This Small, Transactional God

When you get to appear on TV or radio talking about faith, you’re almost certainly going to attract a few folk who are worried about your immortal soul and whether you’re ‘born again’ or a false teacher.

That’s exactly what happened this week when I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Something Understood, talking with Mark Tully about Faith and Comedy.

The folk who get in touch are usually very concerned, very pleasant and they will try to save you. They want to convert you to a small, conditional and unaccepting God: the God of most religions.

In the Christian world, this is the kind of God who really doesn’t like you unless Jesus is around to put in a good word. It’s a mean, transactional God who requires abject obedience to words that frequently don’t even exist in the Bible and which completely disregards the teachings of the Beatitudes, the idea of loving your enemies and the whole concept of taking the plank out of your own eye before you judge your neighbour.

I don’t believe in that God. I believe in the all-inclusive Beingness of Grace. I believe in the Trinity, in the Christ Consciousness. In Love. I believe in Big God.

God is not small, nor exclusive; God is the unfolding of Creation, the holding of all things in Its sacred arms, the bearing of all things, the transforming of all things. It is not a God that prefers one religion – or even has a religion – it is a God that is big enough for an entire Universe. If we discover life on another planet, that God will be there too and It certainly won’t be playing the ‘if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re damned’ ego game.

Did you know that there is no such phrase as ‘born again’ in the Bible? The phrase used in John’s Gospel and in 1 Peter is actually ‘born from above.’ To be born from above is to receive freely-given Grace that cannot be earned by ‘correct behaviour.’ The ego really, really doesn’t like that and neither does conventional religion.

Richard Rohr says it best:

God’s freely given grace is a humiliation to the ego because free gifts say nothing about being strong, superior, or moral. Thus only the soul can understand grace, never the mind or the ego. The ego does not know how to receive things freely or without logic. It likes to be worthy and needs to understand in order to accept things as true. The ego prefers a worldview of scarcity or quid pro quo, where only the clever can win. That problem—and its overcoming—is at the very center of the Gospel plot line. It has always been overcome from God’s side. The only problem is getting us in on the process! God’s inclusion of us reveals God’s humility, graciousness, and love. Only inside an economy of grace can we see that God wants free and willing partners. An economy of merit cannot process free love or free anything. “Not servants, but friends” (John 15:15) is God’s plan. Yet to this day, most Christians seem to prefer being servants. Actual divine friendship is just too incredible to imagine.

We don’t ‘get’ God. We want God to punish those who offend us, damn those who don’t believe as we do, fight those who oppose us. We want God to be on our side—one of our gang. But God doesn’t take sides; God just abides in the Is-ness of everything. We are God experiencing life and we reflect God back to God.

So, if you’re reading this, wanting to convert me, please don’t try because you are wasting your time. I couldn’t turn from the cascade of Grace that falls undeserved every second of the day, if I wanted to. I couldn’t limit Christ into a transactional school prefect. I couldn’t embrace a small and exclusive God if I tried.

I serve at the pleasure of the Holy One.