A Brief Word on the #CreationDebate

Last night CNN hosted a debate between Ken Ham, a “young earth” Creationist, and Bill Nye, a science guy and Evolutionist. 

I didn’t watch the debate so I’m not commenting on anything either participant might have said during the contest.

What I do want to talk about is the nature of the debate itself. This debate was designed to do one thing and one thing only: get people to watch.

How do you get people to watch something in this country? You create controversy. Lots of it.

The best way to do that is to take two of the most extreme and uncharitable thinkers on either side of an issue and put them on camera. Americans love a fight, and violence with words is sometimes just as appealing as violence with bodies (cf. every Republican Primary debate).

Bill Nye won the debate. I could have told you that would happen a week ago, a month ago, even a year ago. Why? For starters, I think Ham has a terrible argument. Still even if you agree with Ham I think we both can admit that faith plays a vital role in proving his conclusions. Once you enter into a realm where faith can play no part in proving your argument (a debate) you set yourself up for failure. Hence, Nye wiped the floor with Ham even among Christians, as ChristianityToday’s poll had over 80% of respondents agreeing that Nye was the clear victor.

Here’s the big problem though and one that is so obvious I’m frustrated that I even have to mention it: Ham makes all Creationists look the same when in fact there is an insane amount of variance on the Creationist side.

Ham’s position is basically the most literal interpretation of the Bible you can take: God created the universe in six 24 hour days which means that the Earth is very, very young compared to any modern scientific account of cosmic origins. Whereas modern science would say (and prove, I think) that the Earth is billions of years old, Ham claims that the Earth is only thousands of years old.

Now that CNN has trotted Ham out there many might be led to assumption that this is truly THE position on Creationism. Nye proves that “all” Creationists are just burying their head in the sand, and CNN has created a genuine controversy that will keep the comments going and the ad revenue flowing. Perfect.

The problem is that Creationism has TONS of variations on the theme.

Contra Ham, you could say that God created the world but when the text says “day” it means something much bigger than 24 hours. Hence the Earth is really old but still created by God.

You could say God created the basic building blocks of life then started the process of evolution, which is continually guided by the Ruach (Holy Spirit) of God.

You could say that God created via the Big Bang theory and that while Genesis is a lovely story about how things are the way they are it does not prove anything except that God created. Just because a six-day Creation and the Garden of Eden didn’t literally happen doesn’t mean that our entire faith is now scuttled and should, hence, be abandoned.

Those positions aren’t accommodations; they are theologically and scientifically nuanced. But as we know from everything else 24-hour news does, nuance is the number one enemy of ratings. Why? Because nuance is hard. Nuance makes people feel inferior. Nuance is not inherently entertaining.

So thanks CNN for a lively debate. Next time try putting Nye and Ham in professional wrestling costumes and put their podiums in a steel cage. I promise I’ll watch that debate.

Want Something New From the Church? Try Something Old.

I want to start by telling you my story. If this story matches, in some way, the place where you are then take these thoughts and run with them. If it doesn’t match then leave them aside for another time. God has a way of bringing things back around.

A brief disclaimer before I start: I talk a lot in this story about how, for lack of a better word, the “non-denominational mega-church” model didn’t work for me. I don’t mean to say this tradition is inferior in any way. I just mean to say it didn’t work for me and I mean to say why. I mean no offense and I hope none will be taken.

I graduated college an evangelical Christian with charismatic leanings situated in a solid, non-denominational community. Then I uprooted from that community and moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt Divinity School. I woke up one day during that first Fall Semester and realized I hadn’t been to Church in three months. I was experiencing a sharp, spiritual decline.

Was it the crazy, liberal indoctrination those darn Divinity Schools push on their students? No. It wasn’t them. It was me. I found myself struggling with the same thought each and every time I went into Church: “I just don’t feel anything today.”

Have you ever experienced this? I imagine everyone has. I found myself particularly burdened by what I took to be the tacit rule behind “big worship services.” It goes something like this: you come here to encounter God and when you encounter God you feel it. If you don’t feel it, you haven’t encountered God.

