God is for us

November 9, 2011

I went to Austin Seminary to help teach an alumni event this past week. I attended the seminary, so going back is always wonderful. Bill McKibben writes that people often look at their college years as the happiest years of their life because of the intense community they experienced. I’d agree, except I lived through that intensity more at seminary than college. And, I would add that personally the nostalgia also has to do with the fact that I started reading Karl Barth.

Am I Barthian? No, not really. The truth is, I’ve never felt so closely aligned to a particular theologian to construct my thoughts in the likeness of that theologian. Because I’m Presbyterian, I’m considered to be a Calvinist, but I can deconstruct the Reformer right alongside most thinkers.

It’s just that I when first settled down to read Barth, I had to make sure that I had Kleenex close at hand. We went a bit out of order (according to Barth), and read about God the Creator first. The words clinched me, each time I read, “God is for us.” Four simple words that could fit on a bumper sticker. Yet they changed me.

I grew up in a strange stew of divine ideas. There was the God who was a judge, who would hold me up above the fires of hell like a vengeful boy would dangle a spider up to a candle flame. The heat scorched me as I imagined how easy it would be to make a mistake and spend an eternity in suffering.

Even as the back of my neck felt chafed by the hands of an angry God, I sang praise songs. I didn’t roll my eyes as I clapped. I didn’t have any speech ready about how simple the music sounded or how theologically shallow the words were. I was not a Mainliner at the time. I was a teenager, and I liked them. They were intensely personal, and made me feel that mystical union with God that I would read about later in the writings of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete.

Then there was the God of prosperity gospel—the God of the economic boom who let me know that wealth was God’s blessing on a person. It was okay to want extravagant things, because luxury was a sign of God’s favor.

When I combined these popular ideas in my mind, I ended up with a lover God who would torture me with fire if I stepped out of line and bless me with diamonds if I obeyed. In other words, my ideas of God had a serious borderline personality disorder.

Then, I began to read that God is for us. I started to understand that God, who created the universe, was for us in creation. Barth wrote a lot of words, and the volumes stood in a long line of black binding on my shelf. But it was that small preposition that made me reach for the Kleenex. I began to play the four words like a skipping CD in my mind.

When I would succumb to anxiety, anger, addiction, or depression, I no longer imagined that God would punish me. Instead, God was for us, and so God hoped for my healing and wholeness. I began to walk and feel the support of the earth below me and the sustenance of the air around me.

When I couldn’t get my financial act together, and my salary didn’t come close to matching the student loans that I incurred, I no longer imagined it was because God was not blessing me. Instead, I began to see the sun setting each evening, and I became enraptured in the vibrant beauty. I became grateful for the lavish colors in the sky. And I knew that God our Creator was for us.

When I woke up each morning, and I stared at the blank page of my computer screen, and I don’t know exactly what to write. I thought about the article rejections that had piled up, all of the jobs that I didn’t get, and the academic programs that turned me away. My mind conjured up all the people who told me that I can’t write and I recalled the red ink that professors bled all over my papers when I did try to write. But somehow I moved beyond the clattering echoes, because I had that preposition.

Those three tiny letters had become a powerful force from the moment I opened those Dogmatics and I suddenly needed the box of tissues, because I realized for the first time in my intense spiritual life that God is for us. And I have been fed by the words ever since.



while i've never read Barth,

while i've never read Barth, I always remember that he said the theology of the Bible could be boiled down to these words, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." As I am in a wilderness place myself, wondering if God is indeed for me (knowing that he is), his words as quoted by you here are indeed a comfort. Pass the Kleenex box.

great quote

I love that quote... 

And yes. God is indeed for you.

Writing is a struggle...

Writing is a struggle... especially books. But keep at it. It's worth the wrestling when it's published.

Learning God is for Us through Outdoor Wilderness Experiences

I appreciate your reflections alot. I have done quite a bit of work on
wilderness theology, and have noticed a theme that the wilderness is a
special place that God has used to transform his people. Experiencing
the reality that "God is for us" is something that I have time and time
again encountered anew by getting outside, going backpacking, rock
climbing, etc... putting myself and the groups I'm leading in a place of
being exposed in the wilderness. The wilderness is a great leveler and
it shows us our utter need for God. I recently wrote a book called,
Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice which
develops a practical theology of wilderness journey and reveals the
experiential learning techniques Jesus used with his disciples... by
using stress-innoculating experiences he not only told them that "God is
for you", but he convinced them of that by showing them through
adventurous experiences. -Dr. Ashley Denton:

Thanks for letting me know

Thanks for letting me know about the book. It sounds great. 

I agree. There's nothing quite like those wilderness experiences. Do you think that there's more of a longing to be connected with the outside, now that everything is climate controlled, our windows don't even open, and machines buzz around us? We can forget our connection to the world around us if we're not careful to nurture it.

Thank you! This is definitely getting shared on FB

Thank you for sharing that Good News, and that at the end of the day, when we're tired of the complexities of church life and politics, this is what we need to remember.  It also helps if one is overwhelmed and exhausted with Karl Barth.  (My Rule - Barth after 10PM doesn't stick.)

It was a pleasure to attend your presentation last week, and to start reading your latest book.


Amy Pospichal; MDiv '07


Thanks, Carol

Solid and rich stuff, Carol.  When you speak of the sustaining grace of our Creator, it really resonates.

And my gracious, don't they have a spam filter at Christian Century?

I checked on the spam.

I checked on the spam. Evidently, they had a really good way of dealing with spam, but the bots have just recently figured out how to get through it. They're looking for another solution. Meanwhile, we're trying to manage the stuff that gets through (I'm shaking my fists at Ugg99 as I type).

Thanks for holding fast through them!

the other preposition

And God is with us. I love that line in the United Church of Canada's affirmation:

God is with us; we are not alone.

God is for us

Thanks for being so out there in your sharing.

This is a subject which is so central to many people in the community.  It is not expressed in the terminology that we Christians use.

It comes up as a question, often unspoken, at times of great loss - funerals and cronic sickness.  Is God unjust, fickle, disinterested or playing favourites?  It comes up in a number of Jesus' parables - tares and wheat, the wedding banquet etc.

If God were essentially judge and jury, I would have been zapped before reaching full adult-hood and with good reason.  But the Lord's grace kept and keeps being extended seeking restoration and fellowship.  Yes and even spiritual adoption.

Surely the greatest injustice was that Emmanual should take my place.

A friend once defined hope as 'the confident expectation of good based on the death and resurrection of our Lord'.