God is not in control and that is why, for many, the world feels so out of control. Some have adjusted to say that God was never in control – our ancestors just believed that was the case. Others think that God used to be in control but that something has fundamentally shifted in God’s relating to the world.
The past century brought about profound challenges to the way that we conceptualize God’s work in history. The horrific developments of warfare seen in the First World War began the shift. WWII brought not just incremental but exponential leaps in the technological capacity for human and environmental devastation.
This escalation has changed the way that humanity conceives of God and God’s work.
In Theology for a Nuclear Age, Gordon Kaufman says it this way:
In the religious eschatology of the West the end of history is pictured quiet differently than we today must face it. For it is undergirded by faith in an active creator and governor of history, one who from the beginning was working out purposes which were certain to realized as history moved to its consummation. The end of history, therefore – whether viewed as ultimate catastrophe or ultimate salvation – was to be God’s climactic act … the moment when God’s final triumph over all evil powers was accomplished.
For the entirety of Christian history, God was thought to be ultimately be in control. When the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki we entered into a nuclear age and the very way that we conceive of and conceptualize God had to adjust.
The end of history which we in the late twentieth century must contemplate – an end brought about by nuclear holocaust – must be conceived primarily not as God’s doing but as ours.
We now have the capability of stopping future generations from even coming into existence. We could end human existence on this planet. The “possibility that we will obliterate all future human life is so novel and strange that it is difficult for us to grasp what we are up against”.
Henry Nelson Wieman wrote:
“The bomb that fell on Hiroshima cut history in two like a knife. Before and after are two different worlds. That cut is more abrupt, decisive, and revolutionary than the cut made by the star over Bethlehem… it is more swiftly transformative of human existence than anything else that has ever happened. The economic and political oder fitted to the age before that parachute fell becomes suicidal in the age coming after. The same breach extends into education and religion.”
This is one of the reasons that we have created a High Gravity Summer School session – to deal with those who are responding to theology for a nuclear age.
My assertion is that every major theological development in the past 70 years – especially in Protestant circles – is in some way a reaction to the fracturing that has resulted since we split the atom.
The postLiberals, the Radical Orthodoxy, the Religious Right of Evangelicalism, Death of God and Radical theologies, Process and Liberation camps – even the small trend of Protestants converting to Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy … all are responses to or are adjustments resulting from this cataclysmic shift in the 20th century.
We might put them in 4 basic camps:
- “God is not controlling things so we better take over” (Religious Right)
- “The nature of God’s power is not what we had been told it was” (Process)
- “Whatever we had thought God was and did is clearly not the case” (Radical)
- “Clearly something is different and not working … we are going to pull back inside this insulated protected compartment so we get to keep doing what the church has always done” (Radical Orthodox and postLiberal)
The world changed in 1945. This August 6th will be 70 years since the bomb was dropped. Between Auschwitz and Hiroshima the world’s eyes were open to a new level of devastation and, through technology, an elevated capacity for human and environmental catastrophe.
I sometimes get accused of disparaging the past. I certainly don’t mean to as often as I do. So I am going to take a new approach. I wrote last time that attempts to revisit-reclaim-return-restore notions and concepts from a romanticized past are not just futile (we can’t go back) but dangerous because they do not deal with the inherent problems of the cultures and times in which they were embedded.
It is not that I am opposed to Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. It’s just that their projects were specific and particular to their time and place – even if they or their followers are under the impression that it was universal and timeless.
We live in a different world than they did and our god-talk needs to adjust-adapt-evolve accordingly.
I am excited about the conversation that we are going to have this June and July.
This is the final post in a 4 part series.