Posted by: megshoeman | April 24, 2008

Irresistible Love

I’d been planning to reunite with some Pittsburgh friends to hear the great process theologian Marjorie Suchocki give the United Methodist lectures in our Presbyterian seminary. Sadly some stuff got in the way and I couldn’t make it out. This just got me to thinking that, though Suchocki had been one of my favorite theologians back in seminary, it was much more my friends that I missed than it was the chance to listen to Marjorie.
One of the professor’s topics was “resistible grace” and while I didn’t hear the lecture, I think I have a fairly good idea about what the gist of it must have been. This, based on my reading of her back in school.
Why I Can No Longer Accept Process Theology
First let’s say that the term process theology may represent a bit of a misnomer. By the experts’ own design, process thought can never really be theology as such because it is never really willing to confront the triune God as he has revealed himself. It is more, I think, like a philosophy, and many practitioners are quite happy with that designation.
I can’t give an exhaustive explanation of my having been moved away from this philosophy here. I’ll just give a bit and hope you’ll understand.
I can’t accept process philosophy because at its core is this notion of “resistible grace.” That is, God (whomever or whatever that is in process thought–for process thinkers, it can’t really be Jesus for he is merely a human who became quite “in touch” with the divine) is always luring us to the good but we can after all resist. In this case we are always thrown back upon ourselves and our own power to keep on keeping on, and I just can’t do that. I’m too tired, too self- absorbed, too bitter, too little of faith. I need someone else to do it for me, and that someone is Jesus Christ who is God.
I think of the George Matheson hymn, “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go.” I think of that love as God in, through and as Jesus Christ pulling me along my weary way in the power of his spirit, keeping tight hold of me no matter how heavy I get and no matter how insistently I drag along my feet in the dust. I know this person to be the love that will not let me go; I can’t resist him. On the other hand, given the resistable grace with which process philosophy is at home, the theory is that I can resist. I might crawl along with every effort but if I don’t get it right, if I miss an opportunity here or there, if I squander some chance, that love might just let me go after all. In this line of thinking there is only so much that “God” can do.
In process thought there are no guarantees, no particularly definite end whereas for me the promise has shown himself to be a person. Bonhoeffer said most eloquently, “At the threshold of each new day stands Jesus Christ who made it.” I agree with him and add that this same person Jesus is too the end of it all. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I have this one consolation and it is given and it is final despite myself and my swerving.
A Note of Acknowledgement About Where This Line Might Take Us
I would like to note that I’m aware of some feminist arguments that come up around this issue. The notion of irresistible grace started to be felt by some feminists as overwhelming. They have felt sort of “man- handled” by God and this is sad news for me to know. I certainly consider myself a feminist but I can comfortably differ with other women here. Between the ages of six and nine, I knew my being raped to be a part fit into my daily routine. This, to say that I have a keen personal sense of what it means to feel overwhelmed by violent human acts. The point is that God is different. I know my being overwhelmed by God, my being swept off my feet by the triune God to be a blessing- an imposition indeed but not a violent one- a blessed imposition characterized by gentleness and unspeakable love.
My spiritual director once asked about my choice to talk about God so much in terms of Jesus (of course a male figure) given my experience of sexual assault at the hands of men. She said she was used to hearing women survivors of abuse refer to God more often in terms of Spirit or Holy One, etc. and she was sort of surprised by my level of comfort with relating explicitly with the man Jesus as God so close. Here I’ll share part of my email to her regrding that question:
“Often I think about some women’s incapacity to relate
with God in terms of Father and Son. Once when Dr.
Purves was giving his standard trinitarian talk, I was
sitting beside a dear friend. She was palpably upset
through nearly the whole of the conversation. She
eventually raised her hand to ask Dr. Purves, “What
about me? And other women like me who’ve been hurt by
‘Father’ or other men? How should we be expected to
come to terms with language like this?” As I
remember, Dr. Purves did a less than superb job of
answering her question, but I think the spirit of what
he was saying was that God is who God is apart from
any structure or stricture imposed on him from
without. God is so different.
This seems to me one of the most painful and pervasive
pastoral problems we face with women and I ponder it a
lot. My guess is that the theological problem is in
the refusal (and I don’t mean that at all
disparagingly–it is quite normal to refuse a thing
that sounds painful) to take God at his word, that is
to see God in Jesus Christ for who he really is in
himself–the most real man, perfectly different from
any other. The subsequent pastoral problem is when
women search and strive for meaning in all sorts of
places and metaphors and so often finally come up
empty.”
Back Around
The grief felt by many women is not only because of “masculine” language for God’s name. There is an undercurrent of divine action coming along with that language and I daresay it nearly causes something like a panic. The force with which God acts is offensive. Well, it is remarkable but it need not be cause for pain. Rather, I pray it should be cause for the heights of joy and the proper resting place for the depths of love and worship. Because I am grasped by the triune God in his goodness, I have a share with him. Because he, as love, takes hold of me in love, I live in the promise of life. This is really good news. I should like to detail it more later.

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