Archive for February, 2014

A Brief Valentine’s Day Thought

When asked to express the most important part of the Jewish Torah, Jesus responded by saying the most important thing we can do is love God, and love others.  Upon this all of the Law and Prophets stand.

The Greatest Commandment

  •   35  and one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him.  36  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  37  [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38  This is the greatest and first commandment.  39  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  40  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:35-40, NRSV)

Thus, Love, is the Greatest Commandment.  I suggest this means for us…

  •   When we are struggling over the interpretation of a given passage of scripture, or over church doctrine, we should ask in what way our understanding advances Love?
  •   When we are experiencing an internal debate about how we should respond to a given situation, or how to behave toward a certain person, we should remember Jesus’ words.  Thus, we should ask in what way our response advances Love?
  •   Do our thoughts, words, and actions advance the Love of God?  Are we promoting Love of the person standing before us?

Only when we are able to answer in the affirmative -for Love- are our actions and behaviors likely to measure up to the standard offered to us by Jesus, who believed the most important thing the Hebrew bible can teach us is Love, both for God and for others.

And I personally believe this is the most important thing Jesus teaches us:

  •   Love God
  •   Love others
  •   and by extension, Love Oneself
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Radical Theology: How BIG is Your God?

This is the first instalment of a series of essays I have in mind which discuss what I am organizing under the category of Radical Theology.  By radical I mean “root” or “foundational.”  The first two meanings of radical, as defined by Merriam-Wester on-line are:

RADICAL

  1. of, relating to, or proceeding from a root:
  2. of or relating to the origin :  fundamental

Thus, this series of essays is an attempt to examine our most fundamental, radical apprehensions of our study of Theos (which is what Theology means).  So we should also define Theos.  The short answer is Theos means God or gods.  But there is more to it than this:

THEOS

  1. a transliteration of the Greek θεός (Strong’s 2316).
  2. God or gods.
  3. divinely, God’s, God-fearing, godly, and Lord.
  4. While the origin of the word is unknown, according to HELPS(TM) Word-studies, it is thought to have meant “the Creator and owner of all things,” conveying the concept of “the supreme being who owns and sustains all things” (see John 1:3; Genesis 1 – 3).

As we may imagine, the translation of Theos from the Greek is not always obvious.  In a future essay we may address the various ways of interpreting the word Theos, but for now, I want to direct our thought in another direction.

I would like you to think about our universe.  Our understanding of science is not that of the 1st century.  The universe of the 1st century was a three-tiered universe, comprised of earth, the heavens above, and the underworld below.  Our understanding of the nature of the universe is far more complex.  Our universe is also much larger.  Mind-numbingly vast, in fact.

The distance from New York City, NY to Los Angeles, CA is 2,775 miles.  For those interested in biblical comparisons, the distance between Jerusalem and Babylon is about 500 miles as the crow flies, and perhaps twice as far travelling by caravan;  the distance between Jerusalem and Cairo, Egypt is about 265 miles by air, and 330 miles by land.

The moon is nearly 240,000 miles from the earth (roughly the same distance as travelling back and forth between NYC and LA 86 times;  or walking around the entire planet ten times).  The sun is nearly 93,000,000 miles from the earth (more than 33,000 trips between NYC and LA;  or walking around the equator 3,735 times).

And these are small distances, in terms of the universe.  Light travels at 186,000 miles per *second* and takes 8.3-minutes to travel from our sun to the earth;  light requires 100,000 *years* to cross from one side of our galaxy to the other.  The universe is unimaginably vast!  The scale, scope, and dimensions of this are really beyond our ability to hold in our mind.  This is the thought I would ask you to sit with for a time.

Now I ask:  How BIG is your God?  

For me, this is one of our most important Big Questions to ponder.  I also believe this is one aspect of Radical Theological which a great many people fail to fully appreciate.  Another way of thinking about this question is to ask what are the limits of your God?  Is your God limited to this earth?  To this solar system?  To this galaxy?  What about to this universe?

My personal concept of “God” is panentheistic.  A pantheist believes their God is everywhere in the universe.  This sometimes gets a bad name when people diminish the idea as simple animism (each tree, river, and rock having it’s own spirit);  but pantheism is not the same thing as animism, although pantheism may include animism.  So too, panentheism to pantheism.  Panentheism holds the position that God is not only present everywhere within our universe, but simultaneously beyond our universe (basically, that is what the “en” in panentheism means).

Now I would ask you to sit with that thought for a time.

This thought drives me toward the concept of transcendence.  When I speak of transcendence, I mean this as expressed in Kantian philosophy:  that which is “beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge;  beyond comprehension” (Merriam-Webster).  Given our access to sensory input is limited to that which resides within this universe, if there is anything beyond this universe, it must by definition transcend our sensory perception.

  • (The argument for non-sensory perception is more subtle, but to my mind in comparison to the scope of a Transcendent Theos, of the same magnitude of limitation.  That which we are able to apprehend of the Transcendent through non-sensory means I will address in a future discussion of Immanence, which lies at the opposite end of the Transcendent-Immanent continuum.)  

Therefore, if we posit a Theos of sufficient significance, there must be aspects of that Theos, which are transcendent to the human condition, and beyond the reach of our perception.  I would go further.  I would argue there are aspects of Theos which are beyond our intellectual capacity, and even beyond the reach of our imagination.

I strongly feel if more persons clearly grasped this meaning of Theos, and felt it in their guts to convey a valid truth, we would easily avoid a great many arguments over specific interpretations of religion and spirituality.  That is why this concept is so important to me.

To have a God this BIG means we admit we cannot know all there is to be known about God/Theos.  This in turn suggests to me the important roles humility, and willingness to be open to how other persons understand Theos, play in our lives, in our spirituality, in our interactions with others, and in our religious observation and traditions.

If our Theos is BIG enough, none of us has full access to Theos.  

We all are limited to partial perceptions of Theos.  We all are limited to partial understandings of Theos.  Therefore, it seems logical that we must be tolerant of what others perceive of Theos.  But I suggest we should go further.  We should strive to learn from others, and inform our own understanding of Theos through what alternate apprehensions of Theos may reveal to us.

It seems so simple to me.  Simple, yet profound.  Which is why I call this Radical Theology.