Friday, 31 May 2013

The Weakness of God - Does God Deny Power Pie?

            Weeping, moaning, begging for his life, but no.  He is taken, tortured.  Slowly, slowly he is killed, alone, abandoned.  This is the man called God.  Those were his last moments.  He did not fight when the soldiers came for him.  Silently he was led to his death, nailed to a cross, raised up as a spectacle and mocked.  Thirsty, he was thirsty.  If anyone, he had the right to ask the good God why there is evil, and he did.  God cried out from the cross “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
            Christian philosophy requires a radically unique approach to the problem of evil.  It must account for the murder of its God, thus reconsider what it means for such a being to be all-powerful.  It seems evident, though some would disagree, that evil in the world is counter to the will of God.  If God is all-good and all-powerful, logically he would rid this world of all evil at once.  Unfortunately he does not.  Humans continue to perpetuate evil and suffering.  An explanation for this evil in the world is that God, in love, has abdicated power to his human creation so he could be in a self-giving relationship with them.  A god who gives power to humans becomes weak, because he has given humans control and cannot take it back.  This is the God whose weakness is ultimately manifested upon the cross.
            A good god will do what is good, always, regardless of the foreseen consequences.  While God made many rocks and trees, he needs not give himself to them.  They wouldn’t notice if he did, but God wants to give himself to his creation.  The Christian God is believed to be communal and eternal love.  Love wants to love relationally.  To do so, God needed to create beings that were like him.  He made humans creative, capable of love, and then shared his power with them.  Power, unlike love, is not infinite.  That is to say while giving love does not cause the giver to have less love, giving power results in the giver losing power.  If love is like procreation, an act that multiplies itself, power is like a pumpkin pie.  When God shared power with humanity, he had less pie for himself.  He did this because love, and therefore God, is relational.  In the same way that oppressed peasants do not seek friendships their relentless oppressors, humans would not desire a relationship with an all-controlling being.  God became weak so humans could become strong and a relationship between them could flourish.
            Since nothing is impossible for an all-powerful God, could he not have created humans to have a relationship with him without limiting his own power?  Had he not given them power, or if he had given them the ability to make a few choices, but ultimately retained a trump card, he would have had a control based relationship with his creatures.  However, love is not controlling and God loves humans.  This required bestowing power upon them, even if they were prone to perpetuate evil.  The love God has for humans is a love that allows them to do as they please.
Since God was all-powerful, it would have been possible for him to have created humans with freewill who always chose goodness.  Freewill without creatures ever choosing evil is a logical possibility.  God, looking ahead, could have conceived how his creatures would act if he created them as he did and have created them differently.  If he was really good, why did he not create humans with freewill who never chose evil?  To address this valid concern, a distinction must be made between freewill and power.  An example from a common parenting technique will distinguish between the two.
            Poor Billy is sick.  His mom wants him to take medicine so that he will get better.  Billy does not want to swallow the pill, so his mom gives him a choice.  He can take the pill with milk or with apple juice.  Billy feels empowered, chooses apple juice and takes the pill.  Billy, however, does not have real power in this scenario.  He does have a real choice, but his choices are limited.  If Billy could knock his mom over and refuse treatment all together, he would have power.  Human power goes beyond freewill.  It is the ability to do things beyond the will of God.  God does not hold a trump card.  In giving power to the people he has emptied himself.  He is not in control.  However, if he was in control when the world was set in motion, couldn’t he have ensured that his creatures would do as he desired?  No.  God is not a controlling being.  It must necessarily be that the power God has given humans controls destinies and can act against God’s desired intent.  Humans can knock God over and refuse treatment all together.
