One of my earliest memories is my Sunday School class at the Clearview Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee, a country church far from any towns. My teacher was sweet Miss Dora, whom everyone called an “old maid,” never guessing that in her forties she would marry a rich man and eventually be a rich widow.
At the time, however, she gave herself to teaching at the church as well as in her career. On one day that I remember, I had a serious question for her. “Who is God’s mother?” I asked.
“Why, Lanita Bradley!” she said. “You know very well the story of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus!”
“I don’t mean Jesus,” I countered, impatiently. “Where did God come from? Who is his mother?”
She was flummoxed, I could tell. I didn’t feel triumphant, but sad. I wanted a real answer and she didn’t have it. She muttered something about getting back to our lesson.
This memory comes back to me when I have thoughts or discussions about the depth and breadth of God. At my age, now much older than Miss Dora was then, would I have a good answer for that curious little girl?
According to Dr. Stephen Juan of the University of Sydney, belief in Christianity (2.1 billion), Islam (1.3 billion), and Judaism (14 million) gives us at least 3,414,000,000 people who presently believe in one Supreme Being, which Christians and Jews call God (YHWH) and Muslims call Allah. Do we all believe in the same God with different names? Or are our concepts of a Supreme Being totally different?
I believe God embodies love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. I believe he requires sacrifice and thus sacrificed his Son to be a one-time sacrifice for all who believe. Just as in Leviticus, chapter 1 and beyond, God designated different sacrifices for different financial capabilities (bulls for the rich, birds for the poor, sheep or goats for the rest), I think he has different expectations for us.
In Luke 12:48, Jesus says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
I have been entrusted with so much I am often overwhelmed. I have a wonderful education, husband, family (immediate and extended), home, church, friends. I have young women who come to my home to study God’s Word and to share their burdens and receive advice from all who gather with us. I am studying the book of John with a friend who is a Muslim as I assist him with English fluency.
We talk about God and our common viewpoints. We share about our families and activities. We pray for each other, though not with each other. He understands that our prayers are much less structured and much more personal than the ones he prays five times daily (except when he is at work. He feels Allah understands.)
How many of us actually understand God in identical ways? Who knows? But what is important to me is my own beliefs, my own faith, shallow though it often is. I choose faith in the one God and that he walked the earth as a man named Jesus. I believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and we use it for humbly, continually seeking the truth. I believe that God loves us and sends his Holy Spirit to guide us and give us strength.
Recently I worked with other believers to come up with those core beliefs I just stated. I love worshiping with others who believe as I do. We may diverge after those basics, differing on baptism, communion, kinds of music, predestination, social issues, and others, but we share those basic beliefs and can work together to further the kingdom of God.
I think back to that little girl at that country church. I still have the same question and many more, but they don’t trouble me. I choose to believe. I am content.