God is not in control. I don’t care how many times Twila Paris repeats the chorus of her 1993 song making that declaration. It does not matter how many pastors declare it from the pulpit. Nor does it matter how many times well-meaning Christians pronounce it in an attempt to comfort those who are going through hard times. If God were in control, then there would be no need for Jesus to teach us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” because God’s rule and reign would already be here.
A God in Control is Terrifying
And the truth is, as we explored last week, the idea of God being in control, is terrifying. God being in control means God is behind not only things that affect us individually like the loss of a job, an incurable illness, or the death of a child, but large scale catastrophes like wars, famines, and natural disasters. If God is in control, then how is the God of the Bible any different than the ancient Babylonian deity Marduk? A God who is in control means the opening story of Genesis is not a counter-narrative, but a reinforcing of the Babylonian, Enuma Elish.
But the idea of a God in control flows from thinking about God as object. Everything changes when God becomes subject.
God as Subject
In contrast to God as object, where we think of God as a noun, God as subject is a verb. In other words, God is action and activity. Notice, this is not the same as saying that God does stuff, after all, that would be God as a noun and the activity as a verb.
God as object makes God the creator of water. God as subject sees God in the wetness of the water. Do you see the distinction? God does not move, God is in the movement. God does not breath, God is in the breath. There is a reason scholars think God’s name in the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh, is an inhale on “Yah” and an exhale on “weh.”
Declaration vs. Invitation
God as subject knows no bounds. God is everywhere, not doing but being. Being what? Love that constantly invites everything that is to embrace its belonging until it is, as God declares at the end of the opening creation myth, “Very good!”
If this is true then those potent words, “Let there be light!” are not the booming command we typically envision, but an invitation for light to do what light does. God gives light permission to shine, to embrace its role in the world by dividing day from night. The same is true with the arrival of sky, land, and sea, as well as the creatures that dwell on and in them. Within each are an identity and a purpose that the divine voice of love wants them to embrace and embody.
But, because God is not in control, we find ourselves in a world that constantly seeks to unmake us and draw us back into the void.
Ways We Are Unmade
An obsession with the bottom line prompts consumeristic capitalism to see workers are replaceable cogs, stripped of individual significance and purpose. Their only value? Doing the tasks that feed the bottom line for wages that subtract as little as possible from it. It is an economic structure that aggressively works against the divine voice of love.
Religion often does something very similar by proclaiming God be the one who defines rather than the one who invites. This God establishes all the rules and regulations and your role is to conform yourself to them, never mind what it does to that inner voice, that divine spark, that cries out aching to be heard and embodied.
The same is true of tragedy, be it a life-altering medical diagnosis, losing everything in a natural disaster, or the death of a beautiful baby boy like Matty.
So what do you say when you stand between three generations of extended family and a 24” inch coffin? I declared the death of a child wrong. I recognized the watery abyss the family now found themselves being tossed about in. And I assured the family that the divine voice of love that invites us all towards the very good continues to speak, even if they can’t hear it as the waves crash around them. Then I echoed that voice of love through presence.
To go back to the question that started these posts on God as object and subject, “Is God the inflictor of both pain and joy?” No. God is the inflictor of neither because God is not the actor but the inviter. God is not the cause but God points us towards a cure. It is something God as subject began when the Spirit first hovered over the watery abyss and continues today as the divine voice speaks love into our experiences, wooing us into a space of belonging.
Video: Breathe by Rob Bell
There are few people out there who are more creative in their expression of deep theological concepts like Rob Bell. Here is his take on Yahweh in our breath.
Drawing on scripture, history, and spiritual practice, Rohr articulates a transformative view of Jesus Christ as a portrait of God’s constant, unfolding work in the world. “God loves things by becoming them,” he writes, and Jesus’s life was meant to declare that humanity has never been separate from God – except by its own negative choice. When we recover this fundamental truth, faith becomes less about proving Jesus was God, and more about learning to recognize the Creator’s presence all around us, and in everyone we meet.
Podcast: Another Name For Everything with Richard Rohr
Another Name for Every Thing with Richard Rohr is a conversational podcast series on the deep connections between action and contemplation. Richard is joined by two students of the Christian contemplative path, Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson, who seek to integrate the wisdom amidst diapers, disruptions, and the shifting state of our world. It began as an exploration into Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ.
Book: Consuming Religion by Vincent J. Miller
Consuming Religion surveys almost a century of scholarly literature on consumerism and the commodification of culture and charts the ways in which religious belief and practice have been transformed by the dominant consumer culture of the West. It demonstrates the significance of this seismic cultural shift for theological method, doctrine, belief, community, and theological anthropology. It is not an easy read (or a cheap one) but it reveals one reason why Christianity is broken.
Take last week’s list of ways you thought about God as object. Write out how you would have approached things differently in that situation if you saw God as subject.
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