An Interruptive, Disruptive Force

A few months ago one of my most talented, thoughtful and compassionate students send me an email. He had read my post Your God Is Too Big and was asking me about, if God was weakness and love in the world, then how does God work in the world?

I didn't have any great answers. But this was the email I sent him:
Hi W.,
Great questions. I'm just figuring this stuff out myself, so all this is very tentative and provisional. I'm feeling my way forward here.

You might want to check out my series "On Weakness and Warfare" on the blog, or revisit it if you've read it before as it tries to get at some of these questions.

But my basic answer is that if God is love/weakness then God is experienced in this world as an interruptive, disruptive force that comes from the "bottom up" rather than as a coercive force that comes from the top down. This means that "the Kingdom of God" or the "Rule of God" is episodic and transitory. The Spirit blowing here or there in an unpredictable way.

So, to switch to mission, I think what we do is try to interrupt and disrupt the world--the principalities and powers--with love. This requires tactical imagination, improvisation and creativity. Artistically inserting ourselves into the gaps of the world the way Jesus did. Like a flower growing in a crack of a city sidewalk. Love is weak, but it interrupts the world with beauty, grace and mercy.

The big eschatological question is can the weakness of love, given its light touch, "win" in the end? Or, at some point, will God have to knock heads together to force things to come out right in the end? Especially given the biblical witness?

Those are hard questions. I don't have great answers. But we're called to hope. That's what I hope for. That love wins in the end. And that's enough for me to love today.

Grace and peace,

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7 thoughts on “An Interruptive, Disruptive Force”

  1. I, for one, am very moved by your answer. I am one who came to the blessing of the weakness of God late in life. I am sixty five. And while that is not SO old, there are regrets I did not meet the weakness of God at thirty five. However, I try to remember that to face the weakness of God is to also let God enter my regrets. Still learning.

    I enjoy watching on line the sermons of the Washington National Cathedral. On December 28, the Very Reverend Gary Hall gave a Christmas sermon proclaiming how God entered our dark places and weaknesses. I watched it three times, listened more intensely each time. Then I read your email to your student, which for me is a powerful booster shot for the middle of the week. Ironic, is it not? Weakness as power.

    In growing up in a very legalistic religion, there was the unspoken expectation of "perfection". And while it was more so regarding doctrine, it still created a great, painful fall from moral and character failure which emptied prayer of all its power; i.e, "Who am I to ask anything?" But the blessing of the weakness of God helps me remember that when Jesus says, "Let the one without sin cast the first stone", I can drop mine that is all bloodied from using it on myself. And it is an amazing grace how that frees our hands, head and heart to recognize and enter the shame that another feels in his or her weakness.

  2. If your student's question of how God works in the world is parsed as how God makes a difference to the world, let's spin his head with a little Herbert McCabe:

    "All created causes make a difference to the world. They are parts of the world which impose themselves on other parts of the world. When the hurricane has passed by, you can see that a hurricane has passed by; the world is different than it was before. But God's creative and sustaining activity does not make the world different from what it is -- how could it? It makes the world what it is....

    "A hurricane leaves its thumbprint on the world, but God does not leave any such thumbprint. We can say, 'This looks as though a hurricane has been here,' but we cannot sensibly say, 'This looks as though God has been here.' That is why the famous 'Argument from Design' [and, one should now add, ID] ... is such a silly one. You can't say, 'Look how the world is [orderly, complicated or whatever], so it must have been made by God.' You can no more say, 'This sort of world must have been made by God', than you can say, 'This sort of world must exist' [the second set of brackets is McCabe's]."

    If you do try to say this, then the god of which you speak may be a very powerful creature, even the most powerful creature, but he is not God, only a demiurge. (Hence David Bentley Hart's remark about ID: it is incommensurable with the classical Christian understanding of God, rather "represent[ing] the demiurge's boldest adventure for a considerable time.")

    Indeed, McCabe, characteristically calling a spade a spade, says that such an understanding of God is downright idolatrous. "We see," he continues, "an ascending scale of powerful causes... And we are inclined to locate God at the top of the scale, and to imagine that he makes the most difference of all. But God does not make the most difference. He makes, if you like, all the difference -- which is the same as making no difference at all. So far as the kind of world we have is concerned, the atheist and the theist will expect to see exactly the same features. The only difference is that if the atheist were right, the question would not arise -- indeed, the atheist would not arise."

    (From the essay "On Evil and Omnipotence" in Faith within Reason [2007], pp. 74-76)

  3. "Jesus says, "Let the one without sin cast the first stone", I can drop mine that is all bloodied from using it on myself. And it is an amazing grace how that frees our hands, head and heart to recognize and enter the shame that another feels in his or her weakness."

    Absolutely love that insight John - Brilliant!!!!

  4. Maybe love is more meekness than weakness. I like to think that Jesus rules and works by "power under". The world rules and runs by "power over". We tend to think that whatever is not "power over" is weak, but power under is true power. It lifts, supports, holds up. It takes greater power to hold up than it does to smash to the ground.

  5. Thank-you Richard, Craig, Kim, John, Cercatore. Your individual contributions add up to why I love this space.

  6. Lord increase my faith, solidify my hope, flood my heart with Thy self-giving love as I walk my journey here below.

  7. There are a few phrases and points in this discussion that I find particularly compelling. First, that the creativity and artistry with which we might attempt to interrupt the world should include mercy in addition to beauty and grace (which, I admit, I took to signify a kind of poise the first time around; a kind of beauty in process, and not just in content, rather than the religious concept of "grace").

    I find equal parts comfort and challenge in the idea, i.e. I would hope to encounter mercy and/but the implications of my being called to demonstrate mercy in the settings of my life... I don't know what to say about it, exactly. When I read that paragraph, I experience, in my thinking, just the type of "disuption" described there.

    Add to that: (1) the phrase "I can drop mine that is all bloodied from using it on myself;" (2) the dismantling of a view that would place God "merely" at the top of a scale of powers; (3) the idea and image of hope being, specifically, "solidified;" (4) the general tone of the discussion, the encouragements and contributions you each offer here.

    I want to be honest: for the most part, I am completely "agnostic" to my potential/actual atheism. I gave belief, a Judeo-Christian experience, sacrifice, etc. more than my best efforts a while back. I don't know if I have it in me even to try again - and, honestly, I don't care, i.e. I am not worried about not believing. The hell of the entire experience was real enough and, in various ways, I'm still in a good part of it - so what difference can it make? [all rhetorical - but honest - and please understand, I am not looking for any responses/pity/attempts at conversion]. What I am getting at is this....

    This blog/Richard's insights and many of the discussions, interactions, and dyanamics I see here make it impossible to write off the whole thing. Impossible. And while I remain firmly agnostic to the big picture, I grow increasingly grateful for the hope and challenge I receive here on a daily basis, including, for whatever reason, today.

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