Tuesday, September 19, 2017

God-Talk Underneath the Firmament


I don’t doubt that the ancients believed in a firmament, a solid dome that covered a flat earth.. 

To the ancients, the stars were either attached to this firmament or were holes in which the light of heaven could poke through.  The Genesis flood was the result of the temporary but determined removal of the firmament – a withdrawal of this solid fixture that separated the primordial waters of chaos and made space for the brooding spirit of God to create.

And on and on.

Again, the ancients clearly believed in a firmament.  I don’t think that people who now say that the ancients believed that there was a firmament above are slandering them.  They aren’t making it up.  They aren’t taking something literally that was intended by the ancients to be taken as metaphor.

The firmament is referenced in the Bible and elsewhere.  It is assumed.  Ancient God-talk assumes it.  
Here’s the thing. 

There is no firmament.  It doesn’t exist.

But the Bible says it does.  The ancients believed that.  I'm not making that up.

There used to be a part of me that really thought that modern scholarship was being sort of presumptive.  Like, we really don’t know what they believed.  Our modern scientific categories didn’t really exist then.  We’re separated by time and culture, and we can’t say for sure what was happening in the brains of the ancients.  Perhaps it was all meant to be poetic.

But no, I don’t think that anymore.  They believed in a firmament.  

And there isn’t one.

If I had come across that fact 10 or even 5 years go, it might have really shaken me.  The term is new for me, but my default religious upbringing was concordist.  That is, the Bible could be read in such a way that it was scientifically accurate.  It had to be or else it would all crumble.  Not in a revisionist sense, but in a historical critical sense in which the original writers (whoever they were) couldn’t have believed in a firmament.  In that view, the Bible can’t really reference a firmament.  Not really.

But they did.  Clearly.  And they were absolutely 100% wrong about that.

A few years ago this would been hugely problematic to me.  This would have been something to either ignore or explain away.  It could only destroy faith.  But now, I find this refreshing and liberating.  It plays a positive role in the life of faith.  God-talk can only take place in the context of language.  And language is cultural.  We must use the language that we have, and our words can only be used in reference to reality as we perceive it.  But we don’t perceive rightly. 

We don’t perceive rightly.


But we can still speak of God, and I don’t think God is mad about that.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Middle Knowledge, Transworld Damnation, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son


The 2nd Edition of Robin Parry’s The Evangelical Universalist includes several new appendices, one of which addresses the issue of so-called “middle knowledge” as argued by William Lane Craig exhaustively (but not exclusively) in “No Other Name”: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on theExclusivity of Salvation Through Christ.

At its root, middle knowledge is an attempt to reconcile the issues of 1)divine omniscience and foreknowledge, 2)the love of God, and 3)human freedom. 

None of these, of course, have self-evident meanings.  They all require significant clarification and nuance, a project which Parry seeks to undertake in his book and which Craig seeks to elucidate in his own work.  I am under no illusion that I could improve upon either project or that I have anything to add to the logic of Parry’s arguments.  My intent here isn’t to pick apart Craig’s Molinist logic, but simply to acknowledge it’s ramifications.  I’d like to take a closer look at two particular aspects of middle knowledge: 1) Transworld damnation and 2) a utilitarian eschatological perspective in which the bliss of the blessed is weighed against the misery of the damned.

**********

First of all, what do I mean by the two particular aspects of middle knowledge that I identified earlier – transworld damnation and a utilitarian eschatological ethic?

Craig’s argument for transworld damnation is presented as point #9 in Parry’s appendix:

God has actualized a world containing an optimal balance between the saved and the unsaved, and those who are unsaved suffer from transworld damnation.

What exactly is transworld damnation?

Middle knowledge is closely tied to the idea of ‘possible worlds’, which is basically a grappling with the implications of both human freedom and divine providence.  To be frank, I have little sympathy for the hypothesizing that goes into the idea of “possible worlds’.  From a practical standpoint, however, it’s hard not to grapple with the impact of time and place upon who we are and who we become.  Who has not considered the possibility that they might be a different person if they had been born to different parents, or in a different time or place, or if this or that had or had not happened?

