Comprehensible Human Justice?

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“In Polkinghorne’s description of the world physicists know, I began to hear about a
cosmic extension of the morality tale of Genesis. Every minute aspect of the living world,
he said has free will―not just human hearts and minds, but animals and plants, storm
clouds, cancer cells, tectonic plates. This sets up a constant jostling, competition and
collision between strong given natures, and inevitable shadow side to creation. There is
suffering, and there are losers, and there is muddle. But Polkinghoren adds that quantum
physics as it has evolved is describing something more ‘supple’ and ‘subtle’ than a world
merely left to the restless inertia of natural laws. It sees a back drop of interplay between
order and disorder, between patterned structure and open possibilities. Multitudinous life
functions in its essence and moves forward relentlessly―human beings breathed; grass
grows; storm clouds gather. But there are also places of randomness, openings in fixed
processess, that might have implications for something like prayer. The laws of nature make
room for human action and possibly for God to act in time and space.”

―Krista Tippett
Speaking of Faith (pg. 86)

“Now I understand that God is not just rooting for the [humans]. We and our vermin all
blossomed together out of the same humid soil in the Great Rift Valley, and so far no one is
really winning. Five million years is a long partnership. If you could for a moment rise
up out of your own beloved skin and appraise ant, human and virus as eually resourceful
beings, you might admire the accord they have all struck in Africa.”

―Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible

“It was a memory, he seemed to say, that challenged the belief of his childhood, not in the
existencev of God, but in a God who practiced comprehensible, human justice.”

―Tracy Kidder
Strength in What Remains (pg. 150)

BME (before my experience), when I was an atheist I didn’t really think about why things happened, since I didn’t tussle over questions of free will or predestination or “God’s will.” Biology was the answer to why people died of disease, bad timing covered why they got hit by buses, and messed up psychology covered things like the holocaust, grinding poverty and power struggles answered Rwandan genocide.

I thought those answeres might change AME (after my experience). But in the end they didn’t all that much. I still don’t really believe in a God whose got Its fingers in our pies. Deciding who lives or dies. Answers the prayers of some but not others. Letting these ones die of cancer or get hit by a bus or get raped and left to die in an alley while those ones over there It saves from similar fates. If God made me and It made the AIDS virus, who am I to presume I’m the prodigal daughter? As Kingsolver suggests in The Poisonwood Bible, perhaps we were all created equally resourceful. It goes to the presumption of understanding God’s motivation or even presuming It has motivation. It goes to the presumption of a plan, a purpose. Oh how we torture ourselves trying to divine Divine purpose.

Even BME I thought one of the best explanantions for God was a little thing George Lucas called the Force. A creative but not conscious force that flowed through everything and which we all had the opportunity to tap into if we so choose. We all stood in the stream of the force and it was our choice to keep standing there, to try to swim upstream, or to pick up our feet and float on down. The metaphor is a bit labored, but it still often makes a lot of sense to me. Except when it doesn’t . . . .

If you believe in God, where do you stand on the whole question of It’s involvement in the universe or, as Kidder asks, a “God who practice[s] comprehensible human justice.” What kind of decisions do you think God makes, if any? If you don’t believe in a God who’s in control, how do you envision how the universe “works”?

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4 responses »

  1. “If you don’t believe in a God who’s in control, how do you envision how the universe ‘works’?”

    Personally, I’m OK with the “WYSIWYG” universe — a messy and complex naturalistic tangle where complex natural phenomena like you and me might have evolved from less complex phenomena.

    I’m borrowing the “WYSIWYG” term from the computer world. It stands for “What You See Is What You Get.” The term is used in computing to describe a system in which content displayed during editing appears very similar to the final output (you see bold, italic, etc on screen just like the printed page).

    As we peel back the layers of complexity, we learn more and we find ourselves at the ragged boundary between knowledge and mystery. And I’m OK with the common experience that solving one mystery in the universe may lead to more unanswered questions.

    But what we see in the universe (today with our current knowledge and a possible future where we may know even more) is the universe — “what you see is what you get.” There’s plenty of grandeur and beauty in the naturalistic world we live for me.

    I blogged about this several months ago:

    “So what’s so wrong with a ‘WYSIWYG’ world?”
    http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/2008/12/so-whats-so-wrong-with-wysiwyg-world.html

    But that’s just my opinion.

