Tuesday, October 31, 2006

a cruel God


(disclaimer: warning, some theological BASE jumping here...)

nope, you're right

i definately have a tough time with the 'big cruel God' thing... however, as i started typing the drivel below my brain started to do some backflips which may or may not make sense... let me try to put the ideas together.

in my understanding of it (bereft of any supplemental consultation with our friends at either biblegateway.com or dictionary.com LOL) the whole notion of cruelty turns around not only one person's propensity to act in his or her own self-interest at the expense of all others, but to draw great satisfaction from the pain inflicted upon others in the process. ability, opportunity and motive are all part of the deal.

it is for this reason that i really push back against the whole 'cruel God' idea because most of the time it is embraced by those who are seeking someone to blame for the things that they hate or cannot explain. might as well project responsibility upon someone invisible- provides a bit of counterfeit comfort.

okay, here's a question: are cruelty and responsibility the same?

(i know i'm already in trouble here because H subscribes to much of emmanuel levinas' ideas on responsibility, but i'll let him tell everyone more about that)

i mean, we leap to the conclusion that one who is capable of preventing them but permits awful happenings must do so because that one draws some sick pleasure from the pain of others. you know what? in my view, no God would be better than a God like that... if that's who God is then i'll take my chances and not give him my love or my devotion...maybe there's someone else up there i can talk to.

but then we get all this stuff about bad things happening to good people going on, and the age old questions don't really go away when we default to 'who can say?'...

we need someone to blame.

blame God- it's easy... he's invisible and doesn't contest our blasphemies with miracles, signs or wonders- he just lets us choose to believe what we want- even about his very character.

the heart of God must be a ragged mess.

i know that my own skimpy picture of right and wrong bristles when i hear people attribute stupid, humanly preventable tragedies to God's 'plan.' as i've mentioned in this blog before, we saw through the loss of two of my wife's brothers in three months to automobile accidents. one sunny morning in july of 2003, my brother in law went face to face with a semi as he drove to work... no one has ever been able to explain what happened there. then, three months later to the day, another brother in law and his wife and her young daughter collided with a drunk driver in the middle of the night, claiming not only the lives of my brother-in-law and his soul mate, but that of the driver of the other vehicle as well... there was no one we could even hate over it. both of these tragedies just happened.

as angry and confused as i was about it at the time (and still am- the three-year anniversary of losing my dear friend and brother-in-law terry was october 11) i just couldn't blame 'God's plan' for the night when this one drunken bastard left a wedding in his car and was able to drive an hour and a half in the dark with his lights off before running head-on into the front of my brother-in-law's van as he and his wife of only six-months and her daughter were travelling back home after a dance competition.

what the heck would be the point of blaming God? wouldn't bring anybody back. three people died in that crash and the young dancer had to work obsessively at her physiotherapy once all the skin and bone-grafting had healed just to walk again, much less dance (which she did, by the way... she danced at the same event a year later.)

but is God cruel because he doesn't prevent these local tragedies, much less things like the holocaust? is there something that we, in our temporal subjectivity might be missing?

well what if God IS the cruel one? if you twist it around just so, you just might be able to make a case for it and still remain mildly orthodox...

here's what i'm thinking: God can prevent all bad things. however, he doesn't- he has made a deal to permit all of humankind with freedom of will and he's not backing out now. would it be fair to say that God draws satisfaction from permitting us to make up our own minds about things that we believe or don't believe, things we do or don't do etc? well, he's either satisfied or putting up with it for some reason because this appears to be our causal cage whether we like it or not.

is satisfaction pleasure?
could be.

and if it is, then can God be seen as drawing pleasure from allowing us to make the decisions we make even though he can see they are going to bring about pain and consequence for ourselves and others, as well as himself? if so then here lies the cruelty of God...

to agree to abide by our stupid decisions because he derives more pleasure from our freedom to choose life or love or pride or pain than he derives from happiness- ours and his own.

who is really to blame here?

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58 Comments:

Blogger Cinder said...

one thing which ticks me off is when people try to insinuate that God is trying to punish family, friends or I, because of the trials, illness, tragedies, etc. which might be occurring in life.

my response to them is that i don't serve a God who punishes, but who loves me unconditionally and stays by my side, no matter what choices or road I might end up walking down.

"to agree to abide by our stupid decisions because he derives more pleasure from our freedom to choose life or love or pride or pain than he derives from happiness- ours and his own." (jb)

for me that is the great thing about this walk...i know the freedom of choice lies firmly on my shoulders, but despite what choice made, He'll always be there. my thought is that if we all went through this life, making all the so-called 'right' choices and moves, then we wouldn't be able to relate to others in a true form. by allowing us all to walk a variety of roads and experiences, we are able to effectively meet others where they are.

"i just couldn't blame 'God's plan'...what the heck would be the point of blaming God?"

two years ago i lost two family members within 5 days of each other and my mom's illness progressed downhill. in the midst of coping with this new level of illness and the grief of people gone, i was met with more than one sentiment which told me to take comfort in knowing that this was all in God's plan and He truly does know what's best. i know He knows what's best for me always, but to try and 'pin' this stuff on Him and say He planned it...that's just insane. the truth of the matter is that sometimes things in this life happen, that hurt, don't make sense and might never truly make sense...innocent people sometimes get caught in the tragedy of a wrong choice made by someone else...but God doesn't allow this to happen to punish you or them for something you've done...He's the one there beside you to understand, help and love you through, even when others humanly aren't.

11/01/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

Discussions about the cruelty of God usually try and focus on reconcilling characteristics of God which seem to come into conflict in certain situations. These theodicies follow a similar pattern; given the existence of suffering/evil how can we continue to understand a omnipotent/just/loving God. These discussions have been around for as long as people have been doing theology and everyone seems to think about the problems differently probably because everyone relates to the divine, or lack there of, in a different way.
I am also very aware that countless people have gained comfort following a variety of personal or collective tragedies in many different ways and I would hate more than anything to undermine this comfort or insinuate that it is somehow illegitimate. All any of us have to work with is our own experiance and our personal conception of the divine. That said, there are many of us for whom an answer of "suffering is caused by human free will" or "we can't understand these things" or "its all a part of God's plan for us" don't really address our concerns.

"okay, here's a question: are cruelty and responsibility the same?...i mean, we leap to the conclusion that one who is capable of preventing them but permits awful happenings must do so because that one draws some sick pleasure from the pain of others." (jollybeggar)

I think if we start the discussion by asking if God enjoy's causing pain it might distract us from a more central question that you hinted at in the above quote. That question is prior to whether God enjoys human suffering. If God has the ability to stop suffering (all suffering or even just certain instances) why would God not take the action needed to stop the suffering. I can accept that much suffering is caused by human action but we can't forget much is also caused by natural disasters such as the tsunami that hit south-east asia a few christmases ago. To say that suffering is a cause of free will is also harder to argue for people who believe in prayers being answered. If God steps into history to address specific human concerns in that situation why would God not step into history to allieviate some or all suffering in any number of situations.

So with a traditional understanding of God as omnipotent and infinitely loving we seem to end up with the age old dilemma that either God isn't infinitly loving in the way we understand that to mean or God lacks the ability to do what is necessary to stop or lessen the suffering we see. Obviously much of this dilemma can come down to how we think of "love" and God's power but much of the historical debate seems to come down to some form of this arguement.

It's my belief that much of this dilemma comes down to humanity believeing that God is for humanity first. What I seem to see in the various scriptures and various traditions is that God is for Godself first. Its possible that human suffering, while not unimportant, is of secondary importance to God and will be adressed when benefits God. I have little doubt that our current conception of God is a very domestic, predictable God and so this way of seeing God first and foremost for Godself, is hardly something compatable with many of the ways we speak of God but I realize I have gone on for quite awhile so I wanted to pause so I don't lay out too much to deal with.

