One of the most depressing sights in the New Year is the queue at customer services as people wait patiently in line to return their unwanted Christmas gifts. It always strikes me as sad that so many of us can’t wait for the shops to open to get cold hard cash for the presents we received that disappointed. How many of them were chosen with thought and care only to be rejected, I wonder? Yet I am just as likely to participate in this post Yuletide ritual as the next person. This is despite having been taught by my father that it is not enough to get a gift, you actually have to receive it. That means using it, wearing it, showing the person who gave that you enjoy the item they specifically chose for you.
This week I have been reminded that faith in God operates in much the same way. He offers us the gift of Himself and we are free to accept it or say thanks but no thanks. For Vincent Donovan, a Catholic evangelist to the Masai in Tanzania, it came as quite a shock when a community he had invested a year of instruction in politely but firmly refused this invitation (Christianity Rediscovered p. 107). But like any relationship, love cannot be demanded or manufactured. Revelation goes hand in hand with vulnerability and the risk of refusal.
However, to accept God is to believe in Him with our minds, trust in Him with our hearts and live a life that reflects His concerns with our actions. This is not a one off transaction. American theologian Steve Bevans says in his book ‘An Introduction to Theology in a Global Perspective’, “What the interplay between God’s offer of self in revelation and our acceptance of God and subsequent gift of ourselves in faith open up is the possibility of a life lived in God’s presence, a life that (requires) deeper reflection and prayer as we experience God’s presence and challenge in our lives (p. 31).”
If this on-going relationship of faith is to be real and dynamic we will want to know more. An essential aspect of our humanity is the need to understand. To find out who we are and how this relates to the God we know personally. About the truths we assent to. Where have they come from and what relevance do they have as we go about our daily lives? How do we express faith both individually and corporately and where is this located in the tradition? There are further questions that arise out of the challenges of our lived experience. What is the purpose of prayer? Why don’t I always get the answers I want? Why do good people suffer? Does God care? To what extent does He intervene in situations where we long to see change? It is as we begin to engage with these questions that theology happens.
Maybe I am just getting old and should get out more, but this seems exciting and stimulating to me! Not at all what I thought it was. So rather than taking back God’s gift of Himself as revealed in Christ for a refund or even packing Him away with the Christmas decorations until next year, I want to receive all that He has for me and be willing to offer all of myself in return. If this means grappling with the questions that haunt me, then bring it on! My prayer is that of St. Paul for the Ephesians, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give (me) the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (I) may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of (my) heart may be enlightened in order that (I) may know the hope to which He has called (me), the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe (1:17-19).” If you said ‘Amen’, then I suggest you will be doing some theology too!