Relevant to the matter at hand we might ask “Why did I accept Christ while another did not?”  Leave aside the evangelical idea of “accepting Jesus” if you find it distracting or unhelpful (as I do) and substitute something else.  You might ask, why did I “join the church”?  Whatever the form of the question and whatever the associated answer, that answer will be inseparable from the people and events in our own history.  Who would we be without these particular people and circumstances?   We cannot know.

What if things had been different?  What if I had been born to a pagan moon worshipping family 3,000 years ago?  And that boy had been born in my place?  Assuming the possibility of final perdition as Craig does, how might our eschatological destinies be different?  We cannot know.

Within the theory of middle knowledge and possible worlds, God knows.  That’s not because God overrides our brains and makes his chosen people think certain thoughts or perform certain actions that qualify as “saving faith.  The omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God calls and woos in a providential way that leads to a free choice.  Essentially, God knows what we’ll need to freely choose to “accept him” and providentially chooses to create the world in which that happens.  Again, I find the language of “acceptance” and “choosing a world” to be problematic, but set that aside as best you can.

The big question is, in a best possible world, why would God provide the things that one person needs to be “saved” but not provide them to another?  Are there some possible worlds in which I am saved and other possible worlds in which I am not?  Did God choose to actualize a possible world in which I am saved but my daughter is not, but he could have chosen a world in which we were both “saved”? 

Why?  How is that the best possible world, or in the language of the appendix the “optimal” world?

It seems quite cruel.

Cruelty aside, the assumptions of middle knowledge lead to the following conclusion: if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent and desires the salvation of every single human being, then God chooses to actualize the best possible world.  So either (1)the optimal world is one in which some people are saved while others are not but may have been had things been providentially different, or (2)there are people who would not “choose to be saved” in any world that God could create.  All possible worlds lead to damnation – transworld damnation.

**********

Related to ‘transworld damnation’ is a utilitarian view of salvation in which the bliss of the saved is measured against the misery of the damned.

How so?

Craig asks:

“Is it not at least possible that such a world is less preferable to God than a world in which great multitudes come to experience His salvation and a few are damned because they freely reject Christ?”

In other words, is it not possible that we err in assuming that the misery of the damned cancels out the joy of the saved either in part or in full?  Perhaps 10 saved and 10 lost is less acceptable to God than 50 saved and 500 lost.  Perhaps the price of the salvation of 1 is worth the transworld damnation of 100.  Or 1,000. Who are we to say?!  How we could measure such things? 

The thing is, Craig’s hypothetical scenario of “a few” being damned does not represent his actual position.  He unambiguously states that “if we take Scripture seriously, we must admit that the vast majority of persons in the world are condemned and will be lost forever.”

Since the actualized world = the optimal world, he states that the “cost” of transworld damnation must be worth it.  He states:

“It is possible that the terrible price of filling heaven is also filling hell and that in any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost was worse. It is possible that had God actualized a world in which there are less persons in hell, there would also have been less persons in heaven. It is possible that in order to achieve this much blessedness, God was forced to accept this much loss.”

I don’t know whether the above quote represents a hypothetical possibility or if the language of “possibility” is designed to obscure what is truly meant to function as a theodicy of hell.  I believe that his thinking necessitates the latter (though Craig explicitly states otherwise), but in the end it doesn’t really matter. 

Staying within Craig’s framework, I think it safe to say that the above statement is and must be true of the optimal world.  Of the infinite number of worlds that God could have actualized, the optimal world is the one in which the vast majority of persons are condemned and lost forever

By what sort of measurement is this sort of world the optimal world?   We may not know the math, but it’s a purely utilitarian formula in which Optimal World = Bliss(Saved) – Misery (Damned). 

Regardless of whether this optimal world is conceived of by ration or in absolute terms of saved and lost, is God a utilitarian who counts units of pleasure?  Or a mathematician solving equations?  A mad scientist unconcerned with the leftover remnant of his experiment?

**********

So take those two ideas – transworld damnation and utilitarian salvation – and just ponder them in the context of the parable ofthe prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.


Ask yourself the following questions:  

Is transworld damnation compatible with this scene?
Is the heart of the father in the parable compatible with a God of transworld damnation?
What qualifiers do you have to add to the parable make it compatible?
After adding those qualifiers, what is really left? 

The son is always a son.  A lost son perhaps.  A dead son who comes alive.  But always a son. 

