Tag Archives: god

The unchanging God who changes.

“Several centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Greek philosopher Aristotle had insisted that God was unchanging and utterly indifferent to the affairs of the world. If God cared about the world, he argued, then God would be subject to shifts of mood from every passing change in the world’s affairs. Having passions would destroy God’s perfection, for God would bend to the world’s every joy and pain.

Many Christians have accepted Aristotle’s conclusions, but I find myself agreeing with others, like fourth-century poet and theologian Gregory of Nyssa, who disagreed with Aristotle. Gregory denied that getting involved with the world would be a weakness in God. “God’s transcendent power,” he wrote, “is not so much displayed in the vastness of the heavens or the luster of the stars or the orderly arrangement of the universe or his perpetual oversight of it, as in his condescension to our weak nature.” God is, oddly, most powerful in stooping to our weakness.

Loving in this way, after all, is not a form of weakness but a manifestation of strength. Really loving involves taking risks–the risk of rejection, the risk of having to give of yourself to help the one you love–and real love takes those risks recklessly….

What then about Aristotle’s worry? Is such a God changing, altered by the changing circumstances of the objects of divine love, and therefore imperfect, even unreliable? It depends, from a Christian standpoint, what you mean by “not changing.” Love, after all, manifests its utter consistency precisely by changing. If I love you, and I do not change (grow sad, seek to help) when you fall ill or get into trouble, then my love has changed. True love stays the same by adapting to the changing situation of the loved one. We can be constant in love only by altering our moods and responses according to the circumstances of the object of our love. In that sense the loving God stays ever the same.”

(William Placher, Jesus the Savior: The Meaning of Jesus Christ for Christian Faith, 20-21)

How far have we come?

In the Koran, Allah asks, “The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?” It’s a good question….Pascal uses a nice term to describe the notion of the creator’s, once having called forth the universe, turning his back to it: Deus Absconditus. Is this what we think happened?…”God is subtle,” Einstein said, “but not malicious.” Again, Einstein said that “nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.”  It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem. In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God “set bars and doors” and said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat? (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 9)

Hope

how faint the whisper we hear of him! (Job 26:14, TNIV)

* * *

Here
is bigger than you can imagine
Now
is forever (Bruce Cockburn)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about pain and suffering and genocide and natural disasters and…God.  Without diminishing the pain and horror, and without denying the legitimacy of our incredulity, our anger at God for allowing these things to happen, I do have the strong sense that we humans are awfully short-sighted in our assessment of what God is or is not doing in the world. What truths can we derive from our suffering when it is but a blip of an event in the continuum of history?  What do we, with our short lives, know about how these things fit in the great scheme of things?

And what of all the beauty and goodness we see in the world?  Should God get any credit for those things?  Should the bad things outweigh the good?

Perhaps it is easy for me to say this sitting comfortably in my Poäng chair at home, surrounded by books, family, love, health and…a roof and walls, but there runs inside me a deep vein of hope.  There is good in the world and it will prevail. I believe this deeply.

Hope does not do away with the pain and suffering, and neither does it justify or excuse it.  Hope does not mean we cannot or do not weep, grieve, shout at God in anger.  What hope does is see, if faintly and uncertainly, beyond pain and suffering to the time when, in Julian of Norwich’s wonderful words, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”.

Tonight I had Bruce Cockburn’s album You’ve Never Seen Everything playing in the background as I worked.  The title track is quite a powerful song.  On first listen it comes across as a heavily political song, which is not unusual for Cockburn.  It is a dark song, sparse instrumentation, with lyrics spoken in a low, tired, almost pained voice.

The listener is presented with a series of vignettes showing the dark underbelly of the world: viruses, suicide, murder, drug trade, sexual harassment, consumerism, poisoning of women and children, rage, greed, and so on.  After a couple of these vignettes, the words, “You’ve never seen everything”.  For example:

And a car crashes and burns on an offramp from the Gardiner
Two dogs in the back seat die, and in the front
a man and his mother
Forensics reveals the lady has pitchfork wounds in her chest –
Pitchfork!
And that the same or a similar instrument has been screwed to the dash
to make sure the driver goes too

You’ve never seen everything

The listener is shaken out of his or her stupor: there is so much darkness beyond that comfortable little world you’ve created for yourself, he seems to be saying. You think you get it?  You think you understand the world–like watching the nightly news gives you any sense of what’s going on?

