I grew up with the greatest privilege of knowing the Paul Young and his children. Paul is the author of New York’s Times Best Seller, The Shack, and possibly one of the most intelligent individuals I have personally known. Back on August 17th, I had breakfast with him, a time that is still continuing to shape my faith. The premise of our conversation comes from my brokenness from my spring semester 2011. Back in May, I wrote ”Play” Summer has Arrived, and he was one of the individuals that I wanted to talk with so that I could develop some affirmations in my theology.
I was at the Young household one day and explained where I have been and asked him if he wanted to get coffee or breakfast later in the week. He was more than glad to. May I add that he and his family are some of the biggest characters of love.
One of the first things he explained to me, which I think is detrimental to his as well as our own theology, is that our religion is based on relationship. We are involved with this God and this God is involved with us. It dates back before creation. Part of how I was rationalizing the trinity in my head, I was using this God beyond comprehension that expresses himself in three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul started tinkering with that, arguing that that view made God self-centered and apart from relationship. He started explaining to me the distinctness of the three persons and how they are in relationship with one other and express other-focused love. When we start there, it redefines everything.
After he explained salvation, I couldn’t help but ask the question, “What now?” It was one of the burning questions in my heart. He went on to explain by bringing out the uniqueness of individuals and how we are an expression of God’s love and God’s character. We all hold and share some of the characteristics and attributes of God in some way, He specifically explained it like this:
Whether you know it or not, Jesus has placed his love for his Creation in your heart, and you are sharing the way god loves this planet… When you see that mom who loves her little child and gets up at two in the morning dog-dead tired to take care of her baby, she is sharing the part of God in a passion he shares with her. When you see the way two people care and love each other. When you see the way the farmer plows the ground and works the soil. He is sharing not only in the way in God’s affection for growing things but also the love for us and providing for us. It’s everywhere. Every good thing comes from God. I can talk to the musician who is so anti-religion and mad at God and hear in his music the presence of the Holy Spirit because that desire to create truth or declare something wrong is a good thing. Whether he knows Jesus name or not, whether he knows where it comes from or not, it’s not a limitation of God’s creation. We’ve created a very static model of whether you’re in or out. You know what it is, it’s not about asking Jesus into our lives, it’s about realizing we’ve always been included in his.
It goes back to the relationship I mentioned earlier, we are all designed to work within creation and in relation with one another. When seen like this, you start seeing that we are all tools of God’s expression of love, unique individuals designed for some sort of love of God. You start to lose sight of the idea that it’s just you and start seeing that relation of all creation with itself and its Creator.
Back in the spring, one of the biggest things I felt I lost was my purpose, and Paul’s description of “what now” finally started getting me to remember that I was created for something. The near restoration of purpose was satisfying, but another characteristic of God that faltered along with my faith was that He worked presently throughout my life. I explained to Paul a friend’s challenge of open theism, and he came back with the idea of deep intimacy, that God created me and knows me so well that He knows what will happen and what I’m gonna do. One of my biggest concerns with the elimination of God’s purpose in my life was realizing that I could potentially mess something up, that God had an intention but I could’ve gone astray long ago.
We have created our certainty on theological ideas, not on his character, not on the fact He loves you. And so what God challenged was a good challenge, he was challenging the fact that you were thinking you had a relationship because you were trusting in theological certainties, like God has a plan and all this. God G-O-D distant. It’s this certainty based in his attributes not based his character. That he is for you all the time that he knows you intimately, he knows how you’re built, you matter to him. He loves you relentlessly and you can’t change the way he loves you. There’s nothing you can do to change the way he loves you. He already knows you’re gonna screw up. He’s worked it in… [H]e says look, “I know it’s going to take you 42 times to get this. So the first time I tell you and you totally ignore it. I’m going 41 to go. So I celebrate the fact that you didn’t hear Me because I know how long it’s going to take you.” This is relationship with somebody who absolutely adores you, who you are, how you have been created.
This was when our conversation became emotional on my part. I don’t think I allowed him to see that it was getting to me, but when he was saying that, I was holding back tears, internally fighting what he was saying, not because it finally made sense, but because I still could not believe it was true. I could not see it. I cannot see it. With focusing on faith for Peter’s Challenge, this is one of the ideas that I can only hold by faith because I don’t think I can see it any other way. This is when my faith starts to flourish again, realizing I need to trust God as well as other people as extensions of God’s love. As a thinker, I create a lot of scenarios in my head, but “God doesn’t live inside anything that is not real.” Paul explained that the biggest fear that comes of negative or imaginative thoughts is that God does not move there, and they come out of our already corrupt thought processes. No doubt that they could potentially do well, but it’s in these thoughts to be wary.
What now is wrapped up in who you are and who you’re becoming, the deepening honesty in your relationship with the father son and Holy Spirit. The move toward authenticity, the eradication of secrets, there are so many pieces to this. The joy of relationship the risk involved in relationship. Relationship and faith always involve risk. Religion involves risk. You just have to know what you have to do. You learn to live in the grace for one day. We learn to live without expectations which are disappointments waiting to happen.
This conversation helped reconstruct my faith and is now slowly but surely moving me towards participation in God’s community. God designed us to live in community and work with one another, and my role is to participate as a unique piece in God’s Creation. There are some parts of this conversation that impacted me drastically and others that I am still sketchy about. But hey, more than anything, I wanted some clarification on some aspects of theology and I happily got more that I asked for. All-in-all, Paul’s words were a message of love.