We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drifting with God

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
In yesterday's post (here), I returned to a point that I've made before, namely that by the grace of God and under the guidance of the Spirit we are generally, if slowly and painfully, headed in the direction of the Kingdom of God, that future time of peace, compassion, and love.  One problem with this point of view is the role of God in our "drift toward the Kingdom."  There is a very fine line to walk here, and it is all too easy to stray into the territory that lies on either side of the line.  On the one side, there is the traditional view of God reinforced by Newtonian physics that God is control of everything.  On the other, lies the also long-cherished viewpoint that God set things in motion and has left it to us to sort things out.  God as the all-powerful manager is one choice, and God as the absentee landlord is the other.

Each of these choices is a flawed one.  God as manager necessarily is the root cause of evil.  The absentee God doesn't really even fit the bill of divinity, and one can argue is equally as responsible for evil, if through negligence.  The struggle is, of course, to discover a third way of seeing God's place in the scheme of things in light of our Judeo-Christian trust in a loving creator God.  For Christians, the "Christ-event" strongly reinforces our sense that God is "in essence" loving and just.  God is the forgiving, embracing father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  It is repugnant to Christian sensibilities to associate the God we see in Christ with the origins and potency of evil.  It is also all but impossible for faithful Christians, as well as Jews, to believe that God leaves us to our own devices.  The whole point of the Bible is that God is involved in human affairs, intimately so.

There is a tension, then, inherent in our understanding of God in light of the scriptures.  God's love is in tension with God's power.

But that isn't quite right.  What is in tension is our human perceptions of God's love and God's power.  For the most part, our doctrines concerning the deity are but mirrors reflecting our own struggles, joys, fears, and understanding.  God as constructed by our theologians is a human construction however close to the biblical texts.  The substance that lies beneath these human constructions is a double intuition.  We look at the universe and we experience an awe that intuitively tells us that there is "something" that is the source of this amazingly constructed reality we inhabit.  There is a Creator—could be a force, could be a divine being, could be a "something" beyond our ken.  But there is "something" that is the source of all of this.  That's the first intuition.  It is intellectual at heart.

The second intuition is "spiritual".  It has to do with our human spirit.  We sense, we intuit a "something" that is profoundly present in our lives.  It inspires us to pray, to worship, to doubt, and to discover trust.  This Presence works in, through, and with us in a way that neither violates our freedom or leaves us to our own devices.  Indeed, it remains obscure apparently so that we are free to do all of the good and the evil things we do while remaining an intuited presence that grounds us in the good, sets us in the direction of the Kingdom, and gives us a push now and again along the way.

In the end, there is no one satisfactory answer to any of this, which is why we are people of faith.  We can't put matters of the spirit or the Spirit under a microscope and resolve these questions by the application of the scientific method.  But we can and must remain self-critical of our struggle to make sense of That which is not commonsensical.