EWCC Blog

EWCC Blog

Diverse, respectful theological dialogue.

God of Anger – God of Love

Click here for an intro video.

I found out recently that scientifically, neurologically, human beings have one of two ways of thinking about God primarily.  When thinking about God, people tend to focus on either God’s love or they tend to focus on God as an angry fella.  So, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.

Apparently, there are many benefits to thinking about God’s love during prayer and many consequences on the body to thinking about God’s anger.  I’ll provide a link to the article I found soon.  But, before we get there, what are my thoughts theologically regarding this recent discovery?

First, I’d like to say something about the distinction when it comes to God regarding love and anger.  There are certainly texts regarding God getting angry.  However, anger is not depicted as an essence of God.  Love is.  God is love. 

I wouldn’t say, “God is anger.”  I do say, “God is love.” 

God doesn’t have love or do acts of love.  No, that would be the many gods Genesis takes aim at.  All the other gods out there may have certain roles to play and may occasionally perform loving acts but the God of Abraham declares that love is in His very essence.  For all eternity, God has been love and has shown love within the Trinity and He continues to show love and be love today.

[Side Bar – I don’t have the space here to defend my idea (and many other theologian’s idea) that God is love against various competing thoughts.  My theology here is simply that overall, good Bible theology teaches that God is love.]

Lastly, I’d like to say a word about apologetics here.  I’ve become much more cautious about any appeal to the Intelligent Design apologetic lately.  For example, appeals to the complexity of the human eye as proof that there must be a designer have some real scientific problems that I’ll save for another day.

However, it is interesting to read about the health benefits of meditating on God’s love verses the adverse effects of meditating on God’s anger.  The lowering rather than raising of blood pressure, the increased focus, and the increased ability to forgive are all great benefits of concentrating on God’s love. 

So, science is showing that there are health benefits to praying with a focus on the love of God and thinking about God as primarily a loving God.

Now, that just might be the beginning of a design argument I can get behind!

Click here for the article “How Your Brain is Wired for God”

 

Theology & Science – Part 9

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 9)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the third question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.              Click HERE for Part 6.              Click HERE for Part 7.              Click HERE for Part 8.

Exam Question: Describe the various ways in which the field of ethics intersects with the problem of evolutionary suffering and explain how practical ethics informs and/or is informed by answers to that problem (such as you may have given in #4).

Finally, let’s now take a look at the pragmatic aspect of all of this. What are we to do about the suffering in nature? We will examine whether or not we should respond to animal suffering in the same way that we respond to human suffering since this is one of the greatest ways that the reality of evolution intersects with ethics. Additionally, we have to consider the part hermeneutics plays in this, even though it isn’t called out in the question. The reason for that is because of the change in the meaning of suffering when we go from a worldview that denies evolution to a world where we admit it.

If we deny evolution, we may think the meaning is wrapped up in the perfect plan of God, for example. Or, maybe creation suffers because of the Fall. However, when we realize that suffering is the very thing that brings about the advancement of life, maybe the meaning of suffering is linked more to God working with broken things through His own love infused guidelines, like my view claims.

So, some ethic systems seek to leave nature alone at all costs. This is the view of Tom Regan. Starting now, we should all do everything we can possibly do to leave nature alone. In some ways, this makes a lot of sense. We can all think of examples when we’ve meddled too much in nature and we’ve done a lot of harm to it. The problem with this view is that we have already meddled. So, if we carry out this ethic to its extreme, we should release the pets. The trouble is, I don’t think our little Toda (puppy) would last long in the wild.

Furthermore, this view is criticized by Sideris based on where we should draw the line in our practical efforts to carry this ethic out to its fullest conclusion. Here is my example based on her thoughts. Should we advocate for no more digging? Digging in the ground to locate fresh water for humans constitutes an interruption by humans of nature. Regan gets around this, or tries to anyway, by distinguishing between creatures that are subjects of a life and those that are not. So, Sideris criticizes Regan by asking once again, where we should draw the line. Essentially, one of the other major problems with this ethic is that while it likely started out as an attempt to draw no lines, actually, as an attempt to never need to ask where to draw the line (no interference in nature), it ends up consistently in a position of being unable to tell exactly where the line should be drawn.

Like me, Southgate proposes a different ethic. His seems to me to be acknowledging that humans are a part of this creation, and as a part of it, we will sometimes be responsible for the suffering of non-humans. Also, like me, he sees in the world a need for a certain kind of healing. Finally, like me, he sees no reason to attempt to have any game-changing influences on the relationships between predators and their prey. Believe it or not, there are ethicists that call for humans to attempt to do just that.

