How helpful is a God whose existence the philosophers and theologians have had to prove? What if God doesn’t exist but, instead, insists and invites and calls?
Matthew 6:28 Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. (CEB)
Angelus Silesius “The rose is without why; it blossoms because it blossoms. It cares not for itself; asks not if it’s seen.”
Umberto Eco (quoting Bernard of Cluny) “stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus” [what is left of the rose is its name]
Gertrude Stein “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
Rose Petals and Reflections
Whether lily or rose, a flower does not have to justify its existence. It just is. The lily doesn’t perform productive work to validate its presence. It just is. The rose doesn’t exclaim “I think, therefore I am.” It just is. Flowers blossom just because they blossom; they give off a pleasing scent just because they smell good. The lily and the rose are “without why.”
If I were to take a lesson from the lilies in the field and from the rose, if I were to to approach being without Why, if I were to simply live because I live and die because I die, I would need to reframe my presence in the world.
There is a part of me that continues to ask “Why?” I am curious about the whys and wherefores. I want to know. And yet I am aware that the world doesn’t spin because scientists have figured out why it spins. It just spins. There is no rational explanation of why I fell in love with Sue and committed my life to her (and probably even less about why she fell in love with me). We loved just because we loved.
I wonder about all the ink that has been shed trying to “prove” that God exists. Does God need a Why? If God needs a Why, then God is just a contingent being. That is the difficulty we have created with our concepts of God. When God is a contingent being, then we have to assign attributes and contingencies to that being – God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. At best the contingent being of God becomes a superior mirror image of what we wish we might become; at worst, a monster or a buffoon.
The God without Why is a God that doesn’t exist. Instead God insists, calls, invites. God is the carrier of ultimacy in the midst of the contingent reality of day-by-day living. That insistent luring ultimacy is often called the Kingdom of God (or my preferred translation the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice). That Commonwealth is not the dream of a perfect future. Instead, it is a contingent reality constituted by acts of compassion, peace, and justice in the here and now.
The Commonwealth is not a reality that God will institute at some future time when the world gets its act together. Instead, the Commonwealth is the concrete presence of insistent ultimacy shown in acts of compassion, peace, and justice. God’s is only present where these acts are present. Unless we act in compassionate, peaceful, and just ways God is dead – omni-weak, omni-unaware, omni-absent – and all that is left is just God’s name (no blossoming, no sweet smell, no being, no insistence).