Friday, July 13, 2007
Part 7: Boy Does Bob Keep Me Busy!
Bob just rat-a-tats this theological stuff onto his computer keyboard at breakneck speed. I don't even think he uses his fingers. He mind melds with the Web. If you don't have a clue what I am talking about check the latest series on Shuck and Jive, "Conversations with Bob!" He is a real guy. He is a great guy. He makes me think. And he's pleasant! Check to the right of this blog for the posts in this series.
Bob is a Reformed theologian and a Presbyterian pastor. One could say he is more conservative than I, but then again, who isn't? I am a wacko, leftwingnut, bleeding heart, fuzzy wuzzy, progressaliberal, and the epitome of what some in the church call "theological drift." That's me. I am just adrift in a sea of relativism, naturalism, panentheism, existentialism, liberalism, and humanistic utopianism, without a rudder.
But Bob never says anything like that about me. That's why I like him. That's why he gets to play "Conversations with Bob!" If you were nice, you could play too.
In the last episode, Bob summed up some of the problems I have in thinking of God in personal terms. Nice work, Bob. I think we are on the same page. I think there is a reason for both non-personal and personal images for God, (or if you prefer, for personal and non-personal ways that God self-reveals). I think that personal images of God are helpful in terms of a personal prayer life (perhaps like using an ishta devata in Hinduism).
I think the image of a personal God fails when we are dealing with the problem of suffering, evil, and eschatology (Christian hope). Why? Because God as Person who is all good and all powerful could fix it, but apparently chooses not to do so. We tie ourselves in knots over this problem, when I think we could select another God-revealed image when dealing with the problem of suffering, evil, and eschatology.
An example could be one I heard from John Dominic Crossan. He suggested that God is the Heart of the Universe. The heart of God is certainly biblical. The heart of God constantly beats the lifeblood of God throughout the universe. As we are a part of God's body, if you will, we can have effects on the heart. We can participate in its life, or clog its arteries, so to speak. We do this through acts of neglect, abuse, hatred, you know all the sins. The heart doesn't react immediately, like our own hearts when we abuse our own bodies. But, eventually, it catches up with us. God is patient, but not forever.
That is simply one illustration. The point is that the images we use for God, or that God self-reveals to us, can be more or less useful regarding the issues we face. Part of the theological enterprise is finding images that speak to our situation.
On to history. I think we both agree that the Enlightenment with its gifts of science and history is limited by its own parameters. You pointed that out quite well. The Heart has reasons that Reason does not know. Truth, goodness, beauty, and God, are certainly not limited to science and history. That is why I like theology.
I don't think there is anything wrong with the Enlightenment enterprise or with science and history, as long as we know their limitations, and respect those limitations. When some Christian apologists do history, they do fine for a while, then at the magic moment resort to some kind of theological special pleading. I like a lot of what NT Wright writes, but now and then, especially when he gets to the resurrection, he will go off on some kind of rhetoric like who are we to question God. Or if God wants to do it this way, God can.
Many apologists are quite good at doing history on the Qur'an for example. I even wrote a paper in seminary comparing the Holy Family story in the Qur'an with the aprocryphal infancy gospels of James and pwuedo-Matthew. To me, it was pretty clear that Qur'anic story derived from these sources. We can do it for others' texts, but we are often less than critical in dealing with our own. The same for Qur'anic scholars dealing with the Gospels. A lot of it is very good history. But to use the same methods for their texts? Rarely.
Faith in the Resurrection is exactly that--faith. If we could prove it through history, or even make it probable, via history, we wouldn't need faith. I think the empty tomb narratives are stories of faith, not journalistic accounts of an event. I can say through faith that the resurrection of Jesus is reality, just not historical reality.
The point we both affirm, is that it is critical for theologians and pastors to talk about the meaning of the reality of the resurrection. We may have a good discussion regarding the meaning of the resurrection.
A quick note about eschatology. I would say this question is more important to me than any other. When asked on my PIF (PCUSA church resume) the most important theological question, I wrote something to this effect: I am 42 (now 45) and my great-Nephew Hunter is 1. What will Earth be like for Hunter when he is 42?
There is no greater work than securing a sustainable future for those who come after us. In this I am incredibly pleased that you have written and spoken against the injustice of this latest war, about ecological and justice issues. It is not about take me away Jesus, but enable me to serve here in the midst, Jesus. This to me is most critical. The rest, to me, is less than important.
However, I think this awareness of our "great work" to use Thomas Berry's phrase, will require spiritual awareness. I hesitate to use spiritual sometimes as it can be individualistic and anti-body. I mean by that theological, Earth-loving, awareness. Earth to me is God's home. It is our home. The lifeblood of the Heart of God pulses through every living thing and every thing.
I am concerned that so much popular theology, not yours, but popular theology, is anti-Earth, anti-body, and escapist. It appears not only to think that we are getting further and further into sin, misery, and destruction, but seems to desire it. Only when it gets really bad will Jesus return. That is not at all my theology.
Mine is one of hope that we will become aware and answer the invitation of God to make a home of peace and justice on this Earth. Sure, things could get a lot worse before they get better. But our integrity, our willingness to take up the cross, is the reality of the resurrection! We aren't alone in this, God is active in all of it. But God is patient, like a Heart.
One commenter who questioned my theology of hope, said that for every Martin Luther King, Jr. there are 100 assassins. I think of it the other way. For every 100 assassins, there is a Martin Luther King, Jr. For every Empire, Roman or other, there is Jesus crucified and risen. That power of non-violent love, courage, and truth can overcome. That is how Jesus continues to return to our lives and to Earth's life.
Cosmology and evolution? OK. Here is fun video that a couple of different people sent to me to get you started.
Thanks for engaging me in this conversation, Bob!
The Peace of Christ be with you,