11/01/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"Its possible that human suffering, while not unimportant, is of secondary importance to God and will be adressed when benefits God. I have little doubt that our current conception of God is a very domestic, predictable God and so this way of seeing God first and foremost for Godself, is hardly something compatable with many of the ways we speak of God"

yeah, man. i agree.

too easy to create a god in the image of fallen humankind. too much projection there... that's what the pantheon was about.

11/01/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

I just can't see a God of cruelty (tough word to use there) in the NT and even the OT to some point. God in-stated the laws for the Israeli nation to help stop them from the weaknesses of their free-will (to guide it). I see a God that cares even in that (that being said God also wanted to wipe them out and start a new line via Moses). But God cannot be the author of cruelty or hatred, it just seems so human.

11/01/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"But God cannot be the author of cruelty or hatred, it just seems so human."

nicely put. not the author of cruelty- and yet the only thing that keeps us from defaulting to this notion is faith.

somewhere in his comment, hineini mentions human beings at the centre of God's agenda... oh yes, here it is:

"It's my belief that much of this dilemma comes down to humanity believeing that God is for humanity first."

and here i strongly agree with him from my own perspective. God is about humanity in that after creating a bunch of 'somethings' he created 'someones.' he reflected differently upon them- this difference is summed up in the difference between 'good' and 'very good' in the creation narratives.

it is my belief that God created humankind out of a desire to express love, not cruelty, personally. we are to be the objects of God's greatest emotional connections- being his 'crowned of creation'... the only ones capable of participating in the realization of his desire to know and be known.

from the time of the patriarchs to the book of revelation, God's prime directive in scripture seems to be 'that they would be my people and i would be their God' and it is this desire for relationship which causes God to deal with us in ways that lead us in our egocentricity into the folly that everything is about us.

yes, Jesus death and resurrection were for us, but even the passion of Christ was about God first, as we read in john 17.1-5.

it's like that classic joke comparing a dog and a cat in their respective relationships with a master:

the dog says 'you feed me, you give me shelter, you play with me- you must be God.'

the cat says 'you feed me, you give me shelter, you play with me- I MUST BE GOD.'

(insert 70's sitcom laughtrack here)

we, like the cat, continue to place ourselves at the meaningful centre of everything and then wonder why we can't draw personal meaning or insight from tragedy that seems to take place with no regard for spiritual status or station.

on my first visit to sri lanka, i met a man named xavier who was fixing his house. he reflected to me that on one hand, his wife and daughter were saved from the tsunami of 2004 because they had chosen to go to church that morning(their church being outside of the heavily affected area) while on the other hand, many believers worshiping in a little church down the road from him were probably dead because they had gone to church that morning...

the only comfort for me in these strange discrepencies is to acknowledge that my theology is shallow at best most days, and that God accomplishes his glory by things he actively does and things he passively allows. i am also reminded in the times of the big questions to remember to not project fallen human characteristics on God...

(ie: concluding that God is some needy, egocentric megalomaniac because he does things for his glory and that's not very humble- blah blah blah... these conclusions are still informed by our understanding of fallen humanity, not a holy creator of the humanity that fell on its own accord)

...but to try to live in such a manner that the image of God is evident in my walk towards him.
***
related posts:

http://e-pistles.blogspot.com/2005/09/blaming-god.html

http://acts1v8.blogspot.com/2005/08/of-unwelcome-tennants-and-welcoming.html

11/02/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"I just can't see a God of cruelty (tough word to use there) in the NT and even the OT to some point. God in-stated the laws for the Israeli nation to help stop them from the weaknesses of their free-will (to guide it)." (societyvs)

If we continue to read scripture from the perspective of Israel I think we are tempted to insulate ourselves from the suffering of those who may experiance a cruel God. God's provision and protection for Israel could look very much like cruelty if one were a Caananite, Philistine or Ammonite to name just a few.

God's prime directive in scripture seems to be 'that they would be my people and i would be their God' and it is this desire for relationship which causes God to deal with us in ways that lead us in our egocentricity into the folly that everything is about us.
(jollybeggar)

Jollybeggar, I agree that this seems to assume that the scriptures we have are the only scriptures and that they are all about us. I think this is what I was getting at when I mentioned humanity putting itself in the position of privilage in the workings of God. Many claim that the scriptures humanity has are God's message of some sort to humanity and so it would make sense for humanity to play a central role in these narratives. More specifically, for western society who has inhereted the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, the attributes of God found there are often seen as the only attributes possible. To put this another way, if, as some say, we have a "love letter" from God then we are going to look pretty good in it, it would make sense. The problem for me lies in the fact that God might also be up to things that victimize humanity.

I have always enjoyed the writings of Elie Wiesel on subjects similar to these ones we're discussing. After his unimaginable experiances during the Holocaust he feels his vocation is now to stand with the victims of oppression in opposition against their oppressor/s and acknowledges that sometimes this puts him in opposition to God. Which brings me to this;

"and that God accomplishes his glory by things he actively does and things he passively allows. i am also reminded in the times of the big questions to remember to not project fallen human characteristics on God...
(ie: concluding that God is some needy, egocentric megalomaniac because he does things for his glory and that's not very humble- blah blah blah... these conclusions are still informed by our understanding of fallen humanity, not a holy creator of the humanity that fell on its own accord)" (jollybeggar)

I am still baffled by how God always gets the benefit of the doubt. Jewish wisdom teaches that to blaspheme humanity is to blaspheme God because we were created in God's image. It's my opinion that humanity has the abilty to identify not only love and truth but suffering and injustice. Yet some sort of taboo exists that these abilities (some would say abilities given to us by God) cannot be applied to all situations including the actions of God. The precident is there, Abraham and Moses both argued with God as did Lot and Job. I don't have problems with a miraculous God who can step into history and change reality, but for me, if this is a possibility, then there needs to be some accountability for the situations in which God fails to act, or acts contrary to the things I mentioned above such as kindness or justice. Maybe thats one of the wounds one carries when their theology describes a radically unpredictable God who is able to be anything, from a champion of the marginalized, the widow and orphan to God as victimizer with a irascible tendency.

11/02/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

hineini, i love the way you write. just gotta tell you that.

your passionate heart and your desire to stave off the complacency of our western affluence in order to serve 'the other' bears the fragrance of the presence of God. similarly, although i don't always subscribe to your theological position, i don't think i've ever disagreed with something so beautifully articulated. usually the more 'liberal' the theological camp the more cool, ironic or cynical the expression. somehow, you can speak of a God capable of being derilect in his responsibility to justice for the sake of all of humanity in terms that are still full of warmth and love...

as for these abilities of which you speak... weren't they the fruit of decisions made to rebel and taste the difference between right and wrong, justice and injustice first hand?

well listen- when you step up to the podium to hold God accountable, let me know a little ahead of time so that i can stand off to your theological right for fear of being struck by lightning because, after all, we all know that the God of the right strikes hard and fast whenever his people get the details too far left whereas the God of the left is unavailable for comment anyway... regardless of how far right we are in our opinions. just keeping the bases covered, ya know!lol

bless you, man.

11/02/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

I still find it tough to blame God for anything, if for any reason, lack of proof. Is He cruel? Who can know this about God? I know we can only judge by the scriptures on this basis but I still don't see the 'cruel God' in the writings of Jesus (who Matthew says is all inclusive to all societies). Christ doesn't come off as cruel in His speech about God or concerning God's attributes...God is just but not cruel. If there is proof I am yet to find that proof (even within the scriptures).

But I think God is as cruel as we make Him out to be, by what we believe about Him. Odd thing about cruelty is...even in our cruelty we still think God is merciful concerning us (are we warped human thinkers?). We are biased by nature and nothing I say can be taken as gospel.

11/02/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

Thanks jollybeggar, I really appreciate the kind words, even if they have the potential to "heap burning coals on my head" so to speak ;) . As for your left/right distinction, if such a judgement exists, then I hope to be in a position where God is forced to judge me as being too inclusive and accepting.

