Have you ever wondered how you express yourself? More specifically, have you ever wondered how you’ve expressed your beliefs or faith? This thought came to mind while reading Rob Bell’s latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I know a lot of people have some issues with Rob Bell – his theology, demeanor, hair style, etc. – but that’s a different discussion for another time. A passage I read today discusses something that I’ve often thought about in the past and spent many a journal entry ranting over. It isn’t about what we believe or why we believe, but rather how we express that belief.
“Technical language has limits. It can describe some things very well, but in other situations, like love, it falls flat. It’s inadequate. It fails.” – 85
Bell asks a hypothetical question using a character named Sheila who had recently gotten engaged to a man named Simon. When asked about Simon, she begins to list his height, weight, what kind of car he drives, what his shoe size is, and that he’s also in a Tuesday night bowling league. What’s wrong with this picture, as Bell asks? The manner with which Sheila used to describe her fiancé didn’t really convey the message that he was her fiancé. She didn’t get excited when thinking about him; she simply listed facts. And yet everyone around her was expected to believe, somehow, that Simon was Sheila’s fiancé.
A question that came to mind while reading was, what if someone asked me to tell them about God? Would I, like Sheila, list off a bunch of doctrinal and dogmatic statements that describe how the Trinity works or why the particular denomination I’m a part of has the right view? If, as Bell points out, we claim to love God, shouldn’t our love for Him be evident in how we express Him? Instead of listing off all the Bible verses that describe God as Father, wouldn’t it be better for me to describe how He’s my Father?
Like Bell says, technical language is great for other things like giving a description of a suspect in a crime or trying to find the right part to fix your car. But when it comes to love, there’s a different language we ought to use to best convey that love. A couple posts ago, I talked about sincerity and how we sometimes have to fake it because being a sincere follower of Christ isn’t a part of our natural selves. But if were to utilize love – to embody Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 13 – then perhaps we’d find it much easier to be sincere with each other and with someone who doesn’t know about God.
Describing God by various doctrines and dogmas can be useful. But when someone asks us to describe Him, shouldn’t our first inclination be to describe Him in such a way that conveys our love for Him? In Bell’s example, shouldn’t Sheila’s first description about Simon be something about their love and how they were meant to be? In a Christian sub-culture that has so many denominations with their own various doctrinal statements, it’s so terribly easy to follow along and describe God in that technical language. But I agree with Bell; it falls short. It fails to convey the depth of love that God has for us and that we have for Him.
If you can find the time, take a few moments with God today. Recall what first drew you to Him. Remember the things He has done for you, but, more importantly, why He has done them for you. I think the answer to that will always be the same: because He loves you. God’s love for us is what changes our hearts; not our technical language. Therefore the manner in which we talk about Him ought to convey our true identity.