The issue that many of these ethicists seem to have is that they don’t seem to worry much about the implications of carrying their ethic out in full. It sounds great to say Christians should be advocates for the dolphins, but we have to ask ourselves why we should stop there and why we started there in the first place. This is where I veer from Southgate and his ethic on extinction. He wants to work against extinction even if it is wholly from nature, if that is even a possible scenario anymore. However, as Sideris has pointed out, what usually happens in actual practice is that non-humans that are most like humans are the ones that really do get saved. No one cares about the valuable ugly beetle. We’d rather save the pandas. An ethic is not a good ethic unless it can be applied with consistency.

This is not to say that we don’t take in the different contingencies of various situations into account. What it is saying is this. Natural selection cares nothing about whether a being is like or unlike human beings. If you can’t cut it in this world, this world may just cut you down. That is the ethic of the land and the appeal of the land ethic of Sideris.

But, it is not without its holes. For example, the land ethic seems to be lacking in its account for the way that humans are a normal part of nature, one that operates on cause and effect just like the rest of the natural world. So, a land ethic has little ability to distinguish between normal and non-normal ways that humans negatively affect the world. As Sideris teaches us in her most salient point of her book, our ethics have to take seriously the reality of evolution by natural selection. For her, if we follow a land ethic, we will accomplish that.

However, I think Southgate’s ethic is more in line with mine in some ways, though I agree with a lot of what Sideris has done. First of all, my meta-theology absolutely is centered on the resurrection. It is the resurrection that is the center of my apologetic, the center of my worship, and the center of my ethic. It is the resurrection that shows me that at the darkest hour, when things can’t seem to look worse for the ultimate fate of humankind, God pulls out the “deep magic” that C.S. Lewis faithfully tells us about. So, when I’m trying to solve the mystery of theodicy, I can at least have some hope that God will somehow, some way pull out some unexpected thing when it seems like nothing could be done to make things right for all the creatures that were ever torn apart by the lion.

To me, this is an improvement on all those theologians, including Moltmann, that are doing their ethic with the cloudy details of the eschaton in mind. It still allows for the element of hope that Moltmann and Wright want to display but it does so on something that I feel is more tangible and real in its details.

If we have then the idea that someday things will be better, what should we do now? Should we do nothing and let God sort it all out? Even worse should we act recklessly in the world so that we do it great harm while we count on the return of Christ? No, God forbid. God may grant us His grace but we should not abuse it. So, my ethic may tend to have lots of grey area lines. Maybe even as many as Regan. The difference is that I’m not trying to eliminate those lines from the start. I’m trying to embrace those lines. There is no great panacea to get rid of all the grey. As Sideris has said, there are a lot of tough choices to be made in ethical decisions.

To the dismay of my fundamentalist friends, it’s not all right there in black and white. In this way my ethics is informed by my theology, and even my theology with evolution in mind. I’ve attempted to be intentional about including evolution in the mix of the conversation but I’ve admitted that there are still some grey areas, such as how exactly God “works” in the process of natural selection. I’m no clearer here than I am about how He actually “works” in my tough circumstances without affecting free will and all that. So, my theology makes space for grey areas, and correspondingly my ethic ends up with grey areas.

Russell talks extensively about ethics and the idea of “best possible world.” Like my theology, my ethic doesn’t assume that this is the best of all possible worlds. Theologically speaking, I would say that the best possible world is one where God creates creation with limited freedom and limited possibilities and in turn that creation continuously “chooses” to get its life from God. So if God did create the best possible world it no longer exists. Additionally, even if He did create the best possible world it would still be finite so it would still fall short. So, even if that happened then the best possible world is gone and God is now working within something less than the best of all possible worlds. The great news is that God is always working with something less than the best when working with creation.

My proclivity is to think that my ethic shouldn’t inform my theology in any arena, much less in regard to evolution. It seems closely related to saying my culture should influence my theology. We know it does do that but it doesn’t feel like we should allow it to do so uncritically. It seems like my theology should always influence my ethic. If it is done the other way around, it seems like my ethic would have had to come from somewhere other than my theology and I would deem that to be something less trustworthy. For example, say I believed that animals had no souls and so, therefore we could torture them and cause them to suffer. If I allowed that to influence my theology I’d miss all mention of justice in scripture and I would never correct my ethic. However, even a theology like McFague’s, if it is informing her ethic doesn’t wind up in such a distasteful crude place as this. I’ve previously made a case to jump back and forth between hermeneutics and epistemology but I can’t make that same case to jump back and forth between theology and ethics. It seems perspicuous to me to allow that flow only from theology to ethics. Selah.

