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Two Images of Doubting Thomas and a reflection on Faith

April 16, 2007

The first is Doubting Thomas by the master, Caravaggio.

This is a modern reinterpretation of Carravaggio’s piece by John Granville Gregory, titled Still Doubting.

Mimi, over at the Wounded Bird, has a very good post on this topic, and I stole the image of the Caravaggio painting from her. The Caravaggio is by far the superior painting – his use of chiarascuro is masterful, providing a certain drama the second picture lacks. So even though I prefer Caravaggio’s image, I do very much like the juxtaposition of these two similar paintings. The idea espoused by the modern version, that Christ still has disciples living today, and that some of those disciples still desire to be able to “touch” it, in order to be able to know it, is comforting to me. I’m betting that Thomas was probably an experiential learner – he needed to “do” a thing to learn it, to “see” it, to understand how it all works.

As a Christian who has doubts about certain aspects of the creeds, it was good for me to hear and read sermons and reflections on the nature of faith and doubt, and how closely one walks with the other. Sometimes, I’ve felt that I am broken in someway, or perhaps “not good enough” or “not trying enough”. It’s good to be reminded that I have Apostolic company, and that I am not alone. Faith is something that doesn’t come easily or automatically for others, so, it’s not just me. I’m probably an experiential learner, too. I learn best by “doing” and “seeing it done”.

A while ago, during a theological discussion over at OCICBW, MadPriest talked about how he “willed” himself to believe those aspects of the creeds and Christian tradition which seemed “unbelievable” or “irrational”; that is, he basically made himself accept them, and didn’t dwell on the aspects which are sometimes overwhelmingly troublesome to me – he trusted in God that they were “right”, and left his own triflings by the wayside (at least, this is how I interpreted his words). As I was reading yesterday’s reflection on the lectionary readings from Forward Movement this morning, the author of yesterday’s reflection spoke of “reaching out to grasp the gift of faith”, and MadPriest’s words came rushing back into my memory, reinforcing the personal responsibilty we have to seek faith (albeit, I’m likely to always seek it in a questioning way – it’s my nature).

So today I’ve rediscovered that faith is not something which just falls into your lap, like manna from the sky. It is something which you must seek, actively, in order to “receive” the gift of faith through God’s grace. And, perhaps, it is something which defies rationality – it just is. And, allowing yourself to acknowledge that somethings are a mystery – that they just are, doesn’t mean you’ve given over all attempts to be a rational, thinking person.

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43 Comments leave one →
  1. Grandmère Mimi permalink
    April 16, 2007 12:49 pm

    Eileen, blogwhoring is fine with me.

    To your post, I would say, “Of course!” I can give you a present, but if you don’t reach out your hand and take it and open it up, then you won’t have the gift.

    I am a firm believer in “acting as if”. I believe that living the Way Jesus laid out in the Gospels is the right thing to do. That I’m sure of. Living out the Gospels as part of a like-minded community is also something I’m sure of.

    As to the rest of the “beliefs”, there are times when I more sure of the beliefs and times when I’m less sure. I am certain about living out the Gospels within the Body of Christ, therefore I “act as if” the rest of it is true, even during periods of doubt.

    And maybe that makes no sense at all.

  2. Grandmère Mimi permalink
    April 16, 2007 12:52 pm

    P.S. I like the two pictures together.

  3. Eileen permalink
    April 16, 2007 12:54 pm

    No – I think it does make sense.

    Christians used to live by authority alone. Then, we got uppity, and said, well, I can think for myself, and now that I can, I’m gonna question all this stuff.

    I don’t think the questioning today is different from at any other time, just the “authority”. So, previously, perhaps you figured you just didn’t now enough – Father said, pastor said, and so, it’s enough for me.

    Questioning is fine, but, sometimes, I think, you need to turn off the questions, because they can get in the way of the relationship, and they may ultimately not be that important anyway. So, fake it until you make it – or live it out, as you say. I think, in these modern times, when we know so much and so little all at the same time, it’s the only “sane” way to function as a Christian.

