Magazine article Tikkun

Embracing And/or Refusing God-Talk

Magazine article Tikkun

Embracing And/or Refusing God-Talk

Article excerpt

The term "god" evokes rich variegated responses, each of which is surely filtered through lived expe- rience, whether acknowledged or not. Indeed, God- talk permits as many variations in exposition as does the anti-God talk of atheism. From the outset, however, it is unhelpful to come at the God question generically or in the abstract, it being necessary to talk about quite particu- laristic claims that are incommensurate to each other. Here I will consider the God-talk that is generated by the bibli- cal traditions that are variously lined out in the many forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. My own particularity, moreover, is in the Christian tradition.

The God of biblical faith is inescapably embedded in a nar- rative account of reality that yields many dimensions and nuances. In large sweep we may say that this God is an agent of judgment and restoration that are reperformed many times in the tradition. The theme of judgment is an attempt to speak of ultimate accountability that is structured into lived reality and that precludes us from being free to do what- ever we want with impunity. The theme of restoration speaks of the surprise of new emergents in history and creation. In biblical narrative, it is this God who emancipated the slaves from Pharaoh's Egypt, who brought the Jews home from Babylonian exile, who raised Jesus from the dead at Easter. Such typical and recurring happenings feature a concern for well-being and Shalom in the common good that is marked by mercy, compassion, justice, righteousness, and peace. Such ultimate accountability and such emergence of rela- tional (covenantal) good in biblical tradition are credited to an active, willful agency who is known by name, whose name attests to the personal, relational dimension of ultimate reality. The insistence upon God as agent is a recognition that the reality of our life is at bottom relational and concerns the prospect of fidelity. The contest for faithfulness (with God and with neighbor) issues variously in forgiveness, hos- pitality, and neighborly generosity. This agency, in the nar- rative of faith, cannot be reduced to an idea, a proposition, a syllogism, or an indifferent force, but is known to be an agent capable of emotional engagement and effective resolve. The process of faith is a) to acknowledge the odd inexplicable rigor and openness of life that cannot be contained in the explanatory categories of Enlightenment rationality and b) to link such realities to a hidden but known agency.

That sweep of narrative of accountability and surprise ("the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor rejoice") is deeply impinged upon by violence legitimated and enacted by this God, which is experienced in the tradition as divine neglect and named as divine abuse. The tradition itself has always known that and struggled with it, long before the atheists came to the issue. The critiques made against this theological narrative are best known by its adherents and long known before the present challenge. Serious faith recognizes that the fidelity of God as agent of judgment and restoration is marked by a wildness that cannot be denied or explained away. For those who accept that narrative and its in-dwelling agent (as do I), this abrasive dimension of the character of God does not veto the claim of holiness beyond our comfort zone or the continuing struggle with and for divine fidelity. …

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