Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

God as Creativity

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?

1 comment:

  1. The thing about a depersonalized god is that it is a safe god. Depersonalized deities can't be angered (nor can they reciprocate love). Depersonalized gods aren't upset (or even aware) of how humans define them - and that may just be the biggest danger.

    If God were just a force, then none of us can have any real and personal knowledge of God. I can define god's creative force to the activities of a certain race or nation (German Christian movement, anyone?). Our own love of science and technology allows us to let these disciplines dictate our beliefs - the same fundamental flaw that we see throughout the history of heresy.

    The truth is this: anytime we get our theological marching orders from any source other than the Scriptures, we err. It doesn't matter whether the other source is science, ideology, nationalism, economics, politics, or any other endeavor. All of these other sources can enhance our understanding of God and shaping of the church, but if any of them becomes the "norm" for our faith then we have apostasized. Apart from grounding in divine revelation, the church (and all other religion) becomes only another tool in the employ of our own will and self-interest.

    Thankfully, the good news of Christianity is that God did not leave us on our own! We don't have merely a rulebook (which we would twist - as we twist our own laws) or a set of doctrines (which we could redefine whenever they become inconvenient). We have a king who rules and over-rules. In Jesus Christ we behold the fullness of deity bodily and what is revealed is a PERSON and not a principle.

    Dante Rossetti said it best: "The worst moment for the atheist is when he feels thankful and has no one to thank." Whom do you thank for a sunset? Whom do you thank when a recovery is made from an illness that physicians can't cure? Maybe it's me, but I can't thank "creativity" or "the refraction of light through earth's atmosphere" or "white blood cells."

    Am I the only one who can't seem to live without that kind of hope and gratitude?

    Thank You Jesus that I'm not!