The “end times” have always been with us it seems. Early Christianity anticipated an apocalyptic end. They were sure it was close at hand. But “believers” were confident that what would follow would be “a new heaven and a new earth” sent from above by the power and will of God who would make all things new.
We are confronting our own “end time” scenarios. And it has us worried. The bad news: God is not going to “come down” and save us. The good news: we are right here and can make a difference.
The human role in saving the planet
I am interested to get a sense from you, readers of Marcus Borg and people who have been influenced by him, what you think of our role and responsibilities in our present and future knowing that ‘God’ is not going to come down and clean up the mess. I appreciate that at one time it may have been considered hopeful and even faithful to trust that our guidance and ultimate solutions would come from ‘God’ who was “somewhere, out there.” But it is high time to relinquish our attachment to the God of Supernatural Theism, “putting away childish things” to borrow a phrase from St. Paul and the title of Marc’s novel, and take seriously our work in this arguably critical juncture in human history. The stakes are high. For us and our planet. And some would even say for the future of God.
There are many who are thoughtfully reflecting on the human role in the development of God. For some this tolls the death of God. I think it is rather a call to re-imagine ‘God.’ And that is a good and healthy thing. Necessary. Essential. Part of growing up.
Who to Turn to
“The old made spirit the parent of matter, the new makes matter the parent of spirit,” wrote 19th century philosophy and theologian Ludwig Feuerbach. 19th century! Lloyd Geering, in his book From the Big Bang to God, puts it this way: “…whereas the old world said that God had made humankind, the truth is that humans have made ‘God’.” Before you dismiss this, consider what he goes on to say: “…the attributes that comprise ‘God’ represent the projection of our highest moral qualities, such as love, justice, compassion and forgiveness onto a cosmic backdrop. Even when the imaged divine ‘being’ disappears, these values remain. Though they are human values, it is to them that we must respond as our forbears responded to God… we must accept the fact that we have no one else to turn to but one another in seeking answers to our questions.”
Geering is not disparaging about humanity or our future. (Nor naively optimistic.) He sees religion as having an important role in our historical lives and ‘God’ a unifying point to which everything else can be oriented. God has symbolic meaning. And this is not trivial.
For theists, Geering might seem too dismissive and stark. But I suggest he is inviting us to look a bit differently at God and us while taking the person of Jesus seriously. Very seriously. The great doctrine of incarnation claims that God is enfleshed in the human being. How far do we take this? How do we interpret and understand “incarnation?” Was Jesus a one-off or an embodiment of our capacities as well?
We humans are capable of a range of perceptions and actions. Some are awful. Some are remarkable. We have the power to choose. Jesus is our hope. Humanity’s hope. He is a human example of “our highest moral qualities” and capacities in the midst of oppression, injustice, war, violence, “end time” angst. He did not fall to any dark and fearful “strategies.” What about us? I find it ironic that many “believers” are often suspect of anything that smacks of humanism when our tradition so inextricably links ‘God’ and us, ‘God’ in our mortal flesh.
Fully human world
If we think or believe that God “up there” is going to save us, now or in the future, I fear we are making a critical if not fatal category mistake. I suggest we think through carefully and anew the quote attributed to Augustine: Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.
Perhaps this comment from Gordon Kaufman from his book In Face of Mystery can help us:
“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 towards a fully human world within the ecological restraints here on planet Earth, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of existence.”
What do you think of this? I will tip my hand: I like it.
Help me think through all this… What are your thoughts, concerns??