This is the first in a series of three blogs by Dr. William Malcomson, our theologian-in-residence. They are based on an Adult Learning class that Bill taught this spring.
An age old question for Christian theology is called Theodicy. It can take various forms. How can an all-powerful God allow so much evil in the world? Or: Why doesn't God intervene to stop evil? I approach this question in three topics:
1. An evolving view of God.
2. An evolving view of Evil.
3. An evolving view of Power.
An evolving view of God:
1. I would hold that the basic religious experience is not an experience of God or a god. It is the experience of the Presence of something not totally knowable by the five senses. It is an awareness of an "energy," a "force," within us, among us, surrounding us, which we cannot fully understand, but which inspires awe, fascination, and fear. It is the experience of a Presence in all that is living: humans, animals, the earth--all that is.
2. In some, but not in all of the spiritual wisdom teachings of humanity, human-like characteristics have been attached to the Presence: Great Mother, Father God, Loving Spirit, etc. Perhaps we attach human characteristics in order to communicate with the Presence. We know how to talk with humans, so we wish to talk, to communicate in a normal way with that which seems to be more than human, but, perhaps, human-like. Or, particularly, if we fear the Presence, we would like to have some control over it. Or, at least, some way of persuading it to see our point of view, to be aware of our desires.
3. It is also believed in some spiritual traditions that the Presence reveals itself to humans in particular ways: visions, dreams, words, spiritual practices, human mediators. So that it is not only a matter of our wanting to communicate with the Presence, but of its desire to communicate with us. Perhaps to affect our lives, to intervene, to make things happen.
4. The question of theodicy assumes that there is some kind of Being or that the Presence is a Being who is human-like who can make things happen or not happen.
5. In the spiritual experience of the Abrahamic peoples (Jews, Christians, Muslims) the tendency has been to focus on particular words (scripture), mediators (Muhammad, Jesus, Moses), practices (prayer, worship), as the only valid revelations of the Presence. Though it is important to state that there have always been more orthodox or exclusivist traditions in each of these three and many less orthodox and more inclusivist traditions. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all "families of faiths" containing many varieties of spiritual experiences.
6. I believe that it is very limiting to think of the experience of the Presence as exclusively the experience of a human-like God. Thus, I believe that the question of theodicy is a false question. I believe that the experience of the Presence is almost infinitely varied and takes a multitude of forms throughout the history of humankind. And I do not believe that there is one revelation that is a final or definitive revelation, either in a scripture or through a mediator which defines the true nature of the Presence.
7. Instead of using the word God, I prefer Spirit. To me, this word suggest an all-pervading Presence within, among, and surrounding all that is. Spirit says to me an inclusive Presence with which we can connect in meditation, focused awareness, wordless wonder. Spirit unites us with all of life: Animals, earth, cosmos.
8. Such a view as I am suggesting does not, by any means, answer all questions. For example, does Spirit guide us, in any sense? Is Spirit compassionate? Can Spirit abandon us? I would say that it is within my experience that all of these can happen. But I need to be humble in describing these experiences and certainly in no way prescriptive.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist