More on God as a verb

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Greg Griffey has written a wonderful sermon that appears on his blog. I wanted to include here a quote from that sermon:

A prominent Southern Baptist pastor wrote a response to the April 16 events at Virginia Tech, offering his idea of God’s nature – an idea that I once subscribed to. His response consisted mainly of sympathetic gestures, a call for prayer, and an acknowledgment of the ambiguity surrounding the “whys” of such a horrific event. The pastor affirmed our limitations as human beings at understanding the relationship between God and tragedy, then concluded with these words: “But what we do know is that God is still in control.”

Upon reading his concluding remarks on my computer screen, I slammed my hands on my desk, shouting, “NO!, NO!, NO!”. I was infuriated at the idea of a God who is allegedly “in control,” but refuses to inhibit such horrific human suffering. Do we not experience enough pain, I thought, that we have to believe in a God who is in complete control, and at the least allows or permits human suffering?

Theology purporting a God who is in complete control is not new, of course, and it is an idea that continues to permeate much of America’s religious landscape. The religious upbringing of my childhood included a God who grants humanity freewill, and yet still occupies a place of total sovereignty. In other words, there was nothing that God could not do. Life and all it consisted of was uncertain, but we knew one thing for sure: God was in control.

I must admit that believing such a thing theoretically has the ability of granting one a large degree of security. We do not have to understand if God is in control. Right? We do not even have to think if God is in control. Right? And furthermore, worry and concern regarding the environment, war, and the fate of future generations are totally unnecessary if God is in control. Right? When insecurity gets the best of us, all we have to do is remember that “God is in control.” Or do we?

If God is indeed in control, then it appears to me as if God is doing a very lousy job! The difficulty for me arises when we assert that God is in control while also asserting that God is love. For to say that God is in control is to say that God can do whatever God wills and/or wants, including the inhibition of human suffering. And to say that God is in control of tragic events is not saying much about a God who is love!

These days, I prefer to think of God not as a noun, but as a verb; a loving, yet not all-powerful force, in whom we live, move, and have our being. As one Internet blogger suggested, God is “the power that lights the bulb rather than the bulb itself.”And as Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (one of my favorite theologians) implies, maybe this power, this force, is simply a “power of presence.” God is with us – that in and of itself is powerful!

9 comments:

rev katie m ladd said...

Wonderful post. Process theology does seem to be the least pernicious of the theologies that I know of. However,I have come into contact with folks for whom the weakness - at least the purported weakness - of God in process thought left them wondering. We have an interesting problem with God - either God is pernicious and all powerful or either God is good and not all powerful. If God is not all powerful, what makes God God? Love the post...

Mystical Seeker said...

I think it is true that a lot of people want their God to be all-powerful in the traditional sense of the term, and so they have trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of a God who isn't like that.

To me, on the other hand, the God of process theology is an attractive image, because it strips away the old authoritarianism of the all-powerful sovereign monarch and magician in the sky, and instead views God as a companion who suffers with us and who is actively participating at each moment in our lives in a non-coercive, persuasive manner. God still plays a crucial role in constantly speaking to us, and in offering novelty as a means of creative participation in the outcomes of events. This is a role that, I believe, only God can play within process thought. That is why God was so crucial to Whitehead's metaphysics.

In any case, I don't see how you can resolve the problem of evil with a benevolent God unless you view God as something other than classically omnipotent. To me, process thought resolves the problem of theodicy in ways that classical theism cannot.

Greg said...

If one believes God to be all powerful and in control, then an explanation of the relationship between God and human suffering needs to be given. The explanations I have heard have mostly consisted of some idea about God's judgment and/or punishment - that is, when tragedy happens to "others." When it happens to one personally, the explanations I have heard have usually consisted of some idea about a testing or trial of faith - but not God's judgment or punishment. The irony!

For instance, I heard some fundamentalists blame Hurricane Katrina on homosexuals and other so-called "sinners" of New Orleans. Well, if that was the case, then apparently God has very bad aim! Most of the victims I saw on television, anyway, were poor and black. Now tell me that God is initiating tragic events to "judge" human beings for our "sins!"

No, I must believe in a God who is not all powerful. At first, it was difficult for me to "let go" of God's omnipotence, but now I no longer need the God-is-in-control band aid when tragedy, uncertainty, and insecurity arise.

God is with us - indeed, that is more powerful than we often perceive! God is with us to walk with us, laugh with us, console us, grieve with us, and just BE with us in all our tragedy, uncertainty, and insecurity! Thanks be to God! And, for me, that is enough reason to worship and praise the Holy!

Jan said...

I continue to find the Divine Mystery to be BOTH AND in so many instances, way beyond my understanding. In my naive way, I say there's another dimension that we are not aware of where God is both all knowing and all loving. All knowing with us having free will certainly sounds impossible. God With Us--in the joy and in the suffering. Thank you for those thoughts of Greg Griffey.

Sarah said...

very minor grammar nitpick

"These days, I prefer to think of God not as a noun, but as a verb; a loving, yet not all-powerful force, in whom we live, move, and have our being."

That is not actually a verb. That is a noun. (Sorry I'm studying linguistics, and I just can't help myself...)

I like the sentiment though. If we look at God differently then we can find out more about why we thought what we did of God in the first place. It expands our minds, at the very least.

Greg said...

Sarah,

Actually, the word "force" is also a transitive verb, meaning to win one's way into. I like to think of God as a "force" in this sense, not as a violent force, but as simple present "force." Perhaps God wins God's way - in time, much time - by simply being present with us. ???

But, yes, "force" can be used as a noun as well. =)

Cynthia said...

A big fat honkin' AMEN to that post!!

Jeff S. said...

Greg Griffey's blog is now "invitation only", but I don't have an email address to contact Greg. Could you either look up his email address and send it to carleton1958@gmail.com, or forward this request to Greg?

Thanks/Jeff

Mystical Seeker said...

To be honest, I don't have his email address. His blog seems to go private from time to time.