            Many believe in situations like the one above the mother should force her son to take the medicine for his own good.  This may very well be the case if the son is three.  However, if he is thirty the social consensus seems to be that his mother should not take away her son’s power and force the pill upon him.  Though it is right to do that to a child, it is very wrong to do it to an adult.  In the same way that a mother does not have power over her adult son, God does not have power over his human creation.  He has given it to the humans, and does not have the ability to take it back.  Like a parent who must give power to their adult children and hope their relationship can continue based on love, so a loving God gives his human creations power and hopes they chose a relationship with him.
            Even though it seems impossible that a once all-powerful God could somehow become less powerful, this would not be impossible for the all-powerful being.  This is not to say that God still has complete power, but he has restrained himself from using it.  Contrarily, God has relinquished his power.  This is where the metaphor of a power pie comes in handy.  As God gave power to his human creation to rule over nature and themselves, he retains less and less of the pie.  It is not that he holds himself back from using certain powers, but that he no longer has those powers to use.  It appears that omnipotence is a trait which God possessed for a time and then gave away.  If God wished to retain his power, he could have created a different world, where his creatures had freewill, but God still had all the power.  As it is, I am not convinced that God likes pumpkin power pie all that much.  Though, when he was alone he held it, he never indulged in the pie; rather, he freely gave it away as he created.  Had God kept the power to himself, offering humanity freewill but hold the trump card, he would not have created beings in his image with whom he could have full relationships.  He desired such relationships so he could love, serve and give himself to the other.  Some may ask if a being who is not all-powerful is still a god.  However, a better question is this: is a being who is all-powerful still good? 
            Many humans cry up to the sky, hoping for a powerful, mighty rescue.  When their pleas are met with silence they cry out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  Trapped in the midst of evil, humans long for a powerful being to take control and set things right.  In the face of violence, poverty and environmental degradation they feel helpless, alone.  But central to Christianity is the notion that God has not abandoned his creation.  One possible way to hold this belief in the face of evil in this world is to consider that God’s goal is love, and his means to that end cannot be power or control; rather it is love.  This is seen when in weakness, as a baby, God came down to his creation.  Though it may have been hoped that he would come with power and overthrow the Roman Empire, he chose a different way.  It was the way of forgiveness, material minimalism and self-sacrifice.  In his death he showed that there is influence in love, a different sort of influence.  Not one that is controlling, but one that is compelling.  It is an invitation to weakness; it is an invitation to love.
            A central Christian premise is that God is love.  It is the very essence of who he is, and so he made humanity to be creatures he could relationally love.  Therefore, he did not maintain control over them.  Rather he gave them power to control themselves and rule over creation.  Humans have held onto their power, using it for their own good and thus causing evil in this world.  While God hates evil, he no longer has power over his creation.  He cannot control them and so he seeks them out.  In ultimate weakness God embraces humanity, becoming one with them, serving them and being murdered by them.  The Christian God knows suffering.  He has felt the torment of evil and yet he was helpless.  He looked his murderers in the eyes, unable to do anything but forgive them.  In love God gave power to his creation, and in love he compels them to give it away. 
            Come,” God beckons, “come.  Deny your power, embrace weakness and follow me.  Abandon control and seek mercy, justice and love.  Look, I am making all things new.  I am your hope, your servant, your lover.