After weeks of “not feeling it” I was exhausted and ready to leave the Church. But then a funny thing happened. That crazy Divinity School, that all of my friends thought was going to destroy my faith, stepped in and saved it.

I was enrolled in a Church history class and we just so happened to be talking about the Sacraments that week. I don’t have a very inspiring “Dead Poets Society-esque” story to tell about my professor. Nor do I have a story about how, all of a sudden, God appeared to me in a magical vision to tell me the thing I was missing in my spiritual life was a Church of the Word and Sacraments. I just thought I should try out a Church that did Communion every week because it sounded cool.

It was Easter Sunday before I found my way into a small Anglican congregation. I was in the service for maybe 20 minutes before I began to weep. I didn’t stop until I got back to my apartment.

My point here is that for many of you the burden of trying to feel God just doesn’t work anymore and you’re looking for something new. Let me offer you something new in the form of something very, very old.

 ————

After three years in a liturgical tradition I’ve discovered I was missing two things in my spiritual life: 1.) a connection to the ancient Church and 2.) a means to encounter God through my body. I want to talk about those needs through two separate practices—saying the Nicene Creed and receiving the Eucharist.

Visible and Invisible

My Church is the body of Christ, but it is also an old body and I love that. Nowhere is this more evident than in saying the Nicene Creed. Before, I found myself associating Church with everything new, with everything God was doing now. I never realized the power of remembering—remembering the works of God in the Church through the ancient words of men and women trying to figure it out just like me.

Augustine has this wonderful idea about the Church. He says there is a “visible Church,” the people we see every Sunday, and there is an “invisible Church,” the whole congregation of saints and martyrs that have come before us and to whom we go once we leave this world. When I say the Nicene Creed I’m not just speaking correct propositional statements. I’m confessing the Truth of the Gospel along with Augustine, my grandfather, Junia, and countless others.

When I say the Nicene Creed I hear them all saying it back, and I never knew how desperately I needed to hear the voice of the Church.

Bread and Wine

My priest tells the story of a man he knew who had truly horrific things happen to those he loved. At that time he was as close to hating God as you could possibly be. He still came to Church but he couldn’t do anything during worship. He couldn’t sing, couldn’t lift his hands, couldn’t pray to any God who would let these things happen. The only thing he could do was eat and drink. And that’s how the Eucharist saved his faith.

The single greatest shift in my Christian life happened the day I realized that the primary way I encounter God as a Christian is not through singing really loud with my eyes closed and my hands raised but in receiving the body and blood of Christ. Forget your hang-ups about transubstantiation. I have no settled theology here and I’m certainly not arguing for something magical.

What I am saying is that God meets me where I am in the Eucharist. I’m an embodied being not just a mind or a heart. God meets me in broken, human things: bread and wine. No feeling required. All I have to do to find God is eat and drink.

Maybe you find yourself struggling with the problems I’ve described above. If so, I’d encourage you to try out a liturgical tradition where you can begin participating in those practices that have been the identifiers of Christians for centuries. I have no particular tradition to recommend, no agenda against any others. All I’m saying is that sometimes when you find yourself restless in your Church and wanting something new, the “new” you’ll find life-giving is actually what the Church, in all her age, has been doing since a few, poor Jewish men and women came running from an empty tomb.

10 Things I Care About More Than That “Controversy.”

10 things I care about more than that “controversy” lots of Christians are so worked up about:

1.) The fact that the sex trade is on the rise in my backyard.

http://www.wkrn.com/story/16524292/study-sheds-light-on-sex-trafficking-in-nashville

2.) The Central African Republic might be on the verge of becoming “Rwanda pt 2”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/19/central-african-republic-atrocities-escalate-un

3.) Christian persecution is a real thing that doesn’t involve a millionaire losing the right to have his/her show syndicated on a particular network.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/a-global-slaughter-of-christians-but-america-s-churches-stay-silent.html

4.) Child Poverty is still on the rise in the United States.

http://carseyinstitute.unh.edu/sites/carseyinstitute.unh.edu/files/publications/IB-Mattingly-Carson-Same-Day-Poverty-web.pdf

5.) Pope Francis is awesome.

http://poy.time.com/

6.) Someone thought of this joke.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfPndEB2ec0

