Most people in our society appear to want God to be generic, abstract, vague, distant, and arcane. “God? Oh, can’t say anything too definite about God. God is large and indistinct.” For many of us God is this big, blurry concept that we can make to mean about anything we like, something spiritual, someone (if we have any distinct notions about God) whom we can make over so that God looks strikingly like us.Ruin’d nature now restore, Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to thine.
In Jesus of Nazareth, God got physical, explicit, and peculiar, and God came close—too close for comfort for many.Jesus Christ is God in action, God refusing to remain a general idea or a high-sounding principle. Jesus Christ is God in motion toward us, God refusing to stay enclosed in God’s own divinity. Many people think of God as a vaguely benevolent being—who never actually gets around to doing anything.
It is as if we are threatened by the possibility that God might truly be an active, intervening God who shows up where we live. We’ve designed this modern world, controlled by us, functioning rather nicely on its own, thank you, everything clicking along in accord with natural laws, served on command by technological wonders of our creation.So who needs a God who relishes actually showing up and doing something? We modern people are loath to conceive of a God who is beyond our control or a world other than the one that is here solely for our personal benefit.
This is the deistic God of the philosophers, a minimalist, inactive, unobtrusive, noninvasive, detached God who is just about as much of a God as we moderns can take. There’s a reason why many thoughtful modern people seem so determined to sever Jesus from the Trinity, to render Jesus into a wonderful moral teacher who was a really nice person, someone who enjoyed lilies and was kind to children and people with disabilities. To point to a peripatetic Jew from Nazareth who wouldn’t stay confined within our boundaries for God and say, “Jesus is not only a human being but also God,” well, it’s just too unnerving for us enlightened modern people to handle. Note how frequently many people refer to “God” and how seldom they refer to “Christ,” and you will know why the statement “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor.5:19) is a threatening disruption to many people’s idea of a God who stays put.
From The Best of Will Willimon (Abingdon, 2012. Check out Will’s novel, Incorporation, a wild ride through the contemporary church – satire and slapstick with serious theological intent. Available from Cascade Press https://wipfandstock.com/store/incorporation.