012: RADICAL CHRISTIAN ATTEMPTS TO DEFINE GOD

Sinai at dusk

Sinai at dusk

Why not print this out and pencil in ticks, crosses etc to “firm up” your concept of God. (Don’t worry – atheists are catered for!)

“Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness?  Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is this not to know me ? says the lord.” (Jeremiah 22:15 ff)

“The only way in which Christ can be met is through the least of his brethren.” (Mt 25:31-46;)

William Blake:  “God is mercy, pity, peace and love.”

Gerrard Winstanley: ” God is reason, community and love.”

Soren Kierkegaard: “God is a deeper immersion in existence.”

Old view: there’s a triple-decker universe: God’s up above, the devil’s down below and we’re in the middle.(i)

This view was demythologised by Rudolf Bultmann and there was a change of direction in spatial symbolism.

Twentieth century standard view : he’s out there spiritually or supernaturally.

John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich in “Honest to God” (1963) :-

“He is the last fading smile of a cosmic cheshire cat.”

“Suppose there is no being out there at all? Suppose the skies are empty?”

“Encounter with the Son of Man is spelt out in terms of an entirely secular concern for food, water supplies, housing, hospitals and prisons.”

“God is love, but love is not God.”

“Jesus did not claim to be God (or the Son of God) but to bring God .”

He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer as writing

” God is weak and powerless in the world…that is the only way he can be with us and help us. He allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross.”

“God is the ‘beyond’ in the midst  of  our life; the numinous and transcendant.”
The german theologian Paul Tillich has been enormously influential on Robinson and on other radical christians (ii) . While apparently just changing the metaphor of God to one of depth, he is not actually speaking of another being at all.  Tillich is speaking of:-

(1) the infinite and inexhaustable  depth and ground of all being

(2) ultimate reality

(3)  what lies at the heart of things and governs their working

(4) the depths of your life

(5) the source of your being

(6) the source of your ultimate concern

(7) what you take seriously without any reservations in your moral and political  activities

(8) the ground and aim of our social life

(9) hope amongst the horrors

In a sermon preached at New York Union theological Seminary in the 1940s, Tillich goes as far as to say “Perhaps … you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself.” (iii)

For anglo-catholic priest Anthony Freeman (iv)  the price for speaking his mind was severe – his bishop sacked him!  Like Robinson, he rejected the traditional model of God as being

“just a human projection” and

” an abandoned working hypothesis” and as having

“no independent supernatural existence.”

For him the new model of God is the sum of all his values and ideals in life e.g. goodness, love, power (rightly used), knowledge, wisdom,  freedom from fear of death and suffering.

Freeman continues:- “God is my own creation – my ideals personified.”

“God is and always has been made with human thoughts out of human words.”

“We can still speak of God’s calling us or guiding us without having to imagine him out there as a person.”

“Our ultimate values are what give order and perspective and motivation to all that we do; creating our lives, making them what they are… My life is created by my values – which change in relative value.”

“We can change the values we emphasize in god to reflect our own changing concerns e.g. animals, gay rights, the environment. (The old model of god had fixed known qualities).”

“I believe in god though he does not exist, in Christian humanism, in a human creation. I still value Christian stories and vocabulary.”

Less self-indulgent and more focussed is the self-proclaimed Christian communist Latin American Liberation Theologian José Porfirio Miranda (see Zingcreed Post “No Way, José!”)

“The God of the bible is not knowable directly. Either he is transcendent or he does not exist. The otherness constituted by the oppressed neighbour, who calls on our aid seeking justice, bursts our solipsism asunder. This is the only way we transcend ourselves. The God of the Bible is knowable only in otherness, in the call for help of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger. Our revolutionary message has this objective only: that all people may come to know the one true God, and knowing God be saved.” (v)

In “Christianity without God”, Lloyd Geering quotes Gordon Kaufman (“In Face of Mystery”) as saying “To believe in god is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one’s life and action. It is to devote oneself to working toward a fully humane world within the ecological constraints here on planet Earth, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of  existence.”

Related blogs:

Radical theology 

Sources:

(i) Robinson, John  “Honest to God”  SCM Press 1963

(ii) Tillich, Paul  “The shaking of the Foundations”  SCM Press 1949

(iii) Op. cit. p.64

(iv) Freeman, Anthony  “God in Us – A case for Christian Humanism”  SCM Press 1993

(v) Miranda, J.P. “Communism in the Bible” Wipf and Stock (1982) p.5

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