7.) Lupe Fiasco (Blitzen) and KRS One (Santa) rapping about dunkin’ on a reindeer as Muppets HAPPENED.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-LNKQVviBk

8.) College kids getting exploited for their abilities have big hearts and do things like this for kids with cancer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Jmisv1Spck

9.) There are over 57,000 American Veterans experiencing homelessness on any given night in America with about 1.4 million on the verge of homelessness due to poverty and American indifference to this problem in general.

http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/

10.) Human beings fall in love with one another and then do incredible things to show it.

http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/10/22/kanye-west-kim-kardashian-best-viral-proposals-ever

Top Albums of 2013

 

I love lists. I know we’re right in the middle of my “metaphor project” but I can’t help myself. Maybe somehow God is like a list…. Anyways.

 

I’ve started to see Best Albums of 2013 lists popping up and so I thought I’d share my favorites with you so you can drop any post-Black Friday cash left or so you can prep for how you’ll spend any iTunes cards you get over Christmas (this is a Smith family tradition).

 

This year is really difficult to break down for me. I really got into electronica this year and many of my favorite albums this year were probably colored by the “newness” of that jag. “Good hip-hop” took an even further step as Jay-Z released what would have been a “Hip Hop Record of the Year” five years ago but was pretty much unanimously agreed to be a flop (except by the Grammy, as usual). And then there was the return of Arcade Fire, Kanye West, and Volcano Choir. What’s a guy to do?

 

A thought: There is a real inauthenticity to putting all records into list from 20-1.

 

The list tends to level off any thing extracurricular to the album. One record may have my favorite lyrics while another might have been more sonically engrossing. Furthermore, one may have made a much bigger statement that made up for any of its sonic flaws.

 

Having said that, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to break my list down into categories. They’re genres, really.

 

I like Hip-Hop, Electronic, Folksy, and Indie. I’m gonna give you (at least) three records that were the best in that genre for the year. I’ll rank them in order within their genres so at least you get a sense of what I thought was better—this way you can more easily rail on me in the comments section. 

 

I’ll also tell you what I thought were the top five songs of the year. We live in a singles age. Sorry.

 

Before I get into that (sorry, this is gonna be a long post) I want talk about what you might call “Honorable Mention.” Here’s how I want to break this down. There were some albums this year that I “got” that I don’t feel like anyone else “got.” At the same time, there were some albums that everyone else “got” but that I really didn’t “get” at all. I should mention both before I get into the rankings.

 

———————-Honorable Mention——————————————————

 

Albums Everyone Else Got But I Really Didn’t Get

 

Drake – Nothing Was Ever The Same

 

I don’t get Drake. I can admit that. I love his singles, and on this record “Started from the Bottom” is no exception. That song is really, really good. The rest of this album is just filler for me, or even if I really could like it I don’t feel the need to give it a fair shot. When I first listened to the non-single portions of Take Care I didn’t like them as much as I liked the singles, but I was struck by the need to grapple with them, to give them a fair hearing. Not with this one. It may have just been a year in which a record like this gets lost because of how great every other hip-hop record was. 

 

The Field – Cupid’s Head

 

I don’t get why Pitchfork, et al, love The Field. I find it to be exceptionally boring house music. Particularly when viewed alongside of Nicolas Jaar or Tim Hecker.

 

My Bloody Valentine – mbv

 

I’m not saying this wasn’t a good record. Maybe even a great record. But its one that I’ve pretty consistently forgotten came out this year. Yes, it was very early in the year but it seemed like most of the rage on this one was over the fact that it was My Bloody Valentine coming back rather than just a good record.

 

Albums I Got But No Else Did

 

Heirlooms of August – Down at the 5-Star 

 

This record is incredible. And heartbreaking. And it makes me feel like I’ve spent a week back in my small hometown just from listening to it all the way through. Very underrated.

 

San Fermin – San Fermin

 

Listen to “Sonsick” and tell me this shouldn’t be on a Best Albums list somewhere. Come on, people.

