>When it come to power, there is no doubt the something has happened to God. I contend that it is a different kind of power, most go with other explanations.
I need to say up front here that I believe in ‘more than you can see’. Admittedly I am not a big fan of the phrase “supernatural” because of the worldview that it comes from (as if the power of prayer was not the most natural thing in the world and the way that Jesus worked with nature and wants us to as well).
I need to say that at the beginning because if you did not know it, there will be points in this blog where someone could think that I do not believe in ‘more than you can see’.
Something about God – or a gap in how the Bible talks about power and what we see in our world – has changed and there are so many ways that people have attempted to deal with it.
- Enlightenment liberals often take the line of reasoning that God would never break the rules that God originally set up (such as physics). So the change must have been that the ancients only thought that Jesus walked on water – or that they were actually talking allegorically or poetically when they talked about such things. Bottom Line : in this view those kind of miraculous things don’t happen anymore and probably never did.
- Charismatic or Pentecostals, obviously, DO believe that miracles and acts of power still do – or can – happen. When they don’t (and often they don’t) then reasons are looked for: not enough faith, not enough prayer, those who pray are not holy or dedicated enough. Bottom Line: This view says that the world works the same way it did in Bible times and God doesn’t change so if we are not seeing God’s power like they did – it must be on our end.
- Dispensational folks say that God works differently in different periods in history (called dispensations) and after the Apostolic Age ( in the Book of Acts) we moved into the Church Age and miracles are not a part of our age. Bottom Line: in this view, God can do powerful things, has in the past, and will in the future… just not right now.
- Even Barth (Karl Barth and those who like him) runs into the problem with a lack of power (like miracles). The explanation that developed in the last half of the 20th century is that because God’s fullest revelation was done in Christ then God has no need to do those kind of things since it was a ‘once for all’ revelation. Bottom Line: in this view the only thing that God would do (like in the Book of Acts) is to validate that original revelation.
- There are those voices that talk of the Death of God. You understand why this carried so much weight in the 20th century with the two world wars, atomic bombs, death camps, all the way the Bosnian war and Africa’s post-colonial realities (to name just a few).
Bottom Line: for both the Barthians and the Death of God crew is that outside of emotional worship services or crusades… it was tough for many people to see how or where God was at. God seemed absent when things mattered most and some were left to reason that this supposedly ‘all powerful being’ either didn’t care, was not as powerful as advertised or was dead.
If you study history you can begin to see that something is definitely different. Either the Ancients were under false illusions, or it is all some sort of Medieval superstition being exposed or there has been a death of ‘god’ power or that God is choosing to do something a little different because these are the last days and this is all part of the plan. Whichever one you go with, you have some followup questions to deal with.
I love talking with Charismatic-Pentecostal believers who focus on the fact the demons and miracles are still a part of pre-Industrial (non-developed) parts of the world. They point to Africa and South America where stuff still happens like it did in the Book of Acts.
The question I ask is “so do demons lose their power when people have electricity ?”
I have had some really fun conversations around this! It is a fascinating place to launch a dialogue. The most interesting response I have ever heard was by one of my best friends who told me that since believers have been binding demons by the power of the Holy Sprit for 2,000 years – that there just are not as many demons on the earth as there used to be. I asked if they then congregate in places like rural Africa? After that the conversation got wild…
At the end of the day, however, I think that what all these approaches are addressing is more important that how they address it. What they are addressing is that there is a gap between how the ancients perceived God and talked about power and what we have seen and experienced in our own world. Something has changed.
Act 2: here is where I am at on this. I think that we have a bad understanding of power and how it is that God works in the world. I am not interested in discrediting people of the past – but neither am i interested in dogmatically clinging to a cosmology and meta-physics from a pre-scientific era. I want to deal with the world as it is. Not as I was taught that it should be and not as people used to think that it was… I am interested in an optimistic (hopeful) Christian realism.
I have bought into a school of thought that says God is in the process with us and that reality is relational. It’s interesting that I believe so many of the same things as I used to but that I think so radically differently about them.
One example is of God’s power. I believe that God is powerful and I also believe that God is at work in the world. The difference is that I now conceive of God’s power a little differently. I believe that God’s power is non-coercive. It is more seductive than unilateral. God works with what is. This view of power is more persuasive than coercive.
My favorite way of introducing this idea is a story that Marjorie Suchocki tells.
One day the Sun and the Wind were watching a man walk and decided to have a competition. The Wind challenged the Sun to see who could get the hat off of the man’s head. The man was walking and the wind began to blow and blow in an attempt to knock the hat off of the man’s head by sheer force.
The result was that the man placed his hand on his hat and pressed down with all his strength. In fact, the more the wind blew, the more the wind blew the harder the man resisted and worked to keep the hat on his head.
The Sun decided to go a different direction. The Sun was concerned with heloing the man to want to take his hat off – not simply doing it to the man but wanting to work with the man by helping him to desire for his hat to come off.
The Sun began to shine with great intensity and increased the temperature to such a point that the man became uncomfortable with how hot is was and willing reached up with his hand and took the hat off.
If the wind had succeeded – the man would have viewed it as a bad and undesirable thing. He had worked against it and would have tried to correct it.
The sun succeeded and the man perceived it as a good thing and even participate in bringing it about. The man may not have even been aware of the role that the environment played on his desires – thinking that it was his idea all along!
God is not the wind trying to knock the hat off our head with power.
