Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Great Passion of an "Impassable" God

Mr. Spock’s [Stoic] God: The [Great] Mistake of Western Theology

January 15, 2014

I admit it. As a kid, I was a rabid Star Trek fan. Mr. Spock’s philosophy was brilliant, to my preteen thinking. He had purged all emotions from his psyche in order to live only by cool-headed reason. All anger, sorrow and fear were barred from his thoughts, allowing him to be perfectly rational at all times.

Later in life, I discovered that Mr. Spock’s creators had unearthed this idea in classic Greek philosophy. My pointy-eared Vulcan hero was pursuing the Stoic ideal of apatheia—seeking virtue by rejecting all passions, by becoming indifferent to pain or pleasure.

Many Greco-Roman philosophers saw emotions as fleshly and evil, uncontrollable and opposed to reason. Obviously, in their minds, the supreme God could not be so weak as to express emotion. God must be impassible—impervious to passions like anger and sorrow, unaffected by the misery of the human condition. Aristotle’s God was the “prime mover,” but he himself was unmoved—he was pure thought, devoid of all feelings.

The idea that emotions are irrational and unnatural arose from Greco-Roman philosophy and has influenced Western theology for thousands of years. We moderners find God’s passions in the Old Testament embarrassing. But what if we looked at Israel’s God from a Middle Eastern perspective, which embraces his emotional reality?

Ken Bailey has discovered a wealth of insight on the parables, especially the prodigal son, from his study of traditional cultures of the Middle East. Throughout his travels, he’s asked his Arab subjects one question hundreds of times: “Have you ever known a son to come to his father and demand his inheritance?” The answer is always the same: it would be unthinkable. It would be an unspeakable outrage, a gross insult to one’s father and family.

Bailey tells the story of one pastor whose parishioner who came to him in great anguish, exclaiming, “My son wants me to die!” The man’s son had broached the question of his inheritance. In that culture, the son’s inquiry expressed a wish for his father’s demise. The elderly man was in good health, but three months later he passed away. His wife lamented, “He died that night!” The offense was so great that in a sense, the man died the very night his son had spoken to him.

Bailey’s insights on this parable reveal a basic error in how Western Christians understand sin and God’s response. We see sin as the breaking of arbitrary rules, as accruing parking violations and speeding tickets in a heavenly court system. If we put our faith in Christ, his atoning sacrifice will pay the fine. In this scenario, God is a callous, uncaring judge whose concern is that the law be upheld and the penalty paid in full.

The portrayal of sin in Jesus’ parable, however, is that of a broken relationship, a personal offense against a loving Father. The son’s actions would have been profoundly hurtful to his family as he cashed in their property for his own gain. Sin does not just “break the rules” and annoy a strict policeman; it is a direct, personal rejection of our loving heavenly Father, who cares for us deeply.

Anger in Tension with Love

The wounded anger of a deserted father is a far cry from the aloof judgment that many of us mistakenly see in the God of the Old Testament. Rather than God being distant and unfeeling, a more biblical understanding is that God’s anger at sin exists in tension with his overwhelming love.

The same passionate concern for humanity that causes God’s anger is also the source of his tenacious, everlasting love that bursts out in joy when his children finally come home.

All of the prophets, in fact, express God’s anguish when his children abandon him, and how he restrains his wrath at sin out of his hesed, his mercy and loving kindness.

This is the Old Testament God’s answer to our angry question, “How can you be so indifferent to the evil in the world?” Our accusations are actually against the impassible God that we’ve conjured up out of our own imagination!

The real God is just the opposite, because indifference to evil is in itself evil. Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes,

There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. All prophecy is one great exclamation; God is not indifferent to evil! He is always concerned, He is personally affected by what man does to man…This is one of the meanings of the anger of God: the end of indifference!

Man’s sense of injustice is a poor analogy to God’s sense of injustice. The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor, to God it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey. Is it a sign of cruelty that God’s anger is aroused when the rights of the poor are violated, when widows and orphans are oppressed?

If God is not wounded by his people’s suffering or angered at their cruelty toward each other, he would be a God who cannot love, theologian Jürgen Moltmann concludes. In The Crucified God he writes,

A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.

