A God Big Enough to Believe In?
Wednesday, October 05, 2016
The interaction between Moses and God in the wilderness is a seminal moment in human relationship to their Creator. It’s the first time since the Eden apocalypse that God has personally introduced Himself to any members of the human race. What He delivers as His bio is short, but instructive. Because it doesn’t give humanity any room for reimagining.
You have to feel kind of sorry for Moses. Fallen from his lofty position in Egypt and now an outcast, he finds himself tending sheep for his Father-in law Jethro in a land called Midian. (Exodus 3:1)
One day Moses ends up taking them as far as Mt. Sinai to graze and there, something unusual happens. He sees, off in the distance, a bush on fire. Which, he eventually realizes, does not seem to be affected by the flames.
Since this had to be the most interesting thing he had seen in a while, he decided to go take a look.
It gets weirder. When he gets close, he hears a voice coming from the bush and it calls him by name. Moses! Moses! Here I am!
The voice from the bush then proceeds to tell Moses that He wants him to be His voice to his people. The people of Israel.
So Moses asks him a perfectly reasonable question: Who should I say is sending me? What is your name?
God answers the question kind of strangely. Not Jim or Greg. Not Even Jehovah or God.
No. The name God gives Moses is, simply, I AM WHO I AM.
Which we understand to mean “I am God”.
The only one. So no elaboration needed.
The interesting thing, though, is that if you look at the meaning of the Hebrew words God uses to say I AM WHO I AM. the word translated “am” is “hayah”, which just means “to exist”.
God is describing Himself as the only thing that existed from eternity. without any help or any external origin.
Which is pretty definitive. There’s only one.
But He was gracious enough to also describe himself pretty thoroughly in Scripture as well.
He’s a God who abounds in goodness. Rom. 11:22
- He’s a God who abounds does not change, Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8; James 1:17
- He’s a God who does not have a human body, John 4:24; Luke 24:39; Deut. 4:15-16
- He’s a God who hates sin. Psalm 5:5-6; Hab. 1:13
- He’s a God who is compassionate Deut. 1:31
- He’s a God who is a consuming fire, Deut. 1:24; Heb. 12:29
- He’s a God who is a refuge), Deut. 32:27
- He’s a God of peace, 1 Cor. 14:33
- He’s a God who is a pure spirit John 4:24
- He’s a God who is a righteous judge. judge, Psalm 7:11
- He’s a God who is all-knowing, 1 John 3:20
- He’s a God who is all-powerful, Jer. 32:17, 27
- He’s a God who is compassionate, 2 Chron. 30:9
- He’s a God who is eternal, Psalm 90:2; 1 Tim. 1:17
- He’s a God who is faithful, 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18
- He’s a God who is forever and ever, Psalm 45:6
- He’s a God who is forgiving, Dan. 9:9; Eph. 1:7; Psalm 86:5
- He’s a God who is gracious, Exodus 33:19; Psalm 116:5; 2 Cor. 9:8; 1 Pet. 2:3
- He’s a God who is greater than man, Job 33:12
- He’s a God who is impartial, John 10:34
- He’s a God who is incomprehensible, Rom. 11:33; Psalm 145:3
- He’s a God who is infinite, Jer. 23:24; Psalm 147:5
- He’s a God who is invisible, 1 Tim. 1:17
- He’s a God who is jealous, Nah. 1:2
- He’s a God who is just in all his judgments, Neh. 9:32-33; 2 Thess. 1:6
- He’s a God who is light, 1 John 1:5
- He’s a God who is long-suffering, Psalm 86:15; 2 Pet. 3:15
- He’s a God who is love, 1 John 4:8, 16
- He’s a God who is merciful, Exodus 34:6; Psalm 67:1; James 5:11
- He’s a God who is mighty, Job 36:5
- He’s a God who is an absolute, Isaiah 44:6; Acts 17:24-25
- He’s a God who is God is holy, Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8
- He’s a God who is loving, 1 John 4:8-10
- He’s a God who is wise, Rom. 16:27; Jude 25
- He’s a God who is my stronghold, Psalm 59:9, 17
- He’s a God who is near Jer. 23:23
- He’s a God who is one God, Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4; Gal. 3:20
- He’s a God who is opposed to the proud, James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5
- He’s a God who is a helper, Psalm 54:4
- He’s a God who is our salvation, Psalm 68:19
- He’s a God who is a Shepard 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139
