Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Religion: A Way of Visioning the Future

A common view in religion is that God does not change, and, therefore, religion, too, is fixed and unchanging. In this view, religion then becomes a repository of unchanging tradition, which is often confused with God’s supposedly unchanging will. However, our life is always changing, and sometimes change can be unpleasant and unwanted, so many people try to avoid change. Although they can’t do this in life, many often try to retreat into their “Old-Time” religion, where, they say, God is the same “yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” Whether this is true or not is simply unknowable, at least by the likes of us. All we know of God are those experiences we label as “God.”
Because we know we change, we should rationally be able to agree that as our experience changes, our view of God can also change. One metaphor that can help us order our experience into a meaningful narrative is our life as a journey, moving from birth through life to death and always changing. Another helpful metaphor to add to this first metaphor is that God is calling us to move into the future trusting in God’s promises with all the frightening changes that such movement entails. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the metaphor of God calling God’s followers on a journey into the future is prominent. God calls Abram to leave his home in Ur, and his father, and family to go to “the land that I will show you.” The Israelites follow Moses out of Egypt because of God’s promise that they will settle in Canaan. Jesus leaves Galilee and travels to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s mission for his life.
So, God can be envisioned as calling us into the future, a future containing many changes. Jürgen Moltmann, a prominent German Protestant theologian, has written about God not up there but out in front calling us into the future. Moltmann understands Christian faith as essentially hope for the future of human beings and for this world as promised by the God of exodus and by God’s resurrection of the crucified Jesus. Thus, an attitude of expectancy underlies all of faith. An active doctrine of hope gives hope for an alternative (my italics) future to the oppressed and suffering of our present time (adapted from The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology [http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/courses/mwt/dictionary/mwt_themes_855_moltmann.htm]).
As Christians contemplate possible futures, they remember the promises that God and they made in baptism, in the Word proclaimed, and in the meal. These promises can give us hope, and hope gives us courage to make choices that we trust will help make the promises a reality here among us now. Of the many promises we hear in the Christian religion, all can be understood as variations on “Thy Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” The work of Christians is to participate in bringing in God’s Kingdom here on earth, where there will be enough for all and where justice and equity reign.
Each Christian has a unique contribution to make to this enterprise, and the choices each makes will help determine how effective these contributions are. Being conscious that we have choices is an important element in making effective choices. As we contemplate choices, we can play out the possible consequences of our choices in our minds and in conversations with others. So, if we can consciously envision a better world, a world more like the Kingdom, the perhaps we will make choices that, we hope, will bring it closer. So for Christians on a God-led journey into the future, the best chance for a future more like the Kingdom is based on trust in the promises and choices informed by the promises.


Franklyn said...

God must change as He is a product of man, not the other way around. God as a concept changes and evolves as the needs and desires of man change through the ages. Of course some do not feel that this is true and so would have an unchanging God, representing the values,needs and fears of days gone by.

Pete M said...

Franklyn, certainly the human view of God changes, and we cannot know whether there is a God and whether, if so, God changes.