Sunday, 17 August 2008

Study Notes For R. Williams, 'Tokens of Trust' Chapter 2

The Risk of Love

R. Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, Chapter 2 notes

1. Arguments for the existence of God have their place. (They can’t communicate a living relationship, and do not intend to do so, as can the diary of Etty Hilesum, for example.) Such arguments try to approach everything in creation as a single unit, and ask how to make sense of this whole. (Compare with the atheist who will say that there is no need to try and make sense of the whole because the individual clusters and bits make sense in themselves. No higher order of meaning is necessary.) Arguments for the existence of God also suppose God to be on a different level of explanation than everyday causation. So, the child asks, ‘If God made the world, who made God?’ This is thinking of God as just a bigger version of the things we already know within our world. Instead we are asked to stretch our theological imagination:”we’re trying to get our minds around the idea of an activity that is so utterly consistent with itself, so unaffected by any other activity, that it is, so to speak, its own explanation, its own ‘cause’, eternal and unchanging.” (34)

2. A Christian theology of creation affirms that God’s creativity is ongoing and continuous. This means that without God everything would cease to exist. Most non-believers have a watchmaker (deism) approach that has God ‘make’ everything and then let it go its independent way.

3. Creation is to be understood not just as ‘making’ stuff, but establishing a relationship with the stuff of creation. Indeed, the ‘making’ and the establishment of relationship are one and the same action of God. which is to say that God’s act of creation, while ‘making’ stuff (us, for instance) is also about establishing a relationship with us.

4. A theology of creation is therefore not to be understood as an alternative to science. God is not just one more causative force amongst a series of causes. Creation is about the ‘big picture’, the underlying reason and comprehensibility of all that is.

5. A Christian theology of creation is to be distinguished from pantheism. Pantheism makes the sum total of created reality into God (or at a minimum, God as a universal principle within everything). Christianity supposes a distinction between God and that which is created in dependence upon God. A theology of creation safeguards freedom, gives creation its own integrity, and funnily enough, was one of the principle ingredients in the rise of western science. This is because if creation has its own integrity then we can study it for its own sake; whereas pantheistic science will also be restricted by theological conceptions about what is possible, leading to the neglect of the scientific method of hypothesis and experimentation.)

6. But what of the problem of pain? A world that is truly other than God is a risky world. Creation has its own integrity and freedom, and to deny this by requiring God not to take that risk is to imagine a different world than this one, and one incapable of true relationship with God. Yes, creation is complex and fragile, and very risky, but this is the nature of a real relationship with the possibilities of real growth and reciprocal movement.

7. What of miracles and prayer? Keeping in mind the meaning of ‘almighty’ from chapter 1, we can see that miracles and prayer are not examples of God’s arbitrary whim dis/agreeing to this or that prayer, or overriding the integrity of creation this time and not the next. Instead, Williams suggests the miraculous, including the miraculous in the life of Jesus, are grounded in “a robust idea of God’s action burning intensely in every moment of the world’s existence, always just around the corner of our perception.” (48) Sometimes (as in the case of Jesus) this intensity of God’s presence is closer to the surface than usual, allowing the interconnected whole of creation to come together in a more transparently God-directed manner. (pp. 44-46)

8. A comprehensive theology of creation also allows for creatures that are beyond our perception and instrumental use. Angels in the Bible and tradition, he says, are, at the very least, symbols of this other world that is beyond our usual perception. Creation is not just there for us to use and consume, and is a lot bigger than we usually allow.

9. Finally, to affirm God as creator of everything, visible and invisible, is to allow God to be God of every aspect of our lives, even the embarrassing bits we suppress. God knows who we are, and God can heal and bring every aspect of our lives into a coherent whole. (Again, touching on the idea of almighty as being able to rework creation into a future of life and fulfillment.) This is, ultimately, the meaning of resurrection. (55)

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