When we lived in Kansas City, Terry and I joined a church whose primary mission was to integrate blacks and whites in one church community. I was on the Leadership Team and met weekly with the co-pastor – a young guy who had recently graduated from seminary. Most of our conversations seemed to revolve around the issues of leadership and authority and the nature of Divine Power. I tried vainly to persuade him that the ultimate form of power is synonymous with love. In other words, the assertion that “God is Love” is an assertion about God’s power. I’m convinced that this is true from personal experience, from rational thought, from biblical and theological studies, from science, and from philosophy. All of these provide important perspectives on the nature of reality. A single perspective should not be trusted. A perspective from Classical Theology (or traditional Christian theology) is in contradiction to my understanding of Divine Power. Using theological language, it asserts that “God is Omnipotent”. In commonly used terms, it asserts that God is in total control of all events. It asserts that God’s power is like the kind of power a king has – the kind of power that the Caesars used to control the citizens of Rome – a power exercised in force and violence, domination and control. It is a type of power that legitimates control under an ethic of “Might makes Right”, and which has produced male-dominated social structures (including the human family), and competing national armies. Religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam base their dogmas on an understanding of “inspiration” as the domination of human writers by a Divine Spirit in a puppet-like manner. These writings continue to justify the infliction of tremendous suffering and environmental damage to humans and animals. A glaring example of this justification of inhumanity on biblical authority can be seen in this quote from John Henry Hopkins (1864):
The Bible’s defense of slavery is very plain. St. Paul was inspired, and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was only intent on obeying it. And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God … and invent for ourselves a “higher law: than those holy Scriptures which are given to us as ‘a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths,’ in the darkness of a sinful and a polluted world?”
More examples could show how this misunderstanding of God’s power led to the subjugation of women and other races, and equating those with a different religious view with demons and forces designated as being “against God”. It is the kind of power that Jesus and the early Christians rejected.
Until recently, power was not differentiated into its two modes: power as love (or subjective influence), and power as force (power applied to objects). Also, adequate thought has not been given to God’s status as the unique Divine Individual. By ‘individual’, I mean any entity which can influence and be influenced by others. An ‘individual’ as I define the term, acts as one and responds as one to the actions of others. Therefore, in describing God as an ‘individual’ I understand that God shares the attributes of individuality purely as such. However, there are two categories of individuals that are related in the same way that the universal is related to particulars:
- Non-divine individuals with contingent non-universal existence. All individuals in this category have bodily existence which can interact with other bodies, and all the interactions between bodies can be defined by the science of physics studying the phenomena of objects.
- The unsurpassable Divine Individual (God or Spirit). The individual in this category has necessary universal existence, is the ground for all other forms of existence – but has no individual form or body with which to interact bodily with other bodies.
It is impossible for the individual in category (2) to use power in the mode of control and domination. That kind of power can only be used in the interaction between bodies or objects. Just as it would be impossible to move a rock with your hands if you had no hands, Spirit cannot move rocks. This limitation of Divine Power is often referred to when it is stated that we (humans) are God’s hands and feet. Subjects (like biblical authors) can be influenced by other subjects, but cannot be controlled by other subjects (although they can be forced to submit by the threat of violence to their bodily existence). Therefore, we can see God’s influence (if we have eyes to see) throughout the universe in forms of order, creativity, and beauty. We do not need to, nor should we, credit God with the evil that we see all around us. When we are sick, impoverished, or oppressed, we should not be asking ourselves why God is doing this to us or to others we love. We should not become angry when it doesn’t seem like God is answering our prayers. And we can stop trying to defend God to the atheists. Instead, we can agree with them, that the ancient mythological controlling God who jealously protected his Divine Supreme Ego, never existed except in mistaken human mythologies. That God and the Santa Claus who climbs down chimneys at Christmas have the same ontological status. Unfortunately, it is that mythological god which is often worshiped on Sunday mornings, rather than the God that Jesus spoke about and for which he was accused of blasphemy and executed.
Worship of the mythological ‘Omnipotent God’ has produced an eschatology with the universe ending violently – an end which could only be applauded by an audience of demons.
Worship of the God of Jesus, on the other hand, leads us to belief in the Divine Eros, the Spirit that calls us to love our neighbor as ourself – to be perfect in our love as God is perfect (all-inclusive). It is under the influence of that Spirit that nature conceives and brings forth life. It is the influence of that Spirit that works to transform ‘that which is’ into ‘that which should be’.
At this point in the evolutionary path of the universe, a path that has led up to creatures with the ability to be aware of, reflect on, and respond consciously to Spirit, and thus be co-creators of the future, a sort of crossroads has been reached. As co-creators we are also co-responsible for the future. It is imperative, it seems to me, that we wake up and grow up, to become spiritually mature, to put away childish and foolish ways of thinking and acting, to take our place in the community of life forms existing all around us, to become channels of Divine Power, working in partnership with God and with one another (it’s the same thing), to build the Body of Christ (which has nothing to do with a particular institutional form or belief system).