Apr 12, 1999

It's Saturday night and I am too tired to write…
…so I waited until Sunday now.
Things are moving so fast in my life now--it's very exciting. I spent last night (Saturday) reviewing videotapes of my second product, a ten-hour series on "Political Skills" for senior IT executives. [For those of you that might be neurotic about the fact that I seem to work every Saturday night, I want to calm your anxieties by assuring you that I spent each Friday night with my playful and comfortable ladyfriend in R 'n R mode--so it's not as bad as it might seem :>) ]
This is now a week later...and my third attempt to write this letter.
I have been so consumed by trying to get the business up and running, and I have so missed writing for the Tank. Remember, it is my hope to be able to spend MORE time on the Tank, once the biz runs, than ever before...but this incubation period is a challenge. I have received so many more good, good questions over the last few months, and the ones I currently have open are constantly distracting me! God has truly blessed, however, this development period...I have been quite surprised at how "easily" it has gone. Lord, willing, the first product should go on sale this week, through the web site www.BizSkills-for-IT.com. [The first seminars are essentially executive and "political" training for senior IT execs.]
On other matters...
Recently, I have begun to re-think some of my methodological assumptions concerning the very character and nature of God. I frequently get objections to the Christian theology in the form "A truly all-good and all-powerful God would do X" or "not do Y" or "not allow/permit us to Z". As I have explored these kinds of questions before in the Tank, I am increasingly impressed with the monumental difficulty of "being God" in a moral universe, inhabited by moral creatures. It has been all too apparent to me that our creaturely assumptions of what a "good God" would do are hopelessly naive. Although some skeptics complain consistently about how much more "moral" they are than the Christian God (because they assert that they would not let disease, war, abuse, etc. occur in history at all), I have not found a single alternative scenario that could be consistently maintained, and in most cases, even conceptualized! I still think about the illustration of a child falling off a cliff. Do they want God to make gravity age-specific or "intelligently selective"? Do they want no cliffs, and so the problem changes to housetops, and on to ladders, and even standing up versus lying down? Do they want DNA/RNA to not work, so we cannot have viruses?
The difficulty of negotiating moral and natural interactions is exceedingly complex, in the abstract, and humanly impossible in the actual. God's job is not very simple at all.
So the skeptic decides what a "good and powerful God" MUST BE LIKE, from their incredibly limited human vantage point...And when the real God doesn't fit that mold, then that God is disqualified from office...[There are more issues here, of course, such as issues of coherence and ethical reference points, so I don't intend to 'slander' all skeptics with this, but I DO get a lot of Procrustean theological comments from that community, I must admit.]
But traditional Christian theologians (and philosophers) often make the same presumption, I have found. There is a principle of theology proper (i.e., the study of the nature and attributes of the Godhead itself) that looks just like this--the principle of dignum Deo. This is the principle that says that predications of God must be 'worthy' of God. A common example would be mortality. To say that God can die in Himself is to make an attribution of God that is 'unworthy' of a true God. This was a basic theological method of the pre-Christian Greek philosophers, and this principle has been held by most major traditional theologians to this day.
The problem should be obvious--who decides what is "worthy" of God? Who can know what is "more dignified" and what is "less dignified"?
Let me give you a very concrete theological example: the emotional life of God. The ancient Greeks decided that God could not be subject to emotions (since this implied "change" in God), and the early church bought into this substantially. So any verses in the bible that talked about God's love, grief, or moral outrage, simply could not be taken at face value. Verses that explicitly affirmed this were called 'anthropomorphisms' (instead of the more correct 'anthropopathisms'). So even John Calvin , Aquinas, and most Church Fathers could state that God could not be sorrowful or sad, even though the bible states in no uncertain terms (and in all literary genres!) that God experiences grief (e.g., Gen 6.6; Ps 78.40; Is 63.10; Eph 4.30).
