Thursday 17 February 2011

God as Community?

I am that man. I follow blogs, and given my own iconoclastic tendencies and in my desire to love you all, I asked Lesley for something constructive: not necessarily a defence of but an explanation of why the Trinity is important from someone who uses it. I've made a comment there, but as well as expanded comment what I also want to do here is turn this around on to me.

I've heard this before: God the Trinity is a community that can show love within and then as well there are the notions of democracy and provisionality, which are unusual.

Presumably democracy means the foundation for democracy: of being equalitarian. Otherwise it starts to mean that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit might outvote God the Father on the issues of, say, how to motivate the Christian community, or to have beliefs evolving rather than finding them up a mountain, or perhaps God the Father and God the Son outvotes God the Holy Spirit on how quite to create the Universe (the Holy Spirit preferred the direct approach but God the Father and the Son preferred evolution).

Provisionality is even more unusual in denying a single mind or perspective, which suggests tritheism and doubt (presumably the need to take things to a vote?) but it's about the spaces in between that allow personal growth. God, I thought, was rather singular in mind; personal growth is allowed in the Christian view that God is self-limiting. I was trying to explain to my friends in the pub two weeks ago last Tuesday that the Islamic God is utterly singular and all majestic and imposing, whereas the Christian God is deliberately self-limiting and comes through a particular (old Greek) culture for scriptural and doctrinal purposes. I'm the car driver and remain sober, but my friends were entering the land of alteration and this rapidly turned into a one way conversation.

But if your religious language about your highest ideal is of one God, and not one in a number, are you denied these interesting notions of community, love within and so on? Of course the easy thing to do is put these positives among the humans, but if you are unitarian (small u) in expression then are these communal elements not present in the deity?

First of all, they can indeed still be in the output of the deity A hymn verse from Hymns for Living (HL) 125:

In beauty, wonder, everywhere,
Let us communion find,
Compassion be the golden cord
Close-binding humankind.

Or that can be the impact of the deity upon sharing, as in HL 183:

Share in full your bread of blessing,
Sorrow's burden share;
When your heart enfolds a neighbour,
God is there.

In other words, there is the suggestion here of a golden cord which would be the output of a deity at least. Then, of course, community is the product of a church that gathers to worship one God. This is from HL 194:

For this we gather here today;
To such a church of God we bring
Our utmost love and loyalty,
And make our souls an offering.

Then from a one God comes the notion that deity is spread about, incarnate or manifest, in the world itself. So, from HL 202:

Small are we, and small our planet,
Hidden here among the stars;
May we know our timeless mission -
Universal avatars.

Or we can have actual avatars, as in HL 172:

For in our company shall be
Great witnesses of light:
The Buddha, Krishna, Jesus - those
Gifted with clearest sight.

Love, of course, singular, has impact far and wide and makes community, as in HL 171:

Though the world's divided,
Nations, churches, creeds
Separate and sadden -
Flowers turned to weeds:
And, though small truths deaden,
Yet one truth we know:
Love can make what seems but
Desert flower and grow.

Love is also able to overcome strife in a community, as in HL 188:

If we in love unite,
Debate can cause no strife:
For with this love in sight
Disputes enrich our life.
For with this bond of human love,
Disputes can mean a richer life.

Unity is, however, quite important, as in HL 177:

Community, supporting friends,
Hands joined in unity...
Rejoice, my friend, in fellowship,
In living full and free.

Consequent to unity is peace within and among a group, as in HL 191:

Now let us sing in loving celebration:
The holier worship, which our God may bless,
Restores the lost, binds up the spirit broken,
And feeds the widowed and the parentless.
Fold to thy heart thy sister and thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other;
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

The fact is that the vast majority of Unitarian theistic hymns stress the unity of God, like this one based on Akhenaton's revolutionary unitary faith in HL 12:

O thou sole God, no other can possess
Thy power to uphold our lives and bless:
Majestic as the sun above us shines,
So excellent, O God, are thy designs.

However, that unity is above all else, and expressions involve mystery, as in HL 30:

Our outward lips confess the Name
All other names above;
Love only knoweth whence it came,
And comprehendeth love.

And if there is mystery, there is doubt (yet still retaining the unity), as in HL 34 using the words of James Martineau (how he combined the subjective and the objective):

"Where is your God?" they say:
Answer them, God most holy!
Reveal thy secret way
Of visiting the lowly:
Not wrapped in moving cloud,
Or nightly-resting fire;
But veiled within the shroud
Of silent high desire.

And what do we know about God, in either its plurality or unity, as in HL 62?

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Never mind then plurality, what about the size of what God does, as in HL 140?

For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of our mind,
And the heart of the eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

However, the answer to all this is in the language of God and in how God operates. See, Unitarians still use the full range of language of other Christians, indeed the language of early Christians. So Holy Spirit gets used. So there are a plurality of terms and functions and this suggests potential for relationship. Maybe, or not, as the difference is, in the end, there being no dogmatic statement of an equalitarian eternal relationship nor statements at all of persons. There can't be, because even with the difference of terms and functions, there can only be one person of God. Look at this, from HL 63:

Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
Dawn upon this soul of mine!
Word of God and inward Light,
Wake my spirit, clear my sight.

But I like to turn this around. There is HL 233 where the last two lines of each verse go:

...Some call it evolution,
And others call it God.

...Some people call it nature,
And others call it God.

..Some people call it longing,
And others call it God.

...Some call it consecration,
And others call it God.

Which is either pantheism or panentheism. Now this rather lessens the unity of God, stressed so often, into a possible polytheism. But in the end, that gets turned around as in these first lines in HL 235:

God speaks to us in bird and song...

God speaks to us in far and near...

God speaks to us in darkest night...

God speaks to us in every land...

O voice divine, speak though to me...

But in the end, my preference, other than among the more humanist hymns, is for this as in HL 35 and its last two verses:

Though the truth we can't perceive,
This at least we must believe,
What we take most earnestly
Is our living deity.

Our true God we there shall find
In what claims our heart and mind,
And our hidden thoughts enshrine
That which for us is divine.

And I haven't even opened the new hymn book that supplements Hymns for Living. No, in the unity of God, the Godhead is broad enough and produces that which becomes love, community, fellowship, what is evolved, the avatars of lesser and greater mortals and what is deep within ourselves. Love, fellowship, truth, the prophets, the deity within the evolved, are stressed as a unity, as one: all this combine into what we can call God.
GA of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (1985), Hymns for Living, London: Lindsey Press.

No comments: