Thursday, January 21, 2016

Asking Myself: In what ways does God intervene in the world?

This is week 3 of my blogging series "Asking Myself," in which I ponder the ultimate questions of faith posed in Teresa Blythe's excellent book, 50 Ways to Pray. My thoughts are a work in progress, so please join the discussion!  If you're just arriving, check out week one's parts one and two, and last week's post.

Q: In what ways does God intervene in the world?

This one has been taking me a little while to chew on.

It's an uncomfortable question for me because of the cognitive dissonance between my experience of God and some of my readings of God. My view of God through a New Testament, Jesus-lens sees God's interventions to be strictly grounded in love, justice and mercy. And this view is at odds with what seem some very troubling examples of God intervening and tinkering and manipulating in the Old Testament. (What do I mean, specifically? Pharaoh's hardened heart and Elisha's juvenile delinquent taunters who were mauled by the she-bears come to mind as troubling examples of an Angry, Arbitrary, Partial God of whose hand I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end. This is not the God I know.)

But back to the question. In addition to being a little unsettling, it's an important, weighty one because my belief in who God is, His nature, as I wrote about in last week's Ask post, hinges on what I believe are His actions. Love does, right? Love is a verb, can I get a witness?

So, if I say God's nature, His very core motivating characteristic is love, and if that love is aimed in large part at us tiny humans who are diverse in all the ways we express God or don't express Him-- then I think my reading of God throughout the entire Bible should line up with that view. And if it doesn't, it seems I have a problem. Either I'm off about God's deepest attribute or Scripture is off about God. I don't like either of those possibilities. The third way, of course, is that humans are off in how they interpret Scripture's difficult she-bear passages. This only gives me a little bit of comfort. I've built my view of God's nature upon both experience and scripture, usually on the synthesis of the two. So this exploration does lead me to a terrifying edge.

So, on to actually trying to answer the question!

First, I should consider the big ways in which I definitely do see God intervening:

1. He intervened in the world by first creating the entire physical universe and even becoming a part of it. He entered stage left as a tiny, naked, squirming, rooting, helpless part of humanity. He created all of it, and inhabited it. Even the parts that went sour and selfish. Even the humble slop trough and the dirty ground. Bottom line is: in Jesus all the fullness of God dwells. And I have to think that a vindictive, heart-hardening, she-bear sending god could not possibly take up residence in the beautiful, love-doing God-Man Jesus I see walking through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; burning brightly in Acts; echoed and reflected in the Epistles; and longed for in Revelation.

2. Another way God intervenes is by creating in a metaphysical sense. In Genesis, He breathed life into Red-Dirt Adam. In Ecclesiastes, God puts eternity in man's heart. In the Psalms, David implores God to create in him a new, clean heart-- one he obviously lacked in light of his murderous wife-stealing stunt. I don't believe God could or would do all the things David asked Him to in the Psalms, but this requests seems particularly right and good... and I'm inclined to believe God intervenes by answering the call to create clean hearts where only smutty ones beat. I'm gonna leave this thought here. I won't even touch the part of the story where God allows David and Bathsheba's baby to die, presumably as a consequence of David's dark deed.

3. God intervenes by taking bad situations and bad decisions and bad attitudes and all kinds of bad stuff that He never intended or initiated ...and makes it good. Or, more precisely, He makes it "work together for good"... specifically for those who love Him. The primary example being his taking an excruciating death on a sinner's cross and turning it into resurrection life available to all of humanity.

I don't see Romans 8:28 as the catch-all verse for explaining away tragedy and evil run rampant and ruined lives. I don't use this verse on people so they'll stop griping about their problems.  I also prefer not to view God as orchestrating the bad in the world just so He can show off His goodness... that brings me too near the disconcerting idea in Exodus that God would choose to harden someone's heart against Him. How do I reconcile that image with the one in I Timothy of a God who desires all men to be saved and come to the full knowledge of the truth? Presumably, salvation and full knowledge would lead to full love and embrace of the God who is Truth. But what about that Potter who can make one lump for honor and the other for dishonor? Does that mean what I think it does? Or have I been taught the story all wrong? I am indeed fretting about the plight of those dishonorable lumps. And I'm fretting about an apparent image of God that would purposely make someone to reject him or at least be dishonorable to him...

Yeah. So this post is pretty messy. And I've left all the ends untied; You're Welcome.

How about I close with some Godly "intervention" from good 'ole Eugene Peterson?

"He knows us far better than we know ourselves...and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun." -Romans 8:28-30 The Message

Next week's question: What is it that reconciles us to God?

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