God is the ground of being, being-itself; who concerns us ultimately. Thus, God is our ultimate concern. — Paul Tillich
I’ll be honest with you and say that on a weekly if not daily basis, I find myself wondering what good I am doing as a pastor. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what I do or the people with whom I get to be in community. I do. My issue more than anything is wondering if by being a pastor I am perpetuating an illusion that there are some people closer to God than others. Thereby inadvertently standing in the way of some people receiving the fullness of the gift of knowing who they are with God.
It’s a weird thing, standing in front of people loving them and wanting them to know more than anything that they don’t need me to be some kind of relationship broker between them and God—however they experience that term. And yet some people won’t believe me unless I have the credentials and robes to show that I have the authority to say that they don’t need my authority. And so, I use the authority of the office to hopefully communicate God’s unfiltered love for people.
Like Tillich, I can say that I experience God as the ground of being and that—consciously or not—our relationship to God is fundamentally the chief concern of people. And for me, that is because God is the “isness” in everything that is. Does that make sense? God is is. Yes you read that sentence correctly—“God is is.” And so if we are anything at all, we are because God is and what God is. The existential nature of our being is contingent upon God being. In other words, we are with God just as God is with us. If we are being, we are being with God.
So, I was in a conversation recently where a woman asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know if it was accurate to say that the reason why I am as I am is because I am the sum total of all of my experiences.
That’s a question that I’ve never been asked directly. But last I checked, I thought I embraced that philosophy. After all, generally speaking, I can look back on the transformative experiences in my life and see clearly how certain encounters shaped and reshaped how I present myself in the world. But when I opened my mouth to answer her question I was surprised by my own answer.
“No,” I said. “I don’t experience myself as the sum total of my experiences. My faith teaches, and I experience as true, that the greater part of who we all are has not been revealed to us yet. But because it is a guaranteed future, it influences how I show up now maybe even more than all of my past experiences. In a way that I can’t explain, I think I’m more influenced by who I’m becoming than by who I’ve been.”
I assumed from the look on the woman’s face that that was not the answer she was expecting. The funny thing was that I wasn’t either. But after hearing myself answer that way, a few scripture passages popped into my head that I then realized had likely helped reshape my view. You know the ones.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. – Jeremiah 29:11
From 1 Corinthians 13:12:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 John 3:2:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Because of the way my brain works, ever since that conversation, I’ve been thinking about the implications of that line of thinking–if who we’re becoming has more influence on how we presently show up in the world than who we’ve been.
And another thought occurred to me as I was tossing these thoughts around. Is there an end to becoming?
To hear the rest of my thoughts on the question of becoming and “Being with God”, see the video below starting at 4m40s.
I know I don’t have to tell you, as in educate you, but to focus some fresh thinking let me say…
Matthew seems to take Mark’s Gospel, pretty much tell the same story, but with massive expansions on it. He does take away a few bits, and makes a few other changes, but overall, Matthew’s Gospel appears to be Mark with way more details.
There is A LOT to explore up in that notion, but I want to select one tiny faction of it and see what dynamite will explode from such a small stick.
When we get to the part in both Matthew and Mark where Jesus takes the disciples up on a mountain and CREATES the twelve, Matthew’s version opens up into three whole chapters of preaching we call The Sermon On the Mount. We don’t find any of that sermon, as such, in Mark’s much shorter version. And while Mark does give us an accounting of the creation of the twelve alright, instead of all that sermonizing, Mark sums up the scene saying Jesus took them up on the mountain… drum roll please…
SO THEY COULD BE WITH HIM!
If these Gospel accounts are meant to ultimately and theologically be harmonious rather than tear us apart for trying to fathom the mind of God, then at the VERY LEAST we can say that the THEME, the point, the power and thrust of that whole sermon Jesus preaches up on that mountain is all about “God With Us” which, by the way is a phrase that bookends/frames (inclusio) Matthew’s whole Gospel.
I hope this observation blesses.
I just love your word “isness”
I figure I need to borrow that sometime.
Maybe write a song!
God is in the “isness” business!
Hey X, thanks for taking the time to comment. I have long wrestled with language to articulate what my soul knows–that God is wholly with us. I am working to not give power to the contrary and to trust that God’s isness is inarguable and therefore, if I want to consciously dwell in this knowing, I must be diligent in witnessing and professing. Ironically, I think that the greatest challenge is posed by religion which tries to bind God to some simple notions that hardly make an introduction to the greatest implication of what it means for a wholly present Creator to be with us. Thanks for your scriptural insight.