For the longest time I would simply skip over the song.  It was too dark, too discomforting.  And the only reason I did choose to listen to it was to get to the chorus, which is a rich, beautiful melody dropped in the middle of those dark vignettes:

Bad pressure coming down
Tears – what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around

Until tonight I wasn’t sure what to do with that chorus, other than enjoy it as a brief reprieve from the dark images being spoken around it.  The song is the shadow, it seemed to me, and the chorus but a thin ribbon of half-light running through it.  But suddenly, tonight, perhaps in confirmation of the things I’ve been thinking about hope, I realized what the song is actually saying.  It ends with the chorus and repeated mantra:

Bad pressure coming down
Tears – what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around
Never feel the light falling all around

You’ve never seen everything

It’s not the darkness we haven’t seen around us, it’s the light!  We think we’ve seen it all when we see the pain and sorrow of the world, but we haven’t seen everything: we haven’t seen the light falling all around, filling all the infinite space in which the ribbon of shadow moves.  We choose to ride the ribbon of darkness when we could just as well ride the light if we are willing to see it.

In fact, the album ends quite abruptly a few songs later on the word “hope”.

Of course. He keeps them in a box.

Conversation I had with Luke and Madeline tonight:

Luke: How big is God?

Me: I don’t know. It’s hard to say.

Madeline: He’s bigger than the universe.

Marc: In a sense he is, I suppose.

Luke: Who is God?

Marc: Well, he’s the creator of the universe and the whole world.

Madeline: And he created you and me.

Luke: How did he make me?

Madeline: Out of dirt.

Me: Yyyyyyyyyes.

Luke: How did he make our face? How did he make our eyes?

Marc: I don’t know. I’m not sure how God created everything.

Luke: I know! He had a box with eyes. And they had names on them, so that he could put them in our face.

RLP’s vision

This might just be the most remarkable thing I’ve read by Real Live Preacher:

I had a vision the other day that came to me in the form of a daydream. I was sitting in the library staring off into space when suddenly I imagined myself in a huge room with a crowd of people. We were all waiting for God to show up. Some people were standing around in groups, talking. Others were sitting down. A few were asleep. Suddenly God appeared and things got very quiet, which was understandable because God was about 30 feet tall. A man near the back was the last one to notice. He was telling a joke to his buddy when he realized he was the only one talking. He looked around, saw God, and said, “Oh, sorry.”

Then God said, “Some of you are rather nicely dressed, I see.” That made the well-dressed people happy. Some of the men opened their blazers to show God the linings. A few women twirled around so God could get a good look at their outfits. A number of people seemed very proud of their shoes and pointed to them with open palms. God laughed and then took a deep breath. For a moment I thought God was going to suck all the air out of the room. There was a long pause, and then God leaned forward and blew. The sound of it was like the rush of a mighty wind. All of our clothes disintegrated and disappeared, like confetti blown off the top of a waxed table.

Just like that we were naked. As naked as the day we were born… (link)

Read the whole thing.

I’m still thinking about it.

Living in tension

I was thinking today about the tension Dixie and I live in these days.  We are planning a move to Manitoba and everything on that end is going swimmingly, without a hitch: we were accepted into the school; we found suitable housing right on campus; we already know people out there, so we won’t be completely alone; we’ve found a church to attend; and today we even got our mailing address for out there.  Everything is falling into place nicely in Manitoba and we feel good about it.  The other day I told someone that there isn’t a bone in my body that is second-guessing this move.

And yet…and yet at the Saskatchewan end of things, it doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly.  Our lives are filled with commitments to work, the church, family, school, and we have a house to prepare to sell and then sell.  We have stuff to get rid of and decisions to make: what to keep, what to sell, what to give away; whether to sell privately or through a realtor; how to divide our time between various commitments and obligations.  We have the general stress of everyday life with young children.  We have fatigue and frustration.

