I’ve had a regrettable gap between my last posts. It’s regrettable because I promised one more post in the last “series” I’ve been doing on God’s activity in the world–or better, on our ability to speak of God’s activity in the world. For the past 10 days or so, I’ve been hosting our master’s in missional leadership cohorts in Portland, OR and that is sun up to sun down kind of work. So, no time to write. For the 2-3 of you who are still anticipating it, here’s my promised post.
I’ve been trying to bust up a casual notion of causation. Something happens, therefore, God. I think that this misses the complexity of the multiple causes in any given phenomenon, including the possibility that God may not be involved at all. God’s involvement in the world is not always obvious and we should take care with God’s name in the world.
I think, however, that part of the problem with how we deal with this whole issue is rooted in our very understanding of God. And that’s what I want to address now.
I don’t know all that God is or can do. I know God through the revelation of Jesus Christ. That is, I know God through a particular story. This is an important starting place. Not everyone starts here. Some people start with a set of attributes. For God to be God, then God must be certain things. This understanding of God, then, starts with certain abstract notions, one of which is that God must be all powerful.
I don’t deny that God is powerful, certainly more powerful than you or me. But if we only have an abstract notion of power, then we can define that any number of ways. And since we typically think of power as control or as authority over, then we think of God as controlling things.
But there are other ways of thinking about power. And God’s power, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the power of enduring love. God doesn’t save the world by taking control of the world. His reign in the world is established by his love. The love manifest in Jesus, and specifically in his death, establishes God’s reign in the world. He rules, not by taking control of everything, but by becoming vulnerable, by emptying himself, and by making that the power that saves us.
Love does cause things to happen. In that way it is powerful. But love does not easily yield itself to a direct cause and effect kind of logic. We know that. We know that love is mysterious, that its effects are often indirect and multiple. We don’t always see the effects of love immediately. It works through things like patience and kindness. And love is wasteful. It isn’t motivated by the response of the one being shown love.
And its not the case that God shows love, but some other aspect of him shows control. God is love, according to 1 John. God doesn’t love. God is love. God’s very being is love. His involvement in the world, even in things like judgement, proceed from his being as love.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think that you can explain the world as it is–the world that we live in–in relation to God’s power as control. I do think you can explain the world we live in as an expression of God’s power as love. I do think we can say that the rule or reign of God is being manifest everyday as enduring love. If God’s reign is primarily about being in control, then I think God has a serious reputation problem.
In fact, when we say that God is in control, I think what that should mean to us is that there is nothing that can happen to us outside of God’s love for us. Neither famine, or nakedness, or sword. Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus. And this love is not just God’s good feelings toward us. It is not primarily sentiment, but power. God puts this love to work in us, pouring it into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so that no matter what our life’s circumstances are,we find our condition changed, our life transformed, our world more hospitable.
And this allows us, I think, to picture God more faithfully when disaster does strike. Our picture of God in these moments should be less as the cause and more as the one who grieves with us, the one who bears our suffering, the one who will not let us go no matter what. This we can speak of confidently.
Thanks, my friend. It was worth the wait!
Count me in as one of the “2-3 readers” who anticipate your writing. I’d hazard to say that your readership is larger than it may seem. Thank you for this series of posts.
I’ve always disliked the phrase “God is in control.” Great article, my friend.
You may read this from the bible to understand how “God is always in control.”
Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
“This proverb shows that God, not earthly rulers, has ultimate authority over world politics.”
Thank, Wendell. I know the verses, but I know a lot of others too. My understanding is clearly a matter of interpretation, as is yours, though I think it’s likely you don’t see it that way.
Thank you so much for addressing our understanding of God. You’re forcing me to oil the unused gears in my brain, and that’s a good thing.
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