Theology & Science – Part 8

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as a Star Wars movie.]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 8)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the third question and part two of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.              Click HERE for Part 6.              Click HERE for Part 7.

Exam Question:  Given how you answered #3, give your answer to the problem of this course.  In other words, given the problem of evolutionary suffering how can the Gospel still be considered to be “good news”?

[The Solution]

So, how can we now go about the topic of the way in which the gospel remains the Good News in light of evolution? In my view, very little needed to change for me here. I’ve never claimed to have the clear picture regarding the eschaton so I didn’t need to do a lot of adjusting there. I do somewhat follow Moltmann’s eschatology over and against Left Behind or other escapist proposals so I do see that there is something in creation that needs to be “put to rights.”

Here, I am out of favor with Sideris and Rolston. However, they are correct to point out that Moltmann has failed to truly account for evolution by natural selection. I’ve also had to do little overhaul of my theology in regards to what the Good News is for humans. For humans, it is a freedom from the bondage of sin, among other things. However, my thinking regarding what the Good News is for nature did have to change quite a bit.

I will lay out what I so far see as the minimum changes that I had to make as a result of taking this class regarding the Good News for creation. This does not mean I’m unwilling to make further changes. It just means these are the changes I’ve thought of so far that need to be changed.

Firstly, I see it at least as a freedom from bondage but not a bondage to sin. What that bondage is to, I’m not sure yet. Some, like Boyd or Southgate may introduce the idea of bondage to fallen angelic beings here. I’d probably lean this way if I had to presently. However, I’ve not had the time to study the topic in any depth yet. From a bird’s eye view I see lots of reference to angelic beings in scripture although I also recognize that mentions of fallen angels in scripture, if that’s even the proper reference here, are extremely vague and speculative.

Maybe nature is simply in bondage to its own nature. This would be a non-anthropocentric view since humans can never say the same thing. We can’t say we’re in bondage to our own nature without any involvement with sin. Every way we can describe our bondage includes sin. But maybe nature, which cannot sin, by definition, but which can only fall short by its own finiteness, can be in bondage to its own way of doing things. Maybe the lion is so in bondage to its own nature that he/she never sees other options.

It’s impossible to imagine, because we’re all so entrenched in the way things are now, but somehow, in the escaton, there will be a new heavens and a new Earth. In my view that will include no suffering for humans and for non-humans, if they are around. It’s at this point that I have to take the stance that there is much in the eschaton that we will never fully understand until it comes. For example, will animals be a part of the new creation? If not, could we really say they were “put to rights?” I believe there may be ways for God to accomplish that without granting eternal life to them. However, I also see this possibility as less likely than the possibility that all of God’s creatures go on, and things are put right.

Theology & Science – Part 7

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right. Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too. If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be almost as good as a Star Wars movie.]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 7)

This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class.  Here is the third question and part one of my answer.

Click HERE for Part 1.              Click HERE for Part 2.              Click HERE for Part 3.              Click HERE for Part 4.

Click HERE for Part 5.              Click HERE for Part 6.

Exam Question:  Given how you answered #3, give your answer to the problem of this course.  In other words, given the problem of evolutionary suffering how can the Gospel still be considered to be “good news”?

[The Problem]  (The “Good News” to follow in Part 8)

So, how do we answer to this challenge of theodicy? First of all, let me start by saying that in my epistemology, I hold that all roads, no matter how smooth, have some potholes. There is no perfect theory. However, there are better and worse theories. For example, in the previous essay, I quickly and resolutely dismissed the position of Miller. To me, that position is a worse position than say, Jensen. Each of them has holes but Miller’s has many more and larger holes.

I say all this to say that my position here is a developing position largely because I’m a rookie in what is for me a terra incognita, as the science part has never been my area of interest or skill. I have however, long been fond of the philosophy of science with its falsification theories and such. There are a few prefaces to declare that will assist in understanding what I’ve developed as my final answer.

First, I see God as a God that has allowed for a partially open future from the beginning of creation. I considered whether it would be best to abandon that idea in light of evolution by natural selection. However, what I found was that a partially open future assisted me in thinking along the lines of theodicy. I didn’t see any of the authors we read for class display hints of this theology underlining their thinking. Perhaps the closest was Russell and his talk of chance and law (125). However, Reynhout illustrated a few times some theology that came the closest to my view, although it was not exactly the same.

