On a lovely summer day while walking down the street, a young woman approached me and politely asked if she could show me a magic trick. Given a host of cues, I assumed she would lead into a conversation on Christian faith. Sure enough, after the magic trick with cards had been successfully, if a bit awkwardly, performed, she asked, “Do you mind if I ask you some questions?” And then when I confirmed my willingness to participate, she asked, “May I ask you questions about religion?” Given her sweet and respectful attitude, how could I decline? Partly because of her earnestness and partly because of my curiosity, I assented.
Her questions continued gently, “Do you believe in God?” Yes, I affirmed. And then she asked, “What kind of God do you believe in?” Wow! That’s a great question, I thought. And then, “How much time do you have?” I also briefly recalled seminary courses, where we pondered God’s nature, sometimes in dry, intellectual tedium.
My answer, though, steered us towards the direction I believed she wanted to go. “I’m a Christian,” I replied. At this confession, she smiled broadly and relaxed noticeably.
I continued, “So that shapes my understanding of God. Through Jesus, I get a picture of who God is, of God’s love and mercy and vision for the world.”
She inquired further about my stripe of Christianity and I identified myself as Mennonite. She knew a bit about Mennonites and offered those points of connection.
She explained that her street evangelism was a requirement for a course she was taking at a nearby Christian college. I asked about the school and we made a few additional points of connection. We ended our interaction on this pleasant note, and I made my way down the street with a smile of bemusement.
I took note of her soft approach, very different from the scare tactics of other evangelists I’ve encountered. I thought about stories in the Book of Acts, and wondered if sweet-voiced young women carried the gospel forward at the same time that the fiery Peter and Paul were boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ in synagogues and prisons. I admired her bravery. I wondered how she would respond to someone who didn’t share some of her understandings of God.
Mostly, though, I kept coming back to her question, “What kind of God do you believe in?” Perhaps it is a question we can answer only in part. Certainly it is a question that has different answers at different times. Perhaps it is a question that is best lived with, rather than concluded with, a definitive answer. Perhaps there is another question that accompanies it: “How does my picture of God shape my life and my relationships?”
Part of my answer to the question was given to my street friend. Jesus shapes my understanding of God. Jesus was sent by God to teach us about God, to reveal God to us. Jesus’ life, teachings, death and resurrection all point us to better understandings of God.
Different parts of the Jesus’ story are salient at different times. When I am pondering questions of hospitality and inclusion, I turn to Jesus’ life and his model of welcoming those on the fringes. When I am wrestling with anger or anxiety, his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount hold sway. When I am labouring through the valley of the shadows, I am upheld by his crucified body and his suffering for the sins of the world. When I am grieving, stripped of a loved one’s presence, I claim his resurrection promises.
What kind of God do you believe in?
Melissa Miller has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.