"I know we can only judge by the scriptures on this basis but I still don't see the 'cruel God' in the writings of Jesus" (societyvs)

I'm not sure how much post-holocaust theology your familiar with but one of the things that changes, being in the shadow of the holocaust, is our reading/interpretation of scripture. Because we always read a text from a historically and culturally dependent situation I'm not sure I can ignore the instances of human suffering around me that influence my understanding of the divine. This overwhelming misery, to me, is testiment that there are no innocents, least of all the one(s) who holds most power be they human or divine. I can totally agree that Jesus doesn't come across as cruel (except maybe to the pharisees and the fig tree) and its from this model, especially the preference Jesus seems to give to the vulnerable, that I take much of the hope that God will step in to rectify the wrongs that happen all the time. I mentioned the holocaust as a paradigmatic instance of reality posing some serious challenges to our traditional understanding of a universe peopled by a powerful, loving, compassionate, active God who comes to the aid of those who need aid or those who call on God.

"But I think God is as cruel as we make Him out to be, by what we believe about Him. Odd thing about cruelty is...even in our cruelty we still think God is merciful concerning us" (societyvs)

I think many of us believe God is merciful towards us because we live in Western society and many belong to the religious majority Christians for whom the world seems to be set in favour. This is not to say that there is no pain or suffering but it seems to be a whole other thing than, say, living through the holocaust.

11/03/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"heap burning coals on my head"

i've heard many sermons on this one. the one i like the most was the one where someone spoke of heaping burning coals as being an extension of warmth- giving live coals from one person's fire to another, to be carried in a (er-well, whatever you carry live coals in, i suppose) fire-carrying thingie on their head to their home where their household would be immediately warmed by the fire of another. so, yeah, in that tradition let 'em heap.

"...if such a judgement exists, then I hope to be in a position where God is forced to judge me as being too inclusive and accepting."

nice.

hey, to what extent does your vocation allow for grace to be imparted upon those who would presume to, themselves, judge others? i mean, it's a totally loaded question, i know, because to make that designation about another is of course to pass some sort of judgement...

but we have this understanding of right, wrong and rebellion that we have both inherited and consummated, and which we continue to use against both ourselves and others as an instrument of torturous exploitation and control to some self-satisfying end.

where is your line separating acceptance from permissiveness... or is there one?

sorry for the big hairy question... it's one bouncing around in my own head these days and i am always interested to hear how others process it.

have a nice weekend!
;-)

11/03/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"where is your line separating acceptance from permissiveness" (jollybeggar)

Permissiveness has never made sense to me as a concept. The closest thing I can see is in being a parent but when it comes to making moral judgements in regards to the actions of others, it has no place for me.
You bring up an interesting question about inclusivity and just how far we can go with that. I can say personally the only time there are limits on my acceptance of someone is when that person is injuring a third person.

Kierkegaard wrote that "The moment of decision is madness" and moral judgements get interpreted in a similar way by Levinas who says that moral judgements put us in an impossible position where we must betray justice, and betray our responsibility to the other in our very judgement which is made for the other (or the other's other).

This is the beginning of a very long answer to that so I hope you see a bit where this is going.

11/07/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

theodicy consumes my limited brain. yes free will...but still. I've thought about process theism and open theism and I am somewhere with Kushner, Greg Boyd, Pinnock...but still i grieve for my losses and all of my theology and fortuitous chance (nesc for free will) turned into chaos thoughts seem too academic. my last efforts are revelation 21.4 and that God is with us in our suffering; God suffers with us. my sentiments are with you.

11/08/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

I really liked Heinini's answer on the permissiveness question and I am along the same lines when it comes to acceptance and inclusivity...I just think that inclusivity into the kingdom of God is not in our hands (as far as someone else's decisons go) but it is up to us to be open to others who might ask of us.

Permissiveness is interesting topic, if it's along the lines of enabling and co-dependency then I am with Heinini on this, doesn't make a lot of logical sense.

11/09/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

There is nothing cruel about God, it's our perspectives that make the image (so to speak). Even if what we claim to know about God made him cruel, we'd be viewing through the windows of our souls not God's...thus tainting the very thing we try to capture. Cruelty, I think not, Creativity, I think so.

11/10/2006  
Blogger Rahab said...

"There is nothing cruel about God, it's our perspectives that make the image (so to speak)." (societyvs)

very true...tragedy clouds perspective and in that instance people look to blame the 'cruelity' on something/someone and God is usually the easiest choice.

11/10/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

yes yes, i understand.
however, i think that perhaps we have once again fallen into the skim and scan habit while reading this post...

"...we need someone to blame.

blame God- it's easy... he's invisible and doesn't contest our blasphemies with miracles, signs or wonders- he just lets us choose to believe what we want- even about his very character.

the heart of God must be a ragged mess.."

i was never saying that God is cruel to US... the humbling spiritual reality is that God has elected to endure the intense pain of our transgressions and the resulting broken relationship in order to permit us his greatest gift- free will.

if a human being chose to endure ongoing personal pain by willfully subjecting him or herself to the carelessness and self-centredness of another, we would dismiss this person as somehow masochistic at worst or co-dependent at best... both are labels that take their meaning from basic self-abusive tendencies: metacruelty, if you will.

my post was exploring the idea that God can be seen as cruel to HIMSELF in order to extend grace our way...

11/10/2006  
Blogger Cinder said...

"my post was exploring the idea that God can be seen as cruel to HIMSELF in order to extend grace our way..."

i think sometimes His grace is severely taken for granted and also pretty misunderstood. if you've grown up with that grace extended you all along, for some (definitely not all), i don't think that extended grace is seen as being cruel...for some it's seen as a right.

for those who have faced some of the 'cruelities' of this world and then had Him take them away, had their lives completely transformed and through time have seen the person they were completely disappear...i think it's different.

at times in my eyes He was seen as cruel, because it was almost impossible to fathom that He paid that price to wipe my slate clean and allow me to begin a new one. when i'm really off the gameplan to where i think He would like me to be, then I sometimes wonder why He allowed that pain to be inflicted on Himself for someone so imperfect.

but then there's the side that simply sees it as insane...people insane to believe in it and that if it did occur, the act itself as an insane one.

as i grow, it becomes the most humbling and powerful example of how i need to empty myself and extend grace completely...with no exclusions or set parameters. i don't think He wants that perceived as cruelity, but instead, as the deepest form of love we'll ever know.

11/11/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

I know JB, I just wanted to say something smart for once and push this post closer to 30 hits again...since I think the writing deserves it. As far as you comments on God being cruel to Himself for our benefit, I guess the story of Jesus kinda bares that one out also. Taking our deserved judgment upon Himself...yeah I would say you are right again.

11/11/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't feel like I can let God off the hook so easily.

"i was never saying that God is cruel to US... the humbling spiritual reality is that God has elected to endure the intense pain of our transgressions and the resulting broken relationship in order to permit us his greatest gift- free will." (jollybeggar)

I'm not sure how much of God's sovereignty your willing to sacrifice here but it doesn't look so simple and clear to me. It may be easy for some to think it a given that God is not cruel to us, although as I stated above it may look far different if we were Caananites, we are still left with some serious questions. Richard A Cohen summed it up nicely when he wrote.
"Since God wills all things, God willed the Holocaust. Because all things willed by God are good, the Holocaust too was good. Not just that good comes from the Holocaust, but that the Holocaust itself was good, as repentance, sacrifice, purification, sign, redemption, punishment, perhaps all of these, but ultimately good in itself." ("What Good is the Holocaust: On Suffering and Evil" Richard A Cohen. Philosophy Today. Summer 1999. pg 176-83)

I'm not so sure I can accept that the problem is in my perspective since I can't take the perspective of another, a "view from no-where" isn't possible so my perspective is all thats available to me.

"my post was exploring the idea that God can be seen as cruel to HIMSELF in order to extend grace our way... " (jollybeggar)

This just makes me ask how the Holocaust or any suffering for that matter is counted as being gracious to humanity on the part of God. How much more than the deliberate extermination of 6 million Jews would be cause enough for God to step into history and end the meanigless bloodshed.

"but then there's the side that simply sees it as insane...people insane to believe in it and that if it did occur, the act itself as an insane one." (cinder)

To me this idea of cinder's seems like the most compelling response although instead of insane I would probably use the word absurd.

"blame God- it's easy..." (jollybeggar)

In all honesty I couldn't disagree more. I think that if someone were to build their reality around a divine, there would seem to be little as frightening and disheartening than to have a deity at whose feet we can lay the countless bodies and limitless suffering experianced in history. Maybe thats why many choose not to build realities that leave room for God because the stakes are too high, the consequeces unbearable. But I suppose this isn't as hopeless as it sounds either as Levinas writes that "On the road to God there is a way station where there is no God."

11/12/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

Again my point stands as one on the pathway to reality in this situation 'Even if what we claim to know about God made him cruel, we'd be viewing through the windows of our souls not God's...thus tainting the very thing we try to capture'.

11/12/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

I think I can agree societyvs but that still doesn't take us very far past the initial question. It seems fairly clear that everything I see is going to pass through my biases and limited understanding and that this is no different for the thoughts I try to think about God. But this awareness still doesn't give me much direction when the view through "the window of my soul" is a victimizing God or the unjustifiable pain, suffering, misery of my neighbour. I can totally agree that we are all trapped in our own perspectives, I'm just trying to wrestle with what to do while I'm here.

11/13/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

I agree Heinini about your struggle, it's no different for any of us that try to make sense of the Christian faith and the allure of God. I can't speak for God, nor do I claim such an idea, knowing little about the core nature of His being - only within my experiences have I seen the intents of who God might be...I am by no means 100% sure and continue to seek the idea out further.

But my idea of cruelty and the pain, suffering, and atrition of the human being I don't think goes back to God but to human decision. I cannot find one thing in human life that isn't decided by a human decision (whether benefit or suffering). I don't think there is a single accident, for in that is superstition and a denial of some human making a decision (whether right or wrong - only they know).

See if we blame God for the pain, suffering, and brutality within our realm and say the same about blessings, we deny human capability to do both (via free will) and that God may have very well left that in our hands and minds. In the end the only one to blame is the decision maker...whether that affects us good or bad. I still follow the bread crumbs back to the source and I find out everytime that it wasn't the 'big bad werewolf' but a human decision at the core of all things. Which in the end mean, as humans we have a bigger responsibility than some may see to deem fit...but I have no problem with looking at humans as the decision makers that affect both blessing and suffering.

11/13/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

I can see what your getting at a little better I think societyvs and I agree to an extent. The idea that we as humans are responsible for enacting goodness and evil in the world I can totally go along with. You wrote:
"if we blame God for the pain, suffering, and brutality within our realm and say the same about blessings,we deny human capability to do both (via free will) and that God may have very well left that in our hands and minds." (societyvs)
I should also say that I in no way believe God the author of all human suffering. But there are a few things that come about from this increased give and take of responsibility between humanity and God.

"I cannot find one thing in human life that isn't decided by a human decision" (societyvs)

If we leave out the discussion of whether natural disasters are an effect of human decisions there are still two important issues that come up for me. I've kinda hinted at both above in my comments but maybe let me flesh them out a bit more. The first is a question of justice and how we are to understand it in terms of responsibility. Like I said I agree that humans are capable for enacting good and evil in the world but I would not want humanity to have the monopoly on this (un)ethical action. My theology seeks to make space for a God(s) who also act(s). With this potential for action, either human or divine, or both, there comes a certain responsibility. Justice demands that certain actions are taken in certain situations. It seems to me that if most suffering comes from human action then much of the responsibility to act justly also rests with us. But is there not a responsibilty that also rests with God if God is able to act? I have been reading this topic posting to be about teasing out just what responsibility God has in the actions, both human and divine, that we see around us everyday.

I've gone on for a bit so I think I'll save the second point. No sense monopolizing the space more than I already am.

11/16/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

yeah, i don't blame God for my pain... the challenge for me is to give it up to him.

i'm pretty good at white-knuckling that stuff myself.

but i'm working on it.

11/16/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

"If we leave out the discussion of whether natural disasters are an effect of human decisions" (Heinini)

One can make the arguement that we are lending a hand to these monstrous actions (ie; global warming and all the other crap we do to the earth)...all I know is thinga aren't going to get better until we stop messing with nature. But also to blame God in any way for the shifting of the earth plates or an asteroid striking earth, well, that;s in the eye of the beholder (simply put).

"My theology seeks to make space for a God(s) who also act(s)" (Heinini)

That's cool but it's also a pre-supposition, since He might not act either (or at all or as we wish). And how can we hold God accountable is my next question, if I follow your reasoning correctly? I say if he acts, then we hold him accountable also. If there is a way to do this, I am more than open ears on it.

12/07/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"it's also a pre-supposition, since He might not act either (or at all or as we wish)." (societyvs)

Of course its a pre-supposition just like any other theological decision (or lack of a decision).

"And how can we hold God accountable is my next question"

Most of what I've written in this post is an answer to this question. For myself one of the central underlying problems I have is trying to reconcile the God that is described in many Christian circles. This God is relational, loves each individual infinitely, is immutable, has the three "omnis" (dealing with power, prescence and knowledge) and is comitted to justice. All I feel I'm pointing out is that this picture of God doesn't fit with the suffering in reality. The cruel God seems to be the only way to reoncile all those things mentioned above with the suffering that goes on around us; we'd also have to rework or definition of love too.

So back to the accountablility thing. In my opinion, making God accountable is about following the examples of Job, Moses, Lot, King David, Eli Wiesel, Yosl Rakover, Daniel Berrigan, Paul Celan and many many others in telling God that God is wrong on occasion. Its about shedding our perpetual indebtedness to God once in awhile and approaching the divine like a creditor, with accusations and demands. We need to live up to our conception of justice, honouring our responsibility to the victims. I feel we need to express our outrage at the needless suffering of innocence and do all we can to bring it to a stop. For myself, the divine plays a vital role in realizing the cessation of this and just as it is appropriate to praise and plead, its also important to remind and accuse God of God's failings or shortcomings when we, both humanity and the divine, are faced with the overwhelming suffering that surrounds us.

12/13/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All I feel I'm pointing out is that this picture of God doesn't fit with the suffering in reality. The cruel God seems to be the only way to reconcile all those things" (Heinini)

I find the line of thinking very interesting - a viable reason to blame God for humanity's woes. He controls the earth and He has to have willed a certain amount of deaths in a earthquake...that's the reasoning? So we blame God for the tragedy since no one else is there to be blamed - not man, woman, animal, fish, bird, or bug. Is this accurate?

"its also important to remind and accuse God of God's failings or shortcomings when we, both humanity and the divine, are faced with the overwhelming suffering that surrounds us. (Heinini)"

So we blame God then we go further and start accusing Him of all sorts of attrocities that resulted from the original 'act of God' (ex: death, destruction, my dog got loose, and starvation). We also want to hold him responsible for this action so we ask in such a manner as to say 'knock it off! Can't you see I am suffering you deity!".

First off, as nice as this sounds (and I am not saying we don't have room to be mad with God at times - in suffering) it makes little sense. I have to prove God caused the accident - in order to lay some blame at the rigthful feet they belong - just because he is All-powerful doesn't mean He 'willed' this 'act of God' (our term)?

It may lack explanaton (the accident) but to blame God because he could of 'prevented' it is similar to asking God to prevent the next time I 'slip and crack my skull on the cement'...that can be prevented also...should I blame God for my shitty rubber boots or for not catching me or for the ice being slippery or for not letting me know this would happen? All I am asking for is divine intervention is all.

However, lots of attrocities happen throughout the world and we cannot explain them - but we can explain something...Don't live by a volcanoe, on fault lines, up tornadoe alley, or on the coasts where waves and hurricanes might destroy you - specially if you know these things already happen there in frequency. Now if an asteroid comes down and kills a lot of people - that's random.