 

The Lonely Island – The Wack Album

 

Say what you want about Pitchfork, but they got this one right when they gave this a 7.2. This is a legitimate rap record. The fact that it is parody, in my mind, is irrelevant. Production is excellent. Lyrics are excellent. Hooks are unforgettable and instantly quotable. I don’t know why more people aren’t paying attention to the Lonely Island. They deserve real attention as artists.

 

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience, Part I

 

Yeah, yeah I know. “What?! Everyone bought this record. And went apeshit over it. How can you say people didn’t ‘get’ it?!”

 

Look, I’m not saying people didn’t get it, but they definitely did not give it the credit it deserves—at least not in the two end of the year lists I’ve seen thus far.

 

This record should easily be a top 20 record in every list, but because Part 2 of the 20/20 Experience was so unadulterated terrible people will undersell how great Part 1 was. It was exceptional pop music from an exceptional talent. It deserves more praise than it’s getting.

 

—————————-Songs of the Year—————————————————–

 

Here’s where some of those records that will appear everywhere get mentioned.

 

5.) Boards of Canada – Reach for the Dead

 

Listen to the opening five seconds of this song. I don’t understand you if you don’t ask yourself “how did they make that sound?” at least three times. It gets even better from there.

 

4.) Vampire Weekend – Unbelievers

 

Don’t worry, Vampire Weekend made my top album list below, but this song deserves special attention as it is freaking amazing. Clearly superior, in my mind, to the early singles “Diane Young” or “Step.”

 

3.) Volcano Choir – Comrade

 

It’s the closest thing I’ll get to a Bon Iver song this year so here it is.

 

2.) Disclosure – Latch

 

I didn’t really love this record as a whole but this song is incredible. I don’t know how Sam Smith makes the sounds he does with his mouth but I just hope he doesn’t smoke it all away (looking at you Adele…).

 

1.) Arcade Fire – Reflektor

 

Yep, you guessed it. Arcade Fire does not appear on my top 3 list below in the Indie Category. The album just wasn’t melodic enough for me. It felt like a band trying to be “really complex” when in fact all they succeeded in doing was making a crummy record. Funeral cut through you but still felt like listening to your favorite garage band. The Suburbs was maximalist to be sure, but it held you hand all the way through by hooking you at almost every corner. Hell, even Neon Bible had “Keep the Car Running.” But Reflektor really didn’t do that for me, apart from the title track. This song is absolutely stunning lyrically and offers a lot of promise for what this band is becoming. I just think their effort, as a whole, failed in long form. 

 

____________________The Main Event_________________________________

 

Folksy

 

This was my least favorite category this year. Not many great singer-songwriter records came out and the ones that did were nothing like what this genre has delivered in the past (Where are you Fleet Foxes?!!). Here’s my top 3:

 

3.) Juliana Barwick – Nepthene

 

Not all that folksy you say? I didn’t have another category to put her in and this record is amazing. I don’t understand how humans make sounds like that. And I don’t get why more humans aren’t more into it.

 

2.) Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond

 

Reminds me of early Sufjan. One of the best straight-through listens of the year.

 

1.) Phosphorescent – Muchacho

 

Have you heard “Song for Zula?!” Have you heard it?!! Were there other songs on that album? I don’t remember.

 

Electronic

 

I fell in love with this genre this year by stumbling upon Nicolas Jaar’s Essential Mix from last year while at the gym one day. It was a good year to do that too, because this year had some exceptional electronic music to its credit. Here are my favorites:

 

4.) Haxan Cloak – Excavation

 

A truly visceral experience. You don’t think this one. You carry it in your body.

 

3.) The Range – Nonfiction

 

This may be because it is the most recent release on this list but I just love this one. Great record to work to.

2.) Darkside – Psychic

 

See my love for Nicolas Jaar above.

 

1.) Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

 

I feel like I can walk around in this record. It just gives you an incredible landscape of sound to come explore. Problem is, it’s a dystopian wasteland. Oh well.

 

Indie

 

This is probably the hardest category to break down. Too many things qualify as “indie” and even then there are too many damn good records to choose from. Here’s what I got:

 

4.) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

 

There’s more here than just “Get Lucky,” and I like the “more” even better than “Get Lucky.” See, for instance, Panda Bear’s wash of harmony on “Doing It Right.”