God is the sun, influencing our environment in order to change our desires – so that God is not doing things to us but is working with us to bring about the greater good (also called the will of God).
Act 3: Paul Knitter talks about it in terms of the sail on a boat. Our will is not like a motor but an organized cloth that is anchored at strategic points. We put up our sail in order to harness that which is already at work (available). We can not manufacture it. We do not generate it. We do not direct it so much as harness and navigate it.
The everyday implication for these ideas is that we reframe how we talk about God’s power. The idea of the Puppet master pulling strings from behind the curtain and the unilateral coercion are relics of the past. I just don’t see how we continue with that language in the 21st century. I prefer to talk about the Weakness of God (1 Cor. 1:15) [I have blogged about it here]. God’s power is a different sort of power. God is powerful but it is not a unilateral power. It is not a coercive power. It is a persuasive (more seductive) power. It works with our desires and it begins with what is.
This is why I want to speak in ways that reflect the way things are.
January 26, 2011 at 1:59 am
>So…in the previous blog, when you said "God is weak" and in the dialogue that followed, you felt more like the wind. This blog is like the sun…nicely done.
January 26, 2011 at 5:10 am
>AH HAAAA 🙂 ya got me !!
January 27, 2011 at 6:25 am
>I've heard most of those theories about how people deal with God's power, or seemingly lack of it at certain times in history. I like that story about the sun and the wind. It's kind of like being in line with praying God's will. I tend to think God works that way a bit, but there are other times we can cry out to God and he will just give us our request no matter how impossible. I think what bothers me the most is when people say, "ok, now God works this way, ok now he's working that way. He does or doesn't do this anymore." Who are we to say? Are we telling God the way he works? He can do a million miracles one week and then stop completely if he likes and we may not even know anyway. Do I know everything that God is or has or is going to do, or even so much as a tiny fraction of it? I only know my own experiences and those around me. I know that God worked a miracle on my foot. I had no virtually no medical chance of it healing – and it did! I'm a believer in miracles. I've seen God do things like this over and over to people. Remember Hebrews 11:1: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." I want to be hopeful and sure that when I pray, God loves me and is listening and if he chooses, he can do anything. I can't even imagine my life without the hope that God can do great things. Look at humans, animals, and the amazing universe! That's power! I really believe God doesn't always answer things exactly as we like, but he always makes things better. I am certain of that.
January 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm
>Two quirky points of view:First, is God really less active today than 2000 years ago? Can we really say that God works differently now than in the time of the first Christian believers? Can we say that miracles are less?I think the reason we see so many miracles in the Testaments is because they are noteworthy. Suffering was everyday, nothing worth writing about and passing on in most cases. Miracles on the other hand are extraordinary, of course you would pass that sort of anecdote on.Second, is it possible that the main difference between the previous ages and the present age, particularly the present Western Age, is that we don't expect to suffer and those in other cultures do and did expect it? To put it another way, others don't expect God to intervene and we do. Maybe we don't expect a real miracle but we do expect medicine, science, economics, social or political science to solve all of our problems.When "others" were relieved of their suffering, they were grateful. We, on the other hand, think relief from suffering is a right, so when it doesn't happen we rebel. "What sort of God would allow this to happen to ME, US, THEM?! God must not be good, powerful, etc. because my world was rocked!"In other words, the only difference between the ages are our expectations.
January 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm
>Melinda I like story and I celebrate the healing with you!!I just wanted to comment on the "who are we to say?" idea. I get what you saying and I agree that I have seen the same sort of presumptuous stuff I think you are referring to. I think that that there are 3 things that allow to have this conversation:1) we have testimony of Scripture about the revelation of Christ2) we have church history which gives us the ability to track certain things.3) we have reason because of the brains that God gave usI think that allows us to take on this project.
January 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm
>Ike – IF I were to subscribe to what you are saying… I would want more than just the one change to be stipulated :)I think that there are (at least) three things that have changed:1. our expectation2. the WAY that we talk about this (vocabulary and mental frameworks)3. our perception of and ability to perceive what is going on.so even IF I was going to subscribe to what you are saying – I would want several other variables accounted for. How does that sit with you?
January 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm
>Good post. It has me thinking out loud, some of which I’m trying to write down and hope relates, at least in part, to what you are saying. As it pertains to the missio dei, maybe what we are beginning to see is a different incarnation, but the same new creation lived out in different forms/expressions under different (eschatalogical) circumstances. And, I have found, (though I am no expert) that the gifts of the Spirit seem to function differently when they are not conformed to a classic Charismatic/Pentecostal ecclesiology. Some differences might include a greater sensitivity to issues of contextualization, realizing the Spirit of God is relational, empowering us first to engage others in culture…outside the four walls. This might mean the activity of the Spirit appears, at times, less flamboyant and “unexceptional” than the traditional charismatic expression. But, just because something other than a certain form of, say, revivalism may be taking place – possibly something more “on the ground”; it doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t at work, guiding us effectively, creatively (and often subversively) to meet the unique challenges we are facing today. It seems that abstract ideas about the presence of God, the power of God and the divine enablement of God are finding their way back into the missional PURPOSE of God, a spirituality that works both in community and in public, in open spaces. Maybe missional churches are a sign to the world of God’s presence and faithfulness incarnationally, an alternative humanity/community “among”. And here we also begin to draw upon the immense resources of the re-creative Spirit in order to discover collectively, genuine and sustainable counter-possibilities to the secular imagination.