I decided to broaden this post, perhaps fatally so. We shall see.
Because I am a Seminarian and I have the luxury of indulging myself, I’ve been thinking alot about the nature of God lately. Obviously, this is infinitely complicated, and I encourage any of you who read this and want to respond to do so in any way you wish. Like many questions I wonder about, this one is ultimatley unanswerable, but here a few disjointed thoughts.
A lot of our religious language, especially of the liturgical persuasion, speaks of God as sovereign. For me, however, this language doesn’t really ring true when compared to actual experience of 1) sovereigns and 2) God. We use the “sovereign” words like “Lord”, “Ruler of the universe”, “Creator”, “Christ the King” (for the incarnated God), etc., but these words seem like they must mean something different, because God isn’t a sovereign in the way that human beings are sovereigns, or even the way other Gods have been thought of as sovereign historically.
Not only does God not seem to legitimate any particular polity, but God doesn’t seem to enforce God’s own rules. God doesn’t seem to force anything, really, and isn’t a sovereign the one with a monopoly on the use of force? What kind of sovereign would allow their laws to be completely ignored, even trampled on? What kind of sovereign doesn’t send an army to save his child who’s going to be executed wrongly in a foreign country? What kind of sovereign says “ask and it shall be given to you” but then, when someone asks, often nothing is given, and no explanation is offered?
The answer seems to be: a non-sovereign one.
So, when we use all of our language about a sovereign God, we seem to mean something other than “sovereign.” Maybe we mean “sovereign of Heaven”, but then that begs the question “what is Heaven?” A magical place above the clouds where you play a harp when you die? (the Warner Brothers’ Heaven) Or is it the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus said was inaugurated with his arrival in the world, but which in the past two thousand years has had such a slow start? Because those are just two options, and they’re very very different.
Maybe we mean “sovereign of our lives” or even more vaguely “sovereign of our hearts”, but then where’s the evidence? Do we really lead more “Christian” lives than people who have come before us? Or even more “Christian” lives than non-Christians around us? Are we really justified/sanctified islands in a sea of depravity?
And even though our sovereign language about God comes from scripture, a lot of the time the God in scripture acts more like a trickster deity, like Raven or Coyote or Hanuman, than a sovereign deity. God seems to function through reversals; God’s will is expressed through irony, God accomplishes things obliquely, through counterintuitive intermediaries. In order to make the most important point, God becomes a human being, preaches and heals for three years, and then gets beaten up and killed. God is then resurrected, but is no longer incarnated, seemingly, and shortly thereafter disappears, to reappear, sort of, as tongues of flame and glossolalia and wind. And that’s just one version of the story that we have.
For me, there’s a diconnect between the God I experience, the God I speak about with liturgical language that I’ve mostly inherited, the God I philosophize about, and the God I read about in scripture. Now, obviously, there’s some connectivity there too or else I wouldn’t be spending my time in a Seminary. But still. It seems like God’s identity is very post-modern, very multi-valent after all. But this is a problem when someone asks you “who is God?” or “what do you believe?” or “what’s important about being a Christian?”, and the common answers (Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior) and the orthodox answers (see: every catechism ever written) just don’t do it for me. So I end up fumbling around like an idiot, like I just did on this blog. How can something so important to me be something I’m so bad at talking about? That’s a sad state of affairs, ladies and gentlemen.