Saturday, July 11, 2009

Providence and Problems Continued

Is the universe really set up so that the Creator/Sustainer of all things is like a puppet master while all creatures/creative forces in the world are simply like puppets on a string? Surely not.

The way many religious people talk about providence views God as in control of every little happening. "It is all part of God's plan," people say. "Everything that happens?" I ask.

One strange thing I've observed is this: many conservative Protestants talk as if human beings are completely free to choose whether to believe in God and trust in God, as if God is not even influencing that choice much at all. But, then, the way these same people talk about the rest of life is as if God rules it completely so that every thing that happens is completely determined by God and not any other forces, including human choice.

Something about that is badly out of touch with reality: with the reality of how we experience life in this world and life with God and each other.

I like the way Tolkein portrays the struggle between good and evil, as if it is a real struggle. He leads you to "believe" and to "hope" that good will overcome. But, it is a real fight, a real struggle - not simply the unfolding of a predetermined plan. It is about the real relationships between the seen and the unseen powers, the real trust or distrust between human and divine. In Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, it is of real and ultimate importance whether Bilbo completes the task he is given. It was of real and ultimate importance that Jesus complete the task he was given, something he had to figure out a step at a time. And, Jesus' purpose was not finished when he was no longer seen in flesh and blood. His purpose was to be the pioneer of a new humanity, to be the first-born of a new creation. And, to fulfill his ultimate purpose, human beings must take part in this movement towards a new humanity, towards a new creation. Though the initial creation was unilateral: "God spoke," this new creation "needs" human cooperators. That's the real point of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. That God might recover humanity as the covenant partner in this creative work. Certainly, humanity is a very junior partner to the Creator, but nonetheless the human being has a real and ultimately important role in the destiny of the earth.

And, it is a struggle. It is a struggle for God, I believe. My experience leads me to say that God is continuously involved in the living of our lives, the dying and the celebrating and the ups and downs of peoples and nations. But, God is involved not as one who determines in a mechanistic way, but as one who is in relation to his creation and who determines by influencing through the divine presence. But, this influence may or may not have an effect. Like when Jesus was in his hometown, and he couldn't do any great things, because of their "lack of faith." Just as then, God needs the human partner. That just seems to be the structure of reality - how God created it, willed it to be.

And, I guess the most simple way to say this is to say: "THIS WE ARE GOING THROUGH IS REAL, AND IS REALLY AND ULTIMATELY IMPORTANT." The Divine Spirit is near and far, is close and distant. God is present in this world, as that creative presence, that reconciling presence, that judging presence, that SANE AND GRACIOUS PRESENCE in the midst of a world that can be so insane and ungracious.

But, because God is in relation to this creation and its creatures, and because God really participates in this history of the world, God's wishes do not always get realized. The Bible seems clear enough on that point. There is a lot going on that is against God's will, and God surely suffers great pain at the cruelty with which humans beings treat each other. Children who are murdered and thousands of children who are orphaned because of the rage of warfare and disease in certain areas of the world. Does anybody really think that is God's will? Surely, that is the opposite of God's will.

If so, then why does God let it happen? That question presumes that God can simply influence any event to go the way God wants it too. I don't believe that. God has not created a world in which God can rule it mechanistically. A real God works by influence (not by calling this shot and that), but human beings have to cooperate with the divine for things to go well on earth. Where human beings are receptive to God, and come under the grace of God's presence, amazing things happen - like they did in Jesus life, and through Jesus.

As I have experienced some horrible things at times in life - seeing others in terrible pain and grief, and experiencing deep loss - I have often felt very strongly that God was that pain and that grief that I experienced in that somehow there was a meaning at the core of the meaninglessness, a love at the heart of the suffering. But, God was right there in it, not way up in heaven sending down messages of consolation and wisdom. And, I sensed that God was at work in that darkness creating life out of death, some hope out of hopelessness - but, often there was a long painful presence before light came, or hope came. I have also felt very deeply that God protests with us in the face of death at times. I have felt a holy protest rise up within my soul in the face of injustice and cruelty. But, sometimes God's causes suffer defeats for a time. But, even in defeat, I experience something that is not defeated. Even in grief, I experience something that can't be lost. I experience that God is closer than can be expressed, and goes to the depths of life and death with human beings. What I find at the depths of my experience is not that everything always works out fine, or that everything happens in accordance with God's well-ordered plan. What I find at the depths is an overwhelming sense that God is completely beautiful and pure and good and gracious and full of mercy and trust and perserverance.

And, this experience makes me want to serve God and honor God and work for God's cause on earth until I have no more days left to serve and honor and praise God. I believe in the absolute and wonderful goodness and beauty of God, and something deeper than I can understand tells me that that goodness and beauty will have the last word in this world. But, it feels a lot more like the life and death struggle of the Lord of the Rings than the nice little journey of faith spoken of in churches.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Essay by William James

I read an essay by William James last night. It is entitled: "Is Life Worth Living?" and is part of a book THE WILL TO BELIEVE: AND OTHER ESSAYS IN POPULAR PHILOSOPHY. You can find the essay by going to The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy . . . Google Books. It begins at page 33, and all of the article appears at this site.

I have always liked reading things written by William James, but what he wrote in this essay really hit me deep down. I am very grateful to have come across it in a book I had buried on a shelf.

I am going to read it again before I take up my topic again on Providence and Problems.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Providence and Problems in Life

When a terrible thing happens, such as finding out you or someone near you has stage four cancer, or when you hear a friend has been killed in an accident or by the murderous act of another - well, these dark times lead to a sense of gasping for air in our hearts and minds. And, throughout history, religious leaders have spoken words to address people in these situations of suffering and pain.

We preachers pick up our Bible and read passages that seem to speak a good word. But, deep down what every one wonders about is: "where is God in this?"

One answer is that nothing happens unless it is God's will that it happen. So, everything has a purpose and a meaning. But, this answer has sounded hollow to me for the past couple of decades. Why was it that Jesus prayed: "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," if God's will was really being done on earth all the time?

I will continue this line of thought in the next post.