Anne Robertson

author of Blowing the Lid Off the God-Box,
an explorefaith book

An Interview with Anne Robertson

Anne RobertsonWhat exactly is a God-Box?
A God-Box is a metaphor for the ways that we experience and connect with God. So, for instance, if I always feel close to God when I hear Gospel music or Mozart, those are things that go in my God-Box. And it’s not just music. I might find that saying a creed helps me connect or being alone in the woods or playing with a baby. It can be anything really. If it is a sure-fire way of helping me connect to God, it’s in the box.

Also in the God-Box are ideas and images that represent God for us. Many imagine God as a Father, Chronicles of Narnia fans turn to God as a lion, and still others would rather leave images alone and think merely of Spirit. And then there are the doctrines and beliefs that we hold about who God is and how God behaves. All of those things are part of our God-Box, the limited way that we have come to know and understand God.

And that’s the point of the book. The God-Box is not bad, but it is limited. We can understand some of God, but not all. The problem is not the box, but the lid…closing off our experience of and beliefs about God and thinking we have all the answers. This is a book about taking off the lid, regaining humility and recognizing that God is big. Really, really big.

How did your belief that your religion was the only way to God evolve into your present thinking that God is far beyond our human conceptions and limitations?
Ironically, it was my initial fundamentalism that pulled me out. One thing fundamentalists do absolutely right is to be serious about their faith and about the Bible. The Bible is, every word, the Word of God. So that belief led me to do a radical thing…actually read the Bible, cover to cover, many times. As I read, I found that many of my beliefs about God and faith were challenged. It seemed to demand humility on the part of human beings, and every so often God chews people out for getting too uppity and assuming that they know all there is to know. The come-uppance in the speech of Yahweh to Job is one such place, but there are also other verses scattered here and there: “Your ways are not my ways,” in Psalm 139, and “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and compassion on whom I will have compassion,” in Romans 9:15.

Another thing fundamentalists do right is take prayer seriously. They have no doub that God both hears and answers prayer…not just by giving something we have asked for, but by communicating with people in a way we can understand. There were times that God spoke to me in prayer and led me to a larger understanding. My call to ministry was a primary example of that. I kept telling God that I couldn’t do that because I was a woman and the Bible forbid it. But as I prayed, God kept telling me to do it anyway and showed me other ways that Paul’s writing could be true without limiting God’s ability to call whomever God chose.

Lastly, the experiences of my life, blended with Scripture, taught me that God must be bigger than what I currently believed. Chief among those experiences was my friendship with Celeste, the woman to whom I dedicated the book. Celeste gave up her Roman Catholic faith as a teenager and put nothing in its place. My belief system taught me that she was going to go to hell for that, and I lived many years in that fear.

In the end, however, it just didn’t square with either my experience of God or the picture of God that was emerging from my growing familiarity with the Biblical witness. “Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7. Celeste was certainly capable of love, which according to that verse put her squarely into the arms of God. Moreover, if God left the decision up to me, I would not send Celeste to hell, and wasn’t God kinder and more loving and more merciful than me? We had all better hope so. My love for my best friend pried the lid right off my box.

What value do you see in creeds and statements of faith?
I think it’s really important that each of us has some idea of what we believe. I have preached on the Apostle’s Creed and often encourage people I work with to write out their own creed. It’s a way of figuring out exactly what we actually believe. There is too much negative faith out there…that is, people simply stating that they don’t believe this or that. Well, that’s fine, but our faith needs some positive content. If you don’t believe that God is like a father, for instance, what do you believe God is like?

Everyone needs a creed, and I think it is enormously helpful to form that creed in conversation with the creeds and statements of faith in our own faith traditions. The ancient creeds have a way of keeping us connected to the communion of saints. It gives us roots. We can branch out in different directions from those roots, and interpret them quite differently; but I find them helpful to my faith. They help me retain a sense of community. In all of it we just have to remember that any creed is incapable of capturing the complete truth about God. God is hinted at in the creeds, but God is bigger than any one of them, or even all of them put together.

Do you see evidence for hope that God-boxes around the world can be opened rather than nailed tightly shut?
They say that charity begins at home, and I think that applies to God-box lids as well. When I look at the tightly closed boxes both at home and abroad, I want to go up on a mountaintop with my “The End Is Near” sign. I get very discouraged. But when I look around closer to home, things don’t look quite so bleak. I have seen people with some very tightly closed boxes start to open them up, letting in enough light so that the fear factor goes down and the love of others goes up—both telltale signs of an open box. And it would be hard to have a more closed box than I had, and I managed to get to the place of writing this book. So I have to believe if there was hope for me, then there is hope for others and, by extension, for the world. We can open up, one box at a time.

Copyright ©2005

Blowing the Lid off the God-Box by Anne Robertson
Help Purchase a copy of BLOWING THE LID OFF THE GOD-BOX by following this link to