Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on suffering!

I came across two variants of the 'does God suffer' question in the same day, one from a womanist perspective that wants to take seriously the real suffering of slaves and blacks in the US and show us what we can learn from such strong witnesses, and one from a Christian-exploring-Buddhist perspective raising questions about creation ex nihilo.  I find it interesting that those strands of thoughts could coalesce into (what I have learned) can be called open theism.  "Could", I say.  There's some flexibility in the final reading of those two sources, I think.

So much of this seems motivated by a particular understanding of love that sounds like this: Love must entail suffering.  To love something is to become so intimately involved in it such that the danger and risk of the beloved becomes the worry and danger of the loved.  Love means mess.  Love means involvement.  And if God is love, we need to take this seriously and give up certain older stands of theology that insist on God's transcendence at the expense of God's connection to reality.

There's something to this 'love critique,' especially in the way we conceptualize "perfection."  The ancient Greeks thought of perfection as unity, stillness, and constancy.  Maybe what is really up for grabs is our notion of perfection--Greek white men imagined that perfection looked infinite, simple, unified, power, and that does indeed sound like a conditioned notion of perfection.  Really, it sounds like a dictatorship.  Where is perfect relationship?  Where is perfect love?  So from that perspective, I can get right on board.

Where I find myself pausing is when the next step is made into the suggestion that God really isn't different from creation.  If God loves us, that love means God is involved with us, suffers with us, is down in this mess with us together.  Hm.  Does love mean dying in a ditch next to the one we love?

Maybe it's my experience with ACoA and Al-Anon, but I wonder about any description of God that makes God sound co-dependent (which, for those Buddhism-watchers out there, is amusingly quite different from dependent co-arising).  We could boil down the lesson from those groups in this way: a person can learn to be okay whether or not an addicted person is still using.  That's what healthy, connected relationship looks like.  Connected, but 'okay' in themselves whether or not  someone they love has become enthralled to something dangerous.  Connected, and yet separate.  Loving, and sometimes sad, but also okay.  That is a far different vision of love--it mingles individuality and relationship.

Love might entail suffering, but perfect love might entail both suffering and okay-ness.  I think that's fundamentally what I find so dissatisfying about questions about God's suffering, or knee-jerk reactions against those questions.  Both of them seem to me to have missed something mysterious about relationship, where neither the relationship nor the individual has the final word