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If God is Love…

September 21, 2015

I like to occasionally post something really big-picture and positive…. hopefully uplifting and stimulating.  After I wrote a reply on the fascinating blog, The Evangelical Liberal, I realized it might make sense as a short post of its own here.  So, with slight modifications for context here it is:

…. I don’t recall what I may have said here before…. I may have mentioned the Process theology approach. It is a sort of “middle ground” perspective between historic orthodoxy (Evangelicalism and broader) and classic liberalism.

That is mainly in its conception of the nature of God and the God-world interaction. Although I don’t know that the Anglican Church ([of the blog author] or Episcopal in my U.S. setting) is much “into” Process formally, it probably is as close to being in sync as about any denomination…. My own, the United Church of Christ, is also, but not nearly as large or world-wide as Anglican.

The Wikipedia article on Process theology can serve as a good summary I won’t try to repeat, even in short form here. Let me just focus on my own “process” (not Process) a moment:

While I’ve know about and been influenced by Process for over 20 years (I’m about to turn 66), I think it’s just been a year or less that I’ve really focused in on what I now think may be the single most important concept (it applies strongly to the Evangelical/Liberal divide): God, as perfect Love, is never and can never be coercive. “He” is not threatening nor punishing. As non-coercive, God does not even interrupt natural “laws” (e.g., with miracles, nor with “creation out of nothing”). His creation of “our world” was out of chaos (Gen. 1), the difference having major implications for the “problem of evil”, etc. (recommended: a great, short book by a top Process guy, David R. Griffin, titled Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith).

The effect of affirming God as only Love (thus non-avenging, non-violent) is to undercut much of “orthodoxy”, including ACTUAL separation from God, need for sacrifice (including Jesus’ as supposedly “substitutionary atonement” or “ransom”), or possibility of eternity in hell. (Jesus did not actually teach any of these, I’m convinced, despite a few Gospel passages that seem to suggest it.)

Process has a more nuanced view of revelation in Scripture and Jesus than does “liberalism”. Importantly, it also reconciles (at least the best I think it can be done to date) divine persuasive action (which can look like “miracles”, as can subtle natural processes science tends to ignore or deny) with natural processes (as seen in evolution).
In other words, God draws us to creative and/or loving actions that further God’s agenda of unity and peace, and God does NOT punish any failings or even willful resistance to that by us. Ahhhh… we can RELAX! (And deal with our own revenge problem when we see people who hurt others, or us, and seem to “get away with it”.) Now, I don’t buy into this just SO I can relax…. Relaxation/peace is the result of this more “real” picture of reality.

This ring any (hopefully beautiful) bells for anyone? (If so, please tell us.)

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2015 4:33 pm

    Yep, rings my bell! I’ve been reading a fascinating book by John O’Donahue titled “Anam Cara: a book of Celtic wisdom” that takes a similar view of God. I find it very refreshing. Ditto about what you say in this post.

    • September 22, 2015 12:07 pm

      Thanks for the comment… Sounds like a great book. Will you be reviewing it?

  2. September 25, 2015 3:46 am

    [Just reposting my comment here, which I’d inadvertently added to the wrong post before!]

    Hi Howard, great post and I’m honoured that it was inspired by leaving a comment on my blog! 🙂

    I really like much of what you’re saying, and I think I’m largely in sympathy with the basic ideas of Process theology even if I wouldn’t identify myself by that label.

    For me too, the ideas that God is Love and God is Reality are foundational:

    And I also very much agree that love cannot coerce. However, for me that does not *necessarily* preclude the possibility of any kind of miraculous or supernatural intervention within nature. What it does (for me) is set the parameters of any such act or encounter – that it would have to be loving, and/or revealing of Reality, and never a mere ‘vulgar display of power’.

    As a sort-of panentheist, I believe that God is somehow mystically present to us in and through pretty much all natural phenomena, or at least potentially and partially so. Almost anywhere can become a sacred space, almost anything a sacrament through which we can encounter God’s presence and his activity. So for me, almost everything is (in some sense, and potentially) miraculous.

    I’m interested in the idea of God creating out of chaos rather than ‘ex nihilo’, and it does make considerable sense. However, for me it also raises troublesome questions – what are the origins and nature of this primal chaos? Did God create it, did some contingent being create it, or is it co-eternal with God?

    Regarding the cross, I’ve never been happy with the evangelical emphasis on penal substitutionary sacrifice as the primary lens through which we should understand Jesus’ sacrifice. But I’m also not sure I can completely discard it either; for me it’s still there in the background of the picture, albeit re-imagined and re-interpreted. From my own reading of Jesus’ words (if we can accept the gospel accounts), it does seem to me that he understood his death at least partly in this way, but certainly not limited to that model.

    My own view of the cross is that it is the ultimate example of self-giving love taken to the absolute limit and beyond. And that love becomes redemptive; offers us the chance to be transformed.

    • September 26, 2015 9:04 pm

      To add to my response under the other post: I do believe we can never remove all the mystery or “it doesn’t all fit” sense in the nature of God and God’s creation. I’m not philosophical enough to speculate seriously on what “originally” happened or certainly HOW God or “matter/energy” could exist; also “souls” or whatever composes our “identities” or consciousness, however individual or unitive they actually are.

  3. October 7, 2015 5:30 am

    God, spirit and life are all mystery. How can man with limited knowledge and vision can fathom the meaning of these. The best way is to surrender to God and he will give you the understanding.

    • October 7, 2015 12:54 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I agree the concept of surrendering is vital (and really an across-religions concept). And it still leaves room for various forms of meditation and for more rational philosophizing. On a broad basis, our growth can be limited by limiting our knowledge or analytical skills. Unfortunately, some people do this intentionally out of an anti-intellectual fear or envy. Ken Wilber and Integral “Theory” I find to be a good example of developing these and all other possible aspects of our mind/heart/spirit.

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