Language is important. The way we think and talk about people and ideas affects our perception and understanding of them. When my daughter was a baby, she didn’t have much hair. Joy and I would take her out somewhere, and people would come up to see the beautiful new baby (she was and is beautiful). It didn’t matter that she was dressed in a frilly pink dress with a pink bow on her head. People regularly referred to her as a good looking young boy.
The perception of who they thought our daughter was didn’t change who she was, but it did limit their vision and their ability to see her.
That is one of the ways that we limit God. Our language about God is often gendered. I think most people would agree that God is neither male nor female, but calling God “he” all of the time overtly and covertly limits our vision of who God really is. If God is primarily male, then God is only secondarily female. If we persist in that line of thinking, it is easy to see how we might become mired in patterns of sexist thought. The same types of problems arise when we think of God as being of a particular ethnicity, color, or any purely human attribute. If God is more like one kind of people (usually with whom we identify), then God is less like another kind of people. The way we think and speak about God doesn’t really limit God, but it limits our ability to see God in all of their fullness.
There’s another limiting factor that we place on God–the ability for God to call whomever God chooses to do God’s work. In the United Methodist Church, a recent ruling was passed denying members of the LGBTQ+ community the right to be ordained within that denomination. A push for the same type of ruling is occurring within the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Here’s why I think this is a bad idea.
Humans are not very much like God. We are not like God at all in our understanding, power, or abilities. Yet, we strive to become like God. That desire is at the heart of the story of the first sin. The tempter told the humans that if they ate of a particular fruit, they would be like God. So of course they tried it. Being like God would be a pretty difficult temptation for most of us to resist.
Yet, we are still nothing like God and have nothing like God’s understanding. We can’t even understand our neighbors across the street who are like us in so many ways. Efforts to determine who God can and can’t call to ministry are the result of people succumbing to the temptation to eat of the fruit like the first humans. It is a case of mortals wanting to put themselves in the place of God and say, “this one is worthy, and this one is not.” It is an attempt to limit a God who cannot and will not be limited.
Scripture is filled with examples of surprising people who were called by God. That is to say, the surprises are for us, not for God. Throughout scripture, God saw qualities in people that we would never see; and indeed, that many of them didn’t see in themselves. But, God called them, and they served. Thankfully, a human-conceived institution didn’t stop people like Moses, David, Abraham, Jacob, Mary the mother of Jesus, and many others from serving. They heard God’s call, and they responded.
It is only natural for us to continue to disagree on many things; however, the folly of trying to limit God is surely something on which we can all agree. God cannot be limited. Our language, our culture, and many other things limit our ability to understand God and other people. Let’s not make the mistake of believing that God intends for us to limit God’s work in the world. If we can just learn to accept people who have been called by God to serve, step back, and get out of their way, then we will see some awesome work that God can do through loving people (regardless of how they differ from us). It may be surprising to some people, but it isn’t a surprise to God.
Anyway, that’s the view from where I stand.
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