It’s book release day! Original Blessing: Putting Sin in its Rightful Place has officially hit the shelves. And while a celebratory glass of champagne is surely in order, as it turns out, a glass is also a foundational description of blessing. Here’s a sneak peek into the first chapter:
We are a people who live at the intersection of the presence of God and the realities of humanity. What are we going to do about it?
For two thousand years now, Christians have been talking about that. We have debated it, discussed it, written creeds about it, parsed it out in painstaking detail, written millions of pages of theology about it, and started communities of faith to encounter it weekly. It gives us plenty to ponder. What words do we use to describe our relationship with God?
Over the years, sometimes dramatically and other times in subtle ways, we have shifted from telling a story marked by connection to declaring a story marred by distance. And especially in the West, our description of and emphasis on the distance has grown more and more severe. I believe that is nothing short of a tragedy. More than any other idea, the doctrine of original sin has slowly eroded our understanding of our relationship with God. Rather than seeing our lives as naturally and deeply connected with God, original sin has convinced us that human nature stands not only at a distance from God but also in some inborn, natural way as contrary to God.
If our relationship with God is the most important one we have, I don’t think it wise to discredit it or describe it in negative terms.
I was talking with my friend Carter about this, and he said, “So you mean you want us to see the glass as half full instead of half empty?” My answer is yes . . . and no. If you happen to see the glass as half empty, meaning you focus primarily on the relationship you may or may not have with God, I’ll consider it a huge step forward if you begin to see it as half full instead, where at the very least you acknowledge that God is in relationship with you. I think it would be enormously helpful and healthier for you.
But actually, I want you to see the glass differently altogether. I want you to turn your attention not to the contents but to the glass. Our relationship with God is not in the glass. It IS the glass. So it’s not a matter of half full or half empty. God’s relationship to us is not in question. And the glass is there regardless of our response to God. The contents, and how we see them, is our response to God. They can be half full, half empty, brimming over, bone dry, three-quarters full. The contents can be cloudy, crystal clear, delicious, poisonous, questionable, or refreshing. Regardless, the glass is there. It hasn’t shattered, or cracked, or begun to leak. It’s bulletproof. It still holds you, like it holds everything else. Even in scripture when God is frustrated and angry with people, it’s a sign that God is committed. Nowhere in scripture does it say, “Such and such happened, and God was indifferent about it.” God is never indifferent about it. Consider it yet another sign that God’s sticking with it.
God’s relationship with you is fully intact. Your relationship with God may differ from day to day, but it is never located anywhere far away or at a distance. You are not way down here and God is not way up there. You are in God, and God surrounds you. Do not doubt that God holds you, and do not doubt for one minute that God loves you.
I’ve spent a good deal of time as a pastor talking with people who are on the outs with God. I’ve been there, too. No relationship of consequence has ever totally avoided conflict, and our relationship with God is no different. Luckily, scripture is filled with stories of people who go through rocky times with God. And what scripture shows is a God who is faithful, even when we’re not. So though I don’t know what kind of names you might be calling God at the moment, I wholeheartedly believe God calls you by name every moment. Fidelity and steadfast love are God’s main character traits. We misunderstand everything if we don’t begin there, especially when we’re feeling on the outs with God.
We belong to God. That is the center of our identity, the ground of our knowing anything else. If we want to know God, we can only know God through the relationship God has freely initiated with us already. If we want to know ourselves, we start in the same place. Who we are, before anything else, more than anything else, is children of God.
We are people in relationship with a God who is sticking with it. Which is to say, we are all recipients of the gift of original blessing.