>I wanted to follow up on last week’s podcast “the three gods we pray to” because some of the feedback that I got said that I just wasn’t specific enough.
Listen to the POD here : EveryDay Link
Not wanting to use labels: One of the things that makes being specific difficult is that I am trying to stay away from using labels. In my effort to steer clear of the Argument Culture, I have tried to speak generically where possible and avoid over-categorization and divisions. Sometimes I just try and broadcast a progressive concept or put forward an innovative idea and sort of let people chew on it and let it soak and savour without being too specific or directive. And I like to do that…but this time I’ve been asked to be very specific because of the nature of what I’m putting forward. And I think that’s a good idea.
so I’m just going to spell it out in as clear an English as possible, then share with you why I think it is and finish up with some application.
Here it is: when we talk about God, we usually talk about the God of the Big 5 ( omnipotent, omniscient, omni-present, immuntable, impassable) we say that this God “knows the future” and “never changes”. It’s a pretty conservative view of God. And that would be fine… if that’s who we prayed to & how we behaved. But I don’t think that’s who we prayed to & doesn’t seem to me that we act like that God runs things.
Let me share with you where I think the problem is coming from and then I will get to the other gods.
The lens of history: I believe that the disconnect is coming because we have a false view of history as if it were linear. When we as every day Protestant & Catholic Christians ( whether we are Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, mainline, charismatic, evangelical, Pentecostal or conservative) we try to look back to the cross – but we are not looking straight there. We look through several lenses.
Most of us are individuals. We are the results of enlightenment thinking and don’t see ourselves in the way that somebody born in 1600s — whether in North America or Western Europe or Africa or Asia — would’ve thought of themselves 400 years ago, even if they were our same race or lived on our same acre.
So if I just offer myself up here is an example, I am a male of European descent in North America trying to look back past the Industrial Revolution, Protestant Reformation and Renaissance. Trying to skip over the Middle Ages and the Crusades back to this event that I know as Christmas and read about in my Bible. I do this by skipping ( or assuming) the Greek philosophies that have impacted Christianity and its creeds and the writing of its scriptures. Then I try to wade through that Hebrew nature of this story without getting bogged down in it’s Jewishness by trying to read about this cosmic event in a universal way. Now by Universal I mean generic and that is where I fail.
Jesus didn’t do what he did in a generic way. He did not come to a generic place in a generic time and generically redeem us all. He came to a specific place in a specific time and that has been portrayed to me in a specific way and that has been handed down to me in a specific way. When I ignore all of that context, I may not be aware of what else is being reflected in my lenses if I don’t acknowledge that I look through lenses.
Last week one I was part of an online chat. It was a really good question about church leadership and it was just opened up for discussion. It was a good discussion. Then this guy comes on and says something like ‘here’s a novel idea: why don’t we look at what God said in the word’ and proceeded to be condescending and pushy and tell us all what we already knew about the Apostle Paul. It effectively brought the conversation to an end because how do you respond to that? It took so much energy for me not to reply and get into it. I wanted to say to this guy: dude I have so many problems with your opening sentence. First, I know that you mean well but when you say “word” you don’t mean it the same way that those who wrote it mean it. When Paul said “word” he wouldn’t have been talking about the same thing you’re talking about and now using as a heavy-handed precedent. Secondly when you say that “God said” you are ignoring authorial situation of the Scripture -please acknowledge that Paul or Luke or whoever you are quoting wrote in their own voice the things that they were inspired by God to write. They were not dummies being used by a ventriloquist god. Thirdly don’t act like there is one chapter in the New Testament that says ‘ here’s how to run a church’ & that is the final word on the issue. We piece this together from all whole bunch of snapshots about many different ways that churches were organized. There was not one church in the Bible. Lastly, even if that was the case (which it wasn’t) we don’t live in that world. We live in a world that has been deeply affected by what we read about in Scripture.
The very fact that we are having this conversation on the Internet in English should bring some humility to our perspective. Unfortunately it seems to do the exact opposite. It seems to make us more programed, more certain and more prescriptive unless we intentionally acknowledge it and account for it… our lenses can actually limit our view.
the Three Gods
So here is where I’m coming at this — I don’t believe in the Big 5 God. Not as it is configured in those 5. I don’t see that God in the Hebrew Scripture or the Gospels. I don’t imagine that God when I pray and I don’t see that God at work in the world.
In fact, I would say that if you pray and expect anything to change your probably not praying to the Big 5 God but more of a free will god. Even people I know who will passionately defend this classic view of God as sovereign and transcendent and unchangeable, pray in ways that, at least to me, seem inconsistent with the classic conservative view of God. Praying to the Big 5 God is in order to get your self in line with what is already written in the stars.
Praying to the God of free will is, I think, what most people are comfortable with or at least practice. No matter what they say in their doctrinal statement or theology debates, it all kind of sounds the same when we pray. I get to pray with people from different denominations and in different settings. It seems to me that in the free flow prayer that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Calvinists, Arminians and just about everyone else — no matter how they say that they differ — only once in a while does someone pray something that I can’t say ‘ amen’ to. I have found this when praying with Europeans, people from former Soviet countries, Africans, those from various countries in Asia and Canadians. I think that we all (mostly) pray to God #2: The God of Free Will.
