Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

God as Sweetheart

Just received my latest e-mail news from The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC). In it is an article about God. It is called God and Progressive Christianity by Gene Marchall. It touches on what we have been talking about here. Here is the beginning of the article:

Progressive Christians are achieving great clarity about the historical development of the Bible and about viewing biblical passages in a metaphorical rather than a literal way. Using the word "God," however, continues to be an area of unclarity and outright confusion.

It is, I believe, helpful to begin with H. Richard Niebuhr's insight that the word "God" is a devotional word, much like the word "sweetheart." "Sweetheart" points to a particular person, but it also expresses a quality of relationship. Similarly, the word "God" includes the meanings of loyalty, commitment, trust, friendship, and passionate devotion. At the same time, "God," as used in the Bible, points to an actual experience, an actual encounter with, how shall we say it, the Ground of our Being; the Mystery, Depth, and Greatness of our lives; Final Reality; Reality as a Whole; the Mystery that will not go away.

He adds later on...

Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, H. Richard Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many other great theologians all reject viewing God as a thing or a person. They reject literalism in all its subtle forms. When we use personal language to talk about God, we are talking mythically about our own personal relationship with that Infinite EVERYTHING-NESS that cannot be contained within any human imagery, personal or impersonal.
Great article. I would love to hear your thoughts...


  1. I do think the article hits on the central issue and one in which progressive Christianity has a range of current and historical resources to draw from.

    But the only thing I miss from the piece is the sense of the "mysterium tremendum", the sense of something so big that it doesn't just defy description it makes us quake.

    I'm thinking of an article I read on dailykos about how much of the universe is empty, as in no matter, no energy, no anti-matter. For a moment I was confronted with a sense of our smallness.

    Certainly that cannot be the only religious response given a God that is incarnational, but it is a legitimate response among many that I believe progressives need to lift up.

  2. Thanks Dwight!

    I think you hit on an important point. We need that sense of awe, the mysterium tremendum.


    What did the H stand for?

  3. I believe H is for Helmut. But during World War I, in particular, it was helpful to have a more Anglo and less Germanic name thus H. Richard

  4. Along those lines, there were other famous de-deutschifications during the Great War. Gustav von Holst (born in England to a Swedish/Latvian family) dropped the "von" from his name because it sounded German (and became one of the most popular composers of "patriotic" British music). Even the King (George V) felt it--he dropped his real surname (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and changed it to Windsor.

    There's a funny line in "Blackadder Goes Forth", where Capt Blackadder is "interrogating" a personal enemy on suspicion of being a German spy. Capt Darling wails, "I'm as British as Queen Victoria!" to which Blackadder replies, "so your mother's German, your father's half German and you married a German?"