But suffering is part of the human condition and even if we blame God (or don't)...it still happens irregardless - maybe the facts are leaning more to that God isn't to blame after all (since we can't blame someone we have no 'proof' is doing this). But suffering happens and it always will - and we have to pick up the pieces of the shattering - and that's all we can do (outside of human prevention for preventable tragedies - ex: wars). I find in suffering I look to God, not blame Him for the suffering - since He is a great source of comfort.

12/13/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

okay, i just went snooping around the e-pistles campsite and found a couple of guys sitting up late under the stars, keeping the fire stoked and doing soul business.

and here i thought that everyone was sleeping. i pull up a log of my own to sit on, crack open a cold rickards and start to listen...

"Its about shedding our perpetual indebtedness to God once in awhile and approaching the divine like a creditor, with accusations and demands. We need to live up to our conception of justice, honouring our responsibility to the victims. I feel we need to express our outrage at the needless suffering of innocence and do all we can to bring it to a stop... just as it is appropriate to praise and plead, its also important to remind and accuse God of God's failings or shortcomings when we, both humanity and the divine, are faced with the overwhelming suffering that surrounds us."
(hineini)

"But suffering happens and it always will - and we have to pick up the pieces of the shattering - and that's all we can do (outside of human prevention for preventable tragedies - ex: wars). I find in suffering I look to God, not blame Him for the suffering - since He is a great source of comfort."
(SocietyVs)

the challenge for me is to address God honestly and then step back.

we see this in much of king david's writing- which i find incredibly encouraging because of its frankness. responding to the psalms unlike the voice of God in monty python and the holy grail ("it's like those miserable psalms- they're so depressing... now knock it off!"), i find the words of the psalmist are packed with way more healing power than the 'our daily bread' devotional and the collected writings of chuck swindoll and max lucado combined.

i notice that the psalmist steps back quite regularly. having blasted away in his exasperation, confusion and pain, he breathes in and ascribes to God the things that are consistent with the benevolent ruler picture of God...

psalm 13 is like this.
psalm 22 breathes- no, back and forth it's more like vomiting than breathing... there's that momentary peace and then the next wave hits and the violence begins all over again.

the psalmist never seems to leave the accusation line open, though.

i have to cling to this picture of God because i believe that my own understanding of what is just and true and righteous is based upon this identity of God. if not for God, how would we conceptualize justice or lack thereof? where do these ideas of holiness and grace come from if God is really just bigger than us in scope and influence and therefore probably more fallible than we are?

"...Job, Moses, Lot, King David, Eli Wiesel, Yosl Rakover, Daniel Berrigan, Paul Celan..."

nice reading list for the holidays... wait a minute: yosl rakover? oh, dang- i still have your book!

12/13/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"I have to prove God caused the accident - in order to lay some blame at the rigthful feet they belong - just because he is All-powerful doesn't mean He 'willed' this 'act of God' (our term)?" (societyvs)

It's less about a cruel God who inflicts pain and causes suffering than about the struggles of faith in a world where "hastoras ponim--God has hidden God's face".

So a God that causes all suffering isn't exactly what I have in mind. I can agree with you that it is possible to attribute much of the suffering we see to human action. In my view the danger here lay in pushing God out of the picture all together, making God into the "unmoved mover" or the "absentee landlord". I don't want to sacrifice the ability and actuality of God entering into time and bringing about change, hopefully change for the better. So I am not saying we blame God for every instance of suffering, nor am I saying that God is the cause of "accidents" or other events that cause suffering. What I am more interested in is the response of God to these events. Scriptural narratives seems to paint a picture of a divine who is active in the lives of humanity and who seems to, at times, protect or deliver people from danger and or suffering. If God really is concerned with the lives of individuals and has the ability to act, even in very small ways, it would seem to me there are certainly situations in which I would hope God would do so. If I could use your slipping example. It may have been your decision what boots to buy and where to walk, it might also have been your lack of balance or lack of attention that caused the slip but with such randomness in every small action why do some people land on a small patch of snow that saves certain injury and others seem to hit the only patch of ice in blocks which takes their life and impacts the lives of so many around them. I'm not demanding God grab you out of the air mid-fall and place you gently inside on the couch, I'm asking for a lesser injury and quicker healing time maybe or even just that your life be spared.


"All I am asking for is divine intervention is all." (societyvs)

Yes! Amen!

"I find in suffering I look to God, not blame Him for the suffering - since He is a great source of comfort." (societyvs)

I have been thinking about this and its helped me see that there are some who seem to be called as advocates and theirs is a "theology of protest" (as David Blumenthal calls it) while others have not, just like everything else I suppose. For some of us, "looking to God for comfort" ends in an encounter with abscence, a one-sided conversation, a throwing pebbles at the window in the sky because just once we thought we saw the curtain move.

"the challenge for me is to address God honestly and then step back." (jollybeggar)

For me, an honest address to God cannot be honest if I know from the beginning that I must reconcile with God at the end of it and once again be left with no conclusion save my finitude and the certainty that the only one ever possibly wrong in the conversation is me. It would seem to me a somewhat cruel endevour to have a curiosity or to be able to formulate endless questions when the answer to all of them is "You cannot know that" and then to have your frustration judged as your failure. I'm not saying that this isn't a possibility but as a matter of personal faith I'd rather have none than a one-sided relationship like this.


"if not for God, how would we conceptualize justice or lack thereof? where do these ideas of holiness and grace come from if God is really just bigger than us in scope and influence and therefore probably more fallible than we are?"(jollybeggar)

This is a great point and I'm glad it came up. The way I see it our conceptions of justice, holiness and grace are all ours to begin with, how could they be otherwise? There is no way to escape human limitations in thinking of any of these concepts or even thinking about God. Any God we worship is of our own creation which doesn't mean that is empty or merely a fiction but it should mean that we hold our conception of God with a little humilty and uncertainty, with fear and trembling as St. Paul puts it.

12/14/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"...our conceptions of justice, holiness and grace are all ours to begin with, how could they be otherwise?" (hineini)

although i partially acquiesce in that i believe that our conceptions of justice, holiness and grace are in fact ours, i believe that they need to be externally informed in order to be broader than the scope of our experience and personality permits. otherwise, might comprehending goodness and the like be mildly comparable to the experience of one who is colourblind from birth trying to conceptualize the spectrum? only in interaction with others who possess this form of sightedness can the person even imagine it.

okay, so following this reasoning, perhaps we understand the depth of God's character through others
(relationship being, after all, part of our human life experience)...

i wish that i could buy into this one, but i still have difficulty with the notion that somehow we've societally compared notes with all of the other human beings on the planet and have been able to collectively create a morality that exists outside of the revelation of God which agrees on the value of having a few standards like speaking and acting honestly, giving selflessly to others, protecting the weak, upholding the sacredness of life, not stealing, not exploiting etc... recognizing the overall personal and social value of these things that we flippantly refer to as 'natural law.'

seems to me that almost anytime human beings start comparing notes without external information, there are other human beings who attack the gathering in their own self-interest, acting more in accordance with the law of natural selection than with natural law.

having seen very little in this life, but basing my opinions on planet earth status quo, i would say that people more typically act out their inner anarchy than their community when drawn together in large groups... and yet, individuals are able to somehow communicate kindness face to face.

i don't know. i guess what i am trying to say in this lengthy, rambling comment is that people seem to be naturally better at living out the sordidness of their hearts rather than the goodness. because of this, i believe that the goodness that allows one to recognize and respond helpfully to need in the face of another seeps through the weak spots in that one's hard and selfish physical self... the part that dies with the castles in the sand it has created to keep the rain off of its own head.

having raved on and on, i must also say that i love the challenge to intellectual and spiritual humility found in the statement:

"Any God we worship is of our own creation which doesn't mean that is empty or merely a fiction but it should mean that we hold our conception of God with a little humilty and uncertainty, with fear and trembling as St. Paul puts it."

we're all learning from each other- being invited into a deeper awareness as to other possible conceptualizations of this God person of whom we speak so often.

12/14/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A funny thing struck me in this whole idea of 'blaming God' for the cruelties of life - satan. We haven't discussed the place of this entity within this discussion - and why would we - some think he isn't real? Same thing they say about God? But it's just as plausible when talking about the 'unknowns' of life.

12/14/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"okay, so following this reasoning, perhaps we understand the depth of God's character through others" (jollybeggar)

Oh, absolutely! What a hopeless, violent reality it is if there is nothing other than "I". Even our self-awareness comes from our encounter with the Other. My point was that in thinking (or speaking) of this Oher, whether its God or our neighbour (although this distinction is a bit suspicious cf Matt. 25:40) we cannot help but master their otherness, dominating it and subsuming it into the Same, into our language and knowledge. Thats why I wanted to encourage humility and peace when it comes to speaking or thinking these things, because they are contingent and linguistically determined.

"and yet, individuals are able to somehow communicate kindness face to face."

again I agree absolutely. The last thing I want to do is empty the possibility of goodness because I think goodness exists. Not in the eschatological triumphalism we tend to see in the absolutist tendencies of monotheism but instead in the vulnerable and weak self-sacrifice whose motives are not always pure. I feel that the conception of a vulnerable, risking God that I have been argueing for in this post opens up more room for goodness than does a view whose emphasis is God's sovereignty and the inevitable sacrifices found there.

"satan. We haven't discussed the place of this entity within this discussion"(societyvs)
I've never found much room for satan in my theological or philosophical understandings of things. Pragmatically speaking, some non-human, non-God scapegoat doesn't help much in thinking about the things I'm interested in. In fact it seems to do more harm than good so I guess you could fit me into the "some think he isn't real"(societyvs) category. But if you think its relevant than please let us know what your thinking, but I have to admit it would be a hard sell, speaking for myself at least.

12/15/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

the whole satan thing is weird... it has its own adversarial 'theology' of sorts which is largely based on scriptural prophecy pertaining to some really bad kings a long time ago.

what do we see about this character in Jesus' life and ministry? satan shows up to tempt Christ (on call, as it were, for the Holy Spirit is the one credited with the 'driving' of Jesus out there to be tempted directly following that great baptism moment of public and personal affirmation) and then again is said to have entered judas.

in everything else satan remains
in shadow or
out of shot.

but does that mean this being doesn't exist? we could argue the same about God in many situations.

12/16/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"in everything else satan remains
in shadow or
out of shot.

but does that mean this being doesn't exist? we could argue the same about God in many situations." (jollybeggar)

I in fact do try to argue the same about God but pragmatically the effects of a divine not bent on the destruction of humanity is more helpful day to day then an embodiment of evil; evil that I see more than enough of from day to day.

12/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But if you think its relevant than please let us know what your thinking, but I have to admit it would be a hard sell, speaking for myself at least" (Heinini)

Okay, here it is in a nutshell. God does exist but satan doesn't. So we blame God for the cruelties in the world - knowing we have no proof - yet the claim gets made.

Now we make the claim 'the satan' doesn't exist - we have no proof again - yet we rule this entity out. On what basis exactly?

Can't prove God, can't prove the satan, but we can prove the being of the human. So all paths outside of the non-proveable have to be weighted on equal footing - both having no more proof than the other. The human exists (to whom the cruelties happen), but which entity is to blame exactly? Sounds like dualism, well it isn't.

The satan seems to be an entity of which 'prowls the earth', not the heavens - basically, he seems to be on earth with us - unlike God - who was on earth with us. The satan is called all kinds of things in the bible but if he is anything he is a 'destroyer'. The biblical stories seem to point to this fact time and time again, and this destruction is in relationships. Maybe this can explain some of the weird sh*t that happens on earth that seems to be 'un-earthly' (ex: ghosts, hauntings, ufo's)...conspiracy for dinner?

I thought about some of this jazz and then realized that the Exorcist (movie) was based on a real story of a boy - who said he was possessed by the satan(s). That case alone invloved some weird elements within it - and some might say this case made for one of the proofs this does exist.

"According to Rev. Father William O'Malley (who played Father Joseph Dyer in the film), the events depicted in the film are approximately 80% true. He claims the big discrepancies between the movie and reality were: it was a boy who was possessed, not a girl; the possession did not occur in Georgetown, but just outside DC in Cottage City, MD; and the color of the "pea-soup vomit" was not green. He claims that nearly everything else in the movie actually occurred" (wikipedia)

I studied the case for a short stint - thinking this movie just cannot be based in reality - oddly enough, it is based in some fact. O Malley claims a few weird things in this movie (and the book written by Blatty) - the least not being weather/environment changes. Maybe the satan is dabbling in such para-normal activity - of course he doesn't exists so this in all non-proof.

But in the end, I say it's just as plausible.

12/19/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"God does exist but satan doesn't. So we blame God for the cruelties in the world - knowing we have no proof - yet the claim gets made." (societyvs)

I think I mentioned this above briefly but I have no interest in proving God exists (in fact I would want to do exactly the opposite) nor do I want to blame God for cruelty. The points I have been trying to make is that in my opinion, the traditional conception of God gets subverted when confronted with the suffering that surrounds us; I suggest not suffering caused by God but a God implicit in the suffering.

Societyvs, you spoke of the possibility of all suffering being caused by human action/choice. This I see as far more helpful than seeing a pure evil entity as the cause. Your right in stating that there is no proof for or against this entity, but thats not really what that is about for me. Just because something is proven to exist it doesn't mean its going to start to play a role in my worldview (economic profit being an example). It really doesn't matter to me if satan exists or not, my responsibility to my neighbour remains the same either way. So when I said it was more helpful to conceive of reality without satan it is because it would just be another distraction that takes time and energy from my already failing responsibility to the other.

12/19/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

why has satan lied to all of you? Damnit! Godsarnit! Goshdarnit! Dangnabbit!



I'm kidding, good come-back Heinini!

12/20/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"No One Believes In Me Anymore"
(keith green)

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As time keeps slipping away
I can imitate your brightest light
And make your night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie
To tickle itching ears
You know I'm drawing people just like flies
'Cause they like what they hear

I'm gaining power by the hour
they're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very simple now
'Cause no one believes in me anymore

Oh, heaven's just a state of mind
My books read on your shelf
And have you heard that God is dead
I made that one up myself
They dabble in magic spells
They get their fortunes read
You know they heard the truth
But turned away and followed me instead

I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one's watching for my tricks
Because no one believes in me anymore

Everyone likes a winner
With my help, you're guaranteed to win
And hey man, you ain't no sinner
You've got the truth within
And as your life slips by
You believe the lie that you did it on your own
But don't worry
I'll be there to help you share our dark eternal home

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It's all like childs-play
You know, I dream that it will never stop
But I know it's not that way

Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I'm gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore

Well I'm gaining power by the hour
They're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore

12/20/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

Keith Green as a weapon?
I'm a bit surprised jollybeggar. Is the song indicative of your understanding of the state of things?

"I'm gaining power by the hour
they're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very simple now
'Cause no one believes in me anymore" (keith green)

One might ask whether Keith Green's heaven is a lonely, empty one.

12/21/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

ha ha- no, no weaponry, nor understanding... i just read your comment and was reminded of this old song.

i do, however, acquiesce with the title of the tune, in that i do believe that doing away with the person of satan (however little or much we actually know about this person) by relegating this person to figurative language or a poetic/dramatic device leaves me wondering how much else in scripture can be reduced in this way... in my view, it's like the smell of sulphur.

http://northvus.blogspot.com/2005/03/pulp-mill.html

12/21/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

Is the smell of sulphur similar to the smell og BBQ sauce when you catch a big whiff of it and it literally takes your breath away and you have to cough? Or is that just me that happens to? No one believes me anymore.

12/21/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

mmmmm BBQ!

anyway, to save you from clicking and me from typing, here's a bit of what is posted at http://northvus.blogspot.com/2005/03/pulp-mill.html...

