On Warfare and Weakness: Part 8, The Quotidian

This post is the last post of our theological detour before wrapping up next week with the final two posts of the series when we return back to the theme of spiritual warfare. And for those of you still squeamish about the metaphor of "warfare" if you missed it be sure to check out another Interlude--In Memory of the White Rose--I posted yesterday.

In Parts 6 and 7 we drifted away from our discussion of warfare theology (Parts 1-5) to ponder the weakness of God in light of the visions of God's power in Genesis and Revelation. The take home point was that there is a way of reading both Genesis and Revelation as being consistent with the weakness of God. Mainly this involves bracketing questions about "the beginning" and "the end" as topics that the bible never addresses.

The practical upshot of this bracketing is a focus on the present moment, right here and right now. However, such a move may strike many Christians as odd and, thus, make them feel a bit uncomfortable. So what I'd like to do in this post is to find a simpler and more straightforward theological framework for what we argued for in the last two posts. Specifically, rather than speculate about readings of Genesis and Revelation a progressive theology should have a more straightforward and positive creation theology.

What we need is a theology of the quotidian.

If you are like me, you might want a quick peek at the definition of quotidian. Here it is:
1. Of or occurring every day; daily.
2. Ordinary or everyday, esp. when mundane.
I'm using the word quotidian because Captuo uses it in The Weakness of God and it's a key term in the creation theology described by David Kelsey in his book Eccentric Existence, the creation theology I'd like to borrow to help re-package the last two posts.

I'm going to be taking a cue from Kelsey who bases his work in Eccentric Existence upon the creation theology in the OT Wisdom literature rather than upon Genesis 1-3. And as Kelsey notes, the Wisdom literature "teaches no dogmatic formulation about creation." Regarding origins and endings these are questions that the Wisdom literature seems uninterested in asking and answering. The world just is. Existence is just taken for granted.

There are a variety of reasons why Kelsey grounds creation theology in the Wisdom books, why he doesn't think Genesis is concerned with creation, but the main one is this: Genesis, as a part of the Pentateuch, is primarily about God's rescue and deliverance. You might say that Genesis is a soteriological book rather than a science book, a book about salvation history rather than about the beginnings of the cosmos. In short, Genesis 1-3 isn't trying to say much of anything definitive about "the creation." Genesis is mainly setting up the story of the Exodus.

Feel free to debate Kelsey on that point, and on his other points. You'll find his arguments against reading Genesis 1-3 as a creation account on pages 176-189 of Vol. 1 of Eccentric Existence.

Okay, so if we turn away from Genesis 1-3 as a creation account what sort of creation account do we find in the Wisdom literature?

First, Wisdom's creation account is focused on the quotidian, not the future or the past but on our daily existence. The here and now. Kelsey describing this:
[W]hat does "the creation" mean? The theology of creation through which canonical Wisdom thinks suggests the answer: "the creation" denotes the lived world as the quotidian, the everyday finite realities of all sorts--animal, vegetable, and mineral--in the routine networks that are constituted by their ordinary interactions...What God creates is the quotidian.
If I'm reading Kelsey right what he is suggesting is this. If you accept the argument that Genesis 1-3 is about salvation rather than about cosmic origins, then the only real "creation theology" in the bible is from the Wisdom literature. The books of Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Song of Solomon. These books theologize about creation, but the focus in always upon daily existence, the quotidian. A great example of this is Ecclesiastes 2.24-25:
There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 
The creation theology here isn't the creation theology of a "Big Bang" or of cosmic beginnings. The theology here is focused on the here and now, the quotidian--the enjoyment of eating, drinking, working and giving thanks to God for giving these good gifts. That's the creation theology of the quotidian--thankfulness and enjoyment for the gifts of the day. Nothing more, nothing less. That daily life exists and contains good gifts is what we mean by "God's creation."

And what is interesting to note about the creation theology of the quotidian is that it doesn't address cosmic beginnings and endings. As Kelsey notes:
Wisdom creation theology's focus on the quotidian entails several differences from many doctrines of creation, classical and modern...First, mainstream Wisdom's creation theology generally lacks any account of cosmic origins...It simply does not touch on the question of how creation came to be...Nor is God's creation a future state of the world, a state to which God will eventually bring the world through the ongoing movement of history. Wisdom's theology of creation lacks teleology.
Again, what this means, as argued in the last two posts, is that biblical creation theology is not focused on cosmic beginnings and endings. The creation theology of the bible is focused on the quotidian, the events of daily life, the here and now. Kelsey:
[T]he basic thrust of canonical Wisdom's creation theology is that what God creates is humankind's lived world in its concrete everydayness.
Biblical creation theology is about the goodness found in the "stuff of life." Creation theology is interested in the day you had today--with your work, your food, your relationships. Creation theology is not interested in Big Bangs or cataclysmic apocalypses.

