Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What is it we call God?

As some f/Friends have been writing about what it means to be Christian, I've been thinking about what we mean when we say "God" - omnipotence? omniscience? Lovingkindness? Justice? Tsedaka v' chesed? And what does our definition of God say about what's important to us?

There are lots of answers to the classic question posed by Job: why me? Why do good people suffer? Why does anyone suffer? There's the answer that Job gets: unless you were around for the founding of the universe, you couldn't possibly understand even the basic explanation. I admit, I find this one ... unsatisfactory. Perhaps we couldn't understand Everything, but maybe just a smidge? Hmm? An eensy clue? By this view, God boils down to a totally capricious being with infinite power, but little seeming understanding of what it is to be human, to be without power, to suffer. When I am told that suffering is part of an Infinite Plan, I ask myself for whose good is this Plan? For the baby who dies of starvation? For the people who suffer disease, privation, war? What kind of being causes that kind of suffering for some plan?

There's the "they had it coming" idea: even if they didn't have time to be bad in this life, they were probably bad in a previous life and should suffer for it. Who is bad enough to deserve to die of starvation? Can't the Infinite find the mercy that I, a limited being, found to forgive a pretty serious hurt? Or perhaps it's there to teach us a lesson. Is suffering the only way that the infinite can find to teach goodness? Because it doesn't work very well - most of the people that folks want to label as monsters suffered before they decided to turn around and inflict that suffering on others.

There's the existentialist answer: there is no reason, just suffering, but one must continue the struggle against suffering anyway, for it is through this struggle that we define ourselves. Any further meaning we try to layer on is simply the result of the human mind being an incredibly efficient pattern calculator, evolved to see the shape of the golden lion crouching in the golden grass. This one is hard to argue against. It claims reason for its own, and any "supernatural" reasons given are dismissed as a further reflection of the pattern finding human brain. And yet... and yet, I have felt a Oneness with something greater than myself. I have been urged to do things that were not necessarily in my own rational self interest, acts of lovingkindness that extend beyond my own narrow interests.

I do not believe in an omnipotent God - I believe God must work through people, and that that is how miracles can happen. I believe that our acts of tsedaka (justice, charity, taking care of people in a just way) and chesed (lovingkindness, caring) are the acts of God, working through people to build the world. I cannot define God, but I believe in an infinitely compassionate God.


Blogger Little Black Car said...

I'm afraid I'm Existentialist Lite. Mostly, I think stuff just happens; I don't believe in the supernatural "they had it coming". If I believe in any element of "they had it coming", I think it's just that if we act like jerks or hang out with jerks, on any level, we don't have anyone to help us when we need it and bad things hit us head-on instead of being softened by the support of friends, family, and good samaritans.

7/17/2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Oh, my personal belief is that suffering and bad stuff are at least partially the result of our refusal to be there for each other. If so many people had not been completely without resources: no car, no busses out, no job if they did leave, no nothing, how much would the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina have been reduced? If people would sit down and actually *listen* to each other, how much less likely would war with all its attendant miseries be?

I believe God to be a light that infuses and is inextricably linked to creation, a force of creation, of healing, a sort of anti-entropy, as it were. I don't know how to explain it well, but I have had the experience of feeling ... together with that force, if that makes any sense. That's why I'm not quite with the existentialists, though I also believe that it's important for people to lead the struggle against suffering. I think there's more to the struggle than pointlessness - that suffering is *wrong* and even sinful, that each of us must do our part to soften the blow for each other.

7/17/2006 6:52 AM  

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