I Don’t Believe in (G)od

I recognize that for a pastor’s blog, the title of this article might seem like click-bait. I cannot claim total innocence on that front. I can, however, say more precisely that I do not have faith in the (G)od discussed in current debates about whether God is real or not.

I have friends who are self-described atheists. They ask me to prove that God exists as an objective reality. Some measurable, mathematical, physical accounting must be made in order for God to be tangible; to be real. I understand the request. I also have friends, colleagues, and people of faith who want me to make a “case for God” because they are absolutely certain that objective arguments exist and can be made. They want me to help. I understand the desire.

Writ larger than my own world, there is the neo-atheist movement of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens et. al. who assert that with no objective proof of God, religion is a childish means of manipulation or an ignorant means of explaining big questions. On the other side, there is the Creation Museum in Kentucky which takes on the challenge and builds an objective argument for the existence of God, offering explanations and theories that point to a creator who is an objective player in the grand scheme of the universe.tillich

My problem is that, if I am to talk about God in the most general terms (which is not really my wheel house – I’m a preacher and speak of God in particularities, mostly), I don’t believe in the God creationists and fundamentalists are sure exists. Nor do I believe in the objectively provable God that atheists demand.

Paul, preaching to the Greeks in Athens, points to the gods they seek and worship saying,  “(God) is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.” (Acts 17:27-28) The very fact that we are points relentlessly to a ground for that being. Paul’s roots in Hebrew scripture, which posits the name of God as the mysterious, I Am (Exodus 3:14) lead him to a God larger than objective reality.

St. Augustine said, “If you understood him, it would not be God.” Existence itself rests beyond our finite limits. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.” Objectifying God makes a lower case god, who is, in fact, largely about manipulation and denial as the atheists insist and as the fundamentalists forget.

In the fact of our existence and the consciousness that our existence is beyond us, Paul Tillich points to God as being: “The fact that man never is satisfied with any stage of his finite development, the fact that nothing finite can hold him, although finitude is his destiny, indicates the indissoluble relation of everything finite to being-itself.”

The reawakened contemplative tradition is reconnecting with this understanding of God through the teaching of people like Father Richard Rohr, who says, “This utterly grounds our deeper notion of God as Being itself, rather than God as a Being, alone and apart.”

David Bentley Hart is a professor of the Philosophy of Religion, and an astute (if not sometimes a little arrogant) voice for this classic understanding of God. He asks this question of those who demand – on both sides of the question – an objective proof of God. How, after all, could the existence or nonexistence of some particular finite being among other beings provide an ultimate answer to the mystery of existence as such?” ― David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss

As to what this has to do with Jesus Christ, well, that is a word for another day. I will say that this deeper, non-objective understanding of God leads to an encounter with Jesus Christ that is far beyond what the materialism and objective world can offer. That Christ is the incarnation not of some objective force within creation, but of the ground of being itself — well, that is ultimate good news.

Let me leave you with a quotation from Hart which summarizes what I’m getting at much better than I can manage: “God so understood is not something posed over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being.”
― David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss

Pax Christi, Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019 Timothy V. Olson

 

 

Idio-stasis

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A pundit recently said something that seemed utterly idiotic to me. I was not alone. Yet, even as an avalanche of push back mounted, he stuck to his guns. He was either totally clueless about the idiocy of his statement or unswervingly committed to never admitting a mistake. I wondered to a friend whether the continued effort was cumulative or simply expressed some kind of static state, which I called “idio-stasis.” She insisted that I had coined a phrase. So, I’m claiming it.

Idio-stasis is not an insult. It is, ultimately, a word that describes human sin and brokenness. Idio-stasis is unrepentant and widespread. Let me explain. Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit. They get busted – hand in the fruit jar, if you will. They blame each other. Then they blame the snake. They stick to their refusal to accept responsibility for the fall. Idio-stasis.

Closer to home, I lost 30 pounds this last year. Over the holidays, I gained back 6. Why? Cookies. I eat the cookies. I gain the weight. Then I step on the scale and am shocked and dismayed when the number goes up. Idio-stasis.

