Saturday, March 19, 2011

Our shaky doctrine of God

Compared to a number of Christchurch residents (and to many, many more Japanese residents) I have the luxury of being able to lift my head above immediate concerns of water, toileting, and power (a large part of power restored Christchurch are nevertheless being asked to conserve power). In that luxury is some space to quietly think. One part of my thinking is about God and the understanding of God which is coming through many different forms of communication through these weeks of grappling with the enormity of nature's destructive power here and in Japan. To an extent I touched on this a few weeks ago by raising the question of 'theodicy.' But right now I am trying to think more directly about God. Who is God? How do we know God and what God is up to in relation to the world as a whole and to me and my loved ones as particular parts of the whole? What does 'know' mean in the previous question (can I know God? How would I know that I know God?)? Then, when I try to speak about God (witness) or speak to God (praise and prayer), what do I say which is truthful of God (the infinite) and understandable for humans (the finite)?

Although my dissatisfaction is a response to some of what I am hearing and reading in these days of locally and globally getting to grips with nature's devastation, I think my dissatisfaction is about my own understanding of God, in which there are too many half-baked ideas such as when things work well God is working in my life (obviously!) and when things are not working well then God's ways are inscrutable (obviously!) ... which seems contradictory. My dissatisfaction leads to questions, but I do not feel I have answers (my soundbites are better than yours ... not)!

Then there is an even vaguer feeling that if I took my own questions seriously they would lead to a need to do some very extensive reading ... Augustine, Calvin immediately spring to mind. But the Psalms would be on the reading list too.

In theology (which is 'talk about God') our doctrine of God is huge. Get that wrong and everything else is wrong.

Or, is all well?


Andy S said...

Are you undergoing the "long dark night of the soul"?

You would be in good company if so.

And if so is taking an over intellectualised approach to it likely to be the most fruitful? It may be, or it may bog you down.

We know prayer helps in such circumstances but also that prayers might not come easy.

We know God through Jesus Christ and we also know that following him does not guarantee an easy pass through life.

Luke 9:21

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

We don't and can't know God's ultimate purpose, we do know that his purpose for us is for us to be eventually reunited with him.

And we must work towards this everyday of our lives, through both our triumphs and trials.

Psalm 42 might be worth reading, if I understand your post it seems the Psalmist experienced something similar.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andy S
No its not a dark night of the soul thing!

Its a "has the quake exposed fragility in foundations of our [corporate intentionally employed word] theology" thing ...

But Psalm 22 is apt for such theological reflection, along with Psalms around it.

Father Ron Smith said...

'Dark night of the soul' might seem to be a bit extreme in these circumstances, Peter, but it's good you can express something of your own doubts. Honesty is good.

However, the scriptural assurance that 'nothing in all creation, neither death nor life...etc....can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus' would seem to cover most things - even earthquake and tsunami, for people of faith; that 'in the darkness, Christ's Light is still shining'. That is a part of the 'Doctrine of God' that does it for me, personally. But then, that's my life, not yours.

Where I find the most assurance is to gather with 'The Faithful' in the presence of Christ at the Eucharist. It is there that I personally do experience 'The love of God, that passes all understanding' - in other words - independent of our particular intellectual doctrinal formulations, but rather more drawing on our own acceptance of the reality of 'Christ in the midst'. May you find the same source of solace to be helpful.

Mark Harris said...

Peter...our doctrine of God (or at least mine) is always a bit shaky. Shaky is a bit of an interesting word in the world of earthquakes, but I get the point.

I find I am getting quieter about God. Maybe more open to God, but for sure quieter.

I think I do hear you, however. You have friends in all this work.

Rosemary Behan said...

Personally, I found the Bishop of Dunedin, Kelvin Wright has written the most helpful [to me that is] stuff on his website. Please read it from the bottom up. In other words, start where the earthquake posts start and work upwards. You'll find it on Peter's sidebar under Available Light, or here ..

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Mark and Rosemary,

Part of my reflection on a shaky doctrine of God is the impact the shakiness has on evangelism. May muse on that further soon.

Bishop Kelvin is v. helpful.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
My experience was a different one to yours - political crisis rather than a 'natural' disaster - but I found the Psalms extremely helpful during this time. I guess that the passages I usually gloss over as "not directly relevant" became very relevant indeed. At one stage, I was getting so stressed by the events on TV (couldn't turn it off due to news re curfews etc), that I left Psalm 91 open on the table, so I would put the events in context of God's protection and concern.
Especially helpful was v5:
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
In the context of hearing gun shots down the road at night, and watching on TV the protesters being attacked during the daytime, it was comforting and reassuring.
My wife hung up Ps 27:1 in our lounge room:
The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

When the sectarian attacks occurred during March, it was Psalm 55 that gave me the words to pray and the encouragement I needed:
Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
for I see violence and strife in the city. (9)
Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you; (22)

Not sure the Psalms give us all the answers we need for our theodicy, but they give us comfort, reassurance, encouragement and the words to pray in the midst of crisis.


Suem said...

It depends what you mean by "shaky" doctrine? If doctrine is "firm" but at the same time very narrow and dogmatic, that brings its problems as well. None of us can ever fully comprehend God! We cannot answer theologically complex questions (such as suffering, for example) with simple or prescribed answers - and we never have been able to - before the events in Christ Church and Japan or after. Are we on shaky ground when we admit that we do not have all the answers, or are we on shaky ground when we try to pretend that we do?

Again- sorry if I have misunderstood.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew and Suem

Andrew: yes to the Psalms!

Suem: each possibility could be shaky! But I am also raising the possibility that my understanding of God is shaky when it is contradictory (e.g. on a good day I believe one thing, on a bad day, another thing), and trying to tease out the point that it may be a spiritual self-indulgence to live with questions when the world around is yearning for answers.

Suem said...

I don't know Peter. I do think the world around appreciates it when we are honest and formulate doctrines as clearly as we can but also say, "I don't have all the answers" and "I know that this answer can seem inadequate." I think when people really see God's love through us, maybe through actions as much as if not more than words or "doctrines" that is not seen as inadequate.