look in the mirror


It continues to frustrate me at how many Christians think they’ve got it all right. And then cloak their theological confidence with a sort of godly servanthood – “I’m just a faithful Christian reading my Bible.” How does that engender conversation, acknowledge that others may have alternative views that are also biblical, or at least display a moderate level of humility towards what we hold as truth?

This issue of theological certainty was again brought to my attention with the varied Christian responses to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. Most have already heard of Pat Robertson’s rambling conjecture on Haitian history and God’s judgment. Unfortunately, most global catastrophes bring similar responses from popular preachers and theological tacticians.

This morning I read Drew Tatusko’s description of the background to these responses, what he calls a “destructive theology” in which God’s mercy and judgment are seen as equal characteristics. And while proponents of God’s absolute sovereignty and judgment point to the Old Testament examples of God’s judgment to support mercy and judgment together, Tatusko refutes such a perspective – “It is entirely rooted in a logical fallacy focusing only on specific narratives of judgment without engaging the judgment of mercy in Jesus Christ.” Tatusko goes on to provide a compelling counter to the Robertson ilk by revealing how “in Christ, God is revealed as one who reaches out to the lost and the suffering and finds favor among them first.” I was reminded of a lecture I heard in the fall to which we were challenged, “Is our Christology high enough to go so low” and love “the least of these” (Mt. 25:31-46)?

Enough people - Tatusko my latest encounter - have exposed the inconsistencies in Robertson-like responses to suffering in our world. I think enough’s been said.

In the midst of the variety of Christian responses to Haiti, however, I’ve been reminded at just how diverse our views on God and the Bible really are. I actually don’t think our diversity is necessarily a bad thing, on a one condition of course: people need to look in the mirror and acknowledge their own presuppositions about God and the Bible instead of claiming to represent “traditional Christian doctrine” as is often the case. For example, Tatusko himself represents a particular view of biblical interpretation in which the person of Jesus Christ is the main interpretative grid. I happen to believe that same approach is essential to understanding the character of God. As my own denominational Confession of Faith states, “The person, teaching and life of Jesus Christ, bring continuity and clarity to both the Old and New Testament.” Realizing my own specific view of the Bible, then, I can least understand how someone like Robertson could come to his conclusions, even if I don’t agree with them (Donald Miller attempts such understanding here).

All this to say, when faced with difficult questions of faith and theology, I think our theological method should be likened to looking in a mirror – a way of exposing how our own beliefs and experiences shape our understanding of God and the world. Looking in our own mirror, our church’s mirror, and even Christianity’s mirror – humility in belief and practice – can hopefully begin to correct the multitude of misconceptions about God that our theological certainty has sadly spread.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

You might enjoy reading these two articles by David Bentley Hart on the same subject:
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3301

http://payingattentiontothesky.com/422/tsunami-and-theodicy-by-david-b-hart/

David Warkentin said...

Thanks for the links Andrew! Makes me realize how much wisdom there is in the Eastern tradition that often goes unnoticed or flat-out ignored.

I like this quote from the second link:

"our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity."

And this one in the first (in reference to a response to suffering):

"a rage against explanation, a refusal to grant that the cruelty or brute natural misfortune or evil of any variety can ever be justified by some 'happy ending'..."

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