 

3.) CHVRCHES – Bones of What You Believe

 

I was really worried this record would be a single and then nothing but filler. I was so wrong.

 

2.) Haim – Days Are Gone

 

Even great dance records don’t make me want to dance in random public places when they come up on my iPod. This one does. Consistently.

 

1.) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

 

They know what they do. They do it better than anyone else. It’s as simple as that.

 

Hip-Hop

 

3.) Danny Brown – Old

 

I somehow missed Danny Brown before this year. Anybody who collabs with Purity Ring will find their way into my heart. It’s a long one, but worth it.

 

2.) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels

 

Had Vampire Weekend and the #1 album in this list not come out this year then Run the Jewels would’ve been my favorite record of the year. First off it was free. Second off it was the best rap collaboration since Watch the Throne, but it came off as exponentially more authentic. Don’t believe me? Listen to El-P’s verse on “Christmas Fucking Miracle” and tell me there isn’t something incredibly real happening there. Killer Mike proves he’s the new king of Atlanta and if Outkast weren’t reuniting next year (OMG!!!) I’d say this is collaboration for which I’m most excited to see what comes next.

 

1.) Kanye West – Yeezus

 

I’m not apologizing. This record is a Frankenstein’s monster. An amalgamation of disgusting and tragic proportions that towers above us, and we tremble at the heights to which the human ego/id/sex drive can ascend. Most people hate Kanye for that. I think most people hate him for it because they think he’s doing it unintentionally, without craft. That isn’t the case. Most people, however, give Kanye too much credit as if he were an incredible mastermind who says outlandish things always intending for them to make a statement. I think sometimes the guy is just a huge dick. But that’s ok. And he’s real about it.

 

I would tell you that Blood on the Leaves or New Slaves were my favorite track, packed with civil rights era metaphor and throwing light on the new racism bound up in consumerisms auctioning of black bodies (yeah I said auctioning) to sell gold chains, etc. But my real favorite was Hold My Liquor. There I think I connected with what Kanye was doing more so than on any other track. The noise, the ethereal Vernon sample, autotune, and that space those interludes create for us to breathe in all the angst, conflict, and neurosis just floored me.

 

Couple that with the way he’s doing the live show of this record and there is no way I could not give this album my top spot. Too many good things.

 

That’s all I got.

 

 

 

Image

 

This is the first part of my project on Metaphors for God. I expect there will be more but who can say when I’ll have a spare moment to blog about God while I’m busy reading A LOT of other opinions theological. I hope to honor my commitment to you fine folks and be back around to write more soon, but don’t hold your breath.

That aside, if you haven’t already you should probably read my primer on why metaphors matter and what their limits are. If you don’t have that in mind this is going to make very little sense.

 

Good? Ok. Let’s try out our first metaphor: God as Father.

I know that for many of you some alarms have already gone off in your head. You are already wondering to yourself, “God as Father is more than just a metaphor, right? I mean it’s part of the Trinity!” This is a good point. I’m gonna put you on pause for now though. We’ll get to this in just a sec. Turn off your alarms for a moment and walk with me.

In the strictest sense when we say the sentence “God is our Heavenly Father” a metaphor is coming out of our mouth. Like all metaphors “God as Father” communicates what David Tracy (a freaking brilliant guy!) has called “similarities-in-difference.”

What in the world does that mean?! It means that metaphors hold together differences, real differences, within the same phrase. In other words, our metaphors communicate by being like their object (so God really is like a Father) and by being truly different from their object (God is not exactly like a Father). And it is BOTH of these truths—how God is like a Father and how God is not like a Father—that communicate the meaning we receive from a metaphor. You cannot have one without the other.

What I’m going to do here is to treat both how God is like a Father and how God is not like a Father. What I want to encourage you to do here is to treat this like an “experiment” of sorts. We are literally “trying out” language like we are trying on clothes. This should give us an ability to not cling so close-mindedly to our metaphors on the one hand while on the other constantly affirming that there is more than just metaphor behind our language—we serve a living God, after all.

 

Similarities:

You might not like to hear this but it is sometimes difficult to say just how God is like a father.

