Two odd things have converged in my little pastoral office lately – both involve signs and they both impact how we think about God.
The first is that I was given a little daily calendar with actual church sign messages. They range from clever (rarely) to cheesy and all the way to painful.
Sign #1 says “Twenty-four-hour lifeguard on duty – see John 3:16”
Sign #2 says “God has not gone on vacation and left you in charge.”
They are interesting, though different, but for similar reasons.
Sign #1 implies the God is always on the job – an all-the-time life guard. That is not the odd part (odd as it may be). The odd part is that it references John 3:16. Now, anyone who know that passage knows that it is about something very specific. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So the ‘life guard’ is not watching over your actual life but an eternal life that you can have IF you believe in him.
That is an odd type of ‘life’ guard. It’s not really a promise to guard your life… it is a pledge to provide you another life after this life if you do certain things.
Sign #2 is sort of the opposite message. It says that God is not all the far away and you should not act like you are in charge of how things go. The implication is that God is very present and in some way directing or dictating how things go … even if it is loosely and absentee enough that you could be under the impression that you should take up action and do something.
These Church signs kind of confuse me and I get turned around about what I am suppose to do and believe.
On a different note: we had a new visitor to our church a couple of weeks ago and they came back the next week. On their third week they told us that on their first week they know that they had found the right church. They had gotten ‘a sign’ that they were in the right place for them.
This story is not the interesting part. The interesting part is the reaction that multiple people have had to that story. It turns out that not everyone believes in signs.
The two most common pieces of feedback that I got can be categorized as follows:
- “There is no such thing as signs as if God were leaving us a trail of lucky charms as we walked trough the woods leading us to the end of the magical rainbow”.
As a person studying the discipline of Practical Theology in dialogue with process thought and a pastor of 18 years, this hurts my heart. I believe in the presence of God’s Spirit in the world. Just because we don’t want to be superstitious … do we leave no room for God to work?
- “Of course they did! If you loved a certain hymn and you visited a church who sang that hymn – you would say “this place values what I value” and take it as a ‘sign’ that you were in the right place”.
As a person who dabbles with post-liberal ideas about the way that language works and who has flirted with Caputo’s concept of Theo-poetics … this intrigues me.
I should mention: This is actually part 3 in a loose series this week. Part 1 was “Waiting for Superman: the problem with Christopher Reeve”. Part 2 was “The Pornography of Fundamentalism”.
Why bring up the church signs and the person who thinks they got a sign that they were at the right church? Why tie it into the problem with Superman and the pornography of fundamentalism?
The reason is quiet simple.
What we believe about God really matters. Our conception of the divine reality actually influences ( but not determines) how we live and how we treat other people. It is not superfluous or superficial. It is consequential at the deepest levels. Our construction of that which is of ultimate concern impacts almost everything that we think, do and feel.
As bad as church signs can fail – and as disparate as opinions on ‘getting a sign’ may be … this stuff matters.
What we think about God, how we conceptualize the divine reality and how we converse with others who walk a different path than we do really does impact how we participate in the world.
That is why I am so passionate about Jesus and what that life reveals about the nature and person of God. This is why I try to come at this from so many angels and in so many different ways. I am under the impression that what we believe actually makes a difference in this life and matters for eternity.
You can see then why cheesy church signs and personal projections are worth addressing. They are not inconsequential nor are they insignificant. These things matter. That is why the problem of waiting for Superman and pornography of fundamentalism are worth addressing.
-by Bo Sanders