Since I don’t believe in the Big 5 God, who do I pray to? I pray to the one that is intimately involved in the process. The one who is present in spirit. The one who works through us and with us and on us and for us.
Let me give you an example. If I hear about the atrocious living conditions in Haiti or the water and the mosquito problems that foster malaria in Africa and my heart is burdened for this. I pray about it. Maybe God calls me to go and be a part of the solution. Maybe God calls me to send money to someone who is on the ground working there. And that’s how God works. But the top soil doesn’t come back to Haiti because I pray in my multi-million dollar church building. The wells in Africa aren’t made clean because I pray at the mens’ breakfast at Starbucks. Children don’t suddenly develop resistance to malaria or AIDS because I pray from the comfort of my living room. That is not how God works. God is in the process of someone going. When that person goes -God is at work.
We don’t ask for topsoil to fall out of heaven onto Haiti. We don’t pray that tomorrow morning they are going to wake up and all of the trees will have magically regrown overnight. We know that’s not how it works.
And when we want to send someone money, whether for ministry or out of simple generosity, we send it to someone we know. Because God works in relationship. It’s not like a name pops in your head, and as you’re writing the check to this person you’ve never met their address comes to you. Then you fill out the envelope put a stamp on it and drop money in the mail to someone that you do not know if they exist or if the addresses right (and just say ‘I have faith’).
God lays it on our heart to give to people we know… brings their situation to mind… brings their face to our memory. We hear a story and are moved.
If someone in our congregation has an extended sickness and we pray for them, but no one calls them or visit them or writes them a note… once they recover and they come back church and we ‘oh we were praying for you- that you would be cared for and ministered to’. You see where I am going here… they are ministered to when we go over and cared for when we care for them. In that sense, we are the answer to our own prayer. That is how God works! It how it is designed and how it works best.
Look, I am not saying that we are answer to every prayer or that the answer is found ‘within’ or something like that. All I am asking for is that we be honest… that is how god really works: through us. I believe in the transcendent. I believe in the mystical. I believe that God’s Spirit is present among us and at work through us. That God is intimately involved in the process of unfolding history. I do not believe in the puppet master that manipulates by pulling the strings behind the scenes. I do not believe in the God who wrote the script ahead of time and is now just sitting back watching the play unfold on the stage of history. Who shows up on a stage once in while to move the set around but for the most part just wound up the clock and let history play out.
I do not believe that the future exists. I think that what ever we have that looks that way is really divine prophetic promise of participation. Put that together with God’s intimate knowledge of the creatures and the creation and you have a divine perspective we don’t have access to except through revelation. But this Big 5 God is a hybrid between some elements out of Scripture, some out of early Greek philosophy (mostly Platonic) and the evolution of church history (mostly Aristotelian).
That’s why I think it would be far better for us to pray to God who is present with us by spirit. Who is in fact with us here in the moment. And who is making available all of the resources that we need to bring about this will that God has an invested interested in.
If you want to stick with praying to God #2 and saying that the future is an elaborate series of possibilities and that God is the God of all of those possibilities that’s fine. I can go with that. As long as we acknowledge how things really work. Regardless of how the Hebrews pictured it, regardless of how it was portrayed in the early apostolic age, we need to talk about how the world really works for us here now.
I believe that the God of Calvin and Luther died in the second world war. Between Auschwitz and Hiroshima that concept of God died. That God is dead and even if he* did exist like that before World War II, he sure hasn’t been at work in the world since then. Even if he did exist, and I don’t think he did, he isn’t around now.
That isn’t to say that God isn’t around. God is alive and well. God is here with us now. It’s just that conception of God passed away in the gas chambers and in the nuclear fallout. The world will never be the same. And if we keep using these old pictures of God when we debate and when we pray I fear that those of us who call ourselves people of faith – the ones who still actually take time to pray- we may not be participating in the world the way it actually works. Which may be why we cling to antiquated fantasies about what a different world would look like and then hope that God ejects our soul out of here and evacuates the planet because we don’t want to go through the hard process of bringing about that preferable future and seen the kingdom, and earth as it is in heaven.
It’s a conversation I want to have. I want to talk about how the world really works. Who we actually think God to be. Make sure that our prayer both lines up with that conception of God and prepares us for the process of participating in the world as it actually is. That to me is what the brand-new day is all about. We live in a world that has “come of age”. I think it’s time to grow up and mature our faith for a world that is radically changing in our day.
and since I don’t believe in the second coming or the end times in the classic sense **
– I think that we will have plenty of time to do this.
But more than that, I think that it IS time to do this.
* I use ‘He’ for God when talking about the Big 5 God.
** I believe that the book of Revelation was directed to the events of the first 3 centuries and specifically Rome. It was probably fulfilled in the sense that it was intended by about 312 or 353 CE]