  4. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 16, 2007 12:59 pm

    Mad Priest’s active suspension of his rational mind represents something that I would never do in a million years.

    If there is one thing that is central to my conception of faith, it is can be completely consistent with having a rational mind. You don’t have to believe in fairy tales in order to have a spiritual mind.

    The problem I have with even calling someone a “doubter” is that it takes the creeds or dogmas as a standard against which those who disagree are measured. There is a built in bias in calling it “doubt”. But those who accept those creeds are themselves doubters with respect to, for example, my beliefs. So why don’t they get called “doubters” also? As I see it, all of us are doubters of those we disagree with, but only the “heretics” get that label applied to them.

    I have to say that comments like what you cited Mad Priest as having said really rub me the wrong way. I don’t know why it is so hard for people in the Christian tradition to just say to themselves, “this isn’t rational, and I’m not going to believe it!”

  5. Ann permalink
    April 16, 2007 1:07 pm

    I was taken by the “seeing the wounds” line and blogged about it. Seems like we love violence on TV but can’t look at the wounds of the world.

  6. Eileen permalink
    April 16, 2007 1:16 pm

    It goes back to a matter of “desire”, I think, Mystical. Christian people want to believe it – they want a supernatural/divine experience/connection – they want the fairy tale to be true because they find value and/or comfort in it.

    No one can make you to believe something you don’t believe. Ever.

    But, I don’t think coming up with a different interpretation of traditional beliefs means that you aren’t a believer (which is probably where I am). Nor does understanding “why” a certain thing was put into a creed or dogma to begin with mean you have no faith – just that you want to be aware of WHY.

    I think, in part, some of this goes toward mysticism for me. And mysticism isn’t rational. It’s an out of mind or body experience – which can be very positive.

    Certain things in the Christian faith are a mystery. My willingness to accept them or some version of them, even through force of will, just show my desire to a be part of a Christian mysticism. I find value in it, even though, it goes against some of what I believe to be true (for example – God in the sky, or the Virgin Mary, etc.) I do value to mysticism and romanticism of those notions, even while believing they aren’t a litmus test for who is or isn’t Christian.

    The question for me is, what good does having the question answered do me? How is it furthering my faith?

    All life takes faith of some kind. We don’t “know” what is going to happen to tomorrow, but we live with the faith it will come, and perhaps be even better than today (at least we hope). What we “know” only goes so far. There are things we don’t know yet. And something, we may never “know” because the knowledge is lost to time (such as what actually occurred on Easter Day – we may think we know, but we don’t. We can only hope or surmise.)

    Mystery is a part of life.

    I will always want to know as much as I can, but, I think, I need to look at the value of asking the question. Do I get what I hope to get by having the answer? Sometimes, the answer is yes, and sometimes, it’s no.

  7. Pisco Sours permalink
    April 16, 2007 1:28 pm

    I had absolutely no problems with accepting the Christian mysteries. My only problem, actually, was with the preamble to the Athanasian Creed–I don’t know what I’m going to do on Trinity Sunday because I can’t assent to that portion of it, ever.

  8. Eileen permalink
    April 16, 2007 1:33 pm

    Don’t go to services that day, that’s what I’d suggest.

    Or go, and don’t say the creed.

    No one can make you.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    April 16, 2007 1:41 pm

    What about people, though, that have had a very different experience, who actually started out not accepting authority, and questioning the creeds, who really didn’t even have a strong desire to believe or to have an orthodox faith…?

    And, then had the unthinkable happen. They came to reason and think that the central tenets of the Christian faith were all objectively true, and that the empty tomb was a reality, a real C.S. Lewis kind of “conversion.”

    Do you know what I mean? There are people who not so much choose to believe, but are almost driven to affirm the gospel, coming from a deep conviction of truth out of sincere questioning and spiritual struggle.

    Grace.

  10. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 16, 2007 1:58 pm

    No one can make you to believe something you don’t believe. Ever.

