It was 13.73 billion years ago today

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A supernaturally theistic God intervenes upon the world from the outside--so to speak, casting lightning bolts from the sky, as in today's Bizarro comic:



A panentheistic God, on the other hand, acts not on the world from the outside, but rather within and through the world, and has done since for the past 13.73 billion years, give or take 120 million years.



It was reported yesterday that scientists have been able to measure the age of the universe to even greater precision, which is where the figure of 13.73 billion years comes from. Which is to say that, from the time that the universe first emerged into a great evolutionary unfolding that we refer to as the Big Bang, I for one believe that God has spent the last 13.73 billion years participating in the universe's continuing evolution and development.

How much more marvelously inspiring I find it to be to consider that God participates creatively in the world by participating through the world, than to imagine a giant super-Father-like figure in the sky who occasionally acts upon it from the outside through the exercise of "his" brute, raw power.

34 comments:

WES ELLIS said...

I'm no scientist so I plead ignorance about the whole dating the universe thing.

I agree with you that God is not just "a giant super-Father-like figure in the sky who occasionally acts upon it from the outside through the exercise of 'his' brute, raw power." God acts and participates in and through creation just as He acts dynamically in and through history (rather than from the outside). But it is important to note that creation is not God. Part of the point of the Genesis creation poems is to make it clear that the creation is not God or even a god, as it was so popular to believe in the ancient Near East (see especially "Enuma Elish": the Babylonian creation myth). God works dynamically within and through but is also dynamically "other"... and that's ok.

WES ELLIS said...

P.S.
Great cartoon!

Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Wes,

I agree with you that creation is not the same as God. I don't go along with the idea of pantheism.

Glad you liked the cartoon. :)

Mystical Seeker said...

Sorry to say, I accidentally deleted Grace's posting which I responded to, meaning to delete my own. Here is what Grace wrote:

God have mercy, Mystical. I'm telling you the truth. The picture of orthodox Christianity that you've bought into is an immature caricature.

Do you believe that orthodox Christians think God is this old man with a white beard living in the sky sitting on a white throne with Jesus perched on His hand, and a white dove flying around in the background. No way.

Or that God is flying around in outer space, back and forth, like a cosmic superman to attend to His business here on earth...

The Christian church has always taught that God is both transcendent and immanent in the creation. It is in Him that we live and move and have our being. The reality of God as trinity is both a paradox, and mystery. We are all panentheists.

You won't accept my witness, Myst. But, I"m telling ya that you have ditched the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

I don't feel that the Christian church should ever conduct orthodox litmus tests at the door. We should show the love of Christ to everyone, and be supportive of anyone's honest questions or doubts. I think we should care for, and support our church leaders who may be struggling spiritually or having a "crisis of faith."

But, Mystical, this is very different from a leader in the church who has made up his or her mind to deliberately subvert the witness of the gospel, and undermine the teaching of the Christian church.

No one is forced to take baptismal or ordinations vows with any denomination. But, I think for church leaders to take oaths which they really and honestly can't affirm is both dishonest and unethical.

I can't think that it's wrong or unloving for committed Christians to speak up, and express concern, to genuinely care about the witness and mission of the church.

When I do this, I think I'm following Christ, and caring about people spiritually.

Mystical Seeker said...

Do you believe that orthodox Christians think God is this old man with a white beard living in the sky sitting on a white throne with Jesus perched on His hand, and a white dove flying around in the background....Or that God is flying around in outer space, back and forth, like a cosmic superman to attend to His business here on earth...

