Sunday, October 21, 2018

#294 / A Little Theology

I noted in a blog posting some time ago that Michelangelo, in painting his wonderful "The Creation of Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, might really have been engaging in a highly subversive exercise. The painting suggests (once you see it this way you won't forget it) that the God so thrillingly depicted, giving the gift of life to Adam, is really the product (along with all those other celestial characters) of something happening inside the human brain. 

The lesson that Michelangelo seems to be teaching is that our whole idea and picture of God is a human creation. We have created God, in other words, not the other way around. There is no God outside ourselves. 

This idea, of course, is definitely subversive of the tenets of religion, and I tend to think of Michelangelo as an artist of great courage, advancing this thought, so contrary to Christian doctrine, inside a temple located within the heart of the Vatican, command central of the Catholic Church.

The suggestion that our idea and image of God is a human creation is, of course, a "modern" notion, widely acceptable to what may well be a large majority of those who ever think about theology. 

There are some other ways of trying to figure out the truth about the Creation and to understand our place in it. The Old Testament claims (in Exodus 3:14) that God is beyond any human naming or definition. When asked his name by Moses, God makes that abundantly clear: "I AM WHO I AM." The Holy God of the Jews can never be named, in witness to those words spoken to Moses. 

The New Testament idea, of course, is a pretty radical departure from that. Jesus, undeniably human, a person who bleeds when pierced and who dies on a cross, essentially claims that the Old Testament idea that we can never know God must be modified in a significant way. Jesus himself, so human, claims to incorporate God in his human form: "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11). When we wish to see God and to comprehend his being, Jesus suggests that we should look into the human face.

I do think about theology (quite a bit, as a matter of fact), so I have naturally puzzled over these thoughts about the nature of God, and whether or not God "exists," in any sense different from the obvious fact that God exists as an idea that human beings have developed. I cannot, in the end, come down on the side that believes that we have "created God," though I admit that our "ideas" and our "pictures" of God are all human creations. Inevitably, since we are human, they would have to be. 

In my opinion, the Old Testament gets it right in saying, as Moses tells the story of his personal encounter with God, that the one true claim about God is that God is beyond naming and claiming. I happen to think that Jesus gets it right, too, by suggesting that we should look for God within ourselves, within each and every human person. The Quakers have a little phrase that gets to this: "There is that of God in every person." 

The bottom line theological truth, for me, is that "something is happening here," and we don't know what it is. We live, we know not why, but being alive is serious. Naturally, as we try to explain the unexplainable, we conjure up pictures (like the one on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel), but the important truth is to recognize that the things that we have done, and that we have created, are all subsidiary, and wholly dependent on the existence that "God" created. Failure to admit our dependence upon the Creation, and to recognize our status as creatures in a world that makes our life possible, is the very definition of sin. That's what I learned from Professor James Sanders, at Union Theological Seminary, in 1971.

And sin is a serious mistake. Forgetting that we are utterly dependent on the Creation is a fundamental error in understanding, and will have serious consequences. As the Bible suggests, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). 

The global warming crisis that threatens to sweep away all of our human creations in flood and fire is the perfect example, it seems to me, of how we need to have a right relationship with the Creator of all life, however depicted, and however unknowable. 

This is just a little thought for a Sunday, aimed at those who like to think about theology from time to time.

Image Credit:ón_de_Adán_(Miguel_Ángel).jpg

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