I think its because we don’t really have a “stereotype” for Fatherhood in our heads. I mean, ultimately, what is our American conception of Fatherhood? Paying the bills? Doing work? Providing for his family (whatever that means)?

So already, we’ve run up against something this metaphor is teaching us: Fatherhood needs to be something we really pause and think about because if we don’t really get why we call God “Father” then I wonder if we’re not just saying empty words.

I suppose the first place most people would go when they think about God the Father is what has traditionally been associated with that person of the Trinity—Creation. When pressed, I bet most of us would say something like this: God is like a Father in that God knit the world together and keeps on caring for it like a Divine Parent—our Father.

But be careful here. What we’re saying there is basically this: God gave birth to the world. That’s not the image of a Father. That’s the image of a Mother. And (for some reason) the idea of God as mother makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

I imagine that’s because we’re so used to hearing Father in Church because Father is a part of the traditional formulation of the Trinity. I get that. But here remember all we’re doing is investigating the metaphor not saying that Father shouldn’t be a name used in the Trinity. 

Let’s stick with the parenting idea here as I think that’s really what most of us are saying when we say “Father.” I think perhaps the most solid connection between God and Father will have to be God’s continual care over creation and creatures.

God truly is like a Father in that God is “bringing along” creation, God is “holding it up” so to speak. I think here of the way it feels for your Dad to pick you up when you’re a kid. I think that image is a beautiful one to consider when we think about God caring for creation. So often we just think of an old man designing a machine and then letting it run, coming back every now and then to make adjustments and fix problems that pop up. This paints the picture of a really detached God. What if God is more in the business of being a “goofy dad?” Making faces at us. Loving us. Carrying us. Blowing strawberries on our stomachs. Ruffling our hair.

Being there.

God is like a Father.

 

Differences:

There is a very important way that God is not like a Father. If you were to stop your everyday Church-goer outside the Church on Sunday morning and ask them what they meant by saying that God is a Father, I guarantee you most of them would not say, “Well, God is actually a male who was responsible for the stuff that led to the creation of the world.”

No one really thinks that the Triune God is a dude.

God is Three Persons in One. If that is the case and God is male does that mean that God has male genitalia? How many?

This may be a bit crude but note that all I’m doing is following a line of thinking to its ultimate conclusion. We have to be careful when we forget that we’re talking in metaphor. When that happens we tend to take things very literally and be very resistant to anything that might challenge our metaphor. Hence, how uncomfortable people get when God gets talked about as anything feminine.

God is also not like this.

Or this. Murder is def off the table, just to be clear.

Don’t think that these pictures are somehow less sophisticated than the argument we’ve been making above. Pictures and stories are how we operate in the world. Showing these pictures and understanding the ways in which God is not like them is more meaningful than making those sorts of arguments using words. They give you a visceral argument, a feeling argument rather than just… well, an argument.

 We are visceral beings way before we are thinking beings. Embrace it. Pun intended.

 

Final Word:

I just said that sometimes pictures do a lot more for us than words. That’s because they stick into our vision of what “the kingdom” will look like to a much greater extent than arguments or propositions.

 

So my final word isn’t a word. It’s a picture. Maybe God is like this.

 

Until next time. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

The Metaphor Project: How We Talk About God

mcfague

 

I’ve been reading a lot recently about metaphors for God and how they help us understand who God is and what God wants to do in/through the Church. This got me thinking about a new project (yeah I know the Oscar Couch still isn’t done…but it’s not dead!). I want to give you a good primer on why metaphors and metaphorical language are important when we talk about/pray to/live for God and then explore a few common (and a few crazy, uncommon) metaphors we use for God. So to start, let’s talk about why metaphors are important.

Most all of religious language is essentially metaphorical. This happens for two reasons:

1.) God is beyond all finite language so nothing we say will ever actually get at God fully.

2.) Our knowledge is limited so even if language could actually express all that God is we are too small to ever hold all of that language in our heads.

We have to use metaphors to get at what God really is and how God is really at work among us. We literally can’t actually express all of it in literal language. We need language that opens up a landscape of meaning (heady, right?!). Our language needs to give us space that lets our concepts of God breath. After all, we worship a living God.

But how do metaphors create this sort of meaning?

