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Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Polkinghorne Quotes #1: God the Fellow-Sufferer

“God is not a spectator, but a fellow-sufferer, who has himself absorbed the full force of evil. In the lonely figure hanging in the darkness and dereliction of Calvary the Christian believes that he sees God opening his arms to embrace the bitterness of the strange world he has made. The God revealed in the vulnerability of the incarnation and in the vulnerability of creation are one. He is the crucified God, whose paradoxical power is perfected in weakness, whose self-chosen symbol is the King reigning from the gallows”

From Science and Providence, page 68

Theodicy and the "Problem of Evil" are, I believe, the most difficult intellectual problems we face as followers of Christ. And it is more than just an intellectual problem since it has led many to abandon the faith, and their trust in God. I certainly do not have great answers. However, when we finally do get a satisfactory answer, I believe that answer will include Polkinghorne’s point that God is a fellow-sufferer.

Faith is not so much about belief but trust, trust in the living God who is the foundation of our being. Questions and doubt are an integral part of faith, not its opposite. As human parents, we encourage our children to ask questions. A child that asks no questions is disintrested or worse.

So when faced with the problem of evil, in which type of God do you wish to place your trust: A “Designer God” who designed all things in their intricate detail, including things that bring pain, suffering, death, and destruction? A “Philosopher God” who answers all your questions including why there is so much pain, suffering, death, and destruction? Or a suffering God, a crucified, resurrected God who has experienced pain, suffering, and death, and in so doing has destroyed the very power of death? For me, the answer to that question is easy.

Other Polkinghorne Quotes: [Introduction] [Next]


Captain Noble said...

"So when faced with the problem of evil, in which type of God do you wish to place your trust..."

Do you think God fits one of these neat molds? Or is it possible that He embodies aspects of each of these?

Cliff Martin said...

There is little power or glory in the concept of a God who designs the need for redemption, and then fulfills it. This has always, for me, been one of the strange concoctions of koolaid which is continually mixed up, served, and consumed by the church. It makes no sense to those outside the church. But inside, we're asked to silently nod in approval.

No, for me, it cannot be a mix of all three. God is responding and redeeming, not planning and engineering. And if it is both, than we have a God who creates, enacts and perpetrates evil all for the sole purpose of giving himself opportunity to heal, repair, and redeem. That really should strike us all as very odd. The fact that so many Christians do not find this odd is odd in itself.

I think the Polkinghorne quote comes very close to the notions I have of the cosmos, and its role in God’s scheme. I would include the concepts of randomness, unpredictability, entropy, the free reign of evil and death, and the moral necessity of all of the above. When viewed through that lens, reality takes on meaning. And the Bible begins to make more sense than it ever did before.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Captain Noble:
No, God doesn't fit into any neat mold. A "mold" assumes you have your intellectual arms wrapped around something, that you've more-or-less understood it in full. God is barely comprehensible; we see through a glass darkly, I would say, a very, very dark glass.

But that doesn't mean we must forever be in the dark when it comes to God. The incarnation of God in Christ has let much light shine through that dark glass.

So can all 3 aspects be true of God? I guess possibly. But I think the view of a Designer God can be very dangerous. I believe it makes the same mistake post-enlightenment Christians did on focusing on natural theology, and we know where that led. The view of God as fellow-sufferer is much more helpful, and is much less likely to lead us astray.

Vance said...

Your post reminded me of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us."

Cliff Martin said...

Vance, I like the Bonhoeffer quote. Could you source it for me? I would like to read the context.

Vance said...

Letter and Papers from Prison
Dietrich Bonhoeffer page 360.

Cliff Martin said...

Thanks, Vance!

Steve Martin said...

Thanks Vance. I have seen polkinghorne reference Bonhoeffer before, but I don't know how much his thought has influenced polkinghorne. I do know this idea is common among Lutherans (Bonhoeffer's affiliation) because it is something Luther really stressed. An excellent Lutheran author in this strain is George Murphy, a physicist turned Lutheran pastor. Polkinghorne and Murphy seem very similar to me.