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Theology from Death Row : Letter 1 / The Nature of God / Jeff Hood to Will Speer

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This letter is the first in a series of letters that Texas Death Row Inmate Will Speer and I are writing to create a theology from death row.  Will and I have known each other since June 2013 and visit in person once a month.  In our last visit, we decided we wanted to do something more substantive with our letters.  The first topic is the nature of God and Will will respond to my letter.  Next month, Will will be writing about the nature of Evil and I will respond to him.  There should be two of these per month…one from me and one from him.

 
Dec. 25, 2013

 

Will.

 

Merry Christmas!  I hope that you got some decent food down there on the Polunsky.  Emily, Jeff II, Phillip, Quinley and I all had a great day.  Since Quinley is too little to travel (3 weeks old now), we pretty much stayed at the house.  Jeff and Phillip got this big purple plastic caterpillar to crawl through and play with.  They have been occupied all day with it.  I thought about you today and prayed aloud for your joy at this time of year.  I am thankful that God has brought you into my life.

 

Presently, I am writing you to begin our “Theology from Death Row” project.  This project will be an opportunity for you and I to discuss and dig deeper into theology.  As we discussed during our last visit, each month each of us will take turns writing one and a half pages single-spaced (or 4 written pages) on a topic and responding with the same amount.  For example, this month I will write one and a half pages single-spaced to you about GOD and you will reply with your opinion about what I wrote and your own thoughts in four written pages.  Next month (Jan. 2014), you will write four pages about the topic of EVIL and I will respond with one and a half pages single-spaced.  I am really excited about this project and know that it offers some beautiful opportunities for growth for us both.

 

What is GOD?

 

To begin with, I think it is interesting that we ever think of God at all.  If left to our logic, it would seem highly illogical to create a God if there is not a God there.  Where did this whole idea of God come from in the first place?  The existence of the idea of God certainly does not mean that God is real, but it does push us to consider the origins of the idea.  After much thought, I have chosen or been persuaded to believe that we think about God in the first place…precisely because we were created by God in the first place and our souls carry the memory of the creator.

 

The creating function of God is central to my belief in God.  I believe that something created us out of nothing.  I call that something God.  I believe that we carry in our souls memories of the creator and we long to reconnect.  I think that this is the reason that religion and spirituality is a phenomenon that spans the globe.  I believe that all of humanity longs to connect with that something beyond their self that created them.  It is in this pursuit we begin to talk about God.

 

Our words are going to be limited.  God exists far beyond our words.  It is as if God exists beyond our words, our thoughts, or dreams and even further still.  God is beyond all.  God is the only entity ever that can be described as “is” or “God is.”  With this in mind, we embark on talking about God knowing that our language is always going to be limited.

 

In the biblical book of 1 John, John, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, wrote of God being love.  I have always valued and cherished this description of God.  Love speaks to both the temporal and the eternal.  With regard to the temporal, we experience glimpses of perfect love here on earth, but have suspicion that there is an overwhelming and perfect love possible.  With regard to the eternal, we always seem to have a suspicion that there might be a love that is always perfect and unfailing out there somewhere, but we feel like we only experience glimpses of perfect love in our daily lives.  I believe that this is the juxtaposition between the now and the not yet.  Now we experience glimpses of love, but then we will fully know love.  Now we experience glimpses of God, but then we will fully know God.  So if God is love, is it fair to say that we experience God when we experience love?  I believe so.

 

While I do believe that God is ultimately beyond comprehension, I also believe that God visits earth and dwelt perfectly in the person of Jesus.  Cries of hope, peace, justice and love sprung forth from the lips of Jesus.  I believe that God consistently cries out to impart hope, peace, justice and love.  In the biblical book of Matthew, Jesus says that God or Jesus will dwell most fully in the lives of the least of these or the oppressed and marginalized.  The God of Jesus is a bottom up God that creates a bottom down world or a world judged based on how it treats the marginalized and the oppressed.  In short, God becomes those the world leaves out and oppresses.

 

The three above points concerning what God is…that God is beyond our comprehension, that God is love and that God dwells in the marginalized and oppressed…describe my basic beliefs about God.  These three points represent the paradox of the perfect and the partial.  I believe that God has revealed pieces of God’s self, but ultimately our finitude will only allow us to grasp so much.  I am excited for the day when all revealed.  In the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, “when the perfect comes the partial shall be done away with.”  I believe in the ultimate reality of perfection and I believe that that future perfection is God.

 

I also think it is quickly important to point out that God created all humans in God’s image.  Therefore, I believe that humans carry the light of God within them.  Just like the rest of creation, I believe that each and every human is slowly being brought into perfection.  Thus, in each other we catch glimpses of the divine and this is why community is vitally important to understanding the divine.

 

To conclude, though I believe that God is beyond comprehension, I also believe that God is with us.  I believe that God exists in time.  An existence in time keeps God from know the future and it also means that God is traveling through the universe with us.  Since God does not know the future, God experiences the heartbreak of evil and disaster with us and works with us to bring about change in our world.

 

Quickly, I would also like to say that I believe this perfection is slowly coming or being brought about.  I believe that God exists with us within time and thus God does not know the future.  God has chosen to work with us in our efforts to bring the world to right or love.  In the glimpses of divinity we express, we are coworkers with God.

 

I could go on and on my friend, but I will stop here.  I guess we also need to remember that there are entire volumes of books written on these subjects that we are trying to tackle in a few pages.  I think this is enough to get us started.  I look forward to hearing your response.  I really think this will help us to interact and get to know one another on a deeper level.  I also look forward to sharing our work with others.

 

I will see you in a few weeks at Polunsky.

 

Love to you my friend and Happy New Year.

 

Jeff+

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