But if he is not in control?

I have put up a few posts that have referred to Open Theology that suggested God not being in control. It has provoked a few comments and even an email or two so thought maybe I should explore it a little further in a post. I have always leaned toward what is known as Open Theology where the future is not fixed and that it is not known in an absolute sense by God. Arminianism holds to a future that is known and Calvninism a future that is fixed. The divergence is really over how foreknowledge and predestination interrelate. For Calvinism foreknowledge is because of predestination. God has set something in motion, the outworking is according to his will and divine purpose therefore foreknowledge follows as an absolute. Arminianism reverses those. God knows the future and so what is predestined is according to what he foreknows. If we add to that the possibility of God being outside of time suggesting that he sees the end and the beginning simultaneously. Outside of time gives me immense issues (so Greek and not Hebraic) as it means that everything that has taken place, is taking place and has not yet taken place is now at one given ‘moment’ taking place in God’s experience. Really? The God who thinks, responds, reacts, ‘repents’, waits to see what we will do is not presented as an ‘outside of time’ One. We can resort to those descriptions of God as being anthropomorphic (though I am not convinced by that) or that there are aspects of God we do not understand, and insist that we cannot say ‘man’ (sic) with a loud voice and result with the word ‘God’ – as Barth said. Yet this God is knowable so we cannot simply make him the wholly other to us.

I was first introduced to Open Theology through YWAM and one of their main teachers in their discipleship schools, Gordon Olson, then came the writings of Clark Pinnock, James Sanders, Greg Boyd and others. Perhaps then for me the book Uncontrolling Love by Thomas Jay Oord was one of the best I have read on it. Open Theology challenges the supposed core historic given that God is in control. Comforting as that is at a personal level, it opens up a huge charge against God in the face of natural calamities, human abuse and the tragedy of suffering. God in total control is a comfort to me when I don’t know which way to turn, and probably is of comfort for those displaced from their nation en route to the ‘safety’ of Europe, but for those whose ‘boat’ has just deflated on the Mediterranean and they cannot swim and there is no rescue at hand I am not sure they are comforted that what they are about to experience is the will of God.

At least the Arminian position is easier to sit with, though if God is all powerful and he knew certain events would happen why no intervention? For the Calvinist (and the Muslim) where the will of God is being fulfilled it is genuinely hugely more difficult to explain, other than resorting to the category of ‘mystery’.

Uncontrolling love does not mean:

  • everything is out of control. A parent or guardian who does not control their children in an absolute sense does not mean that without control all children run amok. Values and an inner conscience bring some measure of self-control.
  • that God is without power and can do nothing! However, it does put a far greater emphasis on the effect of prayer.
  • that God does not know us. He knows us better than anyone else ever could. He has been present with us from conception.
  • that he does not have a purpose for our lives. It does not mean that he cannot speeak prophetically to us about events yet to come (and bear in mind that prophecy is conditional).

Uncontrolling love begins with ‘God is love’ and that love is releasing, he travels with us, works for our good with whatever room we gives to him. It means that the tragedies in the world are tragedies to us and to him – there is no ‘mystery at work’ for some higher purpose, though God will work through all things and there can come incredible redemptive results. The redemptive results do not witness to how there was a higher purpose but to the everlasting, unchanging, redemptive love of God. Witness Joseph to see a God at work. Betrayed and sold into slavery, but at the end he more or less states ‘you did not do this, but God did it!’. I suggest that he is responding with a heartfelt emotionally healed statement rather than a theologically nuanced response!

Uncontrolling love means that to use the term ‘omnipotence’ in the sense that God can do anything (but does not seem to!) is meaningless. It is not to suggest that there are limitations to the power of God, but that love determines where that power is shown and that love is uncontrolling.

Uncontrolling love means that God looks for partnership (prayer / availability / faith) to intervene. The heavens ‘belong’ to God but the earth is in the hands of humanity (Ps. 115:16). This is the pattern from the beginning, with humanity as the stewards for God on earth. The situation is further compounded with the partnership between humanity and the fallen powers. To destroy the works of the devil as a human was the task set before the Son of Man. His mission was to see on earth as in heaven and he gave that prayer to the disciples.

To pray let your kingdom come, is to acknowledge that the manifest extent of God’s rule does not include creation. Creation itself sees it this way as it waits for a manifestation of the children of God. Hence prayer is vital. When we pray we do not know all that is involved. There are factors at times beyond ‘God come do this’ that we might not be aware of, yet it is that prayer and desire that releases the hand of God.