Of course not, but the point is that it might as well be. Orthodox Christians, after all, think that Jesus literally went "up" into heaven after 40 days on earth. Where, exactly, did he go "up" to? The way the doctrine of incarnation is usually formulated when you come down to it, is basically a notion of God as cosmic spaceman, who impregnates an earth-woman with his seed, and whose resulting progeny eventually rises back "up" to heaven after spending time here "down" on earth. The whole mythology of a three-tiered cosmology of 2000 years ago informs modern orthodoxy, even if modern Christians no longer accept that underlying cosmology. I would argue that supernatural theism is a product of ancient concepts and ancient cosmology that no longer make any sense, and the fact that modern orthodox Christians no longer believe in a three-tiered cosmology only suggests the need for a paradigm change on their part. I would argue that this sort of supernatural theism derives from this notion of God as a supernatural power who acts upon the universe from the outside.

a leader in the church who has made up his or her mind to deliberately subvert the witness of the gospel, and undermine the teaching of the Christian church.

Grace, this is yet another example of how you smear progressives who you don't agree with. The use of language like "deliberately subvert" and "undermine" shows that you are mainly interested in attacking the sincerity and motives of those whose theology you don't share.

I can't think that it's wrong or unloving for committed Christians to speak up, and express concern, to genuinely care about the witness and mission of the church.

Everyone has the right to express what theology they believe in, and to argue passionately for their beliefs if they want. However, there is a difference between saying, "We each have the right to our own theologies, but here is why I think that mine is right"--which is one of respectful disagreement--and your position, which is a total lack of respect for other people to pursue faith paths that you don't agree with, including smears against the motives of clergy and theologians who do so.

Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harry said...

MS:

Do me a favor and read a serious book of orthodox theology before you discuss it. Your idea of orthodox Christian theology is a ludicrous straw man invented by Spong and others of his ilk.

Given your interest in both science and theology, let me recommend John Polkinghorne.

He is a prolific writer, but here is a suggestion:

Belief in God in an Age of Science.

Even Richard Dawkins admits that he is a bona fide scientific thinker:

"More sophisticated theological views, people like Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne -- obviously they're not creationists in any simple sense -- they're not fundamentalists, they're not stupid. So do I respect them more? Well, in one respect obviously I do, because really you could have an intelligent conversation with them -- they're not ignorant."

HERE is an interview with Father Polkinghorne in which he discusses process theology.

Mystical Seeker said...

Do me a favor

I did not create this blog in order to do you any favors.

Harry said...

Then do yourself a favor and read the book.

Grace said...

Ok, Mystical, I can agree that ultimately only God knows the heart. I certainly can't speak for every progressive church leader. Actually, I hate to even use the term "progressive." There are plenty of progressive folks in the church who really are wonderful and committed Christians.

There are others, though, that have an interest to maintain the structure of the institutional church, but may have no real faith in Christ, or committment to the gospel. You may feel this to be a smear, but I"m actually telling the sad, and heartbreaking truth.

Some I know are in their own way well-intentioned, but I think totally spiritually deceived.

Let's face it, Mystical, we can't all be speaking the truth, here.

But, hey, it's up to God's spirit to work in our lives. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to hang with me in church, you're very welcome. We would be in for a wild time together. Right Myst.

Sincerely,
Becky.

Mystical Seeker said...

There are others, though, that have an interest to maintain the structure of the institutional church, but may have no real faith in Christ, or commitment to the gospel.

I realize that there are people in the Christian church who don't share your theology. But just because you can't accept bear to co-exist with such people, that doesn't mean that they are trying to "undermine" or "deliberately subvert" anything. There are a lot of people who are putting forth their beliefs as they sincerely believe them to be. They just happen to disagree with you.

John Shuck said...

It is fascinating reading over the issues here and on the previous post. It really is about power and who is in and who is out.

Who is a Christian and who isn't is really about who gets control of the "stuff." Not that that is a bad battle, it just is what it is, as I see it.

It would be one thing if we really were arguing over what is true and how to approach it, but the real issue is power.

Grace said...

John,

I can tell you the truth from my whole heart. I'm concerned for the truth of the gospel, for the witness of the church, and how this effects people spiritually, not about power.

There's is a real sense that God is in control, and Jesus Christ is building his church. We can relax into that. But, at the sametime Scripture also tells us to "hold fast to sound doctrine," and to "contend for the faith." It matters what is being proclaimed in our churches.

