In my fabulous book club we just finished reading The Shack by William P. Young. Almost everyone in the club enjoyed it. The discussion today, while we sat in our usual restaurant surrounded by walls of wine and eating delicious food, was especially heartfelt and touching. I don’t want to give away the plot of the book, but I do recommend it.
The book is basically one man’s experience of God. It was such a wonderful expression of God and presented (theologically) very well. I only took issue with a couple of the author’s assertions. One of which was his view of the institution of religion. What’s new, right? It seems institution is bad and an individual relationship with God is good. I’m not convinced.
This book, along with any individual’s experience with God (The Divine, Yahweh, Papa, whatever the name means the most to each person) is just that: one individual’s experience and relationship with God. Yes, it would be wonderful and glorious if we could all rely upon each person to foster that relationship with God, as God would like us to do. I think, however, that Jesus understood that we may not always chose (because of free will) to live out that relationship.
If people do not chose to have a relationship with God, then passing on of the Truths of God will be difficult It would be like eating a wonderful, tasty meal, that took a week to prepare with a recipe passed down for generations, on a floppy paper plate. The tasty Truth would fall off!!! So, just before Jesus died, he and his friends had supper together (the Last Supper). During that meal, Jesus made it very clear what he wanted us to be like as Church (now the institution). Although the institution (a beautiful sturdy plate that has been in the family for years) may not be perfect, it is in the business of taking care of and passing on the Truth deposited by Christ while he was in the world (including, I might add, the Bible where many discover the Triune God).
The Church is not there to keep us under its control or skew our vision of God. It is there to give us a place to come together as a community of believers to worship God together. Some of the names and images of God that we hold may not describe God exactly. That’s impossible. However, the Church gives us a collective vision so that we can share with one another that which is so difficult to describe. That way we can be in community as Jesus wants us to be. In other words, our individual relationship with God can be shared through the institution of the Church.