Does God Need Humanity?
Okay, Anna, you hooked me.
1) Why does mankind exist; in an otherwise previously perfect world?
2) An axiom of religious belief is that mankind needs God; does God also need mankind? How much? Have the needs changed over time?
Well. There’s one for you. Several actually.
And if the number of books scattered about my table, and the post-it note tabs extending from the pages, and the time spent mulling and investigating since I got this one are any indication, there’s a lot here to consider.
You’ve seen me use Capon already. Here’s another Capon quote that is apropos. It’s from his Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair with Theology.
“Let me tell you why God made the world.
One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations. From all eternity, it seems, he had had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things – new ways of being and new kinds of beings to be. And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, ‘Really, this is absolutely great stuff. Why don’t I go out and mix us up a batch?’ And God the Holy Spirit said, ‘Terrific! I’ll help you.’ So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Spirit put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place, and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses. There were mushrooms and mastodons, grapes and geese, tornadoes and tigers – and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them, and to love them. And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and said, ‘Wonderful! just what I had in mind! Tov! Tov! Tov!’ And all God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could think of to say was the same thing:’Tov! Tov! Tov!’ So they shouted together ‘Tov meod!’ and they laughed for ages and ages, saying things like how great it was for beings to be, and how clever of the Father to think of the idea, and how kind of the Son to go to all that trouble putting it together, and how considerate of the Spirit to spend so much time directing and choreographing And for ever and ever they told old jokes, and the Father and the son drank their wine in unitate Spiritus Sancti, and they all threw ripe olives and pickled mushrooms at each other per omnia saecula saeculorum, Amen.
It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest. Everybody knows that God is not three old men throwing olives at each other. Not everyone, I’m afraid, is equally clear that God is not a cosmic force or a principle of being or any other dish of celestial blancmange we might choose to call him. Accordingly, I give you the central truth that creation is the result of a trinitarian bash, and leave the details of the analogy to sort themselves out as best they can.”
Can’t go wrong with Capon.
We’ve got humor, joy, wine, and theology.
What more could a person want?
“From all eternity, it seems, he had had this thing about being.“
Recall that at the burning bush, when Moses was just minding his own business shepherding, God attempted him to convince him to give up his day job and instead save his people. And after excuse after excuse (it’s really a marvelously funny little story) a bewildered and vexed Moses says, “Well, and anyway, who would I tell them sent me anyways?” And the response was, YHWH.
Which is bewildering and vexing in and of itself, because ancient Hebrew didn’t exactly put a high premium on vowels. (Think b-d…bad? bed? bid? bod? bud?) HOWEVER, we are pretty sure that it has something to do with be-ing. I AM is our best guess.
And that great turn of phrase, “From all eternity” makes reference to the creation of things…I AM can’t help but bring things into be-ing. It’s a habit.
But why? Why did God bother?
As I’ve often said, when you got yourself 7 theologians, you got yourself 17 opinions.
I could prove my theory here, but I’m going to bottom line it for you, a brief summary of the spins on the question about why God created. Naturally, we will end up with more questions, and a smattering of possible responses.
Jürgen Moltmann, German theologian, believes that God created because God willed creation. It’s not an accidental emanation, not a by-product, but a divine choice. It is “ecstatic love: it leads him to go out of himself and to create something which is different from himself but which non the less corresponds to him.” It’s much like a couple who choses to have children, not because they are incomplete and unsatisfied amongst themselves, but because there is an exuberance of their shared love that can not be contained. In fact, many feminist theologians note that there is a stunning parallel between the child in a woman’s womb and the creation of the world in God: dependence borne out of love and sacrifice and a desire to uphold and protect all the while being aware of the reality of risk and suffering…and doing it anyway.
But then the theologian/scientists are fascinated with the question of freedom: how much freedom would God have had to create the world? Mark Worthing points out Stephen Hawking’s observation that “At the big bang and other singularites, all the laws would have broken down, so God would still have had complete freedom to choose what happened and how the universe began.” But Worthing points out that Einstein wasn’t content with this sort of thinking, instead crying out, “What I’m really interested in is whether God could have made the world in a different way!” His question was echoed by William Stoeger (and retold by Elizabeth Johnson) who asked at the Catholic Theological Society of America whether if the universe’s clock were to be unwound and rewound, would it turn out exactly in the same way?