I think we should be doing all this out of love, not because we want power over people.

Mystical, be honest, you've shared in your other posts that you have a hard time even sitting in a church where the resurrection is preached in a literal way. You can't stand the Christmas season.

How would you feel about being in church where the Alpha course was used, or where people were encouraged to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?

Friends, how can people find spiritual unity, and walk together if there's not even agreement concerning the basic gospel? I'm sure I don't know.

Oh, Mystical, it's not that I can't bear to co-exist. But, we have no common ground at all to reflect anything together other than philosophical discussions, and pot-luck dinners, maybe some common social and political concerns.

This isn't what the Christian church is about, Mystical. You and I could be great friends, good neighbors, work and talk together, care for each other, etc. And, as I've mentioned, you're more than welcome to hang with me in church.

But, at the sametime, Mystical, I can't pretend that our differences are not significant, or that you're my sister in Christ, and we have this unity together in the faith around the gospel. And, even worse, that it all doesn't matter one way or the other spiritually...

It would be unloving for me to pretend, and a total lie. I would just be this huge hypocrite, and not showing real care and decency toward you at all.

Harry said...

Grace,

The Rev. Shuck is alluding to a post-modern idea called the "politics of suspicion". For post-modernists, there is no fixed truth to argue about, rather there is only an attempt to grab power by imposing what they call a metanarrative.


This is why the Rev. Shuck is so cynical sometimes, and why the progressives appear to the subversive. Because deep down their philosophy is cynical and subversive.

They honestly cannot understand a commitment to the Word as Truth. They think there is a power play somewhere to restrict their Absolute Freedom.

As the Old Man of the Mountain taught:

Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted.

The whole business can be blamed on the nihilist Neitzche who taught that there is no truth (or Truth) but only the Will to Power.

This is not to say that they are not good hearted people with the best of intentions. Just that their philosphy is corrupt. They cannot see the evil which lurks in the heart of every man and every woman. And so cannot see it in themselves. They don't understand the possibility, let alone the need, of a Saviour to cleanse theirs hearts of sin.

God preserve us from the do-gooders.

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree with John that it has a lot to do with power. One thing to bear in mind is that large denominations have a remarkable amount of diversity within their congregations. This is especially true in congregational denominations like the UCC, where you find huge differences in worship style and theology from church to church. Some Presbyterian congregations have pastors like John Shuck; others have a more conservative body of faithful. People in a denomination often can gravitate towards congregations of like-minded people.

I think a lot of these battles really play themselves out at the denominational level. That's where the real power play takes place. When John is subjected to attacks him and against his right to be a pastor in his denomination (claims that "he's been reported", for example), this is a power play, to ensure that one point of view prevails over another. John sees the power plays that are going on in his denomination, so he knows what he is talking about. My guess is that people who are offended by what John says are less likely to attend his church; people can freely associate with other like minded congregants as they wish, and thus this often sorts itself out within individual congregations. But people who are offended by what John says can also engage in a power play to make sure that only a certain kind of theology prevails congregation-wide. And that's where the power issue really comes up.

Grace, you misconstrue somewhat my objections to the preaching of the literal resurrection. The problem that I face is the one-sided nature of what I encounter even in most "progressive" churches. I could handle it much better if the churches explicitly preached something like, "some take these stories literally, other take them only to be stories that point to deeper truths." But this rarely gets said, in my experience. My point of view is rarely if ever openly conceded in church services, even at progressive ones. I thus feel like a second class citizen in such places. My objection is not to being in a community with people of different viewpoints, but with my own viewpoint being shut out of the discourse.

More importantly, I don't care whether other people believe in a literal resurrection or not. I do want to attend a worship experience where I can feel that progressive ideas are at play. I have no problem with other people wanting to attend churches where conservative ideas are predominant. I think people need to find spiritual sustenance in a way that works best for them. This is in contrast to what many in the orthodoxy are saying, however--they do not have a live or let live attitude on this subject.