    I wonder about that. I think that sometimes people convince themselves that they have no choice but to accept a set of beliefs as a package. So you have people like Mad Priest just sort of waving a magic wand in their heads and convincing themselves that they have to accept certain dogmas.

    This, in my mind, has been the biggest problem with Christianity in the post-Enlightenment era. It is why so many people are driven away from Christianity. Rational people listen to people like Mad Priest and assume that they have to give up their brains in order to be Christians. I don’t mean to pick on Mad Priest–I love his blog and his sense of humor–but this is really a huge sticking point with me. I just came back from vacationing in a country where Christianity is the state religion, but where only 22% of the citizens believe that the resurrection was literally true–and guess what? The churches are mostly empty. Imagine how many people are driven away from Christianity because they think, like Mad Priest did, that one has no choice but to just swallow all the creeds wholesale if one is to live within the Christian tradition.

  11. Grandmère Mimi permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:07 pm

    If there is one thing that is central to my conception of faith, it is can be completely consistent with having a rational mind. You don’t have to believe in fairy tales in order to have a spiritual mind.

    Mystical seeker, it seems to me that there is a reality beyond that which we can arrive at by reason which is not necessarily “completely consistent with having a rational mind”. That reality would be, IMHO, the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached, that upside down world in which the first shall be last, and the powerful will be brought down, where justice for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sick, and the prisoners will flow freely.

    The so-called rational mind, the “enlightened mind” has often taken us to very dark places. Putting our trust in human reason can be as foolish as putting faith in fairy tales.

  12. Eileen permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:12 pm

    I have to disagree, Mystical. If people choose to believe a thing, it’s because they want to, they desire to. I’m no sheep. I choose what I wish to believe or not, and that’s between God and I, not organized religion, God and I.

    MP doesn’t require that belief, btw, he just reported that as his own experience. He doesn’t give a hang why any one of us would choose to affiliate with Christianity or not, so much as the fact exists that one does “desire” to be part of it, in some way shape or form.

  13. Dennis permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:16 pm

    lots of doctrinal discussions on this little collection of blogs around OCICBW…

    for various reasons I’m going to try and lay low from the theological discussions… only worry is it means I’ll wind up dropping out of “the club” but i’ll pop in on occasion to speak out in favor of doubting and questioning.

    anyway, spending today shocked and horrified at the shootings in Virginia today. at some point today I’m going to have to turn off the tv and try to process it all. so far 32 dead.

  14. Eileen permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:21 pm

    32 dead now? OMG…

    And BTW, arguing is allowed on my blog. You can believe whatever you want here. I may disagree, but then again, I eat ketchup on my eggs.

  15. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:23 pm

    That reality would be, IMHO, the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached, that upside down world in which the first shall be last, and the powerful will be brought down, where justice for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sick, and the prisoners will flow freely.

    I agree with you, Grandmère Mimi. That is what my religion is also about. There is nothing irrational about any of that, nothing in any of that involves suspension of belief in scientific laws that govern the universe.

    What interests me is the synthesis of rationality with religion. I think that one can be both rational and religious, that one can believe in a deeper, divine reality that both encompasses and exceeds the physical world–without believing that the physical laws of the world somehow have to be suspended as part of that religious belief.

  16. Dennis permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:30 pm

    no, right now I’m just not up to theological arguments at all. Not worried that I could say something that would get me thrown out -rather worried that by having nothing to say I’ll wind up dropping out – so I may still pop around and have some non theological quips to add.

    just don’t feel like theological debates right now. just dont. maybe later.

    fox (not that I watch them) is saying 32. CNN is saying at least 22.
    I hope CNN is closer to the truth than Fox.

    Bushie will make a statement in a couple of hours. prepare to be offended.

  17. Eileen permalink
    April 16, 2007 2:37 pm

    CNN just updated to say AP is reporting 31 dead (30 + the shooter).

    UGH.

