Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Predestination, Providence and Tolkein

On one hand, I am very religious, and always have been. But, as I listen to religious people of our time describe their outlook on life, their view of God and other people, I feel very distant from the normal Christian views of this society. I am talking about Christianity, because I don't hear enough about how other religions represent faith.

But, Christianity in the U.S. is something I was raised in and something I hear about all the time, whether I want to or not. And, the majority of what I hear is so foreign to what I experience and what I believe. And, the main thing I don't believe has to do with the common belief that God plans all things out ahead of time and that everything that happens is what God wills to happen, and that all things are part of a good plan that was worked out long, long ago.

I don't believe this and don't experience this in my faith. I believe in God who is in a real relationship, a living, dynamic relationship with this creation. I believe in God's complete goodness and how that is violated again and again in this world. And, yes, I believe that a lot of things happen that should never have happened, and can in no sense be called "part of God's good plan." And, I believe that God's goodness is the most powerful force in all the world and that this goodness will eventually overcome. But, God's goodness is hidden in the present time and God's power is hidden in the present.

My reality is a lot more like Tolkien's Middle Earth, than the reality envisioned by so many Christians. This thing we are going through on earth is a real struggle. God is the greatest character in this struggle, but the struggle is real. It is not as if you can step aside from life and say: "well, it doesn't really matter, because God's will will be done anyway." No, somehow God has allowed his will to get all mixed up with the screwed up human will on earth. And, somehow God means to work through this all so that human beings can learn to will the good, the good that God has always willed, but which has not always come to pass.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Creating out of Nothing

The ancient doctrine of the Church is that God created all that there is out of nothing. In Genesis 1:2 it says: "And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

It is hard to describe nothingness without giving it some characteristics that make it seem like something.

But, this creation out of the void, or out of the chaos of "nothingness" is not just an abstract teaching of Judaism and Christianity and Islam. This teaching about creating out of chaos is deeply rooted in the experience of living as a human being in this world.

If we share any likeness with God, as scripture says we do, surely we share this: to have our little spirits move upon the face of the deep, to face the empty void and to will order out of chaos, meaning out of despair, and something out of nothing. God is, of course, the Great Spirit who broods over the chaos of the world. But, each of us, broods over our little world, seeking to create against the forces that would bind us and have us simply give in to the void.

Now, I admit that I am taking a very traditional teaching and giving it a certain existential meaning. And, I guess that if you forget that our existential struggle takes place within the context of God's creative movement, then you could end up with the kind of despairing struggle of many early 20th century existentialists, who felt that they were carrying on their struggle to create out of nothing in a universe that was silent to their deepest hopes and needs.

But, these existentialists like Sartre and Camus, and earlier philosophers like Kierkegaard, really did hit upon something at the very core of being human. This struggle for meaning in a world that denies meaning or at least shakes traditional ways of finding meaning, is certainly at the heart of the modern (and, post-modern)thinking and feeling of so many of us.

The remarkable thing about human beings is their ability to begin again, to start over, to look into the nothingness and will somethingness, to stand in the darkness and summon the courage to say "let there be light," because in the beginning, the universe was spoken into being by the Courage of the Great Spirit who looked directly into the emptiness of chaos and nothingness and said: "Let there be light."

For those who face the void often in their experience of life, more courage is required. But, that courage flows into our souls from the Creator whose light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.