Friday, October 9, 2009

Love, Freedom, and Causality

Just wondering out loud here. Join in if you like. I could use the company.

I've been thinking a lot about the differences involved in understanding God related to one's starting place. If a person starts with divine attributes (God, to be God, must be simple, persisting, eternal, etc), then the issues one deals with in theology are of a certain piece. And a lot of those issues have to do with causality. From the vantage point of classical theism, God is a single acting subject, the first cause of all things defined primarily in relation to an eternal will. God's freedom from this perspective is defined as a freedom from any impinging influence. God is only free as long as there is no necessity in God related to creation. In other words, God can only be thought of as free if God has no need of anything outside of God's self. God, therefore, can only be over/against the world, radically other than the world. And the world can only experience God causally, as the One who puts all things into motion. From this perspective, then the answer to any contingency is the priority of God. Why did a tornado work its way through downtown Minneapolis after the vote by the ELCA to ordain practicing homosexuals? God. Why was my son born with a congenital heart defect? God. We might build into this system any number of co-implicated systems, but our issues all revolve around God as a single, causing, actor.

But what if we begin with a narrative that assumes God as a loving community, Father, Son, and Spirit. God exists by making room for the other. In this sense, God's freedom is defined in relation to the other. God is free to be God by always opening space for the other, even creation. Here, the arrows do not always point in the same direction, from one to the many. Even within God there are mutually implicating relations. What causes things in an economy of love is complex and has various sources. The question of contingency has several possible answers because love is always making room for other actors. God's power is not so much a power over, but a power with. God's response to a chaotic world is not simply control over, but participation with. The goal of God's love is not to be over all, but to be all in all. This way of being with the world cannot be stated in simple formulas of cause and effect. It is complex and mysterious and does not answer readily to the question "why?"

Just thinking out loud.


Richard Beck said...

Sounds similar to Arthur McGill's Suffering: A Test of Theological Method.

JNW said...

This is good. Talk more about this. Enlarge on this idea of not God over all but God all in all. What are some of the implications of this? How does this impinge upon our Missional Church Journey?

Mark Love said...


It was as I thought about understandings of power as it related to God that the importance of all-in-all language struck me. It is one thing to express rule as a rule over. That is one kind of power. Frankly, it is impossible to narrate a story of God's power as a power over that can make sense of the world as we know it. But how would God become all in all? That would demand an entering in and a making room (not a bad definition of mission). It is possible to account for God's work in the actual world according to this kind of criteria. This kind of engagement would not be seen in a string of cause and effects, or a story of growth or progress. It would rather be seen in places where a deep koinonia is bringing healing to places where the world is fragmented. This is a different kind of power, a power that has its goal not a subjection, but a unity, not just an obedience, but a glorification. This is what God's power does, if God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead.

JNW said...

So this concept you describe of power and of God seems to be a game changer in so many ways. God, Creation, the Kingdom, the Church, what it means to be human... everything gets "reshuffled" in this paradigm. The idea of God being free to be God by always opening space for the other appears to me to understand God as possibly both more present and at the same time more mysterious and it certainly opens up more possibilities for relationship.

I just finished reading Peter Rollins' "How (Not) To Speak of God". I think what you have suggested here nicely complements his thoughts. Thanks for sharing this. Peace.

Lisa Gonzales-Barnes said...

"God's power is not so much a power over, but a power with. God's response to a chaotic world is not simply control over, but participation with. The goal of God's love is not to be over all, but to be all in all."

I like what you said here. In my experience as a spiritual director, I find this to be true. God participates with the directee's experiences. God is not the controlling force. Rather, God is the creative partner who begins and ends right where the directee is. God is present in the moment, with the tears, with the laughter, with the anger, with the confusion, with the insights.

From my own personal experience, I like to visually imagine that sacred and fiery heart of Jesus burning in me. His heart is my heart and my heart is his heart. They burn together. And when his and mine burn, the Holy Spirit and the Begetter of Jesus burn as well. Together we enjoy that fiery and sacred heart.

And yeah, there is a great mystery in that sacred heart that belongs to all of us.