    I’m always prepared to be offended by Bush. Always.

    As for the Theo discuss., that’s fine. Just don’t be a stranger.

  18. Anonymous permalink
    April 16, 2007 3:13 pm

    Prayers for these folks in Virginia. How horrible!

    Mystical, I can see what you’re saying to some extent. But, there is a difference between being irrational, and realizing the limits of human knowledge, and full understanding of the mystery of God.

    If there is a God who created the universe from nothing, why is it thought irrational that this same God could even raise the dead? In a way it would seem irrational to think that this could never happen, as if we can put limits on an all powerful God.

    How can we actually prove that God always does the same things today, in the same way as He has done in the past.

    If the incarnation is true, and Jesus really did come back from death, then that presupposition is shown to be in error, don’t you think???

    Grace.

  19. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 16, 2007 3:45 pm

    Grace, for what it’s worth, I don’t believe in the concept of creation ex nihilo. A big influence in my thinking is process theology, and as a result I don’t think that God willed the universe into existence by fiat out of nothing.

    The basic argument you are using seems to me to be an appeal to the God of gaps, and I think that this has been shown to be a philosophically untenable way of reconciling science and religion.

  20. April 16, 2007 4:45 pm

    Oh my, too many wieghty matters — mind spins.

    Questioning — good. Doubting — Like that’s never happened before!

    Eileen, if by “broken” you mean there are matters of faith regarding which we must say “I will with God’s help,” then I would see your brokeness as wholeness, which is a dichotamy that defies rationalization, and I believe is quite true.

    And brokeness regarding “not being good enough” is just fine, since if that were not part of our faith walk, we’d be measuring our degrees of spirituality like a big ol’ pissin’ contest to determine which of us is the most worthy. That would be the stuff of religion.

    Grace (The gift, not the person.) precluded all of that nonsense. Resting in grace seems quite rational to me. I would absolutely agree with you regarding the mystery of the indwelling Spirit. If God is not interested in, incapable of recreating Him/Herself in us, has no interest in being in relationship with us, then I need to start liking Sunday sports events and forget the nonsense of Christian community.

    Too much speaking for MadPriest going on here and I won’t attempt to put words into the mouth of the priest who is mad; that would be a fool’s errand. Mystical, I can say that I have never read him to advocate for suspension of scientific law. In fact, quite the contrary.

    Many, far from all, of us in these discussions that extend from the hub of OCICBW, are creedal conservative. Your comments would seem to suggest, for those for whom this is the case, all rational thought must be checked at the door — a comment that is just a, well, a wee bit condescending. I would never suggest the same regarding one who sees such statements of faith a different way and am puzzled as to why that would not be a mutual grace. However, I have no trouble agreeing with you that we are all “doubters” whether we understand that or not.

    Good discussion, Eileen! Now stop it or we might hurt some thinking muscles!

  21. Anonymous permalink
    April 16, 2007 9:25 pm

    Mystical,

    How can we know anything of God at all unless He chooses to reveal Himself to us? Have you thought of this?

    I realize that some people might view what I’m saying as like a cop out. You know as soon as we can’t explain something just bring in God, or say it’s some kind of mystery.

    Mystical, when I was a very young woman, I was struggling with tons of issues of faith, basically questioning, and even accusing God, if He was there at all.

    Suddenly, out of the blue, in the middle of all this I had a sense of the awesome presence of the Lord, and I felt humbled. I can’t explain this, Mystical not with words, really.

    The closest I can come is just to share the Scripture that says, “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts, ..my judgements are past finding out. It was all like a Jobian experience, or something like out of Isaiah.

    I felt humbled, and totally opened to know the God who was really there, no matter what. It was soon after this that I came to faith in Christ.

    I feel that Christian faith does involve some mystery, and the acceptance that we don’t have it all figured out, our understanding is finite. But, I have to agree with KJ, it’s not about checking our brains at the church door.

    I could never be a Christian if I just chose to believe something no matter what, even if I felt it was all untrue. I have this deep conviction of the truth of the gospel.

    It’s not at all based on insecurity, a need for authority, or wanting to believe no matter what. The whole thing is infinitely deeper, and involves unity with Christ. Our lives have become hidden in Christ with God.

    I guess this is the best I can do in sharing, Mystical.

    Thanks for your thoughts too. 🙂

    God bless!!

    Grace.

  22. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 16, 2007 10:40 pm

    I must point out I have never said that God is not a mystery. On the contrary, I think that God’s nature is incredibly mysterious. I also believe that people can come into contact with God’s presence in deep and meaningful ways. If I didn’t believe that, I would not have any interest in religion. It is the experience of the Divine that I find myself most drawn to, that I feel drew me towards exploring the Christian faith.

    To me, the ways that we characterize and translate our experience of the Divine are where we sometimes get in trouble. It is the dogmas and creeds and the claims of exclusivity, and worst of all, the irrational claims, that I find the most problematic. In any case, if I hadn’t discovered Christians like John Cobb, Marcus Borg, Jack Good, and John Spong (or Jewish writers like Harold Kushner), I would not be delving into a faith in God at all at this point. It was progressives like those individuals who allowed me to break out of the “rationality versus faith” false dichotomy that not just a lot of Christians accept, but also a lot of atheists unfortunately believe in as well (I am thinking of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris).

    God makes sense to me as the underpinning of our existence, as a kind of infinite basis that lies underneath our reality, as a presence who calls out to us. And I believe in the reality of mysticism.

    The problem I see is that over and over again, so much of Christianity seems to just assume that you have to choose between rationality and faith. A lot of people buy into this, and they respond in one of two ways: they either just take the leap of faith in favor of the irrational, a la Kirkegaard or Mad Priest; or they go the other direction and become total secularists. The idea that faith = superstition is so ingrained in so many people’s thinking, regardless of which side they fall on, that those for whom faith is important talk themselves into embracing the irrational. But I believe it just isn’t necessary to do so.

    I think that John Spong is right that Christianity must change or die. We’re seeing it in Europe in spades, where the churches are empty, despite the fact that there really is a spiritual yearning there. Here in the US, mainline denominations have been losing members for decades, as people join the “Church Alumni Association”. Many of those people who have left organized religion still have spiritual cravings, but mainline Christianity just isn’t satisfying it. And that, to me, is really unfortunate.

  23. Catherine + permalink
    April 16, 2007 11:12 pm

    The death count is 33 including the shooter. One of the wounded was DOA at the hospital. I got this from MSNBC and CNN tonight PST.

    I’m with Dennis on this today. It’s hard to think, if at all, about theological matters with what has happened at VT.

    I will say this: I believe all the mysteries did occur. I do believe in the resurrected Christ, the empty tomb, the immaculate conception…why? Because NOTHING is impossible for God. For some, the mysteries will be fairy tales or irrational concepts, but those of us who are truly mystical seekers [no pun intended, Mystical] of the intangible…well, we understand and “get it”.

    I think I’m moody tonight, given this day. Time to reflect and enter the “zone” of prayer.

  24. Rev Ruth permalink
    April 17, 2007 3:39 am

    If you love Carravagio, you’ll love The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers . It’s just out in paperback and I read the whole book yesterday and loved it. Glorious themes of redemption and love. One of those books you want to give to everyone you meet.

  25. Anonymous permalink
    April 17, 2007 8:47 am

    Mystical,

    Are you feeling that God is personal, that He loves us, and that we actually can experience a relationship with Him? Do you think that God is always present with us, and at the sametime intervening in our lives for the good everyday?

    I know that I’ve read what you’ve been sharing before. And, this must be true for some folks, but I’m not totally certain why?

    I’ve met so many very educated, intelligent people who are orthodox Christians. Many of these orthodox churches are bursting at the seams, and growing

    I know alot of folks believe, and I’m not saying this is you Mystical, but it’s thought that all these folks must be insecure, grasping at straws, fearful of change, and the unknown, and this is why they all still affirm things such as the reality of the incarnation, or the resurrection of the Lord, etc.