God’s powerful emotions made perfect sense in a society where passions were embraced, where tears of mourning and songs of joy were a normal part of life. The Greek rejection of emotions arose out of an intellectual pride that was willing to sacrifice one’s full humanity for the sake of being in constant control.

God is not indifferent or disinterested—he’s an Arab father who is crushed by his son’s apparent lack of love. God is a mother bear who roars a warning if you get too close to her cubs. God is a jilted boyfriend who’s beside himself when he spots his true-love on another guy’s arm. Israel’s God is not less emotional than we are, he is even more.

A God Who is Grieved by Evil

If you’re looking for God’s unflinching judgment, the place you’d most expect to find it is at the time of Noah. You’d expect to find God nearly exploding with fury at the wicked deeds of humanity, when humankind had filled the world with violence, when “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).

But instead of wrath, the Bible says that God was grieved, that God’s heart was full of pain. A murderous gangrene had infected his precious children, causing them to destroy themselves and each other. God’s anguish was so great that he even regretted making humankind.

In Hebrew there’s a connection between God’s pain and that of fallen humanity. Because of Eve’s sin, her sorrow (etzev, ET-tsev) in bearing children will multiply, and Adam will labor in sorrow (etzev) to make the earth produce food. (Genesis 3:16-19) This is the same word that describes God’s sorrow when his heart is “grieved” in Genesis 6:5 (Noah). Like Eve, God’s precious children would now fill his heart with pain; and like Adam, his beautiful earth would now be cursed by human bloodshed. Adam and Eve’s sorrows were a small taste of the pain God himself felt at his broken world.

Our world today is still filled with violence—we’re no different than the generation that made God regret he had created us. When you consider the mass graves of the genocides of this past century, you realize that humans really are capable of evil beyond the limits of the imagination. Yet, after the flood God promised, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).

Why was God’s response to evil different than before?

Here, in the Scripture’s first pages, I wonder if we don’t see God’s answer to the classic question, “If God is good and all powerful, why doesn’t he destroy evil?” In the flood epic, God revealed what his righteous response to human evil would be—universal judgment. God bears with corrupt humanity because the alternative is the death of every sinner on earth. The fact that a good God does not destroy evil is not because he’s impotent—it’s because he’s merciful.

God’s Costly Covenant

We discover God’s mercy in his very next words, when he makes a covenant in Genesis 9. In this very first covenant he ever made with humankind, he committed himself to find another answer to sin rather than just to destroy sinners. In embryonic form, this covenant points toward the coming of Christ.

For God, this decision had an enormous price. Walter Brueggemann explains, “God resolves that he will stay with, endure, and sustain his world, notwithstanding the sorry state of humankind… It is now clear that such a commitment on God’s part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of strong God and needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world… This is a key insight of the gospel against every notion that God stands outside of the hurt as a judge.”

Terrence Fretheim also notes, “Given God’s decision to bear with the creation in all of its wickedness, this means for God a continuing grieving of the heart. Thus the promise to Noah and all flesh in Gen. 9:8-17 necessitates divine suffering. By deciding to endure a wicked world, while continuing to open up the heart to that world, means that God has decided to take personal suffering upon God’s own self.”

God opts to suffer alongside his people because he loves them in spite of their sinfulness. From the moment he made that decision, we see the passionate love that ultimately led to the cross, to bring his prodigal children back to him. And we see his overwhelming joy when a single sinner repents and turns homeward.

The more you see God’s heart, the more you see the character of Christ from the very first pages of Genesis. Our dual images of God in the Testaments start to merge together when we see that the suffering of Christ began in his Father’s heart at the dawn of creation, when we see God our Father bearing the cross for our sins. It’s only when we focus the two images into one that we gain spiritual “depth perception” and begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Condensed and excerpted from the chapter “Our Longing Father” in Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus (Zondervan, 2012), pages 165-178. For a fuller discussion and for quotation references, see the book.

For further reading, an outstanding resource is Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets (New York: Harper, 2001), p 285-413.