Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time for an image shift

I just finished reading Rob Bell's book Love Wins.  At first glance I thought it would be a post-modern, evangelically emergent take on Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland's superb book If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person.  And to a certain degree it is.  It's written in brief paragraphs, the kind used by pastors when preaching a Sunday sermon, with the appearance of an epic poem.  On some days the story of faith is rather like an epic poem.  He uses stories from his own life and from folks who worship at the church he pastors.  He puts interesting spins on Bible stories and passages we think we know up and down.  As USA Today puts it: "One of the nation's rock-star-popular young pastors, Rob Bell, has stuck a pitchfork in how Christians talk about damnation.” Which is a relief, as most evangelicals have been using that pitchfork when speaking of salvation and what's required for it.

But when Rob Bell speaks about hell, when he takes away the abuse but leaves the sting of it and puts it in its place, he says nothing of the hell inflicted on others, the hell that we do not choose but has been chosen for us by those in power.  He says nothing about oppression, injustice, and the hell prisons that the powerless have been locked in and struggle to break loose from.  Hell on earth may be the consequences we suffer as a result of our own actions, but what of the hell on earth that is suffered as a result of the actions of others?  How does an abused woman take responsibility for her own hell?  How does she learn to trust the love a father God?

I posted this on Rob Bell's Facebook wall, which I think he doesn't even read, judging by the comments:
"I have deep concerns about the chapter "The Good News is Better Than That": the story you begin with about an abused woman and then you go on to tell the 'stories' of the father and his two sons. Why should a woman who's been hit by every man she's been with now trust the retelling of her story by a God who is male? We still continue to shape God as male and that definitely shapes some of us women in a way that is not only helpful but hurts."
I then received 7 comments declaring that God does not have a penis or reproductive organs and therefore I should not be offended, that God is Father in the Bible or that God isn't male but identifies himself that way or that we in our small minds can't know who God is, so God reveals God's self as Father but God isn't male.
Huh?  Last time I checked, my daughters' father is a male.
Jesus did a radical thing by calling God 'Father'.  Jesus brought close the Creator of the Universe, the One who fashioned the earth and the heavens--YHWH, I Am Who I Am, the ineffable.  The Church brought God even closer by declaring that Jesus was God in human form, the Word incarnate.  What has happened in the two millennia since then is that we have personalized God.  We have brought God so close that we think we know who God is.  We've rendered God powerless by thinking we have a handle on who God is.  Thus, we can also reject this God and walk away without a second thought.
We need another image shift in our relationship with God.  Not male, not female.  Jesus brought God close; now it's time to back up a bit and see the bigger picture.
Panentheism:  from the Greek pan (all), en (in), theos (God)--All in God.  "Everything is in God and God is in everything, but God is more than everything" (Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, 1828).  Or as it says in the Book of Acts: "In [God] we live and move and have our being."  Native Americans called it the Great Spirit.  Ancient hunter-gatherer societies worshiped the great Mother Goddess.  George Lucas called it the Force.  Australian Aborigines speak to Divine Oneness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to God as "the Beyond that is in our midst".  Immanence and transcendence.  No names, no gender.  All names, all genders.  More and more.
Interestingly enough, Rob Bell made a short film entitled "She", about the feminine characteristics of God, about how we cannot understand God until we recognize the feminine qualities that God possesses.  I just wish he had used the Isaiah passage he mentions, regarding God having compassion like a mother, when he introduced his chapter with the story of the abused woman.  It would have been so much better.  Then he could have given his different take on the father and the two sons.
Here's the film:

No comments: