God is not a control freak! Evolution should be enough to prove this point. Evil too. And free will.
And yet, when faced with tragedies, such as Sandy or Newtown or AIDS, many people expect God to be at “his” control panel avoiding them. There is much theological handwringing in commentaries and blogs, even by—or especially from—those uncertain about God’s very existence.
With his book, The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God, Process philosopher-theologian Charles Hartshorne helped me shed my need to believe in a God in absolute control when I was a college student in the early ’70s. Who are you most likely to love, he posits, the most loving person or the most powerful person? Most of us would opt for the most loving. So it is with God.
Do we want a God who is all-powerful or all-loving? We can’t have both and be satisfied with a God who permits the Holocaust, genocide, war, and tsunamis.
But by the time I published my second book (1990), Come Home!, a book reclaiming Christianity for LGBT people, I found I wasn’t completely satisfied with this resolution, one that gets God off the hook for bad things happening to good and bad people. I had come to the realization that love is God’s power.
Our human notion of power is distorted, I came to believe, a notion of power that’s about coercion rather than persuasion, control rather than compassion. And a central thread of the Bible depicts a God of persuasion, a Good Shepherd more than a king, a Servant more than a master, Empowering more than in power. Yes, there are biblical texts that depict God and even Jesus as king, master, in charge—but that’s more our need than God’s, in my view. God demonstrates leadership, that gift of persuading us to do the right thing, to practice the way of justice and mercy. That’s the power of love.
The final phrase of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is “deliver us from evil.” Putting this request last indicates to me its importance. When I began saying the prayer daily, I thought I was praying that God would keep evil things from happening to me. But now I believe—no, now I know that I am praying that I root out the potential for evil in myself: my indifference, my cruelty, my selfishness, my inattentiveness, my ignorance, my insensitivity, my sins. I should have “gotten” this long ago by the phrase that precedes “deliver us from evil”: “lead us not into temptation.”
I have also come to believe that everything that happens to us—good and evil—is an opportunity for what Thomas Moore calls soul-shaping, and what Henri Nouwen described as turning negatives into positives, the one-time alchemy of the photographer. The apostle Paul understood this when he said “nothing can separate us from the love of God” in the same epistle to the Romans that he opined “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” In a mirrored understanding of the first sentence, everything may connect us to the love of God. Faith gives us a context of meaning in which even the evil we encounter may transform us into more loving and therefore more godly beings.
The public is invited to Henri Nouwen: The Wounded Healer, a spiritual formation course led by Rev. Chris Glaser, a student and friend of the late Christian author, Feb 28-Mar 3, Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA. No prerequisite course is required. Glaser’s book, Henri’s Mantle: 100Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy, is available on Amazon.
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