Although not directly referring to Diana Butler Bass's book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening in this posting, Bruce Epperly continues his conversation about the nature of God that he started last week. As in earlier posts, Bruce points us to the complexity that is God. Rather than God being unchanging and unresponsive, God is responsive and relational. Such a vision of God should be attractive in our age, when we're less beholden to unchanging traditions and seek to understand God in relationship to our daily lives. In response to Bruce's thoughts, how do you conceive of God?
Dancing with Diana – 4 – A Multifaceted God
Bruce G. Epperly
Christianity has always struggled to understand God’s nature and relationship to the world. On the one hand, mystics such as Meister Eckhardt proclaim that all things are words of God, pointing to God’s creative presence in the world. On the other hand, no particular thing fully reflects God’s nature. God is in all things, and all things are in God. God can never fully be reduced to the events of the universe. God is always more than we can imagine – God’s ways are not our ways, God’s visions not our visions. What we know of God emerges from our own finite experience, but our experience is also a window into the omnipresent – present in our experience! – God.
Christians have also felt the tension of having a Hebraic heart and a Greek mind. For the Hebrews, God’s nature is depicted as lively, complex, passionate, active and historical. Becoming and change characterize God’s fidelity in relationship to humankind. God is faithful, as Lamentations asserts, but God’s mercies are also new every morning. The book of Jonah and the Minor Prophets (Amos, Hosea, Joel) imply that God changes God’s mind. God is not limited by God’s previous decisions, but may do new things in relationship to the changing world. If individuals and communities repent – Nineveh is the classic example – then God responds gracefully, altering God’s previous decisions in response to human decision-making.
In the dynamics of Christian history, the Christian tradition also took the Greek vision of unchanging perfection seriously as descriptive of God’s nature. To certain theologians, the only worshipful God determined everything in advance according to God’s eternal vision. History and nature alike reflect God’s all-determining and unswerving providence. Nothing new happens to God, and from this perspective, this is good – since any influence from our world would sully God’s perfection.
There is, no doubt, wisdom in both visions. A living God must be creative and relational, creating within the world through a dynamic process of call and response. A faithful God must be unchanging in certain characteristics, for example, God’s love, omnipresence, omniscience, and omni-activity. The “most moved mover” (in contrast to Aristotle’s “unmoved mover”) is also unchanging in fidelity, constantly loving us and all creation through all the changes of life.
The doctrine of the Trinity also points to a multifaceted God. God is one and many, simple and complex, universal and intimate, and global and personal. A living God reveals Godself in multiple ways, reflecting God’s many visions for human life and cosmic history. The prism of divine light brings forth all the colors of rainbow; divine diversity gives life to cosmic, biological, ethnic, and personal diversity. In the dynamic call and response of life, God embraces the multiplicity of life that God has shaped through God’s own diverse presence in the world.
God calls and we respond; God responds and calls us to the most enlivening possibilities given our decisions and life context. In a living universe, God is truly new every morning. God is a new god as a result of our novel actions; the world is renewed as a result of divine innovation and imagination.
God is multifaceted and lively. Divine wisdom is mediated to each and every moment of life, giving us confidence that we have the resources and creativity to respond to the ever-changing kaleidoscopic emergence of our world. The dance goes on!
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith Lectionary and Patheos.com. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.