Reflection

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September 15, 2014
Max Kennel |

It's been quite a while since I have posted here. This September is the least busy that I have been in a long time, and I intend to take some time to read, write, and reflect, as I work on my thesis project for the MTS degree at Conrad Grebel University College.

As I slow down from a season of busyness and take a sabbath from what has been my routine, I am struck by how timing is such an important part of life, and how timing is dependent on so many factors that we cannot help but sit in awe of the mysterious and unknowable nature of the world. There are two directions that I notice people heading when faced with either good or bad timing.

On one hand there is a tendency to reduce good or bad timing to coincidence, chance, or a roll of the cosmic dice. In face of good timing or bad timing, this view would seek to level-out the playing field, and state that 'this is the way things happen'. Good timing and bad timing are each left up to chance.

On the other hand there is a tendency to over-attribute timely events to God, to the divine. If something good happens, then God's blessing is upon us and there is a spiritual explanation. If something bad happens then this view would hold that there is still a divine explanation, but perhaps free will got in the way of the divine plan, or even that the divine plan depended on free will getting in the way. Either way, a timely event was attributed to God's causal plan.

I set up these two extremes, not because I see too many people holding to them absolutely, but because they illustrate the risks of thinking about timely events, and attributing meaning to them.

On one hand, there is a great risk in reducing all events to the throes of chance. If something great and momentous happens then nothing more than a number or a statistic is its causal meaning. If something terrible happens then the same explanation is attributable. This begets a world devoid of meaning. It's a cheap nihilism that does not even feel a lack of meaning, but one that forgets meaning to the degree that it cannot long for it.

On the other hand, there is a great risk to elevating all events to the domain of the divine plan. This repeats the same problem in reverse. Instead of bringing all events down to the level of chance, it brings all events up to the mind of God. Theological trouble happens then, when we attribute catastrophes to the will of God. Not even theodicy is enough to calm worries about this. This model shows an excess of meaning in which every event becomes attributable to God, and subsequently shows God's character.

So, if each of these extremes is not enough, then what is the alternative? Surely not a simple middle ground, or a combination or selection. Instead, more work needs to be done in the church on how we are to attribute and not attribute timely events to God. God's in-breaking, and our ability to identify it, are both in need of re-conceptualization, especially in the realm of our practices. How can we responsibly teach people that God is present and active in the world without giving them the tools to identify where God is and is not at work? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas below :)

 

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