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Saturday, 25 May 2013

Life is Fine

 Recently I've been reminded that friendships, even if they are well established, require time.  I’d been slacking in the amount of time I’d given my relationships with my Edmonton friends.  With that in mind I decided to make a greater effort to hang out with them.  They are friendships I valued, and longed to sustain.  I made trips to Edmonton to see and hang out with them. 

When I was in Edmonton I spent a quantity of time with my friends.  The one is getting married, the other has a job which could be her career, and the third just bought a house.  They are doing life.  One evening we played Ultimate Frisbee together on a team, and went out for a beer and free pizza after.  It struck me how similar their friends were to them, and how different they were from many of my newer (since high school) friends.  All the same.  All playing the same game of getting ahead and leaving others behind. It's the American dream.

I thought about James:  “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  There was no telling at the Frisbee game who had faith and who did not.  We were all the same.  We were playing Frisbee after all, not healing the sick.  It made me wonder if there was something different we should be doing, if there was some far different way we should be living.

Playing Frisbee was great, going out after was fun, but is that it?  Is that the end of the story?  I won’t be satisfied living my life for Frisbee games and free pizza.  I want more.

I’m just not sure what more would look like.  I feel that for two reasons.  First is quite simply that I feel like I don’t have time for more.  The other is this:  in my efforts to help this world, my steps so far have been in causing less harm. Rather than doing helpful things I have been not doing harmful things.  I've been stepping out and saying "I don't want to be part of the problem," but that doesn't make me part of the solution.  I'm not sure about my next steps.

What are your thoughts?  Does faith make people different?  How is faith shown through works?

Edit, Oct 08, 2013:
Sorry friends who play Frisbee, buy houses, start careers and get married.  Those things are not bad.  They by no means exclude the possibility of doing a lot of good with ones life.  Also, I realise I've mentioned just a sliver of your life.  You do a whole lot more than just play Frisbee.  I get that.  I'm just hoping for something different.  I wanna make every moment count towards changing global systems for the better.  Yes, that is overwhelming, and probably impossible, but I want to try.  The questions of faith are ones I've been asking for a while now.  My friend gets kicked out of her house.  Does Patricia the Christian have anything more to offer that person than Patricia the non-Christian?  I'm not sure she does.  I guess I'm trying to say the questions of faith are reflective of my journey and are not intended as judgments upon yours.  I'm sorry that you got used as the example of what I do not want.  I'm sorry I created a straw-man out of your lives, making it something easy to critique.  I realise that your lives are way more complex and beautiful than this post conveys.  I'm sorry for broken trust and hurt feelings that resulted from this post. Sorry.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Neither here nor there. Searching for two feet above.

When I was in grade 11 or 12 my father read to me the theological novel, A New Kind of Christian, by Brian McLaren.  It is a story of two guy discussing seemingly dichotomous theological questions.  One would bring up the question, the other would give the answer.  The answers are all strikingly similar.  A question might be Arminianism or Calvinism.  In response the man makes two points in the dirt, one representing Calvinism, and the other Arminianism.  He draws a line connecting the dots.  He then says “the answer is neither here,” pointing to one of the dots, “nor there,” pointing to the other, “nor somewhere along this line.  Rather,” and he would wave his hand in a circular motion about two feet above his diagram, “it is somewhere up here.”
Disclaimer, it was quite a while ago when this book was read to me.  I might not have all of the details right, but I remember this answer.  The answer is not one side of the dichotomy, nor the other.  Neither is it some compromise of the two.  The answer is not on our diagrams.  It is something other.  We need a new way of seeing things.  I found this answer both compelling yet dissatisfying.  It seemed right to be, but if the answer was neither Calvinism nor Arminianism, then what was it?  I wanted more.  I was okay with him taking away the only options I saw, if he could replace them with something.  Yet all he gave us was something, somewhere, two feet above.
I want a new way of seeing food.  I can draw one dot on the ground and label it over-indulgence, gluttony and obsession.  I’ll draw another dot and label it counting every calorie, dieting, and at the extreme anorexia.  I think both dots could be considered eating disorders.  Neither of them are healthy and so we draw a line connecting them and try to find our place on the line. 
I like food.  I like food quite a lot.  I like to be eating, and sometimes find myself eating when I am not hungry and the thing I am putting in my mouth doesn’t even taste good.  So, naturally I find myself closer to the gluttony dot.  The gluttony dot exclaims, “Food is good!”  I think that food is good, but I recognise that it is not healthy to be eating all the time.  So, I try to distance myself from the gluttony dot.  I slide along the line, “watching what I eat,” and praising myself when I deny my desire to eat.  The dieting dot screams “food is bad.  It’s a trap.  Keep far away from it and rule over it.  Don’t let it rule over you.”  Again, I find myself agreeing that we shouldn’t let food rule over us, and that food is bad if we eat too much. However,  I don’t want to count every calorie.  I try to avoid these two dots, and balance on the line somewhere in between them.  I want the good from both perspective, but I want to avoid the bad.  I’m trying to tiptoe along and avoid the muck.
I hope McLaren is right.  I hope there is some answer that is neither here nor there, nor a messy compromise, but somewhere two feet above.  I hope there is a way to enjoy food without having to worry if I am eating too much.  I’m just not sure what this two feet above perspective on food really is.  Any suggestions?