    • Steve, welcome!

      I checked out your blog on a “WYSIWYG” world. Although I kind of got lost around the turkey conversation, I just want to say I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with “WYSIWYG”. I was cool with it for 41 years. There is so much beauty in this world, so much! I wasn’t looking for a change or some overarching answer that somehow precipitated the mystical experience I had a little more than a year ago. I figured I’d find out when I died, or I’d be dead and wouldn’t care of there was nothing more, but since I wasn’t going to know before then, I really didn’t trouble myself much about the whole thing. I was completely flabbergasted to meet God. And as I mention in my first blog, I certainly don’t feel like I suddenly have all the answers. Far from it. I feel like I’ve got a lot more questions, actually. As you say:

      “As we peel back the layers of complexity, we learn more and we find ourselves at the ragged boundary between knowledge and mystery. And I’m OK with the common experience that solving one mystery in the universe may lead to more unanswered questions.”

      But I will say that I find my life so much more multi-layered now, so much richer, than it was before. That I examine myself and my role in this life in ways I never did before. This is not a judgment on anyone else’s life, whether they believe in God or not. Simply an observation on my own personal experience.

      Thanks for stopping by and bringing your own personal experience. Hope you come back for more chat!

  2. You write:

    “But I will say that I find my life so much more multi-layered now, so much richer, than it was before. That I examine myself and my role in this life in ways I never did before. This is not a judgment on anyone else’s life, whether they believe in God or not. Simply an observation on my own personal experience.”

    For me, and I’ll say this gently, this *does* feel like a judgment. I liken it to friends who have children who will say things like “you don’t know what real love is until you have children.” Hm. I don’t have, and won’t have, children. Does that mean I’m a love moron? No, I don’t think so.

    To continue the parallel: I have not had a personal real-time experience of God, and probably won’t have. God is not part of my understanding of the world. Does that mean my understanding of the world is less rich? Less layered? Actually — I think the opposite. Looking at the world, and its astounding complexity, its brilliant interconnectedness, the amazing good and the amazing evil and all that is in between — if God is in this, to my way of thinking, all becomes simplified, orchestrated, and somehow imbued with an ultimate comprehensibleness. Frankly — that seems less rich.

    I see you shaking your head, sadly. I imagine you thinking: “You just don’t get it.” Maybe so. But then? Can I say the same thing? Those who see, or choose, or embrace god — perhaps *they* don’t get it?

    A few years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with a devout Baptist — wonderful woman, very open to other ideas, even as she was deeply certain of her own personal relationship with God/Jesus. (That conflation was clearly present in her view.) We each tried very hard to understand the other’s point of view — God at the center; mystery at the center. We each tried very hard to say what motivates us to do the work we do — God urges her on; the beauty and finiteness of life urges me on. In the end, I came away thinking, well, we just see things differently. But I also worried that she was deluded; and I know she felt the same way about me.

    Is there, I wonder, a way for those who embrace God and those who do not, to find some kind of common ground? Some way of speaking about what is at the center without either side (side?) retreating to the spoken or unspoken sense of “you don’t get it”? I don’t know. I wish there were.

  3. Jean, you’ve mentioned previously that you live in evangelical-land, where there is a lot of pressure to believe as they do. Lot’s of proselytizing. I would find that very annoying myself. I simply ask that you not assume the same about me.

    I meant absolutely what I said about not judging anyone else’s experience. I didn’t start this blog to convert anyone but simply to have conversations about other people’s beliefs and experience and to be able to talk about my own. There is a difference in my personal life since my experience of the divine. My life is richer to me, compared to what it was before. My experience is more multi-layered, compared to what it was before. Every sentence in that paragraph was an “I” statement. What I mean when I say “I” is that I am talking about myself. I’m sorry you felt I was talking about you, but I really wasn’t. I have to say that I found the image you project of me shaking my head and saying, “You just don’t get it,” particularly disturbing. I mean nothing of the kind and I felt quite lumped in with the evangelicals there. Pretty much the only way you are going to get me to judge your experience is if you tell me you eat babies or something of that ilk. Then yes, I’m going to judge you : )

    In no way do I think your opinions, understandings of the world, or experience of life are less rich or multi-layered than mine. I’ve really enjoyed your additions to the conversation of this blog and I hope you keep coming back!

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