The Theology Left in the Sponge

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Now that my daughter is away at college, it’s just my wife, my son and myself in our house.

And, according to Shana, somebody in the house is really bad about rinsing out the kitchen sponge.

About once a month, Levi and I stare warily at each other, each wondering exactly who is responsible for leaving a damp sponge sitting in the bottom of the sink, rather than drying out on the counter.

(I’m pretty sure I know who I’m suspecting.) 

A sponge is a funny thing: on the surface, it may look dry and clean, but when you put pressure on it, well, you see what is really going on.

It’s only when you squeeze it that you see what’s really inside. 

Kind of like theology.

I think our practical theology—the things that we really believe about God—emerges when we get squeezed.  “Squeezing” happens in so many ways in life…

It happens when the unexpected and/or unthinkable happens; when the phone call from the doctor includes the words you’d never thought you’d hear.

It happens when the ground shifts, and we go from solid ground to shifting sand in an instant; when a relationship or job or career that we thought was solid and reliable evaporates. 

It happens when the pressure is on, when the stakes are high and we are acutely aware that people, maybe a lot of people, are relying on us. 

It can also happen when we our guards are down, and we react instinctively to a situation. 

We can get “squeezed” in big ways and small, in really heavy and not-so-heavy situations, and when we do we tend to display or maybe betray what we really believe about God and life.

For years, I have been processing the idea that we are “saved”, not only by Jesus death and resurrection, but also by his life. He came to show us what life really could be like (or, even more to the point, what life really IS, when we choose to embrace and live into that Kingdom of God reality).

But also, for years, when I would get squeezed, for one reason or another, I found my language constantly retreating to the theological waters I had swum in for years, but had vowed to leave behind, waters that focused solely on the Cross as the act that saves us, that neglected the richness and spiritual/theological reality of the incarnation as the beginning (and beginnings of stories are no less important than middles and ends) of the great saving act of God.

So my prayers might be reduced to things like, “God thank you for the Cross. Thank you for saving us through the death of Jesus…”

And on and on.

Sometimes, however, the squeezing was more intense, and my thoughts were much more personal. Some darkness would fall, and I would find myself thinking things like…

“What have I done to deserve this?”

“I should have prayed more.” 

“I think I’m being punished.” 

In my heart of hearts I “knew” that God was a god of infinite love and mercy, and that to introduce a sort of “tit-for-tat” mentality into my relationship with Him was to negate the radical grace that characterizes His essence. But still I was tempted to do it.

What about you? What thoughts do you think about God when you are squeezed? What statements do you ask? What prayers do you pray, what questions do you ask when you are squeezed?

If they align with your deepest thoughts and hopes and dreams about God, it just might mean that (like me) you have a little more work to do, a little more to discover about yourself as well as God.

If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, I’d encourage you to do a few simple things:

  • Reflect and review. Be aware of your words and your thoughts about God. Now, this may not always be possible while the pressure is on and you are in the midst of “the squeezing.” But eventually, when you can breathe again, take some time and evaluate what your words actually said about the spiritual life, and ask yourself if that’s the reality you truly seeking.
  • Explore. Again, life is pretty much a “classroom” for us to learn more about ourselves and God, and when the pressure is on, we get an opportunity to see what’s really going on inside of us. In turn, we then get to react by exploring more deeply and thoughtfully: Why did my thoughts go to this place? What do I need to learn or experience in order to make my bedrock/core beliefs about God more of a reality? Ask a mentor to help unpack or explore more about God. Read a book. Pray.
  • Be Grateful. In general, nobody likes to be squeezed. Life sometimes happens in such a way that feels like we are being robbed of something. But there are also countless opportunities for us to be grateful for the pressure, for the curveballs, for the bumps in the road. They give us opportunities to learn more about what is actually capable in this life with God.

One more thought: it’s important to note that beliefs about God are not merely abstract thoughts that have no outward expression. Somehow, our core ideas about God and the universe have a way of finding their way outward, and affecting the way we live our lives.

Believe in a punishing God and you will respond in fear.

Believe in a tit-for-tat, reciprocal equation to God and the universe and you will try desperately to keep the math equation “zeroed out”, so that nothing bad will happen to you.

But what if God is a god of infinite love, who will never abandon you? 

What if God is as close to you in your suffering—when you are being squeezed—as He is when you are in the safest, most loved environment you can imagine? 

What if God just gives, no matter what or where we are? 

 

Just some thoughts. Blessings.

+e

 

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