In his Daily Meditation email of January 11, 2021, Richard Rohr talks about the importance of what Brian McLaren calls a framing story . In his book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, McLaren points out that stories help provide people with a framework upon which they decide how to lead their lives. I believe that our beliefs about who God is and God’s attitude about us creates the foundational framing story for everything else in life. My framing story about God is different than the one I was raised to believe. It changes everything.
The Character of God
I was never comfortable with the representation of God that I was taught as a child. That God represented authoritarianism, patriarchy, and legalism. I didn’t know all those words then; I just knew it didn’t feel right. I didn’t know then about the somatic impact words have on our bodies; I just knew that I wanted to withdraw to protect myself when God was discussed. There was a disconnect between singing Jesus Loves Me and the message that women were inferior to men because of Eve’s actions. Because of her, all humanity was now innately evil, and men were in charge. Why would a loving God think of the people God created as worthless? How could God love me and be disgusted by me at the same time? Why would God have given me free will and still be directing every aspect of my life behind the scenes? What about the problem of bad things happening even when I “do everything right?” How could I do everything right anyway? It made me crazy, and I twisted my insides into knots as I tried to keep myself from making a mistake.
Joining a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation was helpful. They at least didn’t talk that much about how evil people are and how undeserving we are of God’s love. But it was always there under the surface. It was part of the codified doctrine. We all put our best faces on when we went to church so no one would know how hard and messy our life was every single day. I certainly didn’t want to be judged as not good enough because of my imperfections.
Seminary classes in reform theology and church history helped me clarify the consequences of believing in that kind of God. In other courses, I was introduced to Liberation, Womanist, and Process theology. Ethics, cultural intelligence, and inter-faith inter-cultural classes, and working as a chaplain in an agency assisting those experiencing homelessness helped me begin to form a new vision of God where love was at the core of who God is and everything God does.
A class with Marjorie Thompson introduced me to Thomas Cord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, An Open and Relational Account of Providence . As I read Cord’s presentation of the various understandings about God, I could firmly say, “No. That is not what I believe” about many of them. The logical way he worked through the various theological points of view helped me sift out what I didn’t believe.
Cord’s viewpoint, however, struck home for me. He insists that God’s primary attribute is love, not being all-knowing, all-powerful, or anything else. It felt like puzzle pieces finally fitting when I wrote the paper for that class about how beginning with God’s primary focus of love, everything else flows. Love is open and relational. Love does not inspire fear. From the very beginning, God’s love has been creative and does not restrict or control others’ actions.
Science shows that there is randomness and “unpredictability” built into “laws of nature.” These laws were deliberately set in motion to allow creation’s actions to inform the future (Cord, 128). God is willing to risk that acts of nature can cause harm in exchange for the possibility of new and beautiful outcomes. Even with humans, God is persuasive, not controlling, and has taken the risk that we will not act in loving ways instead of predetermining our actions and the outcomes .
Why it Matters
I won’t pretend that I think that this is all there is to say about God. I will keep exploring and learning about God, but I know God is bigger than I could ever conceive. However, with this understanding that God is essentially and foremost love in mind, I am free to join God in a collaborative adventure where, as Cord describes, “new possibilities, forms, structures or ways of being” are possible . Ways of being and doing I haven’t even imagined yet open up. But some significant changes have occurred already in my life:
- The option of accepting the consequences of human limitations and releasing expectations for perfection permits me to relax to move more slowly and intentionally through each day.
- Submitting to “God’s will” is transformed into listening to God’s loving persuasion or guidance towards what is best for us and our world.
- When I turn my heart towards God, my mind can become still, present, and aware of what is going on within myself and others.
- I can release habits of authoritarian control mechanisms, collaborate with others, de-centering my self-interest, and use my moral imagination to bring about what is best for the good of all .
- I will not cut people out of my life and stop caring about them when their actions displease me but continue to love and try to “empower” them to do good (Cord, 159).
- I will risk loving knowing that, even if others do not make the choices I feel are best for them, I should not coerce them .
- Even though God doesn’t have to choose to love and knows it is the way to meet our unique needs . I have to actively choose to love and do my best to do it appropriately every time.
My job is to love God, myself, and my neighbor. To keep me, mind, body, and spirit, in God’s loving “flow of energy willingly allowed and exchanged, without requiring payment in return .”
“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are . . . “Romans 8:15-16 The Message
Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash\
 “‘Our Story,’” Center for Action and Contemplation, January 26, 2021, https://cac.org/our-story-2021-01-26/.
[2} Thomas Cord, The Uncontrolling Love of God An Open and Relational Account of Providence, Kindle (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 155.
 Cord, 148 and 199.
[4} Cord, 160.
[5} Cord, 159.
 Cord, 134.
[7} Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, And Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019) 171.