How can God actualize a world compatible with transworld damnation?  How can God weigh the salvation of the son against the son's damnation in an "optimal world"?

I don’t dismiss the philosophical questions or frameworks that define middle knowledge (or any theological perspective for that matter).  To be honest, I don’t think we can.  Reason is not the enemy of faith. 


But if the grammar of Christian faith is to have any substantive meaning at all, transworld damnation cannot be true. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Creator God is the One Who Raises the Dead (Jurgen Moltmann)


It isn't enough to say that the Creator God is the one who fashions matter, the reason that there is something rather than nothing.  This is significant, but it is not enough.  "Creation" is more than the act of giving dead stuff it’s dead stuff-ness, to author a lifeless cosmos.

What is this God like? 

For Moltmann, the God who is Creator is inseparable from the God who raises the dead:

“The God who raises the dead is the same God who as creator calls into being the things that are not; and the God who called the world into existence out of nothing is the God who raises the dead.  Beginning and end, creation and resurrection, belong together and must not be separated from one another; for the glorification of creation through the raising of the dead is creation’s perfecting, and creation is aligned towards the resurrection of the dead.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

First Hand Accounts of Charlottesville

Given the ambiguity and lack of specificity of the “many sides” argument of Trump, I thought I’d put gather together some reports on what happened according to people who were actually there.

Here are a few:

Charlottesville: Race and Terror  A documentary style video that, among other things, follows and interviews a group of heavily armed neo-nazis.  This is a MUST WATCH.

Video of the car attack by James Alex Fields

Charlottesville: a first-hand account of racist violence  Written by an elder in the United Methodist Church.
  
Two Blocks From the Culture War  Written by William J Antholis, a former government official.

What U.Va. Students Saw in Charlottesville  Eyewitness testimonies from 7 UVA students.  And a corresponding video.

A Witness to Terrorism in Charlottesville.  The account of Kristin Adolfson written by Charles Bethea.

Here’s What Really Happened In Charlottesville  A length account from Blake Montgomery


A Far-Right Gathering Bursts Into Brawls.  Written by Hawes Spencer.  Some good pictures.

The complete story of what happened in Charlottesville, according to the alt-right  From the perspective of several people on the alt-right.

Yes, What About the “Alt-Left”?  Eye witness testimonies of counterprotestor interactions with antifa.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pilate's Great Truth?


“What is truth?” Pilate asks the prisoner Jesus according to John 18:38.

This nihilistic question often appears in attacks against relativism and post-modernism.  It’s quite useful for many Christian apologetics groups. 

But the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus is not about some abstract idea of “truth”.

Fast forward a bit in the story to John 19:10.

Pilate asks, “Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?”

If a person hears this question, recognizes Pilate’s appeal to epistemological truth (“don’t you know”) and concludes that the big idea behind this conversation is that his purported relativism has been contradicted by his own words, they’ve missed the point.

Pilate believes in truth. 

He just doesn’t think it matters. 

In the end, the fundamental truth is death and the power to kill.  Specifically, the truth is that Pilate has the power to either kill Jesus or set him free.  And that’s all that matters.  This is the truth that Pilate announces to Jesus.  It is the truth of the power to kill.  What is “truth” in comparison to the sheer fact of Pilate’s power to kill or set free?  Whatever the “truth” is, it pales in comparison to Pilate’s power to crucify. 

What is “truth” in comparison to the “fire and fury” of sheer military force, ancient or modern?

Right?

Jesus does not debate Pilate’s ability to crucify him.  He acknowledges it.  He responds in John 19:11 with this:

“You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above.”

He has authority.  But there is another "authority" too.

“From above”.  What is that?

Is Jesus alluding to the truth that Pilate is right about the nature of power, but that he possesses a power that is ultimately just bigger and better than Pilate’s? 

No, I don’t think so.

In John 18:36 Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

That’s what servants do according to the tenets of power in this world.  They fight.  It is the way of things.  But his kingdom is not of this world, so truth is not subservient to or synonymous with the power to kill.  No, the truth that Jesus alludes to is found in relation to this power “from above”.  And this power does not fight to keep Jesus from being handed over.

It’s quite pious sounding.  And it’s absolutely scandalous. 

It’s not of this world.

What is this power, this truth?

You can say “the power of God”, sure.  But what does that mean?