And just as important, beyond being quiet about cosmic origins and endings, the creation theology of the Wisdom literature is also quiet about the origins of evil, ontologically and morally. Kelsey:
Because canonical Wisdom's creation theology is relational and not generic, it does not even gesture toward explanation of the genesis of evil's intrusion into what God creates. In offering no account of the genesis of creation or of evil, it focuses entirely on the relation between God as Creator and world as creation, and on the difference that relation makes to the creation. If Wisdom guides us in our effort to construe as creation the contexts into which we are born, it requires us to be absolutely realistic about the moral ambiguity of these contexts. And it suggests we leave the fact of evil's intrusion into creation unexplained, acknowledging it as mysterious.
I think this sets up our warfare theology quite nicely and it also chastens any dualistic thinking that might emerge because of that theology. The creation theology of Wisdom takes evil as a given and as something opposed to God's right ordering of the world. This gets us to where Greg Boyd wants us in God at War: Evil isn't a theological puzzle but a force to be resisted in the world. Adopting Wisdom's creation theology supports that assessment. More, regarding any temptations to dualism, evil in Wisdom isn't a cosmic force outside of creation--an evil god opposed to YHWH. Rather, evil is experienced as a result of the ontological and moral features intrinsic to the quotidian.

Regarding the ontological sources of evil, the creation theology of Wisdom recognizes humans as finite and, thus, susceptible to damage and death. As Kelsey writes:
The realm of physical creatures, which is the context into which we are born, is inherently accident-prone, as creatures inescapably damage each other...One consequence of the finitude of creatures is that the quotidian is inherently ambiguous experientially. This ambiguity is rooted ontologically--that is, in the creatureliness of the quotidian...

[W]hat God relates to creatively, ourselves and our everyday worlds, may be experienced by us in delight and pleasure as, from our perspective, (relatively) good for us. On the other hand, the finitude of creation means that creatures are inevitably vulnerable to damage, deterioration, and destruction. The context into which we are born simply is the condition of the possibility of our undergoing hurt, loss, and death. 
A couple of points about this. First, our finitude--our susceptibility to damage and death--isn't explained in the creation theology of Wisdom. Our vulnerability and eventual deaths are simply assumed, taken as a given. God's goodness in Wisdom is, therefore, expressed within and through this finitude. God's creational goodness isn't the removal of our finitude--being made immortal and invulnerable--but in the daily gifts of work, food, drink, friendship and love as these are experienced in the midst of our damage and deaths.

Beyond the evils we experience ontologically, due to our being inherently finite creatures, Wisdom's creation theology also describes moral evil. There is a great deal of focus in the Wisdom literature regarding human violence, bloodshed and injustice. In the face of this moral chaos the Wisdom literature asserts that God is at work within the quotidian restoring moral order.

And yet, the witness of the Wisdom literature is that God's providential acts are often ambiguous and hard to discern. (Which is why cultivating wisdom is so important.) As Kelsey notes, "Wisdom warrants at most exhortations to keep alert for occasional signs of God's arcane providential hand at work morally ordering the quotidian." One reason why it is so hard to recognize God's work in the quotidian is that the establishment of God's rule is often spotty and temporary. Kelsey:
Signs of God's providential righting of the moral balance are not a steady-state feature of the quotidian. Rather, according to canonical Wisdom's creation theology, signs of God's providential preservation of a moral order break out in the quotidian like a small rash: patchy, intrusive, and unpredictable. God's providential action in creation is often eruptive...These occasions are but patches on the broader spaces of the quotidian stained by violence...
All this, in my opinion, though Kelsey would begin to beg off at this point, sets up a nice and robust creation theology that interfaces well with a theology regarding the weakness of God. The creation theology of Wisdom does many of the things we need, in a supportive role, to have a warfare theology rooted in the weakness of God. As a creation theology it is biblical. It is uninterested in cosmic beginnings and endings. It focuses on the everyday. It is agnostic about the origins of evil. And finally, it sees God's providential actions as "patchy, intrusive, and unpredictable." All of this, it seems to me, works well with a warfare theology based upon the weakness of God.
The theological detour has ended! In the final two posts we return to discussing a warfare theology bringing this series to a close.