    I realize that I’m only one voice out here, but I can only bear witness that I have not found this to be true in most cases. It’s definitely not where I’m at.

    So, for me, I think there must be other factors at work. Why do some people come to apprehend the gospel, the faith of the church as being true and reasonable, and others not?

    Still, no matter what, God meets us where we’re at, and honors our honest seeking.

    I really do appreciate hearing all your thoughts, Mystical.

    God bless!!

    Grace.

  26. Eileen permalink
    April 17, 2007 9:12 am

    Grace – If how you believe works for you, and others like you (which is whom we usually choose to associate with, and surround ourselves with, so, I’m not surprised you feel as you do about those conservatives you know), that is FINE. I’m not in the position to challenge what works for anyone else in their relationship to God.

    In my opinion and in my experience, I have found conservatives to be exactly the opposite of what you describe. Having a high IQ doesn’t automatically make you brilliant in all areas of your life. I know plenty of intellectual types running around with their heads up their asses in terms of real-life stuff. They are great theorists, but they can’t be bothered keeping their checkbooks balanced, or paying their bills on time, you know what I mean?

    I will ask you, once, to cease and desist in questioning people as to WHY they don’t believe like you. That is your own personal struggle – if you want to write about it, and discuss it, please start your own blog, and you can dialouge there about it in any way you choose. Your blog, your rules.

    Here, you can discuss why YOU feel as you do and why you don’t feel as others do. You MAY NOT challenge people on their belief systems. That is very personal, and is almost, in my mind, tantamount to asking people when the last time they had sex was, and what they did during that time, and then to make them defend why they don’t like the missionary position or oral sex or what have you.

    This is not a forum for conversion. Please limit yourself to “I” statements, just as if I was running a therapy group – this is the way to best present your beliefs without offending others. This is a somewhat ecumenical blog, so I will ask that you keep your beliefs at a personal level. Thanks.

    I understand that you want to better understand, but you seem to not understand that progressive Christians are utterly and completely offended by your dogged questioning of WHY they can’t accept certain things that you and those you associate with do.

    You ask Mystical why she can’t accept a magical God. Why, in the face of evidence to the contrary, can’t you accept that there ISN’T a magical God?

    And ultimately, what does it matter? You need to do what works for you spiritually. The rest of us aren’t YOU Grace. And just because “everybody else is doing it” doesn’t make it the “only way to do it”.

  27. David permalink
    April 17, 2007 11:26 am

    Thanks, Eileen, for that last bit.

    /me gives our host a big “thumbs up”

    Well said (and always, of course – your blog, your rules).

    And while this may just throw gasoline on the fire, I’ve gotta respond to this “personal God” concept, which seems to be so key to many, self-described conservatives (a.k.a. the “Jesus is my best buddy” model).

    I simply cannot reconcile this concept with the problem of theodicy w/o my head exploding. This “human” like deity as vengeful, wish-granting, magical sky genie just doesn’t work for me.

    Which is why I’m most properly classified as some sort of panentheist, I guess 😉

  28. Eileen permalink
    April 17, 2007 11:49 am

    Thanks, David. 😉

  29. Anonymous permalink
    April 17, 2007 1:11 pm

    Ok, Eileen. Although, I truly meant no offense at all.

    But, this is your blog, afterall. 🙂

    Grace.

  30. Anonymous permalink
    April 17, 2007 4:30 pm

    David,

    When I think about a personal God who is very present, and also intervening in our lives everyday, I’m thinking very much of the teaching of Jesus in the gospels.

    I’m reading where Jesus shares,

    For the Son of Man, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Matt. 20:28.

    Also, that beautiful Scripture in Luke 15 about how a loving God seeks us out like a valuable lost coin or a wandering sheep, and wants a relationship with us really speaks to me.

    I personally don’t think of Jesus as my buddy in the sky. I think we have this mystical unity with Christ, and that in God we “live and move, and have our being.”

    That’s what I meant to share.

    Grace.

  31. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 17, 2007 5:21 pm

    I don’t have a problem with the idea of a personal God. I do have a problem with the idea of a personal God who is a patriarchal father figure who intervenes in the laws of nature from time to time (particularly if well-connected people have enough people petitioning “him” to do so). Which is to say–I have problems with the idea of a God who is said by the Bible to have intervened in history by (for example) inducing Cyrus the Great to liberate the Jews in Exile, but but who ignored the pleas of six million Jews and were murdered in the Holocaust; who impregnates a virgin and then has his offspring killed and brought back to life; and who also might just cure Aunt Gertie’s goiter because all her nieces and nephews asked “him” to do it, thus making Aunt Gertie more important than six million holocaust victims, apparently.

    But I don’t think that panentheism is inconsistent with the idea of a personal God (and I say this as someone who likes very much the idea of panentheism). To me a personal God can encompass the universe while also exceeding it. The real nature of this “person” who is God, of course, is another question altogether–probably unfathomable in the human imagination. And maybe God embodies both the personal and the impersonal, kind of like in quantum physics, where light can be said to consist of both particles and waves. Or something like that.

  32. Catherine + permalink
    April 17, 2007 6:41 pm

    Thankfully the real of God is triune:
    Father, Son and Holy Spirit [It’s Girl!]. As you read the classic Christian writers, including the women mystics and intellectuals from ancient times to present, we have come to know God/Christ as mother, the feminine aspect of God. I do not see God as patriarchal though parts of society–past, present and undoubtedly future–will continue to see God as patriarchal and will behave accordingly. I am thankful however, that God, in the Triune state is both male and female, mother and father, brother and sister [Christ], and the Holy Spirit, she is Holy Wisdom and is so referred to in in the Tanakh, the Apocrypha and Gnostic texts.

  33. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 17, 2007 6:53 pm

    I think it is great that God is envisioned as female in certain parts of the Jewish and Christian traditions. But when I refer to God as patriarchal, I am not necessarily talking about God’s gender (although “he” is often described as male in that role), but also about God’s role as an authoritarian figure who uses omnipotent intervention to break the conventional physical laws of the universe from time to time. This authoritarian figure is often conceived as male, of course, but it is the authoritarianism itself that I am mostly referring to.

  34. Anonymous permalink
    April 18, 2007 8:53 am

    Oh, Mystical,

    I think every thinking Christian has struggled with the question of suffering, and sin and evil in the world. Why doesn’t God intervene right now? Why do some apparently receive an answer to prayer, and others not?

    When I pray, it’s not so much that I think I’m petitioning a God that is out there somewhere to change things. I think that it’s actually God’s spirit who is also at work within me in a sense praying, and I want to more fully realize the unity that I have with Christ, to be conformed to Him, and to God’s work in me, and in the whole world.

    I believe that God is with people in the middle of their suffering, and that He deeply cares. I’ve seen His love in the face of Jesus. The Lord teaches that even the “hairs of our heads are numbered to God. 🙂 )

    Corrie ten Boom was able to write even from the depths of a Nazi death camp, “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”

    Grace.

  35. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 18, 2007 10:39 am

    There is really a very simple resolution of the problem of theodicy: God isn’t omnipotent.

    Once you accept that, then there is nothing that a person of faith has to struggle with on this subject. Rabbi Kushner expresses this sort of viewpoint in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”. Prayer for him becomes simply a matter of being in the presence of God, not petitioning “him” to intervene on our behalf.

    John Cobb discusses the view of process theology on the subject of theodicy here. I wrote a commentary on this in my blog on Cobb’s article last November.

    I think that the idea of God as omnipotent intervener in the world is a very patriarchal concept, which is also why I used the word “patriarchal” in my previous comments. That is why process theology, which rejects the idea of divine omnipotence, also stresses that it rejects the concept of God as male.

