The Little “o” That Changes Everything
“Change a word, claim a third” is an approach to song-writing credits taken — so some say — by a number of high-profile producers. When a single song can generate millions in royalties, the re-arranging of a few letters can mean a lot. In the same vein, I recently found a wonderful web-site that played with film titles just by removing just one letter. Anyone for Finding Emo, the story of a moody teenage fish? How about Jurassic Par, where dinosaurs play golf? Or Fight Cub, in which a feisty bear finds out all about bear-hood? I must admit I love Harry Otter (river life and magic), Ageing Bull (bovine boxing), The Princess and the Fro (royalty and hairstyles) and, perhaps more than them all, The Fat and the Furious (no comment).
The implication is clear. One letter can change everything.
As it does in our theology. As it has done, to our detriment, for centuries. The letter I’m thinking of is “o”, and the word I want to add it to is “God”.
It doesn’t take much. Just a simple “o” — something and nothing, really — but slipped into the heart of God it alters everything. In fact, since we’re playing the change-a-letter game, it altars everything.
God is good. It’s not even a very long sentence. Yet it has the power to change your life at the deepest possible level. Without that little “o”, all you have is “God is God”, and that’s where all the trouble starts. With “God is God”, it is left to our imaginations to fill in the details. Our imaginations, dominated as they are by fear and shame, have been doing so for centuries.
It starts innocently enough: God is God, and you are not. So far so true. But few of us have our imaginations sufficiently tamed to stop there. From “God is God and you are not” we move quickly to “and that’s why you will never understand him”. His ways are supposedly higher than ours, aren’t they? But, hey, why stop there? How about God is God, and that’s why he’s so mad with you? God is God and he knows every evil little thing you’ve ever thought, done or dreamed about? God is God and he’s so powerful that he is to you as an elephant to a flea and he could crush you with one flick of his eyelash. And probably will. God is God and he’s waiting for you at the end of the corridor called life, and when you open that last door to stand before him — boy are you in for a scare.
Our imaginations, you see, load the second God of “God is God” with every vengeful, angry, dysfunctional-father-unfair-headmaster image our fear and shame can project. So intrinsic to our nature is this process that it seeps into the depths of our theology until we create creeds and hum hymns and scream sermons that tell everyone around us that God is God: and that we and they have every reason to fear him.
Until we meet little “o”. Little “o”, if we will let him, will climb onto our lap and leap from there onto the pages of our Bible and start showing us, in chapter after chapter, that God is Good. Why else would everything this God made, when no-one was looking and no-one else had interfered, be hailed as good, good, good, very good? Why else would this God, challenged by his face-to-face friend Moses to show his glory decide to do so by letting his goodness pass before him? Why else Psalm 8? Psalm 139? Luke 4? Why ever Philippians 2? Once you let that little “o” start messing with your doctrines, you find that God is Good all the time — so good he doesn’t even mind the cliché.
Goodness, it turns out, is not an attribute of God. It is an ontological statement of his nature. This means that it is true if him whether you see it or not; whether you believe it or not; whether circumstances confirm it or not. The goodness of God is not a point we work towards, it is the square we start out from.
If this is true — and I leave it to you to decide — then we face an epic challenge. We have to destroy — to denounce and decry and defeat and disavow and declare as null and void — every word or thought or deed that suggests that God is anything but good. I have to drive the stake of God’s goodness into the ground, or better still into my heart, and let everything else be defined by my trust in this one reality: that God is Good.
For my part, I’ve decided this will be my 2018 game-plan. I was going to write a whole long list of resolutions. Things I would start doing. Things I would stop doing. In the end I found that this one thing stood out. And I wondered if it might just be enough.
So for this year I am going to circle-back each day to the simple truth that God is Good. And more and more I am going to fine-tune my senses to sniff out every word and thought — every letter if I have to — that tries to tell me otherwise. Even words that come dressed in intricate religious finery. Even thoughts I may have, up until this day, believed.
If they dare to tell me God is not good, they’re history.
Because God is Good. Little “o” told me — and little “o” is my new best friend.
In 2018, say hello to little “o” — it’s hell without him.