Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Dubious Heroics of Doubt

From the July 2005 issue of New Directions magazine comes the following column, entitled "Last Chronicle", dealing with a phenomenon that longtime Episcopalians/Anglicans and other mainliners have experienced: the "heroic" posturing of skeptics in clerical garb and the "prophetic" pronouncments of unregenerate agnostics on ecclesiastical payrolls.
Last Chronicle

You will have met him or (just as probably) her. S/he is a clergy person whose only theological certainty concerns the heroic dignity of doubt. Volunteer an orthodox opinion – that the tomb was empty, the conception was virginal, the gospels are reliable – and you will be told that you simply have not faced up to all the problems and difficulties involved.

Dare to suggest that it was precisely in considering those difficulties and problems that you reached your present firm opinion, and you will unleash a tirade which degenerates into a reading list.

You will ask yourself, as always, in the quiet aftermath of such a fruitless encounter, just why doubt is so much more heroic than faith. We live, do we not, in an age which has canonized uncertainty and divinized relativism? What in heaven’s name is heroic about adopting the majority position? It might be right; it is hardly glamorous.

But the fact is that the more exalted the churchperson, the more likely s/he is to adopt this curious position. Think of all the books with titles like ‘A Bishop Rethinks…’ Recall the media posturings of David Jenkins (who was a class act) and the ridiculous website of Jack Spong (who emphatically is not). (See also this website.)

You will eventually conclude, I suspect, that you are the fall guy. The heroic doubter would sink into oblivion were it not for the orthodox like you. You are the darkness against which the jewel shines. Doubt can only be portrayed as heroic if there are still enough believers to sustain it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Fatherhood of God (Part 1)

Why do Christians call God Father? There are those who would say that using masculine language for God is only the result of a patriarchal conception of God that we need to move beyond. But the significance of calling God Father goes much deeper than that. It is worth noting that no other religion calls God Father. Even in Old Testament Judaism, they never addressed God as Father. They might say metaphorically, that God is like a Father. But they never called God “Father” in the way that Jesus does.

Jesus brings something entirely new to the realm of human existence. He calls God "Father," because God is his Father, and he teaches his disciples, “When you pray, pray like this: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Jesus could not call God “mother,” because he had a mother, and she wasn’t God. As we are “in Christ”—that powerful reality that the Apostle Paul deals with again and again in the New Testament—as we are in Christ, his Father becomes our Father.

But I hear the objection, “What about those who have had bad relationships with their fathers or who have had abusive fathers? It isn’t helpful for them to think of God as Father.” The problem is that naming God according to our conception of what is helpful relegates God to the level of a human construct. We don’t think of God as Father because it is a helpful analogy. We call God Father, because it is a reality—indeed the most precious reality that human beings can know&mdashthat if we are in Christ, his Father becomes our Father.

Those who may have had hurtful relationships with their earthly fathers can find healing and fulfillment in the true and perfect fatherhood of God. God's love and care for us, through Christ, is a precious and powerful truth of which we must not lose sight amid the changing religious landscape that surrounds us.