"...our olfactory nerve communicates to our brains, safely encased in skull and tissue, what is atmospherically going on in the real world outside. that would be great except for one dangerous fact: there are many harmful gases (SO2 and H2SO4, for example) that temporarily disable or paralyse your olfactory nerve so that, after a moment or two, you fail to detect their presence... in other words, you think that they are gone.

so you're walking around in a poisonous environment, completely unaware that you are in the early stages of dying."

12/21/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"by relegating this person to figurative language or a poetic/dramatic device leaves me wondering how much else in scripture can be reduced in this way... in my view, it's like the smell of sulphur." (jollybeggar)

What I see going on here, please correct me if I'm wrong jollybeggar, is that "figurative" interpretations of scripture are less authoritative. This lack of authority means they are less sure to build either theological or ethical decisions on? I think its predictable that I would disagree with you on this one and you being an artist I would have thought you would be suspicious about this too. I don't feel its too much of a stretch to believe that truth can be found in fiction/poetry etc. I would point to the clear use of parables in Jesus' teaching as demonstration of this. This said, I understand many people are skittish about any "non-litteral" interpretations of sacred texts (the whole "it says what it says" idea). I'm used to being on the outside of the biblical interpretation majority as was probably evident in my conversation with Societyvs and his reading of St. Paul's letters. I do appreciate the opportunity offered here to interact with lots of others and their ideas, its been very good for me. Even just being given an opportunity to suggest a indictable God and have it discussed is quite exciting for me so thank-you.

12/21/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

'..."figurative" interpretations of scripture are less authoritative.' (hineini)

you have a real gift for drawing the central idea out of a lengthy rant. nice job, man.

i also have a tough time with the literal leaps that people sometimes make when attending to scripture, but sometimes the leaping that takes place off of the figurative side of the scriptural bridge has more in common with base jumping at midnight than olympic high diving... it's a long, dark wait for impact.

i was thinking about the discussion above as i made the twenty minute trek across the bald prairie that geographically separates my two 'professional' responses to the call of God upon my life. (in short, i was driving from the church to the school...)

hineini, your faith and your theology are consistent. if i understand your assertions correctly, they interact perfectly (well, you know what i mean) with each other, in that your picture of God as being vulnerable, subjective and, as mentioned above, 'idictable' jives with the idea that humankind, being created in the image of such a God, is existencially responsible for the problem of sin. just as God is fallible, so his crowned of creation are fallible. i like that your ideas fit together the way pieces of a jigsaw puzzle do... it gives me a nice break from my own theological rubic's cube.

however, for me, my (more traditional) picture of God- being holy, immutable, "the three omni's" and all that- cannot be consistent with the authorship of sin, the temptation to rebellion(causing as opposed to allowing) of those whom he created out of love and the perversion, due to basic selfishness and desire for autonomy, of so much that is good in creation by people that started out being created in the image of this amazing God person. these ideas don't stick together for me.

am i just aspiring to the rich theological tradition of late 60's comedian flip wilson, saying simply 'the devil made me do it'? does this mean that i have created a yang for my chosen ying? no. it just means that i am trying to reason and factor into my theology the possibility that there is someone external to both ourselves and God who seems to be bent on spoiling the order that almighty God endeavored to establish and that, for reasons known only to God, permission to do so has been granted.

although we were created in God's image, and enjoy the ability to actually act in accordance with that, our lives readily bear testimony to the existence of another as well who would presume to be God's enemy... how could i hold to my understanding of a personal God without acknowledging the possibility of the existence of this created being who refuses to back down and seems to inspire further rebellion in others?

this is not even a rhetorical question. i would love to wipe satan out in a puff of logic while leaving my more traditional traits of God intact, but i'm just not smart enough.
***

the twisted sister Christmas album seems to epitomize this cosmic dilemma, as it seems to be wrong on so many different levels!

how can something so wrong feel so right?
there must be a devil. ha ha

12/21/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

What you talking bout Willis? My rants on Paul - I have found him quite useful for historical reasons I must say. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically, and poetically - it's all in the bible - all that and more - so let's sit down and read with 'Fred Rogers'.

12/21/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

"i like that your ideas fit together the way pieces of a jigsaw puzzle do" (jollybeggar)

Oh dear. There is a certain insensitivity in denying or rejecting something that another person values so I'm sorry about this. The problem is that my theological understanding of the divine must remain unsettled and so if it starts to fit together to nicely then I know its no longer the other that I am relating too but merely to "I".

My goal throughout this discussion was merely to show how our understanding of evil/suffering is very hard to reconcile with the traditional God dogma. What I wanted to avoid was any statement that said "God is like this" or worse yet "God is not like this". I have no truer or more direct undersatnding of God than anyone else so I see it as fairly arrogant of myself to try and define God for someone else. What I do feel I am able to do is to encourage others to open up room in their understanding of God for alternative conceptions, I find this especially important when the conception they hold is a traditional, established position. I suppose that has to do with a decision to move towards solidarity with the less powerful.

So in regards the vulnerable, subjective, indictable, fallible God you attributed to me above you are right in a way. These attributes are ones which are often dismissed immediatly as we have seen above. Somehow we feel we know the Other well enough to make declarative statements like "God is never fallible" without ever thinking what kind of injury we are inflicting on others. So these attributes do play an important role in my conception of God but so too do sovereignty, holy, and able to act beyond our ability to predict or imagine.

Jollybeggar you said something very interesting that I'd like you to speak a little more on if you wouldn't mind. You wrote "our lives readily bear testimony to the existence of another as well who would presume to be God's enemy" (jollybeggar).

I am really curious whether you could describe how your life "readily bears testimony" to the the existence of this being.

Societyvs, could you explain what you mean by "historical reasons", you kind of lost me with that.

12/22/2006  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

"...my theological understanding of the divine must remain unsettled and so if it starts to fit together to nicely then I know its no longer the other that I am relating too but merely to "I"."

ha ha- i like the 'oh dear' at the beginning.

anyway, sorry to put you into a box, hineini. i simply meant that the consistency in your logic is a good thing- you are very good at communicating your position and this is of great value to me as i don't really believe that it is possible for any of us to completely figure out a transcendant person like God... i neither felt disrespected in our differences nor marginalized. i'm hoping you haven't either. i too value this discourse.

12/22/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

"Societyvs, could you explain what you mean by "historical reasons", you kind of lost me with that." (Heinini)

The historicity of the bible lies in the claims of the authors and Paul is almost the best witness to these events and to the beings called Peter, Paul, James, John, and Luke - mentioning each by name in his letters - matching them with some of the ideas with the gospels and Luke's Acts. I find Paul interesting in this regard - as most people accept these letters as first on the scene and verifiably by Paul - he gives credibility to the gospel writers (namely Luke). But this has nothing to do with the devil so I said too much too soon.

12/22/2006  
Blogger hineini said...

Thanks for the clarification societyvs. I guess we just disagree about the importance of the "credibility" of the textual accounts. I'm happy things are fitting together for you though.

jollybeggar, I always appreciate your pastoring, your warmth and genuine concern come through your writing clearly and I hope to learn a bit more of this. As a side note;
"i simply meant that the consistency in your logic is a good thing" (jollybeggar)

I do enjoy thinking things through its true. Personally I need to remember Abraham's encounter with the Other and the impossible, irrational and unethical demand to murder his son. This undoing of logic and ethics demonstartes to me the extent to which I am responsible to the other. I used to think the most valuable thing I could be asked to sacrifice was my life but now as a parent I know this isn't true.

12/23/2006  
Blogger SocietyVs said...

50th comment - man who would of thunk it?

Heinini I don't think we always have to agree on all things - on some things - but not all things and historicity in the texts is well, debateable and we'll never have the full 100% answer - since we never lived in that time.

I just think you add quite a bit to the convo's that get us all thinking and that is never a bad thing - we all know we need to stretch the mind out anyways. So I'll have a drink for us all this merry Christmas Eve - knowing a good work is being constructed before our very eye's - post by post by post by post.

