30 May 2008

TOE jam

(Parenthetical word to the wise: I definitely do not recommend doing an online image search using the term "toe". Most of the results are really gross, in a fascinating variety of yuckness.)

So P3T3 is in search of TOE's (Theories of Everything). He says (unless I misread him): physicists know they lack one, and are seeking one fervently; fundamentalists act as if they've got one, but don't; evangelicals sort of have one, yet leave key terms undefined (kinda wise, if you ask me); and emergentingishlicalian Christians ought to be seeking one to avoid divide-by-zero errors such as classic pitfalls surrounding hell, the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus, and the (excellent) question, "Does God hate brown people?"

Now, I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of TOE's (apart from the 10 fleshy ones that most of us have - this despite having just now seen about 100 disgusting online photos of said digits). They sort of strike me as the epitome of hubris. I'd much rather just admit I don't have that level of clue, and probably never will.

HOWEVER, I do recognize that it's impossible to do really authentic, quality, high-level, big-picture thinking without edging into the territory of TOE's - and that TOE's are, by definition, theories. (You know - "just" a theory - like evolution, or gravity.) This means that any TOE, no matter how comprehensive, is by definition provisional. I'm pretty sure that the physicists burning the midnight oil trying to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics realize that their success (should they succeed) will one day seem rather limited and perhaps even naive, however useful it might be in its time, place, and conditions.

I think Physics learned that one long about the time time the last ivory-tower holdout said, "FINE. You win. There's no such thing as aether. Are you happy now?? Gorram kraut Einstein." - and then picked up his toys and went home.

(Religion, I fear, hasn't learned that lesson yet, by and large.)

So with that in mind (that this is provisional, limited, speculative, and in all likelihood simply full of crap), I'll take a stab at a vaguely TOE-like line of reasoning that has helped shape my thinking around some of Pete's emerging-church divide-by-zero errors. Here's what I think, based upon my personal "three-legged stool" of Scripture, community, and experience:

God is Love, and God is the Father of all creatures. God loves each and every creature - certainly including each and every human being ever born - to a degree that we can't grasp. Every human being: Pharoah, Judas, Nero Caesar, Hitler, Pol Pot - everybody.

I very strongly suspect that God never gives up on that love for any one of us. Admittedly, this suspicion is based largely on the third leg of my stool, "experience" - but also on my reading of the character of Jesus in the New Testament. My personal understanding of God and God's character makes it pretty much inconceivable to me that a God who is Love would ever give up that love for any child of God. Therefore, I disagree with those who interpret Scripture to say that one's eternal fate is sealed upon the moment of death: that doctrine, IMHO, places limits on God's love.

Does this make me a universalist? Maybe. Quite honestly, I don't really care one way or the other about that label. But though I don't admit the possibility of God giving up on any of us, I do admit the possibility of us giving up on God, and never repenting of that desertion for all eternity. Frankly, this seems unlikely to me, but I admit that it's possible. Just as I hesitate to place limits on God's love, it seems unwise to place limits on the extent to which we talking monkeys are capable of thrusting our heads up our asses.

So that's part of my personal TOE: I think that God is Love, and that God loves all God's creatures, and that God never, ever gives up on that love.

Which leads me another thought. I sort of feel like there's been a tendency, through the ages, of people within the Church equating "the Church" with "the set of people who are loved by God". This equation has sometimes been explicit, but often seems to be an unstated assumption. It seems implicit in the culture of consumer Christianity: churches must not expect much from churchgoers, because they must be places for everyone who has decided to say "yes" to God's love.

It's widely known that deciding to follow Jesus with one's whole life and be obedient to God's risky call is a different thing from simply deciding to give mental assent to God's loving reconciliation in Jesus Christ. But (the thinking seems to go), the Church consists of all those who love and are loved by God, whether they choose to try following in the dangerous footsteps of Jesus or not - and our churches, therefore, must be comfortable places for those who don't make that choice.

But what if the set of people who are loved by God is not the set of people called "the Church", but instead the one called "everybody"? Then what is the Church? My thought - and it's a rude one, I admit - is that "the Church" is actually the set of people who are earnestly trying to respond to Jesus' invitation, "Take up your cross and follow me." This set of people may have (and does have) a WIDE variety of interpretations of what that looks like - from the most fundamentalist to the most liberal, to mention just one possible "axis" of opinion.

But the reason I say this is a "rude thought" is that this implies (IMHO) that there are an awful lot of folks who are members of churches but who are not members of the Church, and probably never will be - because there's no expectation that "the Church" is anything other than "those who are loved by God and know it".

My suggestion is that God's love is for everyone - it's an enormous, immense, incredible gift of grace for every human being. But God has other gifts too. God's Son has a yoke that is good, and risky, and dangerous, and joyful, and surprising, and demanding, and maybe a little bit nuts. Not everybody wants that yoke - and that's OK! God doesn't love those who try to follow Jesus one iota more than those who don't. But following Jesus is an enormous gift, and when we confuse that gift with the gift of God's love, given freely to all, we do no one a service.

So I think that's how I, personally, do-si-do around P3T3's divide-by-zero.

Hell? Maybe - if we can be stubborn enough in our hatred to outlast God's love - which means holding onto it until the end of time.

Exclusivity? No way, if you're talking about the love of God - but yes, obviously, if you're talking about following Jesus. It's a matter of obvious fact that not everybody tries to follow Jesus - not every human, and not every churchgoer - and that may be because they're not aware of the option. (Though many people who have never heard of Jesus - or who have heard of him, but have been put off by Christians or their doctrines - choose to live much more like him than I do!)

God hating brown people? Well, I sure as hell hope not. I admit I'm still a little weirded out that the enormous gift of following in the way of Jesus is something that needed to spread by word of mouth from a single point in time and geography.

But that's the undeniable pattern of history, and of every historical gift from God - including so many that have come to us at times and in places where brown people live. It's weird, when you think about it - but peculiar distribution of gifts is a lesser matter, I guess, than excluding some of God's children from the very love of God.

And that's as far as my TOE's have carried me today.

Photo: "Big Toe goes to Dharamsala" by Qaanaaq (rights)

1 comment:

BB said...

Great post man. Loved it!