Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More questions than answers

I did say, when posting yesterday, that I was unlikely to do justice to D’s compelling presentation, and in reading your comments I realise that I have confirmed my own worst. expectations!
John…I think that what D was saying (though I may be misinterpreting…he is a seriously clever man, and sometimes I really do feel as if I’m barely hanging onto the coat-tails of his thoughts, though he doesn’t in any way go in for blinding with science, praise be) is that we have a tendency to endow God with our own feelings…To that extent, I would have thought that you and he were in agreement in your final paragraph
"what we want and need" is hardly a yardstick by which we can establish what God actually is! We may think we need many things, but God is still God regardless."
D’s contention was that God remains always and only pure Love…but that depending on our current condition, we may experience that Love in ways that feel more like anger, or sorrow, or, sometimes, sheer delight. We limit God when we suggest that what he feels is akin to what we feel, (albeit different in degree), and when we use these terms…what Timothy Rees describes as “that self same aching” is in fact of a totally different order, and not the self same at all.
He made a point which I don’t think I’ve fully grasped, about God being all act,- the act of love….and as that act is undifferentiated, a permanent state of being, then God cannot suffer or change. “What God is, he always is; and what God is, is always himself”.
“I am what I am/I will be what I will be”.
Poor Moses. What sort of answer was that for him? But it was all the answer that he was given..unless you count the next 40 years, of course. But perhaps those years say rather more about the character of Moses and of the Israelites than they do of God?

But then, like Songbird, I would assume that to love means to suffer…and, Paul, never more so than when God sees his Son on the cross. As we wrestled with these huge ideas, D passed round copies of poems and paintings to help our thoughts.

My group spent a while studying this (if anyone knows the artist, please tell do me: I failed to write it down, in the heat of the moment) and latched on to the Trinitarian presence at Calvary,the way that so much of the Father is hidden by the Son (so the incarnate Jesus is the only lens through which we can see God?) but that here, while the Son is portrayed in the peace of death, there is a great weary sorrow on the Father’s face. The Father is holding his Son through his suffering, and having emptied himself into that frail body on the cross, carries all its pain. That made sense to me.

But so too did David’s assertion that, in our eagerness to make connections with God in ways that we can understand, we too easily load him with our own emotions, the emotions that we imagine we would feel were we “in his position”.
And the fact that, if extended logically, the idea of God’s suffering ultimately puts him at the power of his creation, and negates his power to redeem it (but then, I thought that his power over creation lay precisely in his vulnerability, which subverts the natural order and expectations…) D recommended a book “The Cruelty of Heresy” by C.F. Allison, which I’m hoping might illuminate this aspect a bit more for me, assuming I ever have time to read it.
Please, if anyone who's reading this was actually there, do comment if you think I’ve grossly distorted David’s thesis. There are so many thoughts whirring around, it’s more than possible.
He did, though, acknowledge that we were left in a place of discomfort, of huge and perhaps unanswerable questions…and stressed our obligation to continue to wrestle with them. Even trying to present the discussion has almost floored me, so perhaps its not surprising that the concepts themselves, and the Truth beyond them, remain rather elusive. On the whole, though, I prefer T.S. Eliot to John’s Lewis Carroll allusion

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still

It's probably just a more dignified way of saying the same thing,- but any excuse to revist Four Quartets must surely be good for the soul, after so much wrestling with serpents.


Paul said...

Well having a mis-spent youth in higher education I appreciate the logical argument. The logic of God as the undifferentiated act of love is compelling.

But again how does that square with the experience of the people whom God has called and led through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night?

God is wholly unlike us, God is God. Yet if we are made in God's image we are "like" God. Since I believe that both the statements are part of the truth God reveals about Godsself to us, perhaps we have to settle for "everything I say about God that is true is also untrue"!

A quote from Michael Mayne, "God does not give us the answers, he gives us something more precious, he gives us himself."

Just for today I feel God is simply to be experienced.



Mark said...

As I mentioned yesterday, I was sorry to have missed the day. Thanks so much for your reporting of it. I'd love a conversation with you about it sometime but, for now, a couple of questions: did DH deal with the OT at all? Have you read Fretheim's 'The Suffering of God' which looks at this question in relation to OT texts? And did DH mention Clark Pinnock and other "openness" theologians who controversially critique a Christian theology so often highly dependent upon Hellenic ideas of timelessness, etc? Or the possibility of divine self-limitation, from what is granted to our perception and experience, as being the defining attribute of God? (Love for another always involves us in willing self-limitation.)

Sorry - too many questions. Like the poem in your next post - reminds me of Shelley's comment about 'casting a violet into a crucible'.

Kathryn said...

Mark,- mmnn...yes, a conversation would be good sometime, definitely...I wish Finker had been there for the whole day (he only arrived at lunchtime)...I guess he felt less engaged as he really only got the summing up, and missed out on the exercises, which were perhaps the most stimulating part.
D didn't really address the question of the OT God as presented by (yes, I've just done Evening Prayer!) Hosea...though laying great stress on the awesomeness implicit in Isaiah, or in Exodus. He had indeed read Pinnock and was clearly not impressed...there was an interesting intellectual tennis match played out at one point between him and a great Pinnock exponent among the 3rd years. Beyond the obvious Moltmann, Vanstone etc I have Placher "Narratives of a Vulnerable God" and Fiddes "The Creative Suffering of God" but not Fretheim...will have a look...and go on hanging on to Waddell's Abelard pro tem.