12/24/2006  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

hey jollybeggar, thanks for dropping by my blog and i am glad to be welcome here. i like this all low caps typing typing style of yours and may give it a go for a while, kind of frees the mind from conformity to rule. do i capitalize the g in god and not the s in satan? forget it all and just go!

anyway, i wanted to throw in my 2 cents here on the old cruel god thing. rather than go in circles on this i have tried to gather what i can from the bible and others and stick with that. in my experience, god answers some prayers but not all. in the bible god favors some people and not others. so i can have concluded that god will bless who he will bless and curse who he will curse. i don't blame all bad things on satan. remember pharoah? the bible says that god raised him up for his purpose (rom 9:17). now i don't think god made pharoah evil but that he knew the life choices pharoah would make and used him for his purpose. is that cruel? not if the guy was going to be evil anyway.

i know this raises more questions than it answers but it is the best i can come up with. for me i find it easier to focus more on my reaction to life events. it is easy to praise god when all is well but will i be strong enough in my faith to still praise his name when my most cherished thing is taken from me?

1/07/2007  
Blogger hineini said...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us some of your thoughts on the discussion. I like your conclusion that thinking this issue leaves you with more questions than when you started, that makes it worth it for me.

"it is easy to praise god when all is well but will i be strong enough in my faith to still praise his name when my most cherished thing is taken from me? " (brotherken)

This is the very assumption that I have been argueing needs to be challenged since the beginning of this post. The assumption that no matter what, God must be praised/coddled in all situations. I am starting to feel like the possibility of reading a biblical precident which leaves space for the admonishment and correction of God by humanity is discounted out of hand by many Christians.

1/07/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

hey hineini, thanks. did you say "admonishment and correction of God by humanity"? hmm, i would have to say no, that doesn't line up with my understanding at all. there are a couple of cases in the bible where man reasoned with god and even changed his mind on something, but admonish him? unless you meant it the other way around? for sure god can admonish and correct us.

1/07/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

hineini, i just read back and seen what you meant. you think that because i believe that god is sometimes unfair that i would want to correct him. actually, i don't. i would go into it more be it would get preachy.

1/07/2007  
Blogger jollybeggar said...

well there's always room for preaching around here. from time to time we each pull out our soapbox and have a go.

one of the neat things about this blog is that the dialogue is open and there is a lot of respect, even in the case of disagreement. that tends to fuel the freedom further...

"All right, don't practice your alliteration on me."

Church Bells (ie Monty Python's "Contractual Obligations" Album)

(Sound: Church bells, lots of them, ringing.)

Man: I wish those bloody bells would stop.
Wife: Oh, it's quite nice dear, it's Sunday, it's the church.
M: What about us atheists? Why would we 'ave to listen to that sectarian turmoil?
W: You're a lapsed atheist, dear.
M: The principle's the same. The Mohmedans don't come 'round here wavin' bells at us! We don't get Buddhists playing bagpipes in our bathroom! Or Hindus harmonizing in the hall! The Shintus don't come here shattering sheet glass in the shithouse, shouting slogans-
W: All right, don't practice your alliteration on me.
M: Anyway, when I membership card and blazer badge back from the League of Agnostics, I shall urge the executive to lodge a protest against that religious racket! Pass the butter knife!
W: WHAT??
M: PASS THE BUTTER KNIFE!! (pause) THANK YOU! IF ONLY WE HAD SOME KIND OF MISSILE!
W: 'OLD ON, I'LL CLOSE THE WINDOW.
M: WHAT?!
W: I SAID, I'LL CLOSE THE WINDOW!

(Sound: Window closing, bells get faint, but are still there)

M: If only we had some kind of missile, we could take the steam out of those bells.
W: Well, you could always use the number 14-St. Joseph-the-somewhat- divine-on-the-hill ballistic missile. It's in the attic.
M: What ballistic missile would this be, then?

(Sound: Bells begin to get increasingly louder)

W: I made it for you, it's your birthday present!
M: Just what I wanted, 'ow nice of you to remember, my pet. 'ERE!
W: WHAT?
M: THOSE BELLS ARE GETTING LOUDER!
W: WHAT?
M: THOSE BELLS ARE GETTING LOUDER!!
W: THE BELLS ARE GETTING LOUDER! OOH, LOOK!
M: WHAT?
W: THE CHURCH, IT.. ITS COMING CLOSER! ITS COMING DOWN THE 'ILL!
M: WHAT A LIBERTY!
W: ITS TURNING INTO OUR LANE! WELL, YOU BETTER GO PUT IT OUT OF ITS MISERY.
M: WHERE'S THIS MISSILE, THEN?
W: IT'S IN THE ATTIC. PRESS THE BUTTON MARKED CHURCH!
M: 'OW DO I AIM IT?
W: IT AUTOMATICALLY HOMES IN ON THE NEAREST PLACE OF WORSHIP!
M: BUT THAT'S ST. MARKS!
W: IT ISN'T NOW, LOOK!! OH, ITS OP'NING THE GATE.
M: WHAT? USE THE MEGAPHONE!
W: IT'S OP'NING THE GATE!! 'HURRY UP, ITS TRAMPLING OVER THE AZALIAS!

(Sound: Missle launch, explosion, bells diminish)

M: Did I 'it it?
W: Yes, right up the aisle.
M: Well I've always said, There's nothing an agnostic can't do if he really doesn't know whether he believes in anything or not.

1/08/2007  
Blogger hineini said...

Confusion and tricky interpretations are pretty common in this kind of medium so I completely understand your uncertainty brotherken but its another good example of what I am trying to communicate. Please don't think I'm trying to belittle you or anything like that but what your comment demonstartes to me is that certain ways of thinking of our relation to the divine are off limits, or at least, the ways we think of humanity interacting with God have some fairly narrow perameters.

In my encounters with most traditional Christian theologies there is no room for approaching God as creditor instead of always as debtor so I can understand why you originally were uncertain of whether I misspoke.

I have often heard Christians wish to make a distinction between religion and relationship (relationship being the privilaged term in this distinction). The problem I have with this is that the characteristics of this relationship don't look like any relationship I have ever experianced. If one side of the relationship is always right and the other always at fault, if one side is blamless in every situation while the other always guilty this isn't a relationship in my opinion, this is abuse.

Being young and married for only a few years I still have much to learn obviously but I have learned that the most valuable love I have for my wife (and in a different way with a friend or anyone I'm in relationship with) is the love for her weaknesses and vulnerabilities; loving the other person in the relationship when they misstep or fail and offering the forgiveness that is so valuable. It is my humble opinion that an unimpeachable, unindictable God makes this sort of relationship impossible leaving only a self-destructive, masochistic, authoritarian antipathy.

1/08/2007  
Blogger Cinder said...

"Being young and married for only a few years I still have much to learn obviously but I have learned that the most valuable love I have for my wife (and in a different way with a friend or anyone I'm in relationship with) is the love for her weaknesses and vulnerabilities; loving the other person in the relationship when they misstep or fail and offering the forgiveness that is so valuable. It is my humble opinion that an unimpeachable, unindictable God makes this sort of relationship impossible leaving only a self-destructive, masochistic, authoritarian antipathy."

i learn so much from reading the discussions you all have.

hineini, you are such a humble guy and you can tell your love and devotion to your wife through that comment. that's what makes a marriage worth fighting for and makes relationship stronger than ever.

it's also a perfect explanation of relationship with God to me...I'm far from perfect and He knows it...if I need correction He lovingly offers it, but no matter what He's there no matter what.

1/08/2007  
Blogger BrotherKen said...

jollybeggar, love that monty python skit. gonna email it to a friend of mine who has also quit church.

hineini, i am not offended at all and i love to here honest words from people who are trying to figure this all out (as i am). i just have a tendency to be cautious but maybe i can stomp around here like the bull i wish i were, haha.

ok - about our relationship with god. i think the traditional message of god being omnipotent and us being totally subservient is completely correct. actually i think part of the problem today is that people don't fear him as they should. see i have been been convinced that god has caused and continues to cause both good and bad things to happen in our lives - and that we should be able to relish in both. accepting this was hard but it really had a positive affect in my life.

1/08/2007  

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