I want to suggest to you that metaphorical language does this in two ways: 1.) by highlighting ways that God is like the metaphor 2.) by highlighting ways God is not like the metaphor.

Instead of trying to come up with a phrase that captures (notice the limiting language) something absolute about God, a metaphor gives us flexible language that can become timeless as well as relevant. Metaphors allow us to say something seemingly absolute about the character of God while also leaving the room for progress in our theological thought.

Here’s a problem we often run into in the Church: Metaphors are such powerful language and are used to describe something so important to us (our salvation!) that we tend to forget that we are using metaphors in the first place.

One of the easiest ways to get into serious theological trouble is to forget that you’re using a metaphor to talk about God.

 

Let’s get into an example: God is a Rock.

How it works: God is solid, faithful, and foundation of everything that is.

How it doesn’t work: God is personal, jealous, and passionate. God flummoxes us by giving grace in (sometimes) shocking or surprising ways. Rocks are predictable and safe. God isn’t like that.

Do you notice how the second aspect is just as important as the first, and, moreover, do you see how dumb you sound if you treat the metaphor as literal language? God isn’t actually a Rock. If we need to leave that metaphor behind completely we can do that, but if it provides a beautiful and meaningful way of talking about God we can (and ought to) use it.

Ok, there’s your primer. Now, I have some ideas but since I want to make this more of a communal effort I’d love to hear some of your favorite metaphors for God. Give me your suggestions either in the comments below or via twitter: @jasonisasmith. Thanks for reading!

How do we prove God is good?

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I’m trying to blog a little more about theology these days. Several significant people in my life have been asking me about my plans and I keep coming back to wanting to give a gift to the Church. I think this gift looks like having conversations where I take what I know and turn it into something life-giving for real people. And this brings me back to my blog.

Let’s have a conversation.

Today I tweeted something about David Hume. He’s a dead white guy, but he was brilliant. I said we can’t “unread” David Hume as much as we might like to. He has some serious questions for any believer in God, and to ignore those questions is roughly equivalent to burying our head in the sand. This weakens our witness and, I would contend, it actually amounts to accepting less faith than God has for us. If you want something real from God you have to really work for it. I believe that’s especially true for our theology. Afterall, it took the Church quite awhile to figure out the Trinity (if we’re actually done).

Hume has several great questions but here’s the one I want to focus on: How do we prove that God is good?

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Hume basically lambastes the proponents of “Enlightenment religion” or a religion based predominantly on reason (drastic oversimplification!) who say that Reason leads us to the conclusion that God is All-powerful (omnipotent) and All-Good (benevolent). Hume, interestingly, grants through several of his characters that the natural world is a proof of God’s existence even perhaps God’s omnipotence. But the true problem for Hume is proving God’s benevolence. How can reason by itself ever lead us to the conclusion that God is good?

The first thing to get straight is what actually goes into proving God is good. We could just sit here and think about it. That’s a real problem for Hume though and he’s right. There is no way a priori (or prior to any experience) we can say that God is good. It’s just not something that we can drum up out of our head alone.

We would have to experience God’s goodness in order to prove it. It has to be an a posteriori proof or a proof based on our experiences. We experience the world and from the workings of the world and our experience of one another we conclude that God is good. But can you anticipate Hume’s problem with that?

If we are judging God’s goodness solely based on what we experience in the world then the miserable condition of humanity says that God actually isn’t very good at all.

While I’m not saying that this is ironclad proof that God isn’t good, it is certainly a question we have to take seriously. A big thing to note here is that Hume IS NOT saying that we can’t BELIEVE that God is good. There is nothing in this argument that says our faith must say God is not good. What Hume IS saying, however, is that we can’t go around acting like anyone who is rational will agree that God is good if only they think about it long enough. The only people who will reach the same conclusion will be people who hold the same faith.

 

So since I want to have conversations let’s take this to the comments either on Facebook or below. Here’s what I want to know:

1.) If someone said to you “Prove to me that God is good” What would you say?

2.) Do you think Hume is right about our Reason? Can it really not prove God’s goodness? If so, are there experiences that prove Hume wrong?

 

Thanks for sharing!