Tag: Frank Tupper

Sin – an ethical case for God?

In the previous post, I commented on Keller’s existential argument for belief in God in his book The Reason for God.  Keller, sounding a bit like Paul Tillich, argued that each person effectively deifies some role or goal, and the only way to avoid existential disappointment is to put our infinite trust in an infinite God.  If we find meaning in our friends and jobs, we will be shattered when they let us down.

But Keller doesn’t think that idolatry – treating finite goods as though they are the infinite God – is a risk only to the idolaters themselves.  According to Keller, idolatry puts everyone at risk.

The Sin of Self- Centeredness

If our highest goal in life is the good of our nation, tribe, or race, then we will tend to be racist or nationalistic. [1]

In his book A Scandalous Providence, Frank Tupper makes a similar point.

The self turns into iteslf to gain stability within the self, the self-securing a failure to trust God . . . [2]

Unlike Timothy Keller, Tupper, takes his analysis further, locating the origin of this dangerous tendency towards self-centeredness in evolution.

Emergent human persons socialized within a particular community in a world stamped with indescribable, commonplace violence to protect its societal life.  Actually, self-preservation is the most significant factor relating earlier animal forms to the human animal in biological evolution, for self-preservation in the dawning of human existence involved the problem of self-protection through violence, the acquisition of food by violence, and the resolution of the fear of “the Other” with violence. [3]

Early human beings depended on desperate violence to preserve themselves against other animals and other human tribes.  Pacifist tribes, had they ever existed, would presumably have been quickly removed from the gene pool by starving warriors of neighboring tribes.  The genes and societal structures that survived the fires of early human life left a deep, violent mark on “human nature.”  Violent self-centeredness continues to this day.

Imagine a world where everyone could see beyond their own self-interests.  Imagine a world where the well-being of us isn’t more important than the well-being of them.  It’s hard to fit racism, war, and interpersonal ugliness into that picture.  The rich wouldn’t hoard their resources away from the poor, because rich kids would no longer be inherently more important than poor kids.  Nationalism would evaporate.  Globalization wouldn’t be so scary.  I would like to live in that world.  I would like to live that way.  But self-centeredness – sin – holds me (and us) back.

The Solution

What can we do about sin?  How do we opt out of the natural human tendency towards violent self-preservation?  The solution, say Tupper and Keller, is to center our lives around the God of love instead of ourselves and our tribes.  To borrow Paul Tillich’s phrase, if we are ultimately concerned with someone outside of ourselves, someone who loves each person equally, than we will be less taken by racism and self-preserving violence.  Threats to me and my group are less threatening if what really matters to me is God, who loves each person.

Of course, a shocking 81% of white Evangelical Christians who voted in the recent U.S. election say they voted for Donald Trump, a man who expressed precious little sensitivity towards people outside of the in-group of white, Christian America.  A recent conference of global Evangelicals expressed concern, claiming that Donal Trump “will harm the Church’s witness“.  It’s hard to escape the impression that Donald Trump considers American workers to be more important than workers oversees, the safety of American citizens more important than the safety of Syrian refugees, Christians more important than Muslims.  As this election has shown, belief in God does not necessarily inspire believers to care more about outsiders and less about themselves, at least on the scale of national politics.

Like most of Keller’s arguments for God, the potential political payoff of theism does little to demonstrate that God is anything more than a human projection.  As such, Keller fails to address one of my biggest questions.  Even so, I still think that Keller and Tupper have a point.  At least in theory, believing in a benevolent God should help me to resist discrimination and violence in my own heart and in the world at large.

 

References

[1] Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 175. Print.

[2] Tupper, E. Frank. A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2013. 185. Print.
[3] Ibid. 186. Print.

Divine Power and Human Freedom (Reading Keller and Tupper)

When I read Athanasius’ On the Incarnation a few weeks ago, I was surprised that, at least in my English translation of the text, omnipotence was never explicitly mentioned.  Nevertheless, classical theism (“theism” refers to belief in God) has assumed throughout the centuries that God is omnipresent (present everywhere), omniscience (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful).

So far in Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God (I’m on page 147 of 254), Keller hasn’t used the language of omnipotence.  Yet Keller believes that God “allows” all of our pain in order to thereby bless us (I have written about this before), which gives me the impression that Keller does think that God is in control of everything.

A different perspective on the power of God is taken up by Frank Tupper in his book A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story and the Compassion of God.  (I read that book this summer and before I began this God project.)  In A Scandalous Providence, Tupper contrasts a traditional “monarchal” conception of God with a more Jesus-influenced “parental” analogy for God.

For Centuries, Christians have mostly fallen into the “monarchal” category, thinking of God as an all-powerful King who has the power and authority to “rule and overrule” history, human decisions, and the laws of nature.  By contrast, Tupper suggests that we think of God as a divine parent who limits God’s power in order to allow humans (children of God) to exercise uninterrupted autonomy and freedom.  On the basis of the Incarnation, in which God is revealed through a limited, finite person, Tupper argues that God’s providential power is genuinely limited, not omnipotent.

According to Tupper, an all-powerful, monarchal God would eliminate all room for genuine human freedom.  By limiting the scope of their power, good parents (unlike Absolute Kings) give their kids the chance to make decisions on their own.

I doubt that Timothy Keller would agree with much of Tupper’s reflection on God’s power and action in the world.  The analogy of Monarchy is important to Keller’s understanding of God.  Even so, Keller sounds a strikingly Tupper-sounding note in his chapter entitled “Is Christianity a Straitjacket?”:

One of the principles of love – either love of a friend or romantic love – is that you lose independence to attain greater intimacy.  If you want the “freedom” of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways.  You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life.

-Timothy Keller, The Reason for God [1]

Keller may perhaps think that God only became “limited” during the Incarnation and death of Jesus.  Yet what if God is more broadly limited, as Tupper argues?  Maybe God can do anything in theory (see Matthew 19:26), but in practice God possesses a limited range of options in each situation.  Maybe, as Tupper writes, God “does all God can do” in each particular situation, often failing to avert our crises because God lacks the necessary resources.  Perhaps the self-limitation of God allows us to make legitimate decisions that God cannot and will not overrule.  After all, as Keller points out, how else could love work?

 

References

[1] Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 48. Print.