Thursday, September 08, 2005


This astute comment is from Nick Adams' passionate theological manifesto on his home page at New College, University of Edinburgh. (I've had the pleasure of working with Nick, both on the editorial board of the currently suspended Christian magazine, and on the Mission Theological Advisory Group.)

"Increasing numbers of the world's population do not know what to hope for, and find that, for whatever reason, they cannot pray. There are probably complicated reasons for this. There may also be some simple ones. I can think of two. First, our lives are marked by tragedy; second, we are powerless to prevent or explain it. Those who believe that theology should explain tragedy turn away in disappointment. Those who believe that technology or economics should prevent it give up in despair. I think they are right about technology but wrong about theology. Theology is not for explaining tragedy: it's for renewing hope and prayer, and finding deeper and better ways of articulating them. Of course, it's about many other things too. But in a world where [many] people find hoping and praying almost impossible, theologians are going to be busy enough."

As the late Charles E. Winquist argued in his complex and evocative Desiring Theology, the vocation of theology is a work against "the disappointment of thinking" - though ultimately I much prefer Merold Westphal and Robert Scharlemann's take on he challenge than his. (See Westphal's 'Divine Excess: The God Who Comes After' in John D. Caputo, The Religious).

In a different but complementary vein, also in the face of the tragic, Rowan Williams writes: "The childish religious mind… tends to conceive the freedom bestowed on us by God as something provisional and temporary, undergirded by a safety net in the assurance that 'Paternal Love' still reserves the power to bring about its will by force. But what if the divine renunciation of violence is completely serious? In that case, there is no point in wondering whether it is in anger or pity that God stands back from the world or reacts to what the world does; [God] has elected powerlessness in terms of the world."

Williams was reflecting on poetry and the legacy of Bonhoeffer, for whom the God who comes to us is the God who is "edged out of the world onto the cross". There is more to say about this, but not a 'more' that evades that love which chooses to establish itself in and through the terrifying freedom (contigency) of creation. [Quoted in my Is God a disaster area?, which I hope is a tentative account, not "an explanation".]

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