Sunday, September 25, 2005

who is good but God?

Joe's got a great little post over at Brooklyn and Beyond referencing Jon Stewart's words from the other night, addressed to God: "What part of God bless America don't you get?"

Joe's point was that part of what it means to be a Christian is an (endless?) quest for consistent language about how God works in the world. Specifically, if God's in charge of procuring my parking space (Hallelujah!), then how 'bout them hurricanes, eh? That's not to say there aren't a whole lot of inconsistent Christians out there. There are--otherwise, why make a point about the necessity of this quest, right?

Around here, snuggled deep in the comfy bosom of the Reformed Tradition, the response to these things always comes back to one thing: sovereignty. God's sovereignty. God's big, we're puny. God's powerful, we're weak. God knows, we don't. God Created, we are created. God does what God does, and if we don't get it (and don't like it), well, that's just to be expected, isn't it, 'cause God in his sovereignty didn't equip us with the necessaries to even begin to question him.

I don't know why this is satisfying to people. When I want to know about God and the hurricanes, I don't think about God's sovereignty. I think about God's goodness. And I think, some things about this world are obviously not good. I can see that. There's no doubt about that. If I can see that, so can God. And surely God can see it so much more clearly and painfully than I do. Some things about this world are not good.

So what? Well, I personally like to inform God, just in case God missed it, or really, just to reinforce what God has undoubtedly already surmised. Shit happens down here. And I like to point out to God that God is in a position of responsibility. Sometimes this is phrased elegantly in my discussions with God: "Creator of all, nothing exists except through you. Have compassion on your creatures" or sometimes it comes out more like, "you started it!!!"

It can degenerate from there. I'm not saying I'm a Martin Luther or that guy from The Apostle or anything, but, well, when a conversation is private and in your head you can feel rather uninhibited.

But I'm not afraid of it, of affirming God's goodness to God's face and demanding, why aren't you doing what you ought to be here? Why did you leave us with this mess? Why are things this way? Don't you love your creation anymore? Doesn't it make you sad to see it wrecked? Don't you want to make it right? What are you waiting around for? Haven't you made some promises you ought to be delivering on right about now?

I think, rather, that God wants us to get worked up and and good and pissed when we see this obvious discrepancy between the goodness of the Creator God we praise and the muck of the creation we live in. I think God is proud of us when we realize that goodness is goodness, and evil is evil, and when all we can see tells us that God is less than good, we should be pointing that out, not making peace with a vision of God who is less than the good God we used to believe in. I think God rejoices when we see this clearly, rejoices that despite everything we see around us, instead of capitulating to the evident evil in the world, we stubbornly continue to believe in a good God throught the very act of challenging God in all God's goodness to appear and prove it.

I imagine that, if I were a mommy with an extremely precocious toddler, that I would feel more proud than pissed if little Susie pointed out some obvious, gross injustice in my behavior and held me up to the very standard I'd taught her. Because good is good.


Anonymous said...

JTB-You know I'm a sucker for these theodicy-laced posts. I don't have anything special to add to this discussion (big surprise!), but I just wanted to agree that I don't see anything wrong with reminding God who God is. Not that God has forgotten, but as part and parcel of our heritage as people who wrestle with God like Jacob and who grumble against God like the Israelites. We seemed to have gotten rid of our Jewish hertitage in exchange for a more polite treatment of God. I'm wondering what this sort of thought has to do with our theology of prayer?

Hope you and JBB are hanging in there at this time of year. shalom!

Anonymous said...

I agree also with the reminding-GOd-who-GOd-is. Actually, I've wondered if the crucifixion is also supposed to be about God taking responsibility that, too, not just dealing with our evil. I mean, in an evolutionary universe, sin was never not going to happen, and lots of suffering and massive death is the cost of life and goodness. So, doesn't God have a price to pay, too, that's of God's own choosing? Crucifixion as God's answer to Job Part B?

JTB said...

Once my sister said to me that she sometimes thought about the crucifixion as God's apology. I thought that was brilliant. Atonement makes a lot more sense to me when it also means God's atonement as well as our own--so that the cross is the locus of everyone's realizing that they had a part in creating this unholy mess, including God.

I don't think I'll be volunteering this pov in precept next week.

Anonymous said...

This was a really good blog entry Jen. One of your best, I think. I sometimes wonder if God started all this, and then, like a boulder rolling madly down a steep incline, was surprised that things took on a life of their own. I mean, if you're going to create a thing, and then step back and let human nature and poor decision making take its course, then somewhere it can get away from you. And there's this mess. This unholy mess that is now almost self-perpetuating. Are we in this downward spiral that we created? Or are the people right who look the other way and don't ever think about pounding on God's chest and demanding an answer? I don't know. I would like an answer too.

When you were little, being the intelligent little creature that you were, you demanded answers from me. When you were old enough to make some sense of my response, I was more than willing to give you an answer (if I had one). Sometimes, I didn't have one, and that made me stop and ponder...then why am I doing this or that? But, sometimes you weren't ready to really understand an answer, and it came out sort of like, "Because I'm the MOM and I say so!". Maybe that's the position God is in and when we are "old" enough to understand, then He can explain it. I like to think that. Does this make me one of those people who blindly accept and don't question?? I hope not. Because, God, get ready. I've got a long list of stuff I want to ask you about!!

JTB said...

I think there's also some truth in the Irenaean thought that human beings are more like children in relation to God than the independent, rational, choosing adult paradigm we've inherited. In which case, I think we could characterize just looking the other way or making excuses or pretending everything really is good or trumping everything with the sovereignty card (after all, who are we to question) is evidence of immaturity in some sense, and pounding on God's chest for answers, evidence of some agonizing growth. If I were God (heh heh) I know which I'd prefer.

I kind of think, too, that it's less of God withholding answers and choosing to reveal them when we can understand, than it is that the answers are out there and we just don't see or understand--and therefore conclude there's no answer. I like to imagine that revelatory moment when we do all get to understand as one where we get to see at the same time how it's all always fit together somehow, and how much we missed before. That's better to me than having God suddenly deliver answers that really were unattainable because God held out on us for all of human history.

allison said...

I'm having one of those "YOU started it, God!" days. I can't bear to think that God knew the poverty, natural disasters, cancers, wars, estrangement, and hate that creating the world would produce.
Accepting God's apology helps me voice the apology I also owe him. When I do that(present future tense), I feel like I can just collapse in an intimate moment where God and I can just lament the whole mess. When the tears are dry, we can both get out there again refueled to do what we can to clean up the mess a little.