Unanswered prayer…!!!!!!! Sometimes it is that we were misguided and not clean in our motives, but there are times when prayer is not answered as we desired. Maybe we did not discern the resistance and remove it… and maybe a whole bunch of reasons that we don’t know why. Praying for healing and the result being premature death is a challenge. Scripture faces those things head on. Premature death is in Scripture and it is not expressed as the ‘will’ of God. One reason is the divisions and jealousies in the body of Christ – and it is not always the guilty ones who die!! Paul rebukes the Corinthians – ‘and some of you have died’ – no need to rebuke them if the guilty have already died. They seem still to be alive hence the rebuke.

For sure there are things we do not see clearly. There are disappointments in prayer, yet I do not see how we simply categorise all of them as the will of God. In and through all of them if we remain faithful he will pull through a higher purpose. He certainly works that way for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

The most positive aspect I find in the Open Theology field is that of partnering with heaven, of opening up a future that is good and healthy. I see nothing in it that minimises God, rather the opposite. A God who is never defeated, never depressed, always loving, always creatively calling, always longing for the partnership we can offer. There is no future that will take him by surprise, all possibilities and every permutation of it he knows. We are the ones who can create space for him, just as many throughout Scripture have before us.

However we work all this out God has us in his hands. ‘Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you… Be anxious about nothing, but in everything with thanksgiving make your requests known to him.’ So not controlling does not mean things are out of control and God can do nothing. He is with us and loves to hear us dialogue with him so that he can do those redemptive acts that do not cross the line of control. (The very real acts of judgement I consider have to nuance that limitation and there is an element to which judgement is an inbuilt result of behaviour.) He knows us intimately – from the mother’s womb and has been present throughout and will be.

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Why God Is Not in Control

Here is a link to an article by Tony Campolo: Why God is not in Control.

He begins with:

All too often when there is news of a tragedy, such as a mass shooting or a child suffering from bone cancer, there will be someone who will say something like, “God is in control. We must accept that what’s happened is part of God’s plan!”

At the funeral of a young man who died in a mountain climbing accident, the pastor said in his homily, “We must see what has happened as God’s will!” At that, the father of the young man stood and shouted, “The hell it was God’s will! When my son died, God was the first one who cried.”

Other excerpts:

The story I get straight from scripture is that there are evil non-rational principalities and powers that are loose in the world, sometimes working through evil people (Ephesians 2:2) and that God is not the author of the confusion and disorder that come from these destructive powers (1 Corinthians 14:33).

All that God created was meant to be good, as it says in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. Today, however, things are not as God willed for them to be…

As hard as it is for us to grasp, we have to accept that we have a God who was willing to give up power and give up control in order to live out love for us. That is what the cross is all about. The salvation story is about a God who humbles Himself and emptied Himself of power (the words “empty” is the translation of the word kenosis in the Greek of the New Testament) in order to express fully His love for us. In Christ, God became weak for our sakes and became, according to the theologian Jürgen Moltmann, the Crucified God. It’s the choice that God made when he came to us in Jesus Christ.

As a professor at Eastern University, I earnestly try to challenge my students to define themselves as agents of God..

On the societal level, they all are called to participate in the political process in wrestling against the “principalities and powers.” According to theologians such as Walter Wink and Hendrikus Berkhof, these powers and principalities include the corporate institutional structures of government and economic systems so that they can do the good that God wills for them to do, rather than the evil for which they are often responsible (Ephesians 6:12).

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Two crosses

caidosThe cross over Franco’s tomb provoked for me a serious question as we went there to pray in the Spring of last year. My question was whether if one uses the cross in a wrong way does it tap into the power of the cross and release that power, but release it negatively – a little like electricity (as a ‘good’ power) lights and heats a house, but if wired wrongly it does not serve well but is actually destructive. Some of that did not fit well with me as the power of the cross is not some sort of abstract power source. God’s rule is kenotic, is self-emptying love, not some sort of sovereign crushing power. But why the cross?

I am considering that we have two crosses which, dependent on which cross is chosen, of course will reflect back somewhere into the nature of the Gospel. There is the Constantinian cross (‘in this sign you will conquer’) that can be placed on the banners and it results in yielding evidence of its power by vanquishing all foes. As such it is aligned to an imperial power, and fits well with Christendom and all forms of getting the right person(s) in power. It was that kind of cross that manifested in the Civil War with Franco being a ‘son of Spain and a servant of God’. His conquering of the land was for the uniting of Spain and the uniting of it under God – a repeat of the ‘Reconquista’ that saw the Muslim rule in Spain end. A ‘Christian’ conquest that fitted with the wider context of the Crusades to rightly align Jerusalem to God. That cross gives us a right of power over and we are vindicated by it when we use force to establish righteousness, as that cross itself is a symbol of power.