This is clear when considering the whole idea that "I'm concerned for the truth of the gospel, for the witness of the church, and how this effects people spiritually". It may not seem like an expression of power, but in fact it is, because it asserts that a) "I" know what's best for other people spiritually, and b) I'm therefore going to try to push out any beliefs that conform to my own. All the supposed talk about "concern" for others' well being is clearly grounded in an "us versus them" tribalistic mindset that places one's own side as being in God's camp, with other positions being anti-God. It rather arrogantly ignores the fact that other people find spiritual nourishment from other theologies than one's own. Thus this "concern" is grounded in a refusal to open one's mind to the different paths that others have shown--a fundamental act of spiritual hubris that is highly presumptive and arrogant. Ultimately, it does, as John describe, involve the exercise of power by True Believers against those who dissent from the standard party line. From this "us versus them" mentality, the putative "concern" is really just a justification for the exercise of power.

Harry said...

And what are you engaged in if not an exercise of power? You want to change the preaching in the Church to satisfy your dessicated notion of faith.

I understand where you are coming from. I've seen where it leads to: death. Christianity came into the world to save it from your very philosophy.

You view me as the enemy. Don't deny it. If I were on the vestry of your church, you would work to have me voted off. Is this not true?

I don't want postmodernist nihilism preached in my church. You do. Your compromise suggested a while ago reads like unconditional surrender to me.

Orthodox Christians won the battle over the definition of Christianity 1600 years ago because we are right and everyone else was wrong. The Holy Spirit guided us to the truth (Truth).

Go start the Church of Christ (Nihilist) if you want to gather with people who believe like you do.

Unless of course you want to steal our stuff.

Grace said...

((Mystical))) we're in a hard place together. Part of this does have to do with very different ways of defining "truth," ultimate reality.

We should back away from this for abit, I think. Can we pray for each other during Lent, ok.

I will stop by, and visit again.

God's peace, Myst.

Love,
Becky.

OneSmallStep said...

Wow, Mystical. You've generated quite a few comments in your last posts.

I understand where you're coming from, if that helps. I think there's a huge difference to trying to understand another theogloy based on the idea that you've found what's right for you, and then trying to understand a theology based on the idea that I'm right and you're wrong. I think it's incredibly difficult to step into another's shoes when working with the latter, because everything you try and learn is filtered through your "right" theology. How can you try and think like the other person when you're flat-out convinced the theology is wrong, when the other person feels the theology is right?

That is the frustrating part, because I never feel as though the "right theology" person is ever trying to engage me as a person, but rather their perceptions of me. The lost/unsaved/condemned/fill in the blank.

Grace,

**But, Mystical, this is very different from a leader in the church who has made up his or her mind to deliberately subvert the witness of the gospel, and undermine the teaching of the Christian church.**

If you belonged to a church that taught that black is white, and then you suddenly learn that black is in fact black, are you deliberatly trying to subvert the message by saying that black is black? Are you trying to undermine the teachings, with a nefarious purpose? Or are you speaking what you feel to be the truth, with honest sincerity?

**Part of this does have to do with very different ways of defining "truth," ultimate reality. **

It does. But, and I can only speak for myself, often how you present matters isn't along this line. It's not that "Here's my perception of something, and here's yours." It's often presented as, "Here's the truth, and I know what's best in terms of connecting to that truth for your spiritual welfare."

Simply because we don't hold the same beliefs as you do does not in turn mean you can make an entire judgement call on our spiritual welfare, and be accurrate. Just as I can't make that call on your spiritual welfare, because I haven't lived your life. I wouldn't even begin to know how/why God has worked through out it.

Mystical Seeker said...

Simply because we don't hold the same beliefs as you do does not in turn mean you can make an entire judgment call on our spiritual welfare, and be accurate.

One Small Step, I think that this single statement really summarizes this point beautifully. I think it is highly questionable for anyone to claim to make such a judgment of others.

