Monday, January 26, 2015

Will All Be Well?

I've started subscribing to Richard Rohr's daily devotional, which I have found to be more thoughtful than most, balancing both an opportunity to pause and contemplate with intellectual growth and stimulation. Back in November, he had a post reflecting on Julian of Norwich's famous prayer, "All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

I'm familiar with this prayer, having prayed it myself. It's a nice reminder of God's sovereignty, among other teleological ideas. But this time, I wondered how true this prayer really is. It depends on our end point, of course, as one could argue that once creation is renewed and reconciled, "all will be well."

But in the shorter term, not everything works out right. Babies die. Terrorists succeed. Good people go bankrupt. Hard workers lose their homes and jobs. People in therapy suicide.

No matter how hard we work, sometimes bad things happen.

So is saying a prayer that all shall be well still true? Or is it a Nietzschean opiate to make us feel better? Psychological research has indicated that the negative cognitions of the depressed (and I would add that the anxious probably fall into this, as well) are actually more accurate than the thoughts of those who are normal. The depressive things are reality. But it doesn't help us live, either. It seems that sometimes we need some level of ignorance or blindness in order to function appropriately.

I want to believe that all shall be well. Teleologically, I could say it's so. Frankly, I've had a remarkably blessed life. But in this world, I've also seen others in great pain despite faithfulness.

What is the balance between hoping all shall be well and knowing that it's not? Maybe it's the hope that's the key.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Retributive Justice: Human or Divine?

Last week, I talked about whether God needs to be appeased. The big thing I want to emphasize in this sort of discussion is how embedded ideas of retributive justice are in our society. There is just a fundamental assumption that this is how things work, and of course God works the same way.

A poignant example of this, to me, was when I had jury duty recently. As I was walking into the courthouse, there was a guy with a bullhorn yelling about how people were going to Hell. Another was handing out tracts to everyone entering the courthouse. (Side note: While I hate this sort of representation of Christianity, I'm proud to live in a country where this can occur outside of a government courthouse. Further, what does it say about the claim that Christians are persecuted in the US?)

Having done my undergrad in Berkeley, I'm good at just walking past people trying to hand stuff to me. Trying to keep my temper in check for giving Christians such a bad name, I just said a polite, "No thank you" to the guy with the tract and keep walking. He then aggressively said, "Did you see the sign?!" referring to a cross saying something like, "Do you know God?" I responded, "I'm a Christian," to which he seemed to celebrate with a "Yeah!" So I turned around and said, "But you're doing it the wrong way!" I couldn't help myself. I'm unwilling to let others think I support such behavior.

Moving back from the side rant, what this indicated to me was the tendency many of us have to make assumptions about how things work and what others believe. These individuals were clearly promoting a highly retributive justice God right in front of an institution specializing in retributive justice (let's be honest, the US justice system is fundamentally about retributive justice--it frankly would be difficult to build a different system at this level). In many ways, this was a wise move--it powerfully reinforces the central principles of what they're trying to argue. If you believe in the governmental justice methodology, then it's easy to apply that spiritually.

But what if that application is wrong? What if retributive justice is really a human practicality (or tragedy)? What are we missing if we assume this approach to justice is from God?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Does God Need To Be Appeased?

As atonement continues to come up in our Sunday school class, I continue to reflect on how much a substitutionary view has been central to our theological language. Propitiation is a perfect example of this. Propitiation is a common term used in atonement discussions and other areas of theology. It's a fancy word for appeasing someone, often the Divine.

There's just an assumption that someone has to be appeased. But is that necessarily so?

Humans need to be appeased; there's little doubt about that. But the Divine? When made in humanity's image, the Divine surely have to be appeased. However, from a Christian perspective, we are made in God's image, yet we are different. I'm increasingly convinced that the transactional, conditional acceptance notions we have in our theology are not from God, but from our broken human nature.

Others have talked about some of the problems with the various atonement theories, namely substitutionary and ransomed theories. The idea of propitiation is really central to these criticisms, as who does God have to appease and what kind of character does a God have who needs to be appeased?

The mimetic theory of atonement seems to address some of this. It doesn't minimize any of the biblical record, but in my view, recognizes the human theological evolution and understanding that develops over centuries/millennia.

Does someone need to be appeased for our salvation? Yes, but nothing divine. I'm inclined to believe it's us who need to be appeased for our own wrongdoings. We are the ones who can't get over ourselves. So God provides a way for us to move past it and to him.

How does this change our view of salvation? Of God and his character? Of the Bible?


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).