Sunday, January 18, 2009

God Did It

At a Christmas party this past December I was in a friendly conversation in which I was asked what I hoped to achieve or accomplish in my sermons. I talked a little about how at the very least I hoped the congregation could actually learn something about themselves, God or the world. I talked a little about my hope that the sermon contributed broadly to a person's overall spiritual formation. Then today I preached partially on Jesus's command to store up treasures in heaven. This passage of course is found in The Sermon on Mount. As I prepared for this message I began to ask myself what Jesus possibly could have hoped to 'accomplish' in his sermon. Before I could to anything very relevant I felt as though Jesus was first of all establishing his authority. Going up the side of the hill evokes images of Moses ascending Mt. Sinai to receive God's instruction. The imagery in Matthew is complete with a tiered ascenscion with Jesus at the top, the disciples in front of him, at the crowds in background (at Sinai the 70 elders ascended partway while the rest remained at the foot of the mountain). Jesus acknowledges the law but places under his authority. Following this I wondered whether Jesus hoped to create a crisis for the people. The sermon runs along in dialectical fashion always exposes the audience to the appeals of two authorities from which they must live.
I shared some this in the sermon and then in the adult educaton time afterwards we talked a little about the message. I asked the group about my suggestion that perhaps Jesus was trying to create a crisis in his audience. There was some general agreement to this idea but then the conversation quickly turned to whether or not God wills or creates 'crisis' in people's lives. To this we could not of course agree. God does not creates crises, right, though he seemed to be doing in so in his message.
Is this the difference between natural theology and dogmatic theology? Does natural revelation function in the same manner as special revelation. It did for Isaiah. And today I would argue that at the very least natural (and manmade) crises are in fact revelatory. Crises expose false foundations and de-centre our lives. The expose the spirit of a person or community.
Is it so horrible to say that indeed God caused perhaps even that God sent that crisis? Why does this have to then be equated with retribution for sin? Most often what a crisis reveals today is not the sin of those who suffered but of the ones who ordered things so that those might suffer. The connection of God with natural events carries a whole host of unhelpful associations. I am asking honestly, is it so horrible to say that God causes all or particular (I am not sure what is more helpful) crises? Is it possible to say that in a manner that then allows us then to appropriately discern and respond to the revelation latent within that event?


hineini said...

I'm curious what you mean by crisis. People seem much more comfortable with the idea that God will sometimes "test" people but they become uncomfortable with the idea that God can be the source or cause of suffering. I'm just trying to sort out a little better just what you include/exclude when you say crisis.

Unknown said...

Well I was certainly intentional in using 'crisis' as opposed to say 'disaster'. I am not entirely sure what I am including or excluding. I suppose that crisis is concerned as much with the subject as it is the historical events or circumstances.
Some days I am on the verge of saying that if indeed there is a God who is in any way in relationship with creation then all of life is somehow symbolic. All of life is liturgy. We are caught up in rhythms of praise, confession, repentence and pilgrimage. God creates contexts in which we might explore all these movements of being human.
I am always afraid that this thinking, apart from quite likely being nonsense, is either bourgeois or dualist, though it is certainly not in how I understand it.
I certainly cannot exclude the fact that as humans we are also just plain jerks and do jerky things that cause terrible things to happen to other people. So, okay lets move directly to the extreme (as you have been studying) did God 'cause' the Holocaust. Well, is it any better to say that God 'allowed' the Holocaust? I don't think so. But are the dispersed culture of death that kills more but less concentrated also any part of God's 'plan'? I don't know.
I'm not sure I know what the hell I am talking about only that there may be a fabric of the sacred that we can participate knowing that God has ordered or disorded life in way that will always expose those foundations and structures that are built on different liturgies. Well I should just stop now.
Steve, what say you?

hineini said...

I'm not even sure where to start.

I used to be of the opinion that the questions of faith and the meaning(s) of life were somewhat universal. I'm pretty sure I don't think this anymore. This then means that my own contemplations about God's role and responsibility in the horrors of life are generally not translatable to a broad audience and I like to keep this in mind, especially when the topic (if we can call it a topic) of the Shoah arises.

The Shoah, for reasons as of yet unclear to me, has become powerfully formative in my thinking life and thinking of life. This is sharply the case when it comes to any theological conclusions or decisions I might like to make. I would never want to reduce the horrors of the Shoah to some sort of theoretical tool or philosophical position but of course language already betrays me and guarantees that I do just this.

Just as Auschwitz symbolizes yet undoes anything I can say about it, it has also acted as the unravelling of God, ethics and politics for me as well. I continue to refuse to allow any redemption to emerge from the death camps that denied the people inside any hope of emerging themselves and I reject any attempts to liberate the divine from responsibility unless we open the possibilites of radically rethinking just what divinity might entail with the attributed power, justice, love and wisdom all being no longer tenable.

As important as the Shoah is in my thinking it still makes me incredibly uncomfortable to speak about, especially in public, especially electronically but yet it seems to be one of those things about which there is already no option to not speak.

I appreciate the question Dave, and I suppose we could have made it easier on ourselves if we had kept the discussion general and ahistorical, a place where God makes sense. Anyway, I know this is merely introduction, or not even introduction yet but I have a feeling its not the end so we'll see where it goes.