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:
quo·tid·i·anI'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.
1. Of or occurring every day; daily.
2. Ordinary or everyday, esp. when mundane.
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...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.
[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.
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:Part 9
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."