It is the power that raises Jesus from the dead.  It is the power that forgives from the cross and speaks “Shalom” upon his resurrection.  It is the eternal power that stems from the truth of life over death.  It’s a power that confounds, overcomes, and finally envelops the power of Pilate. 

It’s not that Pilate’s power isn’t real.  Look around the world.  All the death, loss, and tragedy.  It is real.

But it’s not the last word.  It is not the power of the world only bigger.  God is not Pilate but with more firepower.

Christ, the Word and power of God, is the beginning and the end.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Russia and the Syrian Refugee Crisis


Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve read commentary implying that Vladimir Putin orchestrated the Syrian refugee crisis as a means of destroying western Europe.

The 1st instance was in On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder: 

“In early 2016, Russia manufactured a moment of fake terror in Germany.  While bombing Syrian civilians and thus driving Muslim refugees to Europe, Russia exploited a family drama to instruct Germans that Muslims were rapists of children.  The aim, again, seems to have been to destabilize a democratic system and promote the parties of the extreme right.” (p 108)

And the 2nd was in the essay The Seven Trends behind the Global Rise of Populism by Iyad El-Baghdadi:

 “Opportunistic players such as Russia found the perfect conflict to exploit to destroy the “liberal world order” – cynically and skillfully using it to erode international norms in the name of “fighting terrorism”.  Putin couldn’t throw missiles at Europe – so he threw waves of Syrian refugees at them.” (7. The unravelling of the Middle-East)

The 1st instance caught my attention, but it was more tangential than direct.  Though it is alluded to, “orchestrated” might be too strong a word.  I moved on.  The 2nd instance, however, forced me to sit up and really take notice.  Can’t ignore it twice.

Orchestrating a refugee crisis.  That’s a strong claim that requires evidence.  Sifting through that evidence requires time and attention, a refusal to be drawn into the unending cycle of “breaking news”, a desire to hear competing points of view, and a willingness to go beyond quick “gotcha” talking points.

I’m not talking Think Tank level analysis here, but is it possible for a novice such as myself to separate fact and fiction?  Could some basic reading and thinking bring even a modest amount of clarity?  Or are there just too many opinions from too many experts?  Too many “alternative facts”?  Too little time.

Let me tell you, after going through this exercise I have great respect for the press.  It is not easy to sift through mountains of facts and to make sense of ambiguity and contradiction in an age when millions of people can fact check your work instantly.  On and off, it took me weeks to write all of this....and it's likely that nobody will ever read it.  Imagine doing this on a daily deadline in front of the critical eye of millions! Particularly with the rapid pace at which the news cycle moves, the whole thing is exhausting.

**********

Given Putin’s support of the Assad regime, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Western voices to “blame Putin” for the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Blame Putin” could be understood only in the most general sense, as in “Putin shares the blame”.  Inflammatory perhaps, but nothing overly shocking.

The two citations above, however, imply something different than mere guilt by association.  Something immensely more malevolent.  They imply, more or less 1)the intentional creation of a refugee crisis that was 2) orchestrated under the guise of or in conjunction with fighting ISIS and was 3) intended to weaken or destroy western democracy in Europe and throughout the world.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I found this to be a stunning claim.  A refugee crisis as the unwelcome collateral damage of geopolitical conflict is one thing, unspeakably tragic as it is.  But the creation of a refugee crisis as the means of fighting a geopolitical war?  It’s so dark and twisted, so inhumane, that it almost defies belief.

Is there any evidence to support such a claim?  What would that evidence look like?  Is such a claim unambiguous and irrefutable, or is it only supported via a complex web of conspiracy theory laden circumstantial evidence?

The relevant factors as I saw them:

(1)    Targeting of Civilians

It seems to me that any proof must go well beyond the well documented Russian support for the Assad regime. Proof of “weaponizing refugees” must first be proven by Russian actions towards civilian populations.  So that’s the first question.

Take this article in The Telegraph from March 2, 2016.


General Breedlove, Nato’s military commander in Europe at the time, said this back in 2016:

“Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

What evidence supports this assertion?

“Barrel bombs are designed to terrorize, get people out of their homes, get them on the road and make them someone else's problem. These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces, I can’t find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.”

So the evidence is the use of weapons in an indiscriminate way, a way that is best explained as an attempt to create migration.