- He’s a God who is righteous, Dan. 9:14
- He’s a God who is spirit, John 4:24
- He’s a God who is the sustainer of my soul, Psalm 54:4
- He’s a God who is the almighty one, Rev. 1:8, 4:8
- He’s a God who is the creator, Isaiah 40:12, 22, 26
- He’s a God who is the deliverer, Psalm 68:20
- He’s a God who is the god of gods, the lord of lords, Deut. 10:17
- He’s a God who is the head of every man, 1 Cor. 11:3
- He’s a God who is true, John 3:33
- He’s a God who is truth, Psalm 117:2; Jer. 10:10
- He’s a God who is unequaled, Isaiah 40:13-25
- He’s a God who is with the righteous, Psalm 14:5
- He’s a God who is without limit, 1 Kings 8:27; Jer. 23:23-24
- He’s a God who is wrathful, John 1:18
- He’s a God who justifies, Rom. 8:33
- He’s a God who receives glory, Rom. 8:36; Rev. 4:11
- He’s a God who rewards those who seek him, Heb. 11:6
- He’s a God who works all things according to his will, Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28
My point here is that God has put no small effort into telling us exactly who He is and what He is like. Which makes a devotional that hit the opinionation highway last month (Formerly known as the information highway, aka the internet, but there is little actual information to be found there anymore) even more inexplicable.
It was written by a Benedictine nun and published by the National Catholic Reporter. And Sister Chittister has three beefs—big ones—with God.
According to the Sister, Christianity (and presumably the rest of humanity), for the 2000 centuries since Christ rose from the grave, have been wallowing around in a gloomy and un-enlighted funk, where the purpose of life never changed:
"Whatever existed and happened, we knew, was the eternal will and calculated design of the God who had made things. Our one purpose in life was to keep a set of basically intractable but ultimately fundamental rules until we had managed to negotiate this world well enough to escape it to a better one.”
She then gives us the Cliff notes, in her opinion, of the Biblical take on our purpose in life.
"To achieve spiritual perfection”.
That’s a quote. And it's her first beef.
Spiritual perfection is problematic, obviously, because, as the Apostle Paul reminded us, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
It’s a gene pool problem. And we’re all in the pool.
Hence her reference to the fact that “the rules” are basically intractable. Intractable meaning hard to deal with.
Sin is, in fact, difficult to deal with. Can I get a Hallelujah?
Sister Chittister goes on to pick another bone with God—He expected her to do His will, but,
“Worse, God’s will for us was never totally apparent but we knew that it had something to do with ferreting out and being faithful to an eternal plan fully known only by God.”
Her third beef is this:
God’s not fair. He doesn’t ostensibly favor those who seem to meet His expectations more than He does others who don’t seem to give a flying flip what it is God wants. It is, Sister Chittister says, “in other words, a game of cosmic dice."
Then Sister Chttister says that all these problems ended when, “Charles came along.”
Charles who?, I wondered. Charles Schultz? Charles De Gaulle? Charles Manson? Guess again.
Charles Darwin. You can’t make this stuff up.
According to Sister Chittister, Darwin’s theory of evolution “changed everything” That’s a quote.
“It unsettles what until now had become relatively standard, unarguable theological conclusions concerning the ways of God with the world.”
Translation: prior to Darwin you didn’t have any ammunition with which to put to death the Biblical account. (As apurious as the supposed evidence is.)
Two specific observations, according to the Sister Chittister, have the potential to free us from those Bible bonds.
“Life may well be simply an accident of organic chemistry.
After billions of years, of multiple mistakes, a cycle of chemical configurations and a series of hit-and-miss successes, life as we know it, science tells us, simply emerged. With no sense of uniqueness, no evidence of completeness, and no supernatural intervention.
As a result, life, some argue, is a self-generating fortuity, spawned by nothing, for the sake of nothing, with nowhere to go.
