I am going to add this post to my theology for the 21st century. I appreciate the insights of Gordon D. Kaufman, professor emeritus at Harvard Divinity School. His latest book is called Jesus and Creativity.
Conceiving of God as a personal being has become increasingly problematic. We may imagine God in personal terms in prayer, worship, or poetry, but even there the language we use does not fit the reality we see. Kaufman is a constructive theologian. He names clearly the problem with traditional religious language and offers an alternative that embraces both our scientific knowledge and the reality beyond the symbols of biblical faith.
This is from the preface to Jesus and Creativity:
In the Fourth Gospel we read: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16). This much-loved sentence sums up beautifully a central theme of traditional Christian faith. But for many thoughtful Christians today, sentences like this--very common in Christian speech and writing--scarcely make sense. Through they may be lovely poetry, whether they tell us anything about the real world with which we must come to terms every day may seem dubious. The metaphors get so thick and heavy in this sentence that it is hard to know just what they convey. Consider some of the problems:
What does it mean to say God "loves" the world?...We know something about human love, and we cherish that; but what can it mean to say that the creator of this vast complex universe, fourteen billion years old, loves it? Can we really apply the world "love" to such a mysterious, unknowable reality as the creator of the universe? And what can it mean to say that this creator has a "Son"? We know what it means for humans to have children and to love their children--but how can we meaningfully apply such creaturely words as "love" and "son" to the origin of all that is? Doesn't this kind of language suggest that God is basically like some unimaginably huge and powerful human being? Does that make sense? (ix-x)
No, Dr. Kaufman, it doesn't make sense. And yet, I don't want to become a materialist. Tell me there is something more! He writes:
Instead of continuing to imagine God as The Creator, a kind of personlike reality who has brought everything into being, I have for some years been developing and elaborating a conception of God as simply the creativity that has brought forth the world and all its contents, from the Big Bang all the way down to the present. Imagining God as creativity enables Christian thinkers to be much more attuned to what the modern sciences have been teaching us about our lives and the world in which we live. It makes it possible to bridge the divide often felt between religious faith and our scientific knowledges. (xi)
Now that is something in which I can put my trust. What would our theology look like if we thought of the Creativity of the Universe (and even beyond the known universe) as God? The creative force that is present in every interaction--from the smallest imaginable particle, wave, or string, to the vastness of the cosmos, to our human connectivity with all that is--is God.
If Creativity is God, how would we conceive of Jesus? How would we conceive of prayer? How would we conceive of eternal life? How would we understand suffering and evil? How would we read texts that speak of God in personal terms? Most importantly, how might our lives become more joyful, compassionate, and hopeful?
A theology for the 21st century, in my view, may very well begin with God, not as a personal Creator, a human writ large, but Creativity itself.
Do you ever wonder about those things?