The second cross represents a power of a different kind. It does speak of imperial power, but only when used against us. It is carried as an instrument that can be used by others – it is the same spirit as when Jesus sent out the disciples as ‘lambs among wolves’ (guess the favourite meat in the restaurants that wolves frequent?). There is no protection… unless heaven itself is involved. It takes faith to suggest that in the process of living for God that ‘no-one can take our lives from us’ but that the course we are on means we will ‘lay down our lives’ for others. It takes a whole load of faith to believe that such death is not the end, and in that death there is an undoing of imperial power.

The second cross is not the conventional sign of strength. Yet it is through that cross we are aligned to the God of heaven who give us a strength of courage that does not insist on one’s own will.

This (might) have implications for both the Gospel (good news) that we believe in and how we present it. Sovereignty will demand being appeased (Anselm: God’s honour to be restored; Reformers: an eternal debt to be paid). God will have to be bought off somehow. If we respond we will then be on the right side, all others on the wrong side. The cross as satisfying the wrath of God, that wrath being understood in personal terms. If the cross however fully satisfies the love of God, it becoming the symbol and act (when aligned to the resurrection) that fully shows us who our God is, then the work of the cross is to do a deep healing in us, to re-humanise us, to remove the scapegoating of the ‘other’, and to release us as reconcilers for the sake of others. This view of the cross will work more (note the word ‘more’) with alienation, shame and sickness than with ‘guilt’. It will see the necessity of Jesus’ true humanity being for our sake rather than for God’s sake.

The cross is to re-humanise us. The work that has to be undone is that of de-humanisation. The latter we all need to be delivered from. I don’t think the imperial cross can help at any level to re-humanise us and align us with the re-humanising God. Somewhere on the spectrum of the two crosses one seems to me to be a parody of the real one.

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Sovereignty, suffering, and a little comment on the Brexit

Been a while since I have posted, and no real reason and no excuses. Certainly cannot blame God – ‘he stopped me blogging’ will not quite stack up!! A little trivial example but we can so quickly suggest God’s deep involvement in our activities. So with that as a terrible backdrop I am putting a few things together in this post that all suggest an involvement from heaven that might be beyond what is justifiable.

A few days ago I read a tweet along the lines of ‘Power and patriarchy means that to have a God in control we have to insist on a God who controls everything’. I have not quoted it exactly as it is from memory, but that was the content more or less. I would change the wording a little as ‘control’, even in the sense of ‘in control’ is too strong. However, it remains that too often we resort to a God of power and a sovereignty backed up by (all-mighty) power as being the means by which God will achieve ultimate order.

I think on a number of fronts there is a divide between two gospels, or at least two divergent approaches to the one gospel, that makes for a small and uncomfortable overlap where working together can be achieved, and by uncomfortable I mean on both ‘sides’. One of these fronts is on the sovereignty / love approaches. Language is one of the primary means by which meaning is expressed and the words ‘God is sovereign’ almost always carry with them the concept of a God in control by nature of his might and power. The love stream rejects such a view of sovereignty, and can even question whether God is ‘in control’ certainly in the sense of everything reflecting his sovereign will. (I will come back to this below.)

I did eventually learn how to spell the surname of the man with the first name ‘John’ who had a connection to Geneva, but even having mastered that I never did quite get to the point of submitting to the contents of his Institutes – hey at least I bought my own copy!! So not being a great fan of that theological approach, it will be no surprise that the people over at the Gospel Coalition have not really won me over either. It is amazing that given how sincere and godly they are that my approach and their’s are poles apart. Here is a short clip on suffering. I respect their faith, indeed what might be seen as their unquestioning belief which is founded on their approach to Scripture. To be able to say that the death of a one year old brings glory to God even if we cannot understand that shows a level of faith that is incredible. I simply question if this is reflective of biblical faith.

That God works in the midst of suffering is a given – the cross tells us this. That Scripture over and over connects suffering, time and glory is another given. Maybe when I have no answer I, even in my despair over Syria or the continual bombings in Iraq since ‘we’ went to bring about a new order, think that maybe in the age to come God will put things right for those who have been caught up in that suffering, whether they have faith in him or not. I like to think there has to be some answer from the cross for those people.