Or take Senator John McCain’s comments per this article from The Independent:

“He [Mr. Putin] wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project.”

As above, the evidence lies with a Russian air campaign that target civilians:

-The intensified air campaign follows accusations from Senator John McCain, chairman of the US Senate armed services committee, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was intentionally stoking the refugee crisis in order to undermine the European project.

Numerous examples could be given of different authorities making this same assertion using the same evidence.  Russia, of course, denies targeting civilian populations or stoking the refugee crisis in any way. Whatever air force they employ, as the story goes, is targeted solely at rebels hostile to the Assad regime.

Have civilian populations been intentionally targeted or not?  Are rebels hiding amongst these populations or not?

(2)    Failed Cease-Fire

There is also the matter of the failed Turkey and Russia brokered Aleppo cease fire in October of 2016.  The cease fire was designed to allow humanitarian aid in and to let civilians out. The rebels, however, never accepted the cease fire.  Fighting never really stopped, and air strikes recommenced on the 3rd day of the cease fire.  As far as it relates to the refugee crisis, Russia and the Syrian government said that the Rebels wouldn’t let civilians leave Aleppo.  The Rebels asserted that the civilians tried to leave, but shelling by government military forces caused their retreat back into rebel occupied territory.

What to make of this?

If Russia wanted to exacerbate the refugee crisis, why wouldn’t they let the civilians out of Aleppo?  Perhaps Russian and Syrian forces did shell the civilians because they feared that rebels were attempting to escape with the civilians.  Or perhaps the rebels truly wouldn’t let them leave…because they wanted civilians as human shields or for another reason.  A number of narratives can be strewn together that, absent the facts, can make sense of any position.  Bottom line, it’s complex.  The facts are hard to know.

(3)    Putin’s Criticism of Europe’s handling of the Migrant Crisis

Regardless of whether Putin intended the migrant crisis, has he weaponized it?  Has he used it to attack and subvert European democracy?

Take the following example of a case in Austria; the raping of a 10 year old Serbian boy at the hands of a 20 year old Iraqi migrant.  This is a horrible story.  The migrant claimed that the rape was an emergency because he hadn't had sex in 4 months.  He was ultimately set free because the courts couldn't prove that migrant realized that the boy was saying no.  The attacker remained in custody awaiting a second trial.  I don't know all the details.  Here, I want to try to focus exclusively on Putin’s decision to wade into European migrant policies on this particular point.

“In a European country, a child is raped by a migrant, and the courts release him.”

“It doesn’t fit into my head what on earth they’re thinking over there.”

“I can’t even explain the rationale – is it a sense of guilt before the migrants?  What’s going on?  It’s not clear.”

“A society that cannot defend its children has no future.”

This same article included some comments by Konstanti Romodanovsky, head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service.

“The European Commission left it up to individual nations to decide how they want to treat asylum seekers – despite the fact that polices and capabilities of member states are very different.”

The common thread?  Using these sort of incidents as a means to argue that European unity creates unsolvable problems of sovereignty and thus puts individual nations at risk.  He argues that unity is weakness.  What is “strength” in these contexts?  Are “alliances” on paper only, but when shit really hits the fan it’s dog eat dog, the strong against the weak?  “Why the façade!?”…argues Putin.  “Let me point out the inherent problems of your “generosity” towards immigrants….a generosity that is fake and nobody really wants, mind you,” he argues.

This is the great challenge.

It’s curious though.  Putin places great emphasis on the nationalism and the sovereignty of the nation state. More specifically, he is concerned with his nation state.  So we should therefore assume that his comments here can be best understood against that backdrop – they are intended to benefit him.  That is, the sovereignty and safety of European nations is of little concern to him. These comments are to benefit Russia and, ultimately, himself.  The only questions are how and why?

(4)    The Effect of the Migrant Crisis

To put it mildly, the refugee crisis has "put strains on the regions resources and political unity."

If the intent was to destabilize Europe and it's unity, it appears to be working.  Working towards what end?

"Instead, it continues to view the United States and NATO as a threat to its own security. Since the beginning of 2014, President Putin has sought to undermine the rules-based system of European security and attempted to maximize his power on the world stage," he (General Breedlove) said.