With an explanation like that, the whole notion of life’s meaningfulness simply evaporates into the bizarrely unique chemistry that sustains it.
Thrown into orbit by a primordial blast -- who knows why -- billions of years ago, we are trapped here simply waiting for the fire in the blast to die out and the ice that follows it all to go to dust.”
Observation #1: We are all a giant accident anyway.
Hey Sister Chittister; I hate to burst your bubble with the giant accident thing, But Francis Crick, (Mr. DNA himself) has confirmed that there is no believable mechanism by which earth could have evolved spontaneously, by accident, and therefore has proposed that some form of primordial life was shipped to the earth billions of years ago in spaceship by supposedly ‘more evolved’ (alien beings.). No spontaneous life here.
She goes on:
"End of story, some say. In this model God is passé; life is purposeless. But is the tale of evolution necessarily all that bleak, all that spiritually arid, all that purposeless?”
Her answer is to quote Einstein:
"God,” said Einstein,"is subtle but not malicious.”
But then she has a beef with him.
“Well, perhaps ... but such subtlety and goodwill were hardly visible to the human eye, … to those who were suffering the evil they were told was meant simply to test their fidelity or to try their character. Such subtlety, in fact, is barely sustainable … in the light of the injustices and struggles of the real world around us."
Fear not. Sister Chittister has a solution for the whole world:
"The answer, I think, does not lie in … rejecting or quibbling with the data of science”, but in humanity’s rethinking its definition of God. It depends on our ability to imagine a greater sense of self…. …in our time, the problem of the nature of creation itself, the very existence of religion could well seem to be in danger and a sense of spiritual purpose a thing of the past.
If life, as science says, is self-creating, what can possibly be the cosmic or overarching purpose of life? What, in fact, can be the purpose of God?
It all depends, of course, on who we say God is. A wag said: First God created humans; then humans created God. And we did. To the point that nothing we know about science now equates with what we have told ourselves about God.… Indeed, this is the moment after which everything religion has said about the nature of God must somehow shift.
The God of creation, the religious world determined, was all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present and all-holy. The problem lay in the fact that a God of these proportions failed, it seemed, to exercise such power when it came to the creation this very God had created.
This God did not save the world from evil, did not exercise blatant power in behalf of the good, did not save the righteous from the unrighteous, did not act in behalf of the oppressed. This was a God whose merit theology, whose rule-driven scorekeeping, trumped care, compassion and love.
The faithful… could, at best, only hope for eternal life and everlasting peace somewhere else.. This world was a mysterious jumble of good and evil meant to tempt and try them. This was not a subtle God; this was a God whose “will” too often looked more like malice than it did like mercy…. The inferences of this kind of God for our own well-being were heavy indeed.
But then came Darwin and evolution…. In this world, every act of creation is not the unique act of an eternal God. A self-creating universe becomes co-creator with the humble God who shares power and waits for the best from us and provides for what we need to make it happen…..
The very process of human growth, not human puppetry in the hands of a disinterested and demanding God, becomes the purpose of life…..
We are meant to create with the creator. We are here to discover the rest of ourselves in an equally evolving cosmos. …In this world, the God of evolution becomes God the mother as well as God the father. God the mother …bears us and then lets us grow from error to solution…, She loves us for trying. She is the rest of the image of the biblical God that Abrahamic religions have largely ignored to the peril of true spiritual development…
Evolution shows us that the God of becoming is a beckoning God who goes before us to invite us on, to sustain us on the way, rather than a judging God who measures us by a past we did not shape. Now human beings can begin to revel in … growing to full stature as a …participative spiritual adult whose work on the planet really, really matters. Life, suddenly, is a blessing to the universe and the self than it is simply a test of a person’s morals. …. Evolution gives us a God big enough to believe in”.
Observation #2: We can imagine our own God and out own theology.
The Sister actually begins her article with a statement that,
"We are all invited now to draw a new picture of God.”
My advice? Don’t ever stand next to her. Especially in a thunderstorm.
And I think I understand now why Jesus wondered Faith would remain on the earth till He comes.
Any day now.
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: High Hopes
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