There is such a contrast between what’s going on in Manitoba and what’s going on here.  It’s tempting to spiritualize it–I have done so myself from time to time.  “Things are going so smoothly in Manitoba,” we might say, “It must be God putting things in place for us.  We must be heading in the right direction.”  Or we might say, “Judging by the stress and frustration we are experiencing now, God seems to be telling us to hold off for a while, get things ironed out first, step back a bit.  It appears that his will is not that we move to Manitoba just yet.”

So under this way of thinking, we have God pulling us in two different directions.  How do we decide which is which?  We can’t and we don’t.  This may well simply be life.  There would be stress if we moved a year later or a year after that.  The stress would be different, to be sure–I’d make sure not to be in the middle of a seminary course and avoid being bivocational at the time–but there would still be stress.

It’s a strange dichotomy in our lives right now.  The future looks bright and we are hopeful, but the present seems almost oppressive at times.  I’m not sure what to make of it.

On answered prayer…

My favourite moment in Evan Almighty, in which God (Morgan Freeman) tells Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell in a reprise of his Bruce Almighty role) to build an ark.  Early on in the film, Evan is obsessed with his career, so his wife prays for the family to become closer.  Soon after God’s call to Evan, however, she feels Evan’s bizarre behaviour is pulling them apart.

So she takes the kids to stay with a relative so that Evan can seek help.  On the way, they stop for a meal and God appears to her as a waiter.  This is part of their conversation:

Joan: But my husband says God told him to do it [build the ark]. What do you do with that?

God: Sounds like an opportunity. Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?…Well, I got to run. A lot of people to serve…

Improving our worship…

From Brad Boydston, two things we could do:

1. Change the “I” to “we” in 90% of the music and spoken language. The individual’s worship must grow out of the collective sense of worship. It hardly ever seems to work the other way.

2. Sing and talk a lot more about God and a lot less about our experience of God. While we don’t want to totally disconnect from the experiential realm but we need to shift the focus. We’re locked in a loop where many of us think and function as though worship were about us — our needs, our experiences, our perceptions…

(Link)

On referring to God/god

I always find it a bit deceptive to quote from a book I’m not actually reading at the moment.  However, the other day I was leafing through some of my books and I read the preface to N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God.  He had a couple of interesting things to say:

On “God” vs “god”:

I have frequently used ‘god’ instead of ‘God’.  This is not a printer’s error, nor is it a deliberate irreverence; rather the opposite, in fact.  The modern usage, without the article and with a capital, seeme to me actually dangerous.  This usage, which sometimes amounts to regarding ‘God’ as the property name of the Deity, rather than as essentially a common noun, implies that all users of of the word are monotheists and, within that, that all monotheists believe in the same god.  Both these propositions seem to me self-evidently untrue.  It may or may not be true that anyworship of any god is translated by some mysterious grace into worship of one god who actually exists, and who happens to be the only god.  That is believe by some students of religion  It is not, however, believed by very many practitioners of the mainline monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or of the non-monotheistic ones (Hinduism, Buddhism and their cognates).  Certainly Jews and Christians of the first century did not believe it.  They believed that pagans worshipped idols, or even demons. (pp. xiv-xv)

See also: “If God is Jesus, is Allah or Yahweh God?

And then he says this

[About] the currently vexed question of the gender of language about ‘God’, or gods.  Here again we meet a puzzle.  Nobody insists that a Muslim theologian should refer to the god he or she discusses as ‘she'; this is just as well, otherwise Muslims would not be able to write much theology.  The same would be true, I think, for all Jews until very recently, and certainly for the great majority of Jews in the present.  Nobody insists that someone writing about Hindu deities should make them all indiscriminately androgynous: some are clearly masculine, others equally clearly feminine.  Nor would the pagan gods and goddesses of the ancient world have been pleased if their devotees had got their genders muddled.  In a work of history I think it is appropriate to refer to the god of the Jews, the gods of the Greco-Roman world, and the god of the early church, in ways which those groups would themselves have recognized as appropriate. (p. xvi)

Interesting stuff.