No One Owns God
God is available and accessible as our breath itself and no religion is going to be able to portion that out, control it or say who gets it. — Richard Rohr, OFM (@RichardRohrOFM) May 10, 2013
This tweet from Richard Rohr says God is accessible to every person on the planet, that no one owns God, regardless of religion or lack thereof. What does it mean to believe no one owns God?
Once upon a time, there was no writing. There was no printing press. There were no books. There was, however, God — moving and working in history and in human lives. I don’t know any Christian who would deny this. Without religion, without writing, books, and certainly without churches and theology, this God made himself known in the world and was available to those who called on him (unless you believe God has been asleep at the wheel for 99.999% of all history, in which case you are more Deist than Christian). We see in the New Testament that Jesus complimented the faith of non-Jews, people considered to be godless, and probably incapable of real faith. Indeed, we see in the words of the Bible itself that it is not primarily through knowledge of that book, nor the procedures, beliefs, and systems it lays out, but rather through faith, that we are able to know God. The Apostle Paul affirms that we actually live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). This is to say, our journey forward in God is made up primarily of what we do not know.
That means everything that comes after faith is “extra.” This, then, naturally includes all that we can and do know. That is not to say that some of these extras do not serve very important purposes. If I believed they were unimportant I could not find any reason to be a pastor in a particular denomination and religion. They are important, perhaps extremely so in some cases, but they are, in fact, extra, because they come after faith itself.
Think of God as a big, juicy steak on a plate. The extras are everything — absolutely everything — that is on and around the plate. This includes healthy vegetables (important doctrines such as the Trinity, without which our understanding of God cannot be fully whole), the silverware (understood as the most elegant means by which we can enjoy the steak), steak sauce (particular denominational flavors we add to the steak), refreshing drinks (the type of preaching that helps us get the steak down without choking on it), even the manner in which the steak is served (religion itself). The steak is central, it is “the reason,” so to speak (John 1:1). Everything else in the meal is there to serve the steak, to complement it, to make it more enjoyable, or richer, or to help us get it down better. “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). God was accessible and available from the start.
This is what I believer Rohr means by this tweet. God is moving everywhere. God cannot be restricted to one religion. God is even active in the lives of some people who don’t consciously believe in God, yet whose lives regularly manifest the beautiful fruit religious people already know is fruit of God’s Spirit. Don’t you think it’s pretty valuable to know this? That’s why religion matters, and why our particular choice of religion is important. Formal religious instruction helps us identify characteristic ways God may work in our lives. But Rohr again is correct, in that no religion/denomination will prescribe for God how he MUST move. If we think it does, we’re drinking the steak sauce straight, and leaving out the steak! No one owns God, or will prescribe to him what he must do and what rules he must follow. Indeed, I believe the meaning of this parable of Jesus’ is that no one owns God, that he will give his grace to absolutely anyone he pleases, at any time, and under whatever conditions he chooses.
As a Christian pastor, I believe the Christian religion helps us understand God in ways no other religion does. Without those contributions we would be impoverished in our thinking about God. There are a few particularly potent ideas Christianity brings to the table, and I will discuss those in my next post.