Our Wednesday night men’s group is reading Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams. I’ll be posting some thoughts on the book over the next few weeks. I highly recommend it.
Rowan Williams is many things. Poet, pastor, playwright, Welshman, and, until recently, the leader of the third largest Christian Church on the planet. As Archbishop of Canterbury he served the Anglican Church worldwide in the midst of turmoil and division. While serving in that capacity, Williams was able to avoid the fragmentation of his church. Now retired, he is serving as the Chancellor of the University of South Wales.
Williams’ Tokens of Trust is a small, pastorally minded book. It is an introduction to Christian faith not unlike C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Writing seventy years after Lewis, Williams speaks to a new generation that is less likely to be convinced as the audience of C.S. Lewis. For the modern person Williams eloquently sets out what “Christians can expect each other to take for granted.”
In his first chapter, Rowan outlines the crisis of trust in today’s world. His vantage point in Great Britain doesn’t keep him from understanding life here in the States. Most of us are skeptics, distrusting other’s motives, and cynical about those institutions, like government and the church, that are supposed to exist for the common good.
The problem of belief in God, trust as Williams describes it, is clear. It is hard to trust in a benevolent and almighty creator when those who represent that creator have behaved so untrustworthily. In a world as our own why would anyone want to believe?
He meets this crisis of confidence with a description of a good God who creates humankind not out of need within himself but out of unselfish love. This is the traditional conception of God. Perfectly content as Father, Son and Spirit, God needs nothing. Therefore, whatever he does beyond himself is simply because of God’s desire to do so. Though we may doubt it from time to time, creation itself is a sign that God is good.
... this means that God can’t have a selfish agenda, because he (God) can’t want anything for himself except to be the way he is. So if the world exists because of his action, the only motivation for this that we can even begin to think of is sheer unselfish love. He wants to give what he is to what isn’t him; he wants difference to appear, he wants an Other to receive his joy and delight. He isn’t bored and in need of company. He isn’t frustrated and in need of help. (pg. 12)
This raises some important questions for people who believe in the God described in Scripture and Christian history. Can we trust someone that doesn’t expect us to fulfill their own needs? What motivation does this kind of someone (in this case God) have?
The best reading raises great questions. In the weeks to come I hope to see you raise some of your own.
Here’s one last quote for the road:
What the Bible puts before us is not a record of a God who is always triumphantly getting his way by doing miracles, but a God who gets his way by patiently struggling to make himself clear to human beings, to make his love real to them, especially when they seem not to want to know, or to want to avoid him, and retreat into their own fantasies about him. (16)