This issue is quite complex, of course, and I do not mean to be glib about it, but I have increasingly become convinced that the only way to know God is to pay attention to what He tells us (duh)! If God says He grieves (and I have no exegetical clues from the passage to suggest that He might mean something opposite--"I do not really grieve, but I want you to think that"!), I must focus more on the concrete statement/pattern, than on my gossamer theological and philosophical constructs about what is 'proper' or 'dignified enough' for ultimate reality (i.e., beyond us!).
This matter was bubbling around in my head these past few weeks, and when I did my little Easter morning "message" here at home for my kids, I pointed out the abject "concreteness" of the revelation of God in Christ in history.
At a fundamental level, although I have data about God from many other sources, I have the most concrete data about God's character in three places: (1) the life and words of Jesus, the God-claimant; (2) the self-disclosure of God in the Bible; and (3) the character-disclosure of God in the lives of His closest followers.
Item number one is by far and away the most important (and upsetting!). The very incarnation of God in the human life of a Jewish peasant, manual laborer, inhabitant of despised Nazareth and second-class Galilee, a citizen of the Roman-conquered people of Israel renders the dignum Deo principle all but useless. Item number two reveals a Heart that is incredibly 'emotive' and passionate, in ways that traditional theology and/or religious philosophy simply cannot allow. Yahweh's premier self-disclosure (mentioned dozens of times) is that He is "compassionate, and slow to anger"...How plain could this be? I may not be able to 'reason this out' metaphysically, but why do I have to anyway? I simply cannot let some preconceived notion of what God "must be like" (based on dubious Greek ontologies) steal such precious truth from me. God has true compassion, far beyond ours, and has true moral outrage at oppression, violence, and abuse, far beyond ours. It is we who are passionless compared to Him, and it is we do not emote, when compared with the active and intense Heart of God.
When I look at the New Testament, I am confronted with a story of a human that claimed to be the ultimate revelation and manifestation of the God of the Tanaach/Old Testament. His followers and enemies so understood His claims. His life was the ultimate "anthropomorphism" and to see Him moved to compassion, or to see His frustration at religious hypocrisy, or to see His moral outage at oppression and abuse, or to see His elevation of the marginalized, was to see the very active Heart of God. Here was no avatar, removed from suffering and this tangible life. Here was no monk, secluded away and untouched by the winds of people's needs. Here was God, immersed in the flow of real emotions and choices, and interacting fully (and not just apparently) with other agents.
My theories of God carry little weight compared to the witness of the historical accounts of the life and words of Jesus of Nazareth. He did not claim to have a better 'opinion' of God than I--He claimed to be a part of God in a way no human could ever be, and to have been pre-existent with God the Father before ever coming to earth. This is concreteness. This is the defining baseline for theology.
And item number three helps authenticate items number one and two. When I experienced the first two or three serious followers of Jesus (as opposed to "census-only christians"), I saw a love that was different. I saw hearts that did not grow up in this world. I saw wills that chose love first, and self last. And these souls pointed back to item number one. They claimed that this risen Jesus was still operative in history, and had ways of mediating change in their lives daily. Their lives are concrete and impressive to me. They need to be taken seriously, especially when they point back to the concrete information in items one and two.
[Now, I know that there are zealots and religious fanatics everywhere, but the mix of moving, active, aggressive love and stable, calming peace I have not seen anywhere else. So many other zealots and "holy people" were either all-detachment (peace, but no immersed love and solidarity with suffering) or all-engagement with the world (vigorous action, but no inner peace or from-inside joy).]
Well, I have gone on too long, left too many issues un-addressed, and gotten not very far, but you get the drill. God's self-disclosure is rooted concretely in (1) history (and in the documentary ripples of that history) and in (2) lives of our contemporaries (also ripples of that initial history). We can find the character of God in the life and words of Jesus, and in the actions and hearts of His closest followers. We need to make sure that we start with this data and "weight" it heaviest--irrespective of "metaphysical purity" issues!
Well, I have to close now...I have another 2-3 weeks of intense work, before I can get back to the more serious (unfinished) pieces for the Tank...see you then...
Glenn miller
April 12, 1999

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