A spiritual exercise I intentional practice every few years involves “forgetting” what I think I know about God, faith, and faithful living. Of course, I don’t really “forget” these things but I do my best to identify and bracket these things and try to read the Bible again with fresh eyes and clear heart. It is always good to do this with other similarly committed believers. You can hold each other accountable, help us identify each other’s blind spots, and share the hope of growth and new life.
In North America most of us are shaped by the western tradition of thought and life. This tradition has its great strengths, to be sure. But it has blind spots as well, debilitating blind spots. We do well to focus on these blind spots as exercises in “forgetting” to open ourselves to a fresh reading and reflection on scripture.
Five of the central planks of theology done in the western tradition that negatively impact faithful Christian life and thought are its view of God, its view of reality, its view of a reason, its view of a Christian life, and its view of money. To “forget” these influences involves bidding adieu to Aristotle, Plato, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, and Adam Smith.
Aristotle gave the west its definitive and default view of God as the “Unmoved Mover.” His static, unmoving and unmoved deity was taken over into much western theology and gave us our “traditional” view of God as, in the words of “The Westminster Shorter Catechism,” “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” As impressive and enduring as this view of God has been in the west, its fatal flaw is its failure to capture the core reality, the basic “Godness” of God, according to scripture: its simple (yet endlessly profound) affirmation that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Moreover, this love that God is is enacted and embodied by Jesus Christ. Through him we know that God longs to be in close and intimate fellowship with us, loves us fiercely, is passionate about bringing this world to reflect his design and purpose for it, will do whatever it takes to woo and win us back to him, even to the point of giving up his own life for us.
Thus we must bid adieu to Aristotle and his “Unmoved Mover.” Forget him as best you can, and as you read scripture notice the ways it portrays a real relationship between God and humanity in which there is genuine “give and take,” in which God is interested in and responsive to what we think, hope, and do, in which he acts to achieve his purposes even if that means “changing his mind.” This is a God we can love, and pray to – and that’s the clue to whether we’re on the right track here. If our view of God calls a passionate and prayerful relationship with him into question, then our view of God is on the wrong track. It is the purposes of these exercises to surface, critique, and reform our view of God in the interest of loving him and living for him for fully and faithfully.
It may help on this score to give Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy a read. He literarily demolishes our Aristotelian deity and the kind of life fashioned under his auspices.
Tomorrow, we’ll try to “forget” the view of reality bequeathed to us by Plato.