Summarizing, then, all the posts to date, the progressive theological vision I've been sketching is based on three things:
Wisdom's quotidian creation theology:
We have a creation theology that is quietistic about cosmic beginnings and endings and about the origins of evil. The focus is on daily existence where God's providential goodness is experienced in the simple gifts of life and as patchy "outbreaks" of the Kingdom, as interruptions, disruptions and eruptions in an experientially and morally ambiguous world.

The weakness of God:
The reason the quotidian is morally and ontologically ambiguous, the reason why the Kingdom of God is "patchy, intrusive, and unpredictable," is that God's power in the world is the weak force of love.

A warfare theology:
Because God is a weak force in the world we live among a plurality of powers, with the weak force of love arrayed against the satantic forces of death, destruction, and dehumanization. As a consequence, the Christan life is experienced as a battle between these forces, between the Kingdom of God and the dark forces arrayed against it. The Christian calling is to participate in this battle to establish outposts of the Kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven."
Part 9

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8 thoughts on “On Warfare and Weakness: Part 8, The Quotidian ”

  1. I don't know if you get trackback information, but I figured I'd let you know that you've gotten this completely non-Christian theologian ruminating a bit too, in my post here.

  2. I see where you're coming from (and going!) with quotidian creation theology, but do you think it has to be an either/or scenario? Big Bang versus Little Way. Is there room for a both/and solution? I'm one of those pedants who insists on questioning the ontology and epistemology when someone comes up with a great methodology. I want my Little Ways to line up with my Big Bangs. I guess I had something of this in mind in my last post: the idea that when chaotic, greedy, secretive black holes interact with everyday matter through friction, the result is light of unparalleled intensity. It takes resistance to the point of death and destruction to reveal chaos and its works. This speaks to me of creation and of everyday resistance, of black holes and of white roses.

  3. Loving this present series Richard.

    I am reminded of a line of dialogue in the Hobbit in which Galadriel asks Gandalf why he has chosen the eponymous Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to join such a perilous quest. His answer is fascinating and forms one of the hinge-points of the drama. He tells her

    “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

    I wrote about it a few months ago, but this juxtaposition of Boyd and Caputo - two fellows whom I tend to keep at opposite ends of the bookshelf, is luring me back to write something longer...

  4. This post is super, and so is Kelsey!

    Now I have to go grouch about the warfare metaphor.

  5. I think these connections and
    compatibilities identified here are all sound, and it is part of why I'm enjoying and
    appreciating this series so much. To continue my conservative revolt, I'd
    join Andrew in suggesting that the theological either-or that structures this is unnecessary. I also think that it doesn't quite get things right. Here are some of the dichotomies structuring the discussion: Either God is transcendent, or God is
    immanent; either we have Creation literature, or we have wisdom literature;
    either theology is concerned with the beginning and the end, or it is
    concerned with the here and now. I see this basic contrast as mapping onto these analogies: vertical:horizontal::wholly human:wholly divine::Father:Son. (And what is this Spirit
    business?). Against all of this, I would counterpose the great catholic "and." God is transcendent and immanent and the beginning and the end and the here and now and the vertical and the horizontal and wholly human and wholly divine and the father and the son (and that is just the beginning!) And so, I think God is also reflected in Creation literature (in its traditional reading, which I defended yesterday, and perhaps even in the appropriately flawed, broken and impermanent "weakness" reading was offered there) and in wisdom literature. At any rate, once the needless either/ors are dropped, or better yet, allowed to proceed to a synthesis, I think a further discussion of the "real point" of wisdom literature also becomes unnecessary. Brought back into loving dialogue with Creation literature, this petulant effort to create an oppositional identity for "wisdom literature" can be grown out of. (I'm sorry if this sounds insulting. I'm raising a teenager right now. We laughingly tell her that 'this is just a phase you are going through', knowing how awkward and painful that is to hear, but also knowing that it is, in fact, true. When I use this kind of growth language to try to turn this discussion dialectical, please take it with that laughter in mind. And please take it knowing that I am always going through all kinds of phases, even if I had (and sometimes have) a philosophical Taoist phase instead of a Buddhist phase :))