I suggest the possibility that God created a world with natural laws that aligned just so, so that there existed in the world, a set of limited possibilities. Within that set of limited possibilities existed the possibility for creation to go astray from what God hoped for from His creation. It may be that this part happened almost instantaneously. Why? Because even while God called His creation good, it was still finite. By definition, anything finite falls short. I hesitate to use words here like, finite things fall short of perfection, because the word perfection brings along with it a whole mess of baggage that I don’t want to deal with here and I don’t want that baggage to distract us. For now, it’s enough to be thinking that the creation, almost instantaneously falls short.

I also believe that God knew that this was extremely likely to happen. Although, to be consistent, I’m willing to say there was a possibility that it would not happen. But it did. So, in God’s first display of being a God who works on Plan B, in the midst of a mess that He would prefer not to have taken place, God allows and begins to work in the world and eventually in evolution by natural selection. I don’t see that there is any need to appeal to demons, nor do I claim to know the details of how God works and natural selection works at the same time. However, I do claim that God working and natural selection working in a situation need not be mutually exclusive, as Sideris would suggest. In fact, I see lots of scripture supporting God working in the negative (death) to bring about a positive (life).

There is a great deal of work that I have to do to answer to suffering in nature, that I don’t have to do if all we’re talking about is suffering in humans. I have covered those in the previous essay so I won’t rehash those here. However, I will say that I have to do more work in regards to the creation story and certainly more work regarding the story of the fall in light of evolution. So, now we have a creation with possibilities and what I would say a falling short rather than a fall.

The fall is generally a reference to sin but I’ve previously stated that I don’t think nature can sin. But it did fall short in that it is not infinite. At this point God adapts and adjusts to the then present situation and allows for evolution. Over the course of millions of years life develops and evolves, largely due to the harsh realities of nature and animals arriving on the scene. How’s that for some real science-like language? Animals from the start wage war on one another and the ones able to adapt survive. Those that do not adapt quickly enough go extinct.

Eventually humans arrive on the stage. I have no idea if humans evolved from primordial slime or a miraculous work from God and I don’t think it matters for our task here. I actually don’t think it matters much at all, but I digress. Humans come on stage and, like the beginning of creation, almost immediately fall short. God had big intentions and mankind blundered it up in no time flat.

So there’s my description of an open view of creation that attempts to take evolution by natural selection and the revelation of scripture seriously. I think I’ve seriously thought through extensively the doctrine of God (Open Theism being a large part of that), I think I’ve seriously incorporated the true science of evolution, and I think I’ve taken the Bible seriously. Seriously!

What if someone were to say, regarding the creation story in Genesis, “I just believe what the Bible says?” I’d say, “Me too!” I’d go on to say that we never just believe a thing. We always believe a thing in a particular way. I see Genesis as a very poetic work. This does not mean I see it simply as poetry. In fact, I see Genesis as one of the greatest, genre diversified, unique work of writing that I’ve ever encountered. Being also a poetaster, I’m careful to claim Genesis to be largely poetic. However, I would like to remind anyone looking at its verses about one of the fundamental characteristics of poetry, and that is that poetry is succinct. Poetry says a lot in a little space. The best poetry is able to pack in an enormous wealth of insight into few words. So, what better poetry than Genesis, which compacts the enormity of creation along with the deepest reflections on the truest nature of man into just a few chapters?

So, my explanation involves the full creation by the infinite God, even though the days in my view are not 7, 24 hour days. My view includes Adam and Eve, even though they may have been types rather than particular persons. Finally, my view includes natural selection, with all its values and disvalues, though it was not necessarily the way God would have preferred things.

Now, there may be a number of objections at this point. I’ll have time to deal with one of them that I can anticipate before moving on to the Good News. The question, when it comes to humans that is asked, regarding the problem of suffering is, “Why didn’t God just make a world where there was no suffering?” The answer usually goes along the lines of, “God is love so He needed to make a world with free choice. Without free choice we can’t actually love nor can we actually receive love.” Well, this line of thinking works well if we’re just talking about humans. However, if we’re talking about nature, we don’t have the “free will” out. Or do we? Is there something in nature, even on a subatomic level that operates with a certain kind of free will? Not the kind of free will that we think about with humans, for nature is non-human. But, could we say that God created nature with a free will that is labeled as such with a kind of anthropomorphic style similar to the way humans talk about God anthropomorphically? It’s tough to give a definitive yes to this question but it’s also tough to completely dismiss it by claiming complete knowledge on the subject.