcome to join us at Park Congregational United Church of Christ ten miles west of Elgin and ½ mile south off of Highway 70. Worship begins at 9:15 am on Sundays.

I would love to hear from you. My email address is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com.

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