Sunday, November 8, 2009

Was God Lonely?

Two separate students have asked me in the last two weeks, why God created humans. It seems they independently ran into the objection that if God was omnipotent, omniscience and self sufficient, there would be no need for him to make us. This suggestion always seems to devolve into cheeky anthropomorphism declaring God lonely or board.

It is an interesting argument. But I think Christianity has resources to address the objection that are not available in the other monotheistic religions…namely the Trinity[1]. The objection fails to take seriously one of the most confusing but most fundamental tenets of Christianity. Christians believe that God not only existed eternally but loved eternally. One of Basil’s (that most heterogeneous of the Capadoccian fathers[2]) favorite metaphors for God was a dance. God’s eternal completeness did not emerge from stark unity[3] but his essence as a loving community.

Clark Pinnock takes this idea on in his book Flame of Love: “Atheism is partly the result of bad theology, an unpaid bill resulting from the failures in depicting God. How often have people been given the impression of God as a being exalting himself at our expense! One might be afraid of such a God, but no one would be attracted to love him.[4] So often lacking has been the vision of the triune God as an event of open, dynamic, loving relations…Prayer is joining an already occurring conversation. The Spirit calls us to participate in the relationship of intimacy between the Father and Son and to be caught up in the dance already begun.”[5][6]

A recent experience illustrated this for me. I remember talking to my close friend Tyler the winemaker[7] right after their third child was born. I asked him, ‘So what’s it like having three?’ Now you have to understand, Amanda and I are trying to decide if we are going to have another child. I already feel like I don’t spend as much time as I would like with the two that I have and am nervous to further subdivide my love. So Tyler’s comment really rang my bell. He said ‘It’s so great. Each new child just multiplies the love.’ He could not be more right. By adding Aletheia to our family, we have increased the degrees of freedom of love in our household.[8] The love that passes between Charis and Aletheia that proceeds from Amanda and I but also exists independent of us, is one of the most beautiful and unexpectedly enjoyable aspects of parenthood.

This is the metaphor that I think makes better sense of God’s sentient makings. It is less like a mid 30’s boy-man reluctantly deciding if he is going to get married, weighing the relative virtues of companionship and freedom, and more like a happy family deciding if they are going to welcome another child into the world.

[1] Note: I understand the weakness of positing a philosophical paradox to address a rational objection to Christianity. But my epistemology allows for mystery, defined by one church father as ‘ideas that suffer, not from a deficit of intelligibility but a surplus.'
[2] Being the only one not named Gregory.
[3] The aspect of his nature preferred by the Platonists, and thus, Augustine, and thus, Calvin, and thus American Evangelicals.
[4] I have run into no better articulation of this than Modest Mouse’s Burkowski.
[5] Pinnock’s book deserves its own post…but for now, here is my general reaction. I liked it. Two specific thoughts: (1) I found it interesting that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is so neglected in Western non-Charismatic Christianity that Pinnock could write what is, essentially, a book on the Trinity and it ends up reading like a book on the Holy Spirit. (2) There was far too much use of the words ‘non-deterministic’ and their synonyms. Um, I’ve taken graduate classes on stochastic calculus. That crap doesn’t sneak by me. There was no reason to put so many references to openness theology in a very good book on the Holy Spirit.
[6] OK, one more, this may be my favorite, though mostly unrelated, quote from this book: “Our language is often revealing-the Spirit is a third person in a third place. At times the Spirit can even sound like an appendage to the doctrine of God and a shadowy, ghostly, poor relation of the Trinity. In the Church year the celebration of Pentecost hardly compares to the observances of Christmas and Easter. Even worse, it may be…eclipsed by Mother’s Day.”
[7] This story has nothing to do with his profession, but I feel like this has become his identity in this blog…so unless he objects, Tyler the Winemaker it is.
[8] Even as it increases the risk of disappointment and rejection by the very nature of adding another independent will capable of love.

1 comment:

Tyler said...

I do not object to Tyler the Winemaker, it is a passion after all! There are no perfect analogies for the Trinity, but to comment further on adding a 3rd child: it really is amazing how the dance grows when you move from 2 to 3 in particular. No more one on one, no more you take him I'll take this one. Its a team effort and the quality of it is directly related to the flow of love (which really does multiply!), forgiveness, and cherishing we try to have.