And then there is the question about the nature of God. Ted Peters makes the frustratingly obvious point that “…prior to the creating act, God is not yet a creator.” And in that relationship, Peters says, not only is creation per se created, but also a relationship between the creator and creation. Worthing uses Thomas F. Torrance to make the same point. Torrance writes: “Any attempt to explicate knowledge of God outside of or apart from those structures of space and time [that God created] is inevitably and essentially irrational. We cannot know God apart from the way in which he interacts with the world he has made or apart from the way in which we are constituted his creatures within that world….It is only from within the …universe and through the medium of its contingent realities that we may articulate the knowledge God gives us of himself, even though he infinitely transcends the universe.” Upshot is that if we don’t pay attention to the creation, we can’t expect to have a sense of the creator.
Which brings us to yet another question at hand: Did God create once, or does God continue to create? It is a question that unfortunately has often been presented as an either/or: creatio ex nihilio, creation out of nothing, or creatio continua, creation in continuance. That is, did God create once and call it good, or does God continue to be involved, calling new things into be-ing?
Peters, for one, likes the notion of both, in tandem. “The first thing God did for the cosmos,” he writes, “was to give it a future.” So Peters thinks that God created, and then continues to create from that gift of the future–from the future. That is, says he, “To be is to have a future, God’s future.” We are gifted another present moment from the future. Bernhard Anderson observes that “It is significant that prophetic portrayals of God’s future are sketched not in unearthly terms but in terms of a transformed earth in which justice and peace will prevail.” God likes the world, and seeks to reconcile and redeem it, not destroy it. This is awfully Moltmann-esque, architect of the Theology of Hope, a wave of theological thinking that has transformed reflection about God and the world since the sixtes. He believes that Christians live according to a theology of promise, one which speaks not only of God as the creator, but of a new creation–one to which we can attest and model. “God,” says Sallie McFague, “is on the side of the oppressed to liberate, heal, and include them. That is God’s main activity–and ours–in relation to creation.”
And then what of the relationship between humanity and God? Whereas Psalm 104 names humans and animals as enjoying equal status before God, Anderson doesn’t miss that overwhelmingly, scripture depicts humanity as a special, articulate presence before God. “They are made for conversation with God, for a dialogue in an ‘I and thou’ relation….”
In steps process theology, a tradition that actually has its roots in philosophy. Its line of thinking teaches that God and creation respond to one another. Rather than a plan, there is a vision. Hans Schwarz sums up Alfred North Whitehead’s thinking by saying that “[God] confronts what is actual in the world with what is possible for it, and at the same time provides the means of merging the acutal with the possible.” Process thought, asserts Schwarz, believes in a God who is infinite and finite, or as Charles Hartshorne stated, “the integrated sum of existence.” Because God is not a tyrant or a dictator, God persuades rather than orders…which eliminates God’s responsibility for evil, according to David Ray Griffin.
And then you’ve got the feminist theologians who have contributed such rich notions of the Trinity to contemporary conversations about God. Karl Rahner gave us conceptual idea of the “immanent Trinity,” namely the relationship of the Trinity within itself, and the “economic Trinity,” namely the relation of the Trinity to the world, and feminist theologians have adopted it. Who God is within Godself bears upon the sort of relationship that this God has with that which this God has created. “At the heart of holy mystery,” says Johnson, “is not monarchy but community; not an absolute ruler, but a threefold koinonia.” And she believes that friendship characterizes this relationship best, as well as God’s “friendliness” to the world, vis a vis hospitality, forgiveness, meal sharing, and equity. “The trinitarian symbol intimates a community of equals, so core to the feminist vision of ultimate shalom. It points to patterns of differentiation that are non-hierarchical, and to forms of relating that do not involve dominance.”
And I haven’t even begun to touch on nifty words like Shekinah, zimzum, and kenosis. You have no idea how many post-it note stickies are calling out to me even now.
But because it is almost midnight, I will close with some words from Grace Jantzen, who wrote this:
“…God as portrayed in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ conception of him is above everything else a God of love…But love that loves nothing is impossible. If God is essentially and eternally love, then God must have loved eternally. He has not existed for endless ages in isolation, nor can he look forward to a long solitary retirement after the duties of this workaday world are done and the universe disposed of. Rather, he has poured himself out, and will continue to do so, in loving manifestations of himself, in ways which, doubtless, we cannot even guess.”
I am hopeful that there are one or two things to continue to mull for you all!