You know I’ve pretty much reached the height of nerdiness when I write a blog post on theology based on a deleted scene from a science fiction TV show.
Background for those of you who aren’t as nerdy as I am: Firefly is a Joss Whedon-created and tragically short-lived space Western. (Yes, that’s right. If you think that concept sounds cool, then it’s even more amazing than it sounds. If you think it sounds lame…well, you’re just wrong.)
Interestingly, the line that’s stuck with me more than any other is from a deleted scene in the pilot episode.
“God? Whose color is he flying?”
Have you ever asked that question?
I have, many times, when thinking about senseless tragedy, both personal and on a worldwide scale. But, recently, I’ve been wondering…
What if God isn’t flying any of our colors?
I ask this because of something I read the other day in Joshua, where the old, probably tired commander on the edge of enemy territory looks up to see a man brandishing a drawn sword.
Joshua 5:13 gives us his (very natural) reaction: “And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord.’”
I love that. “No.” It wasn’t a yes or no question. But instead of picking Option A or Option B, the messenger of God—some theologians think it was God himself—just states who he is.
Not his allegiance. Just his identity.
I went through a phase where when people would say, “Thank God!” for something trivial—a fumbled pass, a lucky roll of the dice, a coffee cake that didn’t burn—I would immediately reply “God doesn’t care!” (It’s amazing how often my sound theology manifests itself in really annoying ways.)
I wouldn’t recommend this approach, mostly because it’s rude and pretentious. But, in a way, it’s also true. If both sides of the Super Bowl are praying for victory, who is God going to side with?
Silly example? Yep.
But how about this one: if both sides of a war are praying for victory, who is God going to side with?
Sometimes it seems simple. Was God with Hitler or the Allies freeing the Jews from the concentration camps? But for those German Christians who didn’t know the extent of the atrocities their leader was committing, it might not have been so clear where their loyalty should lie, especially in the early years.
Was God with the slaveholders of the South or Abraham Lincoln? It might be easy to see the grace of God in the triumphant rhetoric of abolitionists, but what about Sherman’s March to the Sea, leaving behind a brutal trail of violence and destruction against civilians? Would God claim that too?
Was God with the brash colonial freedom fighters or their British governors? Was he with the expansionists or Native Americans? Was he with the Black Panther Party or the KKK? Does it have to be either one or the other? A lot of people thought so at the time, and some still do looking back.
It’s not just historical conflicts. We tie our flags onto God all the time. Is God Calvinist or Arminian, egalitarian or complementarian, Democrat or Republican, traditional or progressive? We all want to claim him.
To this, some people would say, “Of course God isn’t flying our colors. We’re supposed to fly his.”
Which, again, is theologically accurate. But I wonder if it’s really that easy.
Ask a Palestinian Christian what she believes about Israel’s right to her native land. Read the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the pastor dedicated to peace struggled to decide whether to join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Then tell me that it’s easy to determine that you are, for sure, flying God’s colors.
But maybe there’s a third option. Maybe God isn’t flying any of our colors, and we aren’t really flying his. Maybe when we talk about taking sides, when we divide the world into different camps of “us” and “them” with their corresponding flags, we’re doing something that is foreign to the nature of God.*
What if we spend all of our time discussing what colors God is flying when God is actually color itself?
Maybe we’re missing the point. We dye our flags and take our sides and wonder why God isn’t coming down to join us, not realizing that we can’t claim him, enlist him, or give him our slogans to wear, because he is bigger than that.
I’m not saying that there’s no way to determine what the right course of action is, or which position on an issue is the best interpretation of Scripture.
I just want us to be careful. To recognize the serious statement we’re making when we say that we know who Jesus would vote for, or how God would want us to respond, or what the Biblical view of anything is. And I would love to see Christians approach even the most sharply divisive conflicts in a gracious and thoughtful way before they start claiming that God is on their side.
*Stuffy Theological Footnote For the Dedicated Reader: By “the nature of God” I mean the doctrine of the Trinity. Ever wonder why the church was so darn determined to keep this doctrine orthodox? (There are at least four different heresies based on this doctrine.) I think it’s because the Trinity allows God’s nature to be both about unity and relationship at the same time. The opposite of both of these is conflict and division.