I think this idea that this just boils down to different ideas of what the truth is really misses the question of where this idea of "truth" comes from. If someone insists that people of other theologies are spiritually lacking simply because one's own dogma says so--end of statement, no questions asked--despite the clear evidence available to us from exploring other people's religious experiences that others do find spiritual fulfillment in many different ways--then here we have a case where dogma is trumping what experience and observation tells one about other people. In essence, I would argue that it is a "don't confuse me with the facts" attitude, that says, "I know what's best for you regardless of what you tell me, regardless of what the evidence shows of your own spiritual depth spiritual satisfaction, and spiritual transformation--regardless of everything that contradicts my presumption, just because my dogma tells me so."

Harry said...

MS:

If your theology is right for you, al I can say is great. Follow your star, do your own thing, have a great life.

Just don't try to change the preaching in my church just so you can feel comfortable there. There is no obligation for me to accomodate you.

Follow your bliss somewhere else.

John Shuck said...

Seeker!

Have you been trying to change the preaching in Harry's church? Shame on you! : )

Mystical Seeker said...

John,

LOL. Shame on me indeed!

Heather W. Reichgott said...

Wow. We Christians don't actually need a God who throws lightning bolts--we prefer to make our own.

Anyway, in response to your point
"How much more marvelously inspiring I find it to be to consider that God participates creatively in the world by participating through the world, than to imagine a giant super-Father-like figure in the sky who occasionally acts upon it from the outside through the exercise of "his" brute, raw power."
I wanted to say that if you believe in a Trinity, you end up having both (plus one, I guess.) Same goes for sacraments. But we've had those discussions before. :)

Grace said...

One,

If I was in a position of leadership in the Christian church, and I came to see that I could truly no longer affirm my ordination vows, honestly teach the creeds and confessions of that church, I would certainly be open and truthful about it.

But, God grant then, that I would have the basic honesty, and moral integrity to resign my position.

I sincerely would not want to use my influence and pulpit as a forum for radically reimaging, and subverting the confession of the church.

And, I would feel totally wrong about accepting a paycheck and pension plan for my work.

Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Heather,

Thanks for stopping by. I hope all is going well with you in your new location.

Mystical Seeker said...

There is a presupposition in Grace's comment about what a pastor's role should be. She is promoting a not uncommon view that churches are (or should be) in the business of enforcing doctrinal conformity, that faith is defined in terms of assenting to a doctrinal checklist, and that pastors' jobs are to serve as essentially one-way transmission agents from on high.

A lot of this stems, I think, from what Marcus Borg describes as a modern view of the "assensus" definition of faith, which says that "faith" simply means to hold a set of beliefs--the "right" ones, of course.

But faith need not be seen as simply the rote recitation of creeds, but instead may involve sense of trust and faithfulness within the context of a religious tradition. Pastors need not be seen as transmitters of the party line, or propagandists who must be careful not to think to much lest they stray across a certain boundary, but rather as trained participants (along with their congregants) in a participatory and shared faith experience.

Harry said...

Or we can understand dogma as the key to spiritual transformation:

"…we must live the dogma expressing a revealed truth, which appears to us as an unfathomable mystery, in such a fashion that instead of assimilating the mystery to our mode of understanding, we should, on the contrary, look for a profound change, an inner transformation of spirit, enabling us to experience it mystically."

Vladimir Lossky

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

Thanks. :) And I do think there are ways to judge someone's spiritual status, but I think the only way, and the best way, we have is by someone's actions. Does their theology make them more understanding? More compassionate? More loving? Then there's some sort of connection with the divine there.

Grace,

It's ultimately going to come down to the purpose of the church. There are a lot of people out there who can't hold to the creeds/confessions, who do question things such as a literal resurrection, or the divinity of Jesus. And they are still looking for a connection to God, and they find that through what they see in the Bible.

But if a pastor is open and up front about his/her position, and where s/he stands, then the people of the church have the option of leaving or staying. They have the option of changing the idea of what the church means, or represents.

The people themselves have the option of how to follow the pastor, or whether to follow the pastor at all. They would understand how the pastor is receiving his/her paycheck.

