God

God Winks and Blinks

Recently I received a letter and the author shared a story. The person described a series of events and then concluded that the sequence of events was what they might call a “God wink”. Some people might encounter the same sequence of events and see no connection, only random and serendipity at play. And maybe that is all that it is, random.

This is where cultural anthropology might be helpful.

Clifford Geertz is a Anthropologist who argues that anyone studying a culture needs to have a “thick description” of that culture. The thick description gives robust descriptions of behaviors with the hopes that the anthropologist might understand the significance of these behaviors. It was described to me that a thick description is being able to tell the difference between a wink and a blink. The movements are the same, but the meaning is different.

While one person might see someone randomly blinking their eyes, the one who has sat with this culture does not see random blinks, but winks of communication.

Photo by  Conner Ching  on  Unsplash

If I can stretch the metaphor just bit more: It takes a long time to develop a thick description of a culture. You have to sit, listen, observe and watch. It takes years of intentional work to learn a new human culture and even then there is still more to discover.

Maybe the actions of the world or in the relayed story are random blinks, I don’t know. What I do know is that I am only now beginning to discern that God winks.

Trajectory/Redemptive Movement Hermeneutics - Humans Driving Redemption

The fancy word to describe the process we all use to interpret the Bible is called “Hermeneutics”. There are many different hermeneutics, just like there are many different political philosophies. And like politics, hermeneutical processes are in tension with each other and these tensions are what makes theology fun and exciting. It is also what makes theology contentious.

One of the “newer” hermeneutics that I have come in contact with is called “Trajectory” or “Redemptive Movement Hermeneutics” (RMH). How it works, as I understand it, is that the Biblical authors have a context and a culture that must be taken into account when interpreting the scriptures. The context allows us to see beyond the specific teaching, and allows us to ask in what direction is the teaching moving the people of God?

Some have found this hermeneutics helpful to address a number of topics. For example, It is argued, most notably in William J. Webb’s book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, that there is an overall “trajectory” of liberation when it comes to slavery and women throughout the Bible. For instance, Exodus 21:7-11 says:

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master (father), who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 

You may read this and think this sounds awful; however, what Webb and other trajectory thinkers would point us toward is that this scripture is redemptive because this commandment limits who the father can sell his daughter to. The daughter cannot be sold to foreign people and the daughter is given rights that were uncommon in the day. Webb suggests that God is pushing the boundaries of the male dominated world in such a way that women are to be liberated and free.

These signs give a ‘trajectory’ but there is much interpretation needed to arrive at Rio.  Photo by  Deanna Ritchie  on  Unsplash

These signs give a ‘trajectory’ but there is much interpretation needed to arrive at Rio.

Photo by Deanna Ritchie on Unsplash

Webb goes on to show the incremental ways God is pushing and pulling the people toward greater redemption and liberation of women and slaves and children. According to Webb, God does not push or pull the people too far or too fast but that “God brings his people along in ways that were feasible adaptations.” (p. 255).

And this is where this hermeneutic becomes counter to the basic idea that God is the primary mover of redemption.

God pushing for liberation of women in ways that were socially acceptable still permits God to allow for the sin of subjugating women. Yes, this commandment from Exodus may be more freeing than the culture in which it was written, but redefining who you can sell your daughter to still allows you to sell your daughter.

If selling your daughter is a ultimately reveled to be a sin, then why not prohibit the selling of all daughters in Exodus? Why is there a gradual softening of the position by God over the course of scripture?

For the moment, let’s accept that God prefers to have a gradual reveal of what is sinful in ways that are “feasible adaptations’ to culture. What do we do when the trajectory seems to shift? For instance take the trajectory of marriage. Adam and Eve are monogamous, but later scriptures endorse polygamy, but then when we get later into the Bible monogamy seems to take a privileged position. Of course this trajectory is called into question when marriage is no longer a part of the new creation.

Is there is trajectory? Is the Bible waffling on the definition of marriage? Or are these commandments just reflecting what was acceptable in the culture of the time and then given a divine veneer?

If God only moves in ways that are “feasible adaptations”, then we have to ask who is driving the work of redemption? Will God command the redemption of people only when it is “feasible” to achieve? Is God waiting on humans to be willing to change before God commands it?

As a evangelical progressive pastor I believe God has already revealed God’s desire in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The desires are stated by Jesus himself in several locations, none of which are feasible adaptions to culture. To name a few - the liberation of all people (Luke 4:17-21), mercy over purity (Matthew 9:13), supremacy of forgiveness (Luke 23:34), taking up the cross mandate (Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27), give up possessions (Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22).

Christianity proclaims that the desire of God is most clear in Jesus Christ, but readers of the entire Bible know that these are not new revelations. Jesus fulfills the law which we have failed to do (Matthew 5:17-20). In doing so Jesus points us back to what is already known to us. Humans have done a good job at justifying why we are slow to live out the desires of God.

If Trajectory/Redemptive Movement Hermeneutics reveals anything, it reveals the same sin we have always done - justifying our delay to make real the desires of God.

Why God Will Not Rid The World Of The Devil

Stanley Hauerwas ( Source )

Stanley Hauerwas (Source)

As previously stated at the end of the last post, Stanley Hauerwas wrote in his book Matthew, “That is why the devil is at once crafty but self-destructively mad, for the devil cannot help but be angry, recognizing as he must that he does not exist.”

The point being that the devil does not exist apart from other systems, structures and people. The devil does not exist outside of that which it is attached to. Like a parasite, the devil does not have the capacity to live outside of a host body. Thus, Hauerwas makes the case, this is maddening for the devil because the devil knows just how powerless the devil is.

The devil may not exist on its' own, but the presence and influence of the devil is felt. Which is why so many of us desire the end of the devil, but when we begin that work the tragic irony is revealed.

Even God will not rid the world of the devil.

The reason God will not eliminate the devil is because the force we call the devil, that does not exist without the life energy of other beings, is interwoven within humanity. It is like a tumor that has become entangled with vital organs. To remove the tumor the vital organs would be destroyed and the body would die. Given the option of killing the body or allowing the cancer to exist, God chooses not to kill the body but hold that body in God’s hands through the difficult times of life.

Because to destroy the a parasite so interwoven with creation, God would destroy the very creation God loves. The devil is crafty in so much that the devil figured out, even as a being that does not exist, how to survive.

God's Insistence

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The debates of the existence of God drive me bonkers. Not only are they usually staged between two people entrenched in their views but they generally talk past each other in order to score points so to “win” the debate. The whole process is just silly because, and this may be shocking, but it is a fools errand to talk about God’s existence. God is much less one who exists but rather the One who insists.

For example, when you look at a landscape painting, you will see distance and perspective. Asking if the mountains in the painting exist is a question that misses the point. The mountains do not so much exist as they insist. They are there on the canvas, insisting their presence even as they do not exist.

God’s insistence is how we come to know God’s presence. Most people do not have a “burning bush” experience or an angle coming from the clouds telling them a message. Most of us move through our lives and bump into moments of beauty, love, joy and hope. These moments insist there is something beyond what we can sense, something within and yet beyond the material world.

There is an insistence to creation. That insistence to life and love, joy and hope, we divine.

Some of us even call it God.

It is because of God’s insistence that God’s existence is real.