Redemptive God, Preemptive God: That is the Question

I am hanging out with a good friend of mine. We are taking down tacos like we were Kobayashi. We are both ministers. We have both been introduced to the faith as adults. We both wrestle with living out our faith.

There we are sharing our stories and our heartaches in between tacos. I am sharing with him my frustrations of finding a place to serve in ministry. I have been searching for a call since early March 2011. Until this past October I had the safety of serving a church. I left that call to support my wife as she accepted a call to serve a church in Oklahoma City, OK.

I am angry. I am disappointed. I feel abandoned. I think God’s a dick. I am backing up my Liebherr and am dumping its emotional contents upon him. He is overwhelmed as a flood of emotions cascade in to his ears.

I shared this story of when I was an evangelical, I used to gather with folks and we would pray for physical provision. We would also give thanks and claim stuff in the name of Jesus. We would get together in a prayer circle and call out the desperate or not so desperate needs we were dealing with at the time.

It could be that nasty masturbation habit, taking a drink, the need for health, the hope for acceptance in to college or a new job; mine was financial provision. I was fine with my job. I wanted God to provide me with money to pay off my student loans so I could really serve. Not this halfass volunteering I was doing. I wanted to sellout to the Kingdom of God and go all in!

I shared this with the group for almost two years. When I departed for mission service and then seminary I held on to that prayer. I prayed it a thousand times. Yet, here I am in the same boat of financial debt. I have given God over a thousand opportunities to liberate me from debt. God has failed in doing so. God, therefore, is a dick.

I am unloading the misery of this story and the subsequent disappointment of the economic hardship that has befallen so many these days. I am certain that my choice to chase an ordained call to ministry has been a bad one.

Then my friend asks me, “Do you believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God?” I was taken aback by his question: Do I believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God? You have got to be joking? WTF are you talking about? This made me more awkward than Patton Oswalt in a (pseudo) romantic role opposite Charlize Theron.

Do I believe in a God that is actively working to prevent hardship from befalling me or those I pray (magically) for? Do I believe in a God that is taking the shit around me–this depravity gone wild–and loving it in to goodness?

The answer is obvious. I live my life expecting that God is in some divine prevent defense covering all of the depravity that might come my way. Yes! I believe in a preemptive God. I hold on to the dysfunction of my humanity–the frailty of my being–in my hopes of a preemptive God.

The problem with this is that holding on to a preemptive God has obscured the resurrected glory of a redemptive God. My eyes cannot see the resurrected, reclaimed, renewed vision of the redemptive God through the faded, tattered hope of the beaten down preemptive God.

I have very real financial debt. God must offer a way out. God does not call me to be burdened by debt and bound by this unjust system of lending. It’s in the cussing BIBLE!

“God protect me from the pain of emotion, God guide me in your ways,” has been a spiritual cover up. It is the foundation of the religious mask I have donned for the last fourteen years. The mask survived my transition from conservative, evangelical through spiritual, occultist to progressive, liberal Jesusish thingy.

I have been praying for God to strike while the irons hot. I called out for God to take this burden away from me that I might be liberated to do “real” ministry. Perhaps, God is not calling me to liberated “real” ministry.

The preemptive God is connected through provision. This God tirelessly responds to my pleas for help. Like an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lassie looking out for that dangerous well for me. The preemptive God keeps us dependent on tradition, folk ritual, and half-truths as we beg and plead for this madness to stop. The preemptive God is devoid of the glory of this season and the arrival of that little eight-pound, six-ounce infant savior.

The redemptive God does not depart or hide. This God is intimately present. This God is source of “costly grace” of which Bonhoffer speaks of in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” The redemptive God is the root of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s “Preferential Option of the Poor”, explored in his book, “The God of Life.” The redemptive God is the stream from which Marcella Althaus-Reid’s “The Queer God” flows forth.

The redemptive God is what this nation requires. The redemptive God restores and reconciles that which is lost. The redemptive God takes what is meant for evil and makes good. The redemptive God delivers us into the belly of a whale and restores our call. The redemptive God takes us where we are and delivers us to where we might be. The redemptive God is those four folk lowering the paralytic through the roof towards restoration. “Their faith has made you well.”

We need the redemptive God to take what has been meant for ill and turn it on its ear for good. We need the redemptive God that does not destroy the community-building of shared hardship and loss. We need the redemptive God that draws the best of the worst to bear witness of the “not yet.”

The redemptive God arrived in a manger. The redemptive God clings to her mother’s breast. The redemptive God is fully human and fully divine. The redemptive God is here with us.

The redemptive God is mired in the same cussing junk in which we find ourselves in. The redemptive God borrowed money to attend college to earn a degree that does not guarantee him a job. The redemptive God has diabetes and no money or health care to pay for it.

The redemptive God is a scared teenage mom hiding the pregnancy from her parents. The redemptive God is the Occupy movement camped out in the streets and invading the halls and minds of justice. The redemptive God does not hide from woe.

“Do you believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God?” I believe in a preemptive God but I am trying really hard to believe in that redemptive God. Perhaps, this is what Thomas Merton is speaking of when he says, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” The redemptive God is pleased to have us stumble towards redemption in glee. Now that is some shit that preemptive God knows noting about, grace.

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