Monday, August 09, 2010

God and the Good Life (Dwight Welch)

Dwight Welch, an M.Div. student at Christian Theological Seminary and candidate for ministry with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), returns today with a progressive theological reflection on the relationship of God and the good in life.  His premise is simple:  we will find God present in the good things of life.  In writing this, Dwight engages with Bruce Epperly, my regular Tuesday columnist.  It's great to have Dwight back, contributing to the conversation of the relationship of theology to the lived life!


God and the Good in Life

By Dwight Welch

At the church where I work, my senior pastor will ask the 4th through 6th grade youth group, where God was at during the past week. If it is like most weeks, these kids will not be thinking about God in terms of any sort of dramatic experience. Rather they are being asked to consider where God was when they were on the playground, studying for a test, on the bus ride home, playing with friends, and so on. That is, they are being asked to consider God in the everyday goings-on of life.

The supposition behind such a question is that God is a pervasive feature of reality that can be found in any number of occasions and contexts. In that, Bruce Epperly’s statement that “God is present in every moment of life” is something I would like to build upon. Instead of an interventionist deity who breaks the laws of nature every once in a while or a deistic absentee landlord, we’re asked to consider a God who is part and parcel of our reality. Of course God is not to be confused with just reality. Otherwise there would be no point to asking the question; no discernment to be had.

But rather God is to be identified with that reality which works towards wholeness, well being, just relations, and transformation of our reality towards a better reality. That is, God is identified with whatever is good in life. This suggests something which in varying degrees is accessible to all. The young Disciples group could be asked to consider God in their life because they all experience the good in life in various ways, which they are in a position to reflect upon.

In so doing any number of modes of inquiry would be needed. The reflective processes of these youth are one mode. The resources the Christian tradition has had in terms of practices, worship, and thought is another. But I want to agree with Bruce Epperly and other progressives that the resources other religious traditions will be key as well. And there are other disciplines which will be relevant; the sciences, economics, sociology, philosophy, and so forth. The traffic between these modes and how they interrelate I don’t think can be avoided long in the church. That concern informed how I sought to relate to miracles.

To agree also with Gordon Kaufman, a turning towards the good in life, metanoia, will not be the result of some single act, it will be the result of any number of conditions, some individual, some material and social that can act in ways which humanize our existence, move us towards other regard, and relate us to each other and the world in more life building ways. That will take the combined work of any number of agencies, all of which can be understood as divine when pointed to a salvific end.

In such an account, God can be related to any number of practices and traditions, but the ones which will potently connect us are those that have grounding in our experience, in the communities where we live, and validated by a range of disciplines, focusing on whatever achievements we have had in relating well to the world and to each other. Therefore, to see God in the doctors working for a cure is not a grudging acceptance of the mundane while the real religious concern is in the unknown. Rather we should most likely find God in what has been gained through the increase of knowledge of the world for the purposes of securing a better life for all.

Dwight Welch is finishing his final year at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis as a MDiv student with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  He also serves as a student pastor at First Christian in Sheridan Indiana. Previously Dwight did graduate work in philosophy while serving as a campus minister at University Christian Ministries at Southern Illinois University.


Doug Sloan said...

"Therefore, to see God in the doctors working for a cure is not a grudging acceptance of the mundane while the real religious concern is in the unknown. Rather we should most likely find God in what has been gained through the increase of knowledge of the world for the purposes of securing a better life for all."

I do want to disagree or dissuade this particular path of discernment. It is to be celebrated and desired. I do want to limit it; I want to expand upon it. Our knowledge of God can also be increased by our travels through the valley of death and its associated darkness. Through times of calamity – whether by natural causes or human – God is present, yearning for our safety, recovery, and our very lives. God much prefers a calm “increase of knowledge of the world” and of the character of God. Yet, sometimes life is calamitous, violent, even deadly. Even in those times, to learn of the loving presence of God, to learn to lean on the loving presence of God is more than a “silver lining” – it can be a way out of despair and grief, a supply of strength for recovery, it can be life saving.

Not everyone has the luxury of an uneventful life free of the trauma of calamity and violence. For them, finding God “through the increase of knowledge of the world for the purposes of securing a better life for all" is an option that has been snatched from them. That is why the parable of Job still resonates today – too many people are too intimately familiar with Job’s story as their own. Sometimes, we find God or rediscover God or learn more about the character of God through nothing that could be called an advance, but only raw survival and a long nursing of brokenness, bruises, loss and injuries both physical and psychological.

There are other ways of discernment and not all of them are pleasant - and even though God does not prefer them or like them or choose them, God is still there with us - supporting us, strengthening us, and calling us forward.

Keith Watkins said...

Dwight, thank you for your statement, which speaks in such a positive way about religious experience and conviction. I note that you have an earlier connection with SIU. One of my earliest columns reviews a book by a man who taught in Carbondale. While this column is a Thursday post, dealing with cycling rather than religion, you might find it interesting.

Dwight said...

Doug..I don't find anything to disagree with you on. I think what you raised is an important point. What I was trying to imagine with Boenhoffer was would it mean for God to be in the center of life of knowledge, etc? Certainly God is with us in other situations as well but what I want to avoid is placing God *only* in places where knowledge ends, human powers give out, etc.
Keith...thanks for the article..yeah I got nurtured on Dewey, Wieman, and Ames at SIU, not something easily found today in schools. And ironically enough Boston Personalism which I get to continue to work on at CTS :)

John said...

I too saw in the post an uncomfortable suggestion that we see good only in the good, the affirming and the healthy.

I agree with Doug, and I suspect with Dwight, that God is present in the whole range of human experience - the gift of discernment to be able to sense God's presence through the clutter of our own psychological responses. For me the beauty of Job was not in God's restoration of Job's losses, but in God's initial address to Job and Job's response. For all of Job's wailing and grief, in the end Job is comforted most of all merely by the confirmation that God has heard, that God has been present with him through the misery.

Where did Job see God? It was not in the infliction of misery, nor in the restoration of fortune. God was in the answer to Job's prayers. God was always present in Job's life and the true shalom came to Job when Job discerned this.

That is the good life, the life filled with the awareness of God's abiding presence.


Doug Sloan said...


First line, 2nd paragraph:
"I do not want to disagree or dissuade..."

The neural link on this computer does not always work.

David Mc said...

This reminds me of a cartoon I imagined this morning,

frame 1- That Jesus knocking on the door painting

2- a flaming bag of pooh on a porch

3- That "Jesus laughing" painting

It's all good.

David Mc said...

Sorry if this is off-topic, but I'm already in a silly mood today. Then I saw this-

Dwight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dwight said...

I do want to agree with folks that God can be found in the midst of trial, God can be found when things go well, I think my point was that God can be found in the ordinary and the mundane as well. The stress on God and the good was not that the good always wins, but that it's a candidate for divinity and it's one which is accessible to more than certain religious channels or events typically clasiffied as religious.

David Mc said...

I didn't mean to be so graphic, but I saw it as a bit of a metaphor. If you think fate is out to get you, you might panic and stomp on what might be a minor wake-up call. We often make a bigger mess than if we could just be brave, let it flame out and smolder way.

The healthiest are those who can look back and chuckle at their lives, and still be boundlessly thankful.

John said...


It seems that you are talking about learning to recognize the thin places, where the Kingdom intrudes into our lives, Not that it isn't always present, but sometimes we are more able to discern than others.

I think this power of discernment can be cultivated if we are pressed to reflect and to articulate; and if we listen to stories from others who see the kingdom more routinely in their lives.