God is not a Chris­tian

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Steven L. Shields Steven L. Shields ([email protected]) has lived in Korea for many years, be­gin­ning in the 1970s. He served as copy ed­i­tor of The Korea Times in 1977. He is a re­tired cler­gy­man and vice pres­i­dent of the Royal Asi­atic So­ci­ety-Korea Branc

The def­i­ni­tion of Chris­tian is “some­one who be­lieves in and fol­lows Je­sus Christ.” While Chris­tian the­ol­ogy may posit that God sent Je­sus to the world, such an act does not make God a Chris­tian. In the same man­ner, God is not a Bud­dhist, nor a Mus­lim, nor a Hindu. God is not a Jew. On the other hand, Je­sus was, in­deed, a Jew. But he was never a Chris­tian.

Many Chris­tians be­lieve they “possess” God, but in their ex­pres­sion, they un­wit­tingly ad­mit there is more than one God. I of­ten see songs, prayers, and other writ­ings that re­fer to “Our” God. A line from a pop­u­lar song says, “Our God is a mighty God.”

Chris­tians ar­gue there is only one God, and no oth­ers. Yet, they sug­gest there must be oth­ers that be­long to non-Chris­tians. They sug­gest these other gods are not as “mighty” as “their” God. Pos­ses­sion means some­thing is mine, but not yours. Such think­ing is strong ev­i­dence that hu­mans have cre­ated God in their own im­age, rather than the other way around as writ­ten in the Bi­ble and ex­pressed by the­olo­gians.

With God as their ex­clu­sive pos­ses­sion, some Chris­tians claim to know God’s will. This ex­clu­sivist claim is of­ten im­posed by force, to make oth­ers con­form to their idea. The line be­tween God’s will and their own is muddy at best. If your be­liefs lead you to at­tack oth­ers, ver­bally or phys­i­cally, you need to re-ex­am­ine your as­sump­tions. You are not Chris­tian.

You have no right to im­pose your be­liefs on oth­ers. It’s one thing to have stan­dards, and be­lieve in what you think is right. Do­ing so does not make it the sin­gle way of un­der­stand­ing the world.

Years ago, I was ap­proached by a young man who was Bud­dhist. He asked my pur­pose in Korea. I told him I was the pas­tor of a nearby church. He chal­lenged me. He won­dered why I thought every­one must be a Chris­tian. He asked why I thought all Korean peo­ple had to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity.

I told him I did not think so. My min­istry was not about mem­ber re­cruit­ment, but about build­ing re­la­tions with friends and neigh­bors, shar­ing com­mon ground, build­ing com­mu­ni­ties of love and ac­cep­tance. I told him that if he was a Bud­dhist, then he should be the best Bud­dhist pos­si­ble by faith­fully fol­low­ing the teach­ings of the Bud­dha. He was sur­prised.

Chris­tian teach­ing that Je­sus is the only way to sal­va­tion, that all must be­lieve in Je­sus or burn in hell, is a

Chris­tian con­struct — and a clearly con­ser­va­tive, nar­row view of the Bi­ble.

The teach­ing is not em­pir­i­cal truth. The pas­sages in the Bi­ble, the New Tes­ta­ment specif­i­cally, were writ­ten by be­liev­ers. They were not writ­ten from a sci­en­tific, prov­able method — but through the faith of those who al­ready be­lieved in Je­sus. Such an ap­proach does not make a uni­ver­sal truth.

Through noth­ing more than an ac­ci­dent of birth, I was raised in a Chris­tian en­vi­ron­ment in the United States. I’ve at­tended church all my life. My an­ces­tors, at least as far back as a thou­sand years ago in Europe, were Chris­tians (of­ten not by per­sonal choice, but the force of church or gov­ern­ment rule, but Chris­tians none­the­less).

At some point in my young adult life, I made a con­scious choice to con­tinue my faith jour­ney through the set­ting of Chris­tian­ity. But in many re­spects, I’m a Chris­tian be­cause I was born that way. But my tra­di­tion alone does not de­fine God. It points me to­ward the Di­vine (call it God in my Chris­tian vo­cab­u­lary).

Equally, many in Asia were born Bud­dhists. Many were born Hindu. In the Mid­dle East (and some other ar­eas) many were born Mus­lim. In what is now Is­rael and in Europe, as well as the U.S. (and some other places), many were born Jewish. The list goes on. Sto­ries of con­ver­sions by com­pul­sion abound in many cul­tures, many na­tions, many re­gions.

Con­crete­ness in life is a never-end­ing pur­suit. Many cling to re­li­gious tra­di­tions that pro­vide con­crete, clear-cut an­swers to all of life’s ques­tions. Some of the an­swers are, “it’s God’s will.” That is enough for many.

I, too, like to know what’s in store for me. I want to have some sem­blance of con­fi­dence in my fu­ture path. How­ever, when it comes to mat­ters of faith, I’m learn­ing that ab­strac­tion is the rule. I’m learn­ing that what I thought was clear-cut is not so.

The more I study, the more I learn, and the more I amass life ex­pe­ri­ence as I grow older, and I find that God and faith are more ab­stract than I’m com­fort­able with. But my dis­com­fort is no ex­cuse for hang­ing on to what I learned as a small child in Sun­day school.

If God is so pow­er­ful as Chris­tian­ity teaches; so ever-know­ing, so ever-present, then Chris­tians must let go of “our” God. They must let the Di­vine, Supreme Be­ing, Great Power of the Uni­verse sim­ply be who or what that is. Let God be God. Let the rest of us be guided by the ex­cel­lent teach­ing of all the world re­li­gions: Do to oth­ers as you want them to do to you.

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