  36. Eileen permalink
    April 18, 2007 10:50 am

    Mystical – I’m interested, at some point, to do some reading up on process theology.

    Who/what would you recommend as a good place to start?

  37. Mystical Seeker permalink
    April 18, 2007 11:31 am

    Good question, Eileen. I discovered it by reading a book by John Cobb and David Griffin called “Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition”. The book is over 30 yeras old now, so maybe there are others that are better introductions. You might try checking out for an intro. Also the web site has a lot of resources you could peruse.

  38. Grandmère Mimi permalink
    April 18, 2007 12:18 pm

    I think that the idea of God as omnipotent intervener in the world is a very patriarchal concept…

    Mystical, I agree. Nevertheless, I pray petitionary prayers. Go figure.

    I know that the prayers help me, and my hope is that the prayers enfold those I pray for in God’s love, which already enfolds them. God’s time is not our time.

  39. the Reverend boy permalink
    April 18, 2007 12:56 pm

    Amen, Eileen.

    Faith is a gift from God. I think that when we ask questions it only serves to draw us closer to Truth.

    If I, as a gay man, never questioned certain passages of Scripture, I would have discarded my faith altogether or worse, continued in a tortured spiritual state.

    Thank God for Thomas!

  40. Eileen permalink
    April 18, 2007 1:20 pm

    I don’t believe in an all powerful, omnipotent God either, and yet, I pray petitionary and intercessionary prayers as well.

    I do it for me, and for those I pray for. It’s good for me to be aware of the concerns of others, and to put some positive energy out into the “ether”, so to speak. To reach out to the Divine Reality to heal the unhealable; to accept the unacceptable.

    My God beliefs are complicated, I guess. LOL

    Revboy – Welcome, and glad you found something meaningful in my little post.

  41. Anonymous permalink
    April 18, 2007 7:20 pm

    I feel that it’s not so much that God is helpless, and unable to intervene to put an end to evil, and suffering. It’s just that He’s unable to do this, and allow human freedom, an ability to freely choose Him, and the good at the sametime. (And, God can work redemption even through suffering.) I think that there’s a sense that right now even the whole creation is experiencing a kind of temporary bondage.

    But, to say that God is not omnipotent is also to have to affirm that Christ did not really conquer sin, evil, and death so to speak, that the evil powers may yet win out..Don’t you think??

    I can’t say that I would see any of this as patriarchal. For me, it all has nothing to do with any gender concept, male or female.

    Grace.

  42. Catherine + permalink
    April 20, 2007 1:09 pm

    My last word on this post:

    It is not that think or believe in a real, omnipotent God…it is that I KNOW Him to be so. I believe in the divinity of Christ. It is not envisioning anything, and I don’t appreciate someone trying to psychoanalyze my faith and knowledge in God. I have no doubts like some others here. When you have actually known Him all your life and sense His presence every moment of your life, that is knowledge, logos.

    I don’t know the God that some here are expressing that they believe in but it is not the same God that I know personally.

    As for evil and suffering, its’s the risk God took when He gave us free will. He desired His creation to willingly love Him, not automatically love Him, like a bunch of robots. He knew the risk He was taking in giving us this gift and He was willing to take it to earn the love and appreciation of His creation. What we choose to do with that free will is up to each of us. If we want control and power, then we create evil more than good. If we choose compassion and giving spirits, we create good.

    This is my last word on this post.

  43. Anonymous permalink
    April 21, 2007 9:38 am

    Mother Catherine,

    I hope you might come back for one last word. 🙂 (As you can see, I’m orthodox, and evangelical in the faith.) But, I am very interested to learn more concerning the feminine imagery used for God that is pictured in the Scripture. I’ve heard before that many of the terms used to image the Holy Spirit are feminine. Could you recommend some good books on this subject written from a Biblical perspective?

    Thanks, I would have asked sooner, but became sidetracked.

    Grace.

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