And I hate to ask, but are you saying those who don't resign don't have moral integrety? Because they are still speaking what they believe, and what they'll preach. Isn't that also moral integrety? It's a little hard to "subvert" people if you plainly state what you believe about a resurrection, and how you'll teach that belief.

Mystical Seeker said...

Does their theology make them more understanding? More compassionate? More loving? Then there's some sort of connection with the divine there.

I agree. As the saying goes, "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est" (where there is charity and love, God is). Whenever we love, God is acting through us.

Grace said...

One, the truth is that if some of these folks were truly open and honest about their views, they would not be ordained at all in the first place.

But, instead, they will affirm and pay mere lip service to the lordship of Christ, and the reality of the incarnation, while investing all these terms with alternate private meanings.

Confessing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord becomes whatever they personally interpret it to mean, many times far removed from the historic witness of the Christian church.

But, hey, the right sounding words were said, never mind about someone's real conviction, and heart before God. Yes, it is double talk, and hypocrisy, and often about church politics.

And, I don't want any part of it, One. I'm totally grieved, and feeling heartsick about this whole situation in too many of our churches.

I don't expect you to understand, One, because well, you're not a Christian believer. But, I respect you for asking, and am sharing my heart with you...Giving an honest answer to your question.

Sincerely,
Grace.

Mystical Seeker said...

the truth is that if some of these folks were truly open and honest about their views, they would not be ordained at all in the first place.

But, instead, they will affirm and pay mere lip service to the lordship of Christ, and the reality of the incarnation, while investing all these terms with alternate private meanings.


It is unfortunately that you, Grace, in your judgmentalism, have chosen to smear other people and their intentions instead of making at least some effort at understanding that other people interpret certain theological concepts differently than you do. If you cannot accept that other people can and do honestly differ from you on theological interpretations, then I would only suggest that you look at the log in your own eye first.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**the truth is that if some of these folks were truly open and honest about their views, they would not be ordained at all in the first place.

But, instead, they will affirm and pay mere lip service to the lordship of Christ, and the reality of the incarnation, while investing all these terms with alternate private meanings.**

First, you can acknowledge the lordship of Christ without saying that Christ is God. The phrase 'Lord' is not always synonomous with God, 2,000 years ago. It may differ from a certain Christian belief, but it doesn't differ from how it was used Biblically. Even saying that Jesus is a Savior and Lord is not the same as saying that Jesus was God. Second, you're still treating this like these people have some sort of subversive agenda, and just snuck in the church with the intention of dragging everyone down with them -- which contrasts the idea of a pastor being open about his/her beliefs, maybe even from the time they were ordained. Or if the pastor's beliefs change.

If they are speaking as to what they believe, then they are not going with the idea of Jesus is God, or a literal resurrection. They are presenting the options, and the ideas, and if open about it, those in the congregation have the option of voicing their opinion, or leaving, or maybe even finding a new leader.

Grace said...

One,

There is no one who would be ordained in a mainline protestant denomination who would come right out, and share that they reject the unique divinity of Christ, the reality of the incarnation.

I understand that you see all this differently, and have another belief, and interpretation. I can accept that.

But, you're not a pastor or candidate for ministry in the Episcopal, Methodist, Presby church..

The truth is friend, we are not all speaking of the same Jesus, or the same gospel here at all.

Hey, One, I'll let it go at this. I don't want to continue to just get into these fruitless, and sometimes unkind debates causing offense. I can see there's no profit in it, One.

Still, thanks for talking with me, and for your good intentions.

Sorrowfully,
Grace.

John Shuck said...

I am a pastor of a Presby church. I am not quite so full of myself as to think Grace is talking about me, but I fit her category I suppose.

If she is talking about some of my colleagues, then I will defend them.

Guess what? Neither they nor I am quitting just because you think you have absolute truth.

What you wrote about ministers was incredibly offensive.

Before you go judging pastors, maybe you could go to seminary and become one yourself.