Tuesday, May 13, 2008

There is no God but God

Last night I had the privilege of giving the traditional 'Text to the Graduates' at our Convocation. The text of that word follows here.

A Text to Graduates

12 May 2008

A word from the third chapter of Daniel, beginning at the thirteenth verse.

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Some of you who are graduating tonight know that this passage is one of the more important scriptural texts in my understanding of who God is and how we are called to live out our relationship to this mysterious God who refuses to be confined by human expectations. I lay it before you tonight as you embark on the ministries to which you have been called. I have no doubt that you will face the choice of worshipping an idol, in whatever shape it takes, or facing a furnace of blazing fire with no guarantee of a happy issue out of all your affliction.

We live in a time when some Christians, on the left and on the right, have made an idol of the Scriptures, demanding capitulation to simplistic interpretations of what the Scriptures say about the challenge of engaging a living God in the midst of a living community. ‘Submit,’ they say, ‘and all will be well.’

We live in a time when some Christians have made an idol of reason, demanding capitulation to a faith in the living God eviscerated of its strangeness, of its vision of a reality that is more than our senses, of a God who is not always reasonable. ‘Submit,’ they say, ‘and all will be well.’

We live in a time when some Christians have made an idol of tradition, demanding capitulation to a faith in a living God stagnated in a given time and place, whether that era is the fourth century, the sixteenth or even the twentieth. ‘Submit,’ they say, ‘and all will be well.’

No idol, no matter how privileged by time and practice, can take the place of the living God, a God who is neither tame nor predictable, a God who permits generals to deny food and relief supplies to millions of people, a God whose silence often deafens us with its depth.

So face the furnace of blazing fire, not looking for rescue but courage, not looking for approval but fidelity. Do not dose your community with some snake oil derived from alluring and simplistic understandings of the Scriptures or reason or tradition. Rather than this, give them the living God, witnessed to but never imprisoned by the Scriptures, intuited but never comprehended by reason and celebrated by but never enshrined in our traditions. Give them the living God who may bring us to life only after we have passed through a furnace of blazing fire. But for God’s sake, give them this living God not a comfortable or secure counterfeit.