Rom. 8:28 is quoted in the video:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This verse is applied by Paul to believers – not just from the phrase ‘those who love God’ but from the wider context of the Spirit within us groaning (parallel to the Spirit’s groan within creation). We can have a confidence that whatever comes our way as we respond to God, he will enter into our situation as a redeemer, there is in that sense a level of eternal purpose and value. We are those who God values as being instruments for a good outcome for the whole of creation. This does not mean that God sends those ‘all things’, nor that those ‘all things’ are either good nor are they the ‘will of God’. Translation wise we can either translate it with ‘God works all things’, in the sense of he is involved within our space regardless of what comes up, or that, as above, the ‘all things work together…’ We can go either way as the verb has no direct subject, either way it seems that Paul’s point is not about a sovereign God who ordains all things but a God deeply involved with us even in our weaknesses. So I con’t go to the place where the video goes. No that path from divine sovereignty is not the one for me.

Suffering in Scripture is predominantly about suffering for the Gospel’s sake, and that is not through being confrontational in our presentation but accepting that to live godly we have to stand with the oppressed against the power of the status quo. Death does not bring glory to God, how one handles the issues surrounding death are where glory is brought to God or not. Death is a statement not of the will of God but of the state of creation, but when we look to the cross we see that death is not the final word – there is hope beyond.

So a final little angle. The ‘brexit’ vote. Right or wrong? Not being one who sees any substance to a ‘revived Roman empire’ and consider that is missing the whole issue of imperial rule that far from being defeated by withdrawal only empowers it. To resist sovereignty with sovereignty!!?? And as one who sees ‘one world government’ and the like as the very thing Jesus came to undo then so as we can work for a new future now, all the fear of losing a Christian heritage does not connect with me at all. (I also think we confuse a so-called Christian heritage for an imposition of Christendom values.)

For those who are coming at this with a sovereign hat on… if that hat is placed on God’s head then we have to be careful not to resist his will – as if we could!! What if the EU us all about the rise of antiChrist? To resist his rise might be to resist the will of God. To aid his rise does not seem right either. Paralysis, normally spelt fear, anxiety and let me repeat what others have said so as I am not alone in my paralysis. And for those who insist on ‘take back our sovereignty’, how far do we take it back – Scotland, maybe Orkney needs to go free from the loss of sovereignty too? Or are we to look to find a new place to serve in a wider context – all for the sake of the other?

Well the vote will take place in a few days time. Before and after the vote God will work within whatever is given to him for the sake of his world. If we suffer as a result let it be for the sake of the Gospel, and let us not lay the suffering ticket at God’s door.

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Sovereignty and walls

As I still wait for my postal vote re the EU referendum to come I read two articles this morning that I want to give a heads up on.

I recall someone I have got to know in the past couple of years on the morning of 9-11 many hours before the events at the twin towers hearing the Holy Spirit say ‘today the world will change for ever’. We live in a world that is changing rapidly. In such times there are incredible pulls back to an old way (Jesus said no one drinking new wine wants it – the old being considered so much better) and there is also a supply of new thought to sustain change.

‘The EU will mean a loss of sovereignty’, so goes a common argument. And there is a sense in which this makes sense if we are objecting to decisions being made by unaccountable and un-rooted office bearers that dictate life on the street. With that I have sympathy and wrote a few days ago about friends in Romania who had to supply water within a narrow temperature spectrum to kids on a rubbish dump. Such bureaucracy is ‘demonic’ as it is not enabling the release of life. However, too often the sovereignty word is used with theological baggage that defends an insularity and a closing of doors. Roger argues that the way of love is to see sovereignty weakened not upheld.

Giles article in the Guardian… well better just read it. Here is a challenging quote:

In this era of advanced globalisation, we believe in free trade, in the free movement of goods, but not in the free movement of labour. We think it outrageous that the Chinese block Google, believing it to be everyone’s right to roam free digitally.

The world has changed for ever. It did way back at the Cross, but I suspect that the manifestation of that Universal impact manifests in specific historical time-spans in the most incredible ways. In our era it changed so significantly. As Giles points out globalisation on the one hand is pulling us together and polarisation is keeping us more separate than ever. What kind of globalisation do we want to be involved in? One that further polarises or one that breaks down the dividing walls.

Last night on a news program Varoufakis was speaking concerning Spain. He said that Spain is not Greece (size of economy in particular) and can in and through these next elections (June 26) move in a direction to save Europe from itself. I commented to Gayle – the apostolic Gospel is in the soil of this land, could it be that he is unknowingly pulling on that?

The world has changed… the gospel has not, but our understanding of the implications and potential impact of the gospel is changing. The gospel speaks into globalisation and economics and has the power of salvation within it – even to the saving of a continent that (in myth and reality) is the child of rape.

While I wait for my postal vote to come I also read that apparently, by mistake, some EU (but non-UK) citizens have been sent papers to vote! A little ironic… yet sometimes others see what is best for us!

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