Spotlighting the effects doesn't prove that the cause (the refugee crisis) was intended, but it's worth noticing that the obvious effects have not appeared to dissuade Putin (or Assad) from changing course.  Quite the opposite.  As outlined above, the crisis has provided the occasion for Putin to verbally attack Europe and to publicly question it's foundations.

This doesn't prove intent, but it's effects and the words and actions that followed suggest complicity.

**********

If there is a “smoking gun” I didn’t find it.  There is no leaked Russian memo entitled “On the Creation of a Refugee Crisis Towards the Destruction of the European Project.”  Much of what I found is circumstantial and therefore requires a level of analysis that only those who make their living in these sorts of things are prepared to provide.

As I wrap this up, one more angle to consider.  One more quote from The Seven Trends behind the Global Rise of Populism:

“Perhaps more things are being put on bureaucratic auto-pilot not because of a plan but because of the lack of a plan. Maybe the “elites” are also winging it.”

The lack of a plan.  Maybe everyone is just winging it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Creatio ex Nihilo and The Cosmic Christ (Jurgen Moltmann)


Ever since reading God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilo by David Bentley Hart, the theological idea of creation ex nihilo has become an important one for me.  Subsequent readings, along with a few other essays (Theodicy, Hell, and David B Hart by Brian Moore being a notable one) have cemented it as foundational and formative.  The eschatological themes of heaven, hell and the destiny of creation, the connection between protology (beginnings) and eschatology (ends), the moral themes of theodicy and suffering, and the ultimate question of 'Who is God?' are all intimately germane to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.

For me, this doctrine (as implication of the Gospel) provides reason for hope and the occasion for faith.

I came across the same themes recently in the work of Jurgen Moltmann.  Moltmann, however, doesn't explicitly use the language of creation "ex nihilo".  Not here anyways.  For Moltmann, this line of thought falls within his theological expositions on "The Cosmic Christ".

The connection is amazing.  When we are talking about the meaning of Creation ex nihilo, we are talking about the cosmic Christ, the Alpha and the Omega.

Both of the citations below are taken from Chapter 6 (section 3) of Jesus Christ for Today's World by Moltmann.  The chapter is entitled 'The Cosmic Christ'.  Have a look:

If all things are created by one God, then a transcendent unity precedes their diversity and their historicity. It is not a matter of many worlds belonging to many gods or powers. This is the one creation of the one God. If all things are created by the one God through his Wisdom/Logos, and if they are held together in that, then an immanent unity in which they all exist together underlies their diversity in space and time. Their unity is not the outcome of some subsequent process, emerging from their relationships and the warp and weft into which they are bound. Everything has its genesis in a fundamental underlying unity, which is called God's Wisdom, Spirit or Word. The fellowship of all created beings goes ahead of their differentiations and the specific forms given to them, and this is consequently the foundation underlying their diversity. If God withdraws this foundation, everything disintegrates and becomes a nothingness. If God lends it fresh force, the various forms are renewed (Ps. 104.29f.).
--(Kindle Locations 996-998).


The Hebrew word roach is often translated Spirit, as it is here; but a better translation is 'wind' or 'breath'. The Hebrew word 'rahaph' is generally rendered 'hover' or 'brood'. But according to Deut. 32.11 and Jer. 23.9 it really means vibrating, quivering, moving and exciting. If this is correct, then we shouldn't just think of the image of a fluttering or brooding dove. We should think of the fundamental resonances of music out of which sounds and rhythms emerge. So in thinking about 'creation through the Word', we shouldn't think primarily in metaphors of command and obedience. A better image is the song of creation. The word names, differentiates and appraises. But the breath is the same in all the words, and binds the words together. So the Creator differentiates his creatures through his creative Word and joins them through his Spirit, who is the sustainer of all his words. In the quickening breath and through the form-giving word, the Creator sings out his creatures in the sounds and rhythms in which he has his joy and his good pleasure.
--(Kindle Locations 1004-1010).

Friday, June 23, 2017

What is the 'Kingdom of God'? (Jurgen Moltmann)


In the summings-up of Jesus’ message we are also told again and again: “The kingdom of God is at hand – repent.”  But what does the word ‘repent’ really mean according to these parables?

