Sunday, March 25, 2012

More Than Prosperity and Redemption

My brother and sister-in-law are at the hospital right now. She's having potentially serious complications from her pregnancy, but they appear to have caught it soon enough. Baby's 36 weeks and they're inducing labor.

Prosperity theology is the crap you might see on a religious TV channel. The basic idea is that God rewards Christians who are good and faithful, kind of like Santa Clause with a dash of superman thrown in. There's a corollary, that Pat Robertson makes clear every time there's a big disaster: if something bad happens, it must be because you, or your group, or your nation, was bad and unfaithful.

Our church doesn't buy such nonsense, of course. But there's still tough questions: why do bad things happen? What's God's role in all this? Our minister has given a couple sermons on this theme (one here - scroll to January 17, 2010), describing a kind of "redemptive theology." The basic idea: God does NOT cause the evil, suffering, hurt in the world, but can and does use all of it for good (something like this.) As our minister has said, you might think of God like Rumpelstiltskin, spinning bad into good.

That's better than prosperity theology, obviously, but I still find it unsatisfying, and a bit childish. I don't think whatever-we-use-the-name-God-for cares at all about making things happen that humans call "good."

I believe that what-I-use-the-name-God-for is in that evil, suffering, and hurt. But I do believe that God is love. And I do believe that God is good. So how can those be put together?

Let's get a few things out of the way. God, Spirit, Ultimate Reality, One-Without-A-Second isn't a person, or person-like, in any of the normal ways of thinking about it. That may be a useful device in certain instances, but it's silly as an ultimate theological position. Rational thought and the scientific worldview have done too much good work for us to hang on to the idea that there's some person-like God out there, intervening in the world to satisfy his desires in particular situations.

So what do I mean by God, Spirit, the Higher Self? Two things. First, God is the Ground of Being, the absolute, unqualifiable emptiness-in-form. That's what the mystics in every religion and culture have told us for thousands of years. I believe this because that's what the evidence tells me - those independent, cross-cultural reports of mystics, and the few glimpses I've experienced myself.

Second, God is the creative impulse, the arrow of evolution, the pull towards something new and greater. This I believe also because it's what the evidence tells me - the story of evolution creating more complexity and consciousness, the felt sense you and I share to strive for something more, the impulse that, out of the Ground of Being, manifests something rather than nothing; and in human history, the "arc of the moral universe," which, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "bends toward justice."

In those senses, God is good. Resting in the Ground of Being, we know that all is well, and could never be anything else. Tapping into the evolutionary impulse, we know that all will continue to build towards the better - wider embrace, greater consciousness, manifesting more love and Spirit in the universe.

None of that has anything to do with doing "good" in our individual eyes, or even in humanity's eyes. Our individual lives may be full of suffering and evil, with no good to come of it. Humanity may die off, in nuclear war or global environmental catastrophe, to be nothing more than food for a few insects before the sun explodes and destroys the solar system. We may not be rewarded for our "faithful" lives, and God may not spin this particular tragedy into good. Existence may be suffering.

But if we can see from beyond our egos, if we can live as more than our separate selves, we may be able to see with our own eyes that all is well, always and already, and that death and suffering are part of a creation of love. It is impossible to see using our normal egoic separate self-sense. Only by this shift perspective, in this upheaval of who it is you think you are, can we reconcile the apparent existence of evil, tragedy, and suffering with a belief that God is love, all-good and all-powerful.

It may even be that unredeemed tragedy, unspun into anything our small selves could ever see as good, is the engine of the great mystery, cracking us apart to let the light in. Some love throws the wisher down the well, destroying everything you think of as you and revealing more than you could have ever imagined.

It's more prosperity and greater redemption than our small selves could ever survive, always available right now. This is what churches and ministers need to be preaching. Not sure how many know it.

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