In our politics right now, we have lots of folks who are so full of pride and arrogance; who have drunk deeply from the Kool-aid of partisanship that they can’t back down, discuss or compromise. The result is chaos. Then they act surprised. Idio-stasis.

A much more eloquent statement about what I am getting at was made bu Martin Luther King Jr. (on this, his birthday), “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Ultimately, the spiritual struggle here is that we become disconnected from any self-awareness of our faults; we ignore the things that keep us from being who God calls us to be; we keep on doing idiotic things because to change would be to admit a mistake; to change would be to let go of our pride; to change would require confession – and that is something we – even as Christians – don’t want to undertake.  But, if we cannot confess our mistakes, faults, evil deeds and sin, we can never be forgiven and transformed by the work of the Spirit.

The most dangerous people are those who are least self-aware. They don’t know they are broken and need transformation (sincere ignorance). Just as dangerous to self and others are those too full of pride to say, “I was wrong. Forgive me.” (conscientious stupidity).  I would classify both things as “idio-stasis” – being stuck in our own idiocy and choosing to stay there.

In Ignatian spirituality, part of one’s daily practice is called “examen.” It is a practice that includes seeking the ways that your day was marked by brokenness, impatience, pride, arrogance or whatever got in the way of your relationship with God and neighbor. Once you name it, you can own it and seek transformation in Christ by the power of the Spirit. It is a way of dealing with the “idio-stasis” in all of us. Ultimately, “idio-stasis” is our rejection of humility for an arrogance that rejects change. To live in the reign of God, however, is a constant embrace of change and transformation at the hands of a gracious God.

Peace to you!

Copyright © 2019, Timothy V. Olson

I Love You. You Are Mine.

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God’s word to the people of Judah who are facing the collapse of everything they hold dear and the chaos and suffering of life is: I love you, you are mine. (Isaiah 43)

This pronouncement is made over us as we are baptized, giving us an identity and purpose that transcends all the other attempts to make us fear and doubt ourselves in this world. When the government is shutdown, the economy uncertain and even the church seems to be fading, God still proclaims this essential truth.

Grace Has Appeared…

On this Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, we remember that “grace has appeared bringing salvation to all.” (Titus 2:11). That “we are” instead of “are not” introduces the question of God as the ground of being for all things. Once we ask that question, the next is whether being is just one random thing after another or whether being is somehow benevolent. In Christ, “grace has appeared” to tell us that the ground of our being and existence is bent toward benevolence. love, and life. Blessed Incarnation to all.

Work in Progress

Advent calls us to prepare not just our homes for Christmas, but our lives for the fulfillment of the Reign of God when Christ comes in glory. Trouble is, we often feel rather helpless and passive in the face of that event. Is waiting just standing around until God makes all things new? For Paul, the Christian life is a work in progress: “the one who began a good work in you will not fail to see it through to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We are already the beloved of God, and not yet the people God calls us to be. 

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent – Philippians 1:3-11

Jesus, Fig Trees, and the End of the World

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The season Advent, however, seems to throw a wet blanket on all the jingling bells and decked halls. Scripture readings (Luke 21) turn to images of the end of the world and collapse of heaven and earth. Not very festive, it seems. That makes the preacher a bit of a buzz kill until we see that Jesus proclaimed a word of great hope in the midst of the destruction and death of this world. The fig tree puts forth leaves declaring summer is at hand and a harvest is on the way. Jesus is that fig tree, and our salvation is at hand.

Advent 1 – Holy Trinity Lutheran Church – December 2, 2018

Don’t Worry. Be Grateful.

Jesus says, “Don’t worry.” That is harder than it sounds. We worry about food, clothing, housing and a host of other things that seem to matter more than anything else. Thanksgiving seems to provide a one-day break to give thanks for what has gone right in life and suspend worrying about what could happen for at least an afternoon. What if gratitude is more than that? What if gratitude is a means of worry-free living?  Listen to the sermon here!