This is the first of what, I hope, will be a continuing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.
While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.
Any conversation about “God” must begin with the mystics’ clear message that a) the fulness of God is beyond our comprehension, b) human language limits us to human conceptions of God, and c) we can engage the mystery which God inhabits. The conversation must acknowledge that traditional conversation about God tends to use words like as Creator, Lord (YHWH), and the Almighty One (el Shaddai) – emphasizing superiority and control. Father (Abba) is a New Testament favorite – introducing intimacy, but reinforcing male superiority. These terms largely describe God’s being, miring us in metaphysics and ontology. They also provide ammunition for the critique by militant atheists.
I want to follow another path – a more phenomenological approach which asks (along with John Caputo), “What is happening when the name of God is called upon?”
“[T]heolgy signifies a passion in which everything is at stake, the logos of a passion, the logos of a desire for God, the logos of a prayer. The desire for God – that is the root of the trouble I have bought for myself. I have taken God, the desire for God, what is happening in the name of God, as my subject matter…. a desire for something I know not what, for which I pray day and night.” (Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology f the Event, 2006, p. 1-2)
This means abandoning the strong theological approach which centers on theism – that is, God as a separate entity (a Supreme Being, in its more popular form). I am more comfortable with (and more convinced by) a weak theology – that is, a God devoid of sovereignty
The question, for me, is not “Who is God?” or “What is God’s nature?” Instead, I ask “How does God function in and for the human psyche?” There are a number of venues within which I seek and a variety of “answers” to be found – creation/nature, institutional religious practice, human community, personal faithfulness.
1. God in Creation and Nature (God as Serendipitous Creativity_
Gordon Kaufman was the first to help me move away from God as Creator, the Craftsman of the universe. In his book (In the Beginning Creativity) he describes God as “serendipitous creativity.” The universe is not the result of a Craftsman following a set of blueprints residing on a celestial desk outside the universe. Instead, the full creative potential of the universe was present in the singularity. That creative potential exploded (the Big Bang) into existence as the universe began to experiment (serendipitously) with what has become a movement from simplicity to complexity (from chaos to order), culminating (from our perspective) in human life on the planet Earth.
Our modern human minds don’t rest until we can explain complexity and order. As a result we posit a creator, a first cause, a designer. Doing so, are left with all the inconsistencies that such a concept of God presents – How a God who is all-powerful and good, allow evil to happen? For me, describing the function of that which we call “God” as serendipitous creativity satisfies both faith and reason.
2. God and Personal Faithfulness (God as Insistence)
I first became aware of John Caputo in an article in Christian Century (17 December 2014). His statement (“I speak of religion without religion, where the name of God is the name of a call rather than the name of an entity.”) was a wake-up call to me. God does not exist, God insists.
“God does not exist; God is a spirit that calls, a spirit that can happen anywhere and haunts everything, insistently. … [Therefore] God needs us to be God and we need God to be human.” (The Insistence of God: a Theology of Perhaps, 2013, pp. 13 & 14)
Faithfulness is the process of discerning that inner call, that insistence that nags at the depth of our being, that invitation to wholeness, that provocation (from Yeshua) to follow the Way of compassion, peace, and justice.
3. God and Human Community (God as Love)
Human community has always been problematic necessity. The seemingly ‘necessary’ answer to the problem has been “Empire” (John Dominic Crossan) or the Domination System (Walter Wink). This answer has required the use of authority and force to maintain control. (Control being determined by those in charge.)
Yeshua had another God-inspired idea. His mission was to gather together a commonwealth of peace and justice (“Kingdom of God” in most translations). The key, for me, is the shift in understanding from ‘kingdom’ to ‘commonwealth.’ Kingdom has the sense of being structured by the needs of the king to maintain control. Commonwealth, on the other hand, is a community responsive to the needs of its members to live in solidarity which accords every person the opportunity to grow into the fulness of their being, into wholeness.
1 John 4:8 puts it this way, “The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love” (MSG) Compassion (love) best describes that which functions to establish and maintain the commonwealth in the name of God.
4. God and the Practice of Institutional Religion (God as Spirit, Mystery)
Institutional religion (the church) is a diverse community of believers and faith-ers. The multi-variant nature of that which happens in the name of God suggests that any single description of “God” will likely fall short.The church is also the venue where individuals come together to share their experiences, to support and learn from one another and from the tradition.
Spirit and Mystery are “experimental” forms of description – that is, they are constantly drawing us toward broader and deeper understandings of that which we name as God. Institutional religion becomes stagnant when its parameters become rigid and impermeable. Spirit and Mystery maintain the experiential flow and vitality of the God-dynamic, almost demanding that multiple symbols and metaphors be used in corporate worship and recommended for private devotional practice.
The church, as a bastion of certainty and security, is institutional religion at its worst. It is at its best when it gathers people together under “the cloud of unknowing” (or as Catherine Keller describes it, “the cloud of the impossible”) – when openness to new experiences of self, others, and nature are the norm; when “God” surprises and expands experience and understanding.
All I know is that I experience an insistent barrage of thoughts and feelings which suggest that I can be more than I am – a persistent appeal to a deeper wholeness, a coherence that includes self, others, and the natural world. That coherence seems best pursued via compassion, peace, and justice. I experience this call as an unheard inner voice and I am aware that others experience a similar stirring within. It seems to be written on our human DNA, a kind of psychic instinct, a part of our collective unconscious. To call it divine or God(ly) is simply to identify how important it is for human life.