Q&A: Three Simple Questions

December 15th, 2011

In his latest book, Rueben P. Job, author of Three Simple Rules, brings new insight on how to live a Christ-like life and explores the three most basic and profound questions at the center of the Christian faith—questions that all major religions try to answer and around which there seems to be much confusion:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are we together?

We've put together a few questions with some highlights from Bishop Job's new book Three Simple Questions. Feel free to offer your own ideas in the comments section.

How do we "name" our God? What do our actions and words say about that God our church names?

We may name God with our words, or we may choose to remain silent. But either way, each of us names our God by our actions—by how we choose to live...Even agnostics and atheists follow some person, some value, some principle, some thing, or some overarching goal that determines the direction of their lives. They, as some of us who claim to believe in Jesus and the God he called Abba, may choose to remain silent. But their lives, like ours, betray the one who determines the direction of their lives. All of us give witness to the god or God who leads us and whom we follow.

Is the God we proclaim one that would ever appeal to seekers?

Far too often we are content with a god who offers a band-aid for our wounded souls rather than the God of radical mercy, justice, and love—who forgives our sins and wipes them away just as soon as we offer that same forgiveness to those who may have wronged us; who not only forgives our sins but also heals our wounded souls, mends our broken relationships, and sends us on our way full of hope, confidence, trust, and strength to transform the world by living in the kingdom of God already being formed “on earth as it is in heaven.” Far too often we are content with proclaiming and following a god who is too unexciting to capture the minds and hearts of a world seeking healing for its deepest wounds, peace for its incessant wars, direction for its future, and companionship for its deep loneliness.

Can we comprehend God as a God of Love without recognizing God as a God of Justice also? What does it say about our choices and actions if our God is a God of radical justice?

Unfortunately, “your Kingdom come” is not a slogan or sound bite that has much appeal, and so we choose to follow a god of our own making rather than the God revealed in the Scriptures, the creation, and the life of Jesus. Far too often we forget and need to be reminded by ancient and contemporary prophets that this loving God is a just God: "The God of love is also the God of justice. The two are related, for in the Bible justice is the social form of love. Thus the God of love is not simply “nice” but has an edge, a passion for justice. God loves everybody and everything. . . . To take the God of love and justice seriously means to take justice seriously and to be aware that prolonged injustice has consequences.” (Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003); page 76)

If our God is a THE God—how should we treat other people of faith—people whose faith is different from our own?

This God made known in so many ways has chosen to be revealed to each of us in ways that we may best understand. Is it any wonder, then, that we have different concepts of God and how God is known, followed, worshiped, honored, encountered, and companioned? In her book A History of God, Karen Armstrong reminds her readers that the rabbis taught that God could not be described by a formula as though God came to everyone in the same way. While we joyfully follow and bear witness to God made known in Jesus, we also must remember that Jesus was born, lived, and died a devout Jew. This reminds us that the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ cannot be fully contained in any creedal statement, no matter how carefully constructed. God is always beyond our limited capacity to understand or experience. While we proclaim faithfully and boldly our own experience of and trust in God, we do so with humility and gentleness as we learn to live in a community of earnest God-seekers who may have experienced and come to know God in ways different than our own.

Are we "labeling" others? Do we realize how toxic and harmful this is to all?

Those with a different theological position, lifestyle, or worldview than our own are often labeled as less than a child of God. Once in the “box” of someone else’s label, it is impossible to get out because the one assigning the label has the key. Only when there is a retraction of the label can freedom come to the person placed in the box. The labels may be as general as one’s ethnicity, biblical interpretation, sexual orientation, perceived theological position, national origin, education, wealth, or status. Or they can be as precise as one’s style of worship, way of confessing faith, understanding of salvation, experience of being in relationship with God, or particular ways of living as a faithful follower of Jesus the Christ. The form that labeling takes is almost insignificant, for all forms are hurtful and hard to overcome.

Giving up Our Inheritance

We can, however, give up our own identity and inheritance. When we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God. We are no longer following Jesus when we refuse to walk as he walked and refuse to obey his command to love. But when we rise from prayer confident of who we are as children of God, we are equipped with the vision to see others as they are and given the capacity to live as God’s beloved children. What a marvelous way to live.

So, Really What's the Book About?

As we have reflected on these three simple questions, we have discovered anew that

  • God is greater than anything we can comprehend or imagine;
  • each of us is God’s beloved just as every other human being on God’s good earth;
  • all together we are God’s family; and
  • as Christians, we are the living body of Christ in the world.

Now that we are mindful of these things, how shall we live in this broken, wayward, and wounded world? Each of us is so small, weak, and easily distracted and disoriented by the power of the culture and the false gods that seek our allegiance, promising such stunning and shiny rewards that, when examined, are revealed to be empty—nothing but a sham or a scam. What, then, can we do?

We can remember who God is, who we are as individuals, and who we are together as part of God’s entire human family. We know we cannot do everything to change the world, but we can, by God’s grace, each do our part. We can, each one of us, live what we are—a creature of the God who is Creator of all that is, a beloved child of God, a responsible member of God’s global family, and a follower of Jesus Christ as a part of God’s faithful family. Every day that we live as Jesus lived, we change the world.

Rueben P. Job, a retired United Methodist bishop, was formerly World Editor of The Upper Room publishing program. He has authored or co-authored many books including Three Simple Rules, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, A Wesley Spiritual Reader, and A Guide to Retreat for All God's Shepherds. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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