    I think that reading Revelation and eschatology as a story about the church
    here and now is one way to arrive at the quotidian without rejecting the
    transcendent. And perhaps what is really lost in the posts mode of turning to the quotidian, in jettisoning so much of
    the tradition, is not just some of the experience of the transcendent in the
    everyday, but some of the heart of quotidian corporate (collective) life. In
    addition to the quotidian experience of meals, and personal choices and simple acts of love, I'm also
    interested in the quotidian experience of work (at companies), of voting and town hall meetings and normal politics...the quotidian life of steel mills and
    phone centers. Maybe I'm tracing these lines too far, but I detect a hint of individual (or, at largest, familial) reductivism in the examples of the quotidian that are provided: that this is only about being loving only in little ways, in our day to day life. Even the example of corporate action, The White Rose, is the sort that focuses on individual heroic decisions in the face of evil, instead of a collective vision for practically overcoming collective evil in history. At any rate, I think this is why this entire discussion benefits greatly from Boyd's (and by proxy, Wink's) inclusion: all of this language of angels and demons is essential to recovering an understanding of the traditional Christian theology of corporate and political life. And from that perspective, we see that the Bible provides us with a nuanced warfare theology that makes space for other corporate entities (so long as they, too, are subjected to love, who is God).

  6. If one consents to the standard model of biological evolution as currently embraced by the scientific
    community, while simultaneously accepting the propitiation for the sins of Man on Calvary, then the foundational structure of one’s “Christology” will require considerable revamping. The Genesis I account appears to be a poetic metaphor for the Proto-history that led to “Homo Divinus”. If this model is advocated, then it is at that moment, the “awareness of Evil” enters into the creation, irrespective of its prior existence. Death, destruction and decay are all part and parcel of a universe driving itself forward towards “The Cross”. A pristine and completely harmonic natural utopia did not exist and could not exist before the “The Fall”. Evidence of fossilized parasites with Jurassic period coprolite is one paleontological example. The conflation of “Spiritual verses Natural Evil” is often a battle waged in our own minds. I am not particularly an exponent of Teilhard de Chardin, but his “Christogenesis Theory” does to some degree offer a teleological explanation as to why things are as they stand. Hypothetical scenarios as to whether “Satan” i.e. Lucifer, somehow emerges out of the Precosmological Chaos, Void, Darkness, etc… serve only to further blur the distinction between what we essentially are as sentient biologically evolved creatures, juxtaposed to redeemed spiritually endowed individuals - via the blood of Christ. This is not a denial of the existence of spiritually dark forces irreconcilably bent on keeping us “animal” but rather an acknowledgement that the “Warfare” that you describe, is more a of a manifestation and a projection of who and what we are genetically, rather than spiritually.

  7. In as much as I subscribe to much of Caputo’s ‘weak god,’ theology, appreciate Lurianic tzimtzum, and embrace the experiment of Hans Jonas’s ‘vulnerable and suffering god,’ let me confess that sometimes I wonder if a lot of my own theorizing about all of this over the years is just a case of too much over-wrought philosophizing in order to come up with a survivable explanation to address the fact/fear that it seems that we live in a God-less and God-forsaken world. Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to and love saints like Therese of Lisieux, Francis, and Padre Pio, they seemed to experience God moment by moment in the most ‘quotidian’ instances of their lives. Every hangnail or heart attack, each morsel of bread or banquet, every dog bark or bird fart, was for them a moment of intimate communion and intercourse with sweet baby Jesus, and I so often wish I had that kind of spirituality (if that’s what it is).

    Nevertheless I think you have really fashioned some interesting and important connections among these theodicies Dr. Beck. Yet, even in the light of your creative approach, Boyd’s warfare trope is not doing much to help my malaise or whip me into a frenzy of energetic progressivisms, but I certainly can see how it cold be valuable for many others. And indeed, regardless of how one ‘feels’ the cattle cars are full and the trains are still running so there is much work to be done and if Boyd helps some folks to actually do something about the effects of evil in this world (and the world that is in our hearts) as long as it don’t turn into some sort of externalized witch-hunt, then God bless him and y’all. I reckon I will have to just keep grinding out my own salvation hour by painful hour (seemingly) with no help from God who for some reason created a world where many of us often don’t know the difference between God’s absence and presence. Blessings and obliged.

  8. Simon, that's so much for this. Wonderful reflection! Love that connection with Tolkien.

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