My friends and fellow Open Theists Tom and T.C. are having an excellent discussion on the attributes of God. Last week, I wrote Open Theism, Moltmann, Patristic Thought and Divine Apatheia, and it was well received. In so far as the Church Fathers and Mothers REDEFINED the Gentile doctrine of divine apatheia to mean the Creator God’s complete freedom to free humanity for a relationship with Godself, they are correct and have precedent in the Biblical narrative. What one has to say at this point is that from a Gentile standpoint, God is ineffable, because we as Gentiles do not have access to the throne of YHWH except through Christ Jesus. At the cross, as Moltmann rightfully argues, God opens up the covenant to us Gentiles so that we may partake in life everlasting with the Triune God. So, in other words, just as the New Testament calls the New Covenant a better covenant, not because of anything intrinsic that we have done, but by Grace, YHWH has chosen to include MORE people to be in relationship with Godself (in line with passages like Hebrews 7:22, and 8:6, etc.).
If I may wax Jeanine from Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy, understanding the Christian life is like this: The Future Is For Those Who Know Their Place. I have argued for years that Gentiles must know our place before we proceed forward with doing theology. I haven’t changed that at all. What’s different is now I am finding Christian writers who have argued along the same lines, who were right under my nose. The early Church Christians who appropriated items such as “apatheia” from their culture did so as a means to communicate with their culture, so they could relate and give witness to Christ where they stood. If there are better ways of communicating God’s freedom and dynamic sovereignty in our age, certainly we should try them, yes, rather than make Gentile concepts absolute and universal, and somehow beyond critique?
Tom helpfully clarifies my point about our Gentile context and the nature of apatheia when he referred us to Richard Beck’s 4 part series on Stoicism and Christianity from seven years ago. If you have time, give it a quick read. But here’s where the rubber meets the road. In part 1, Beck asked,
“Are strongly relational notions of God morally and psychologically weakening us? That is, are these notions inhibiting apatheia?
Are many of our theological worries (e.g., unanswered prayer) the product of failures of apatheia? That is, rather than accepting our circumstance we wring our hands at why God is not answering us.”
So, critics of the doctrine of apatheia are reading their unanswered prayers onto God’s nature. What a humble suggestion! Did Beck ever consider that the conclusion of critiquing divine apatheia lays as an answer to some of our prayers, rather than some spiritual failure on the part of Christians who disagree with him? Speaking of Christianity, while the series was entitled “Stoicism and Christianity,” part 2 was a citation of a Taoist parable. No New Testament or Hebrew Bible. Nothing about Christianity despite what the series was supposed to be about. What we have here is a little worrying. for those who care about Christian particularity, first and foremost. Also just as worrying, as I may add, that a careless study of apatheia assumes that Taoist view of apatheia can be understood as compatible with Christianity as if they make same claims about the Triune God. I find this disconcerting and problematic. Like Clement of A, I see Truth as something where many streams lead to the same river, but I am not going to affirm light, Brogressive versions of imperialist pluralisms in order to whitewash real differences.
Part three of Beck’s series is his interpretation of Job (as a psychologist, not an exegete). Beck speculates,
“My thought is that the speeches in Job express the assumption that the God/Human relationship is, well, a relationship.”
Ummm what? We are have gone from just critiquing relational theologies as a “psychological weakness” to now “demonstrating” that God isn’t relational at all. Well, to throw this interpretation back at Beck and those who agree with him, Job wouldn’t have a proper relationship with YHWH because he isn’t a member of the assembly of Israel. Job is a Gentile, and must know his Gentile place in the story. Job must see God’s as ineffable to the extent that he remains ignorant of the God of the Exodus.
As we turn to the last post in the series, Beck discusses the idea of God as medicine, as the kind that changes us. Out of fear of a “hyper-personal” God, Beck uses an example of Buddhism, and turns the series not as one about Stoicism and Christianity, but Stoicism and God. I must ask, well, which God? And how do we Gentiles know who God is? The fretting of a “hyper-personal” or “hyper-interventionist” God as a source of human discontentment dismisses Jewish and Christian notions of God’s pathetic praxis in the world, inviting our participation in changing our circumstances. It is this liberating praxis of God that we can find our happiness and contentment rather than sitting idly by as we worship the Idol of apatheia.