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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is God in control?

There is great tension in theological systems. In a systemic approach to our beliefs, we try to bring all the data of God's revelation together into a unified, coherent expression of the faith. What this means is, in theory, we read the Bible and order its content in a way that is expressable, often times in declarations of "facts." Everyone does theology (including people who deny they do theology!) because theology is our logos word/study of theos God. Most of us do theology without putting enough time and effort into it, but we all do it.

The reason there is tension in theological systems is because the Bible does not provide a neat, clean, easy to assemble expression of faith. Yes, there are core truths, but much of the Bible is narrative, and stories are notoriously open to interpretation. One easy example, does the fact that Jacob or King David has multiple wives mean that God blesses polygamy? [and in the post-gay marriage world, the concept of polyamory has become the next new thing!] What about violence and war? Is God kind and merciful or vengeful and cruel? Does God harden hearts and lead people to sin (Exodus) or rather does God never tempt anyone (James)?

My frequent readers may recall that I believe God is best understood as "the ocean." Like the ocean He is bigger than we can imagine and most of God is outside of our view. We only know God as far as we can "see." Like the ocean there are different currents. What is the ocean temperature? All of us who have visited a beach know that there are many answers to that question. Right here is warm, a step or two over is chilly. Different streams and currents; different temperatures, but the same ocean. And different water as well, some of it clear, others teaming with life, some of it sea weed dense, etc. [this is an analogy so it is pretty limited]. One and many....

So our theological systems tend to ignore datum from the Bible which does not fit into what we believe. We pick and choose. Sometimes we are literally blind to what is  before us because we cannot fit it into our system. For example, the Lord's prayer. I prayed "Thy Kingdom come" since I was a small boy. I did not really understand what it meant. I never understood the Kingdom talk of Jesus so I never noticed it much. My attention was drawn to other things, like how to get to heaven. I lived in a three layered universe. I was on earth. Hell was below and Heaven above. Upon death I was headed down or up, depending on God's decision. My goal was to fulfill the requirements (which in some currents meant trust Jesus, and in other places seemed to indicate my behaviors mattered, too)  I never understood God coming on earth to reign so I never "saw" it when I heard or reasd scripture. I knew about the new Jerusalem and the return of Jesus, but it did not fit into my system (when we die we are judged and go to heaven/hell).

Reading Hebrews 2 today for Morning Prayer I was struck by the verses. In Memphis, many Christians frequently say God is in charge. Everything happens for a reason, that is, all events are controlled by God and therefore whatever  happens God knows what He is doing so it is okay. Yet over the years I have repeatedly encountered contrary evidence in the Scripture. (There are other currents, much colder!) For example, Jesus calls satan the Prince of this World. In other places we hear of the principalities and rulers of the earth. Jesus is, at least in some streams of Christian revelation/theology, not in charge, at least not fully. Let's look at Hebrews 2:8 After quoting Psalm 110 (You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet) the author of Hebrews continues with these startling words: In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him (so far so good, Jesus is Lord of all). Yet at present we do NOT see everything subject to him (and, as Paul Harvey would say, now we know the rest of the story). What do we see? We see Jesus crowned with glory. We see Jesus who suffered death and by grace tasted it for all people. We see God perfect the author of salvation through suffering. We see Jesus who is not ashamed to call us 'brothers.'

In a pretty clear declaration of the incarnation, Hebrews continues Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

We have to at least consider that while God is ultimately in control, He is not currently exerting that control. We must at least ponder what it means that Jesus rules, but not yet; not quite everything at this moment. We need to consider that one reason we are called to pray "Thy Kingdom come" is because the kingdom is not here (fully) and until it is death, suffering and sorrow continue to be the fruit of satan's rule.

Perhaps everything happens for a reason, but the reason is not simply God. Maybe it is satan, sin or other 'powers' at work in the world. Perhaps instead of controlling everything, God is actually busy REDEEMING everything? Perhaps the trust we have in God is that He will find (has found and implemented) a way to remain true to His creative purpose while still allowing His creation to unfold, at least in part, under its own authority (and in an ongoing battle with us, human beings, who are given dominion over the earth--per Genesis)? I do not know if that provides comfort to folks, but it certainly answers the question, "If God is in control and God loves me why do I suffer such terrible things (like being raped, murdered, robbed, betrayed, etc.)?" It also makes sense of the people who have not weathered their personal storms, who lost faith and ceased being faithful because their personal tragedies destroyed them (and did not make them stronger).

So we wait for Jesus to put all things under His feet. And we long for Jesus to come and rule. And the desire for a better world is our deepest longing and hope. So we pray and pray and pray! And we work with God in this endeavor.

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