Apr 3, 2013

Talking about God with Rob Bell, Part 2

This is the second part of my review, the first part is here.

The second section of What We Talk About When We Talk About God is the heart of Rob Bell’s message. Chapters 4-6 (with, for, and ahead) present his way of “talking about God.” While the first few chapters of What We Talk About is about the "talking" itself, these chapters focus on the content of what is being talked about. They address what we are or should be saying about God.

Chapter 4 is familiar to any Christian. This chapter discusses how God is “with” us. This of course is at the heart of the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” This chapter is a reminder that God is here with us. This also comes through in our everyday lives. We live with this feeling that there is so much more going on in this world. Most people sense that there is something deeper going on in our lives. God is present in all of our lives and we all live in this reality where God is working.

Chapter 5 discusses a God who is “for” us. Many times we think that God is vindictive and out to get us. God, however, is for us. He wants to see us succeed. God cares for us, loves us, and wants to help us. The prime example of this is the story of Easter. Jesus died for us. Yes we are sinners and we’re messed up, but God has come to fix that. Jesus died to save us from our sins. 

Finally, in chapter 6, Bell describes how God is “ahead” of us. Of the three, this is likely the least familiar to readers. It is not very often that someone uses the word “ahead” to describe God. What he means by this is that God is ahead of us in our thinking, that is he is more forward thinking than we are. His example for this is the idea of an eye for an eye that comes from the Old Testament law. We see this law as backward and built on revenge, but what we see in the O.T. is God establishing order in judicial system and ordering that the punishment fit the crime. If you kill someone’s ox, then you owe them an ox. You don’t owe them 3 oxen and you can’t just give them a chicken. Also, as a victim you cannot retaliate by killing 3 of his oxen. There is just payment, no more no less. This is a step forward in thinking, while to us it may seem like a step back. Bell argues that this is how God works. He is always moving us forward and progressing us in our thinking.

For the most part, I believe most Christians will agree with these statements. First of all, Christianity is built on the fact that God is with us. Jesus came lived with us and now the Holy Spirit dwells among us. God is in fact with us. Second, God is for his people. Jesus died for our sins. I’m not sure that you could make the argument that God is against us. Yes, he is against our sin, but has made a way for us to be freed from that sin. Lastly, I do believe that God is more forward thinking than we are. Look at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus takes a few of the commandments a step farther and says it’s not just about murder, instead it’s about hate, or it’s not about adultery, it’s about lust. James says that true religion is displayed by taking care of orphans and widows. God is ahead of us pulling us forward.

I do, however, think that we need to be careful. While God is for us, we are for God as well. We need to be watchful that God being “for” us doesn’t turn into God wants me to be happy. Jesus died for our sins, but he also calls us to take up our cross to follow him. Scripture also tell us Christians will share in the sufferings of Jesus. If God being for us turns into wanting happiness, we can be tempted to do things that make us happy that aren’t good. Bell doesn’t advocate God wanting us to be happy, but he also doesn’t discuss that God being for us doesn’t mean that life will be easy.

My other concern is in the area of God being ahead of us. While I agree with his examples, I am also afraid of what someone could justify by claiming that God is ahead of us in our thinking. One that comes to mind would be in the area of universalism. Is God ahead of us and showing us that all religions are okay? There are some areas that we think God is ahead of us and in reality he is not. God is good and is ahead of us in goodness, but we need to be careful that we don’t step away from the hard truths claiming that God is ahead of us. There are places where God is pulling us, but he has also given us his scripture as his guide. We always need to be faithful to what he has already told us.

Read Part 3 here.

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