A sheep has gone astray and is found and the finder is delighted that his search has not been in vain.  The lost coin could do nothing about either its loss or its finding: the joy is solely and entirely the woman’s.  The lost son, finally, was not merely ‘lost and found; he had actually been ‘dead and was alive again’.  So if we look at these parables, what is the kingdom of God?  It is nothing other than God’s joy at finding again the beings he created who have been lost.  And what is the ‘repentance’ which the sinner has to ‘perform’?  It is nothing other than the being-found, and the return home from exile and estrangement, the coming-alive again, and the joining in God’s joy.  We are experiencing God’s kingdom when something like this happens to us, something where we flower and put out fresh growth like the flowers and trees in the spring, and come alive again, because we sense the great in exhaustible loves from which all life proceeds.  When we experience God’s exhilaration in his joy over us, and our own vitality reawakens, the kingdom of God cease to be some remote and alien rule; it is the very source and fountain of life.  Then the kingdom of God is the wide space in which we can unfold and develop, because it is a place without any restrictions.  Once we experience God’s kingdom like this, we discover afresh the wealth of our potentialities for living.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions


I recently read Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli.

The book is an intimate look at the child refugee crisis as framed through the 40 questions posed to these children upon their arrival in the United States.  It is not a whitepaper or book of detached logic.  It doesn’t present the problems and then propose clearly achievable solutions.  So my intent here is not to ‘review’ this heart-wrenching, desperate book.  This situation is a nightmare, and the author practically begs for the underlying issue to be seen and acknowledged.  That the author does not know how this story ends is simultaneously a call to action and a sobering fact.

A few quotes from the book:

"It is not even the American Dream that they pursue, but rather the more modest aspiration to wake up from the nightmare into which they were born."

"In varying degrees, some papers and webpages announce the arrival of undocumented children like a biblical plague. Beware the locusts."

"No, we do not find inspiration here, but we find a country that is as beautiful as it is broken, and we are somehow now part of it, so we are also broken with it, and feel ashamed, confused, and sometimes hopeless, and are trying to figure out how to do something about all that."

"The political response to the crisis, therefore, has always centered on one question, which is more or less: What do we do with all these children now? Or, in blunter terms: How do we get rid of them or dissuade them from coming?"

"How would anyone who is stigmatized as an “illegal immigrant” feel “safe” and “happy”?"

"No one suggests that the causes are deeply embedded in our shared hemispheric history and are therefore not some distant problem in a foreign country that no one can locate on a map, but in fact a trans national problem that includes the United States—not as a distant observer or passive victim that must now deal with thousands of unwanted children arriving at the southern border, but rather as an active historical participant in the circumstances that generated that problem."

"To refer to the situation as a hemispheric war would be a step forward because it would oblige us to rethink the very language surrounding the problem and, in doing so, imagine potential directions for combined policies."

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Tweets (On Violence and Forgiveness)


This past Sunday morning, I woke up to the following two tweets right next to one another in my feed:

The first relates directly to the prior day’s attack in London:

@rcallimachi
10. Chilling testimony from eyewitness who says he saw assailants stabbing a girl, while screaming, “This is for Allah.”


And this followed:

@brianzahnd
Violence breeds violence.
Only forgiveness offers an alternative.
I know must don’t believe this but…
It is what Jesus lived and taught.
And it is what God has vindicated in…
Resurrection

**********

The degree and nature of the dialogue between the content of these two tweets is, I think, of the utmost importance.  In an age where our world’s imagination for destruction and ever more deadly weapons seems to shape our vision of the future, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that it determines our future.

How do we hear this 2nd tweet?
  • As irrelevant religious blather?  Or as pointing towards the most relevant speech of all?
  • As fundamentally mistaken and flat-out theologically wrong?  Or as the truth at the heart of reality?
  • As cowardly, destructive, and leading inexorably to the deaths of the innocent?  Or as the courageous means to new life?
  • As weak?  Or as strong?
  • As luxury?  Or as necessity?
  • As perpetuating the cycle of violence?  Or as breaking the cycle of violence?
  • As hopelessly naïve, the result of privilege and distance from the death and suffering?  Or as sober and costly solidarity with the death and suffering in the world?
  • As indifference and “doing nothing”?  Or as the means whereby an active and potent moral imagination is ignited?
  • Which one "takes terrorism seriously"?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...