One of the biggest questions any faith must address in their theology is to what extent God is involved in human affairs. The answer can range from seeing God as distant and totally uninvolved (if not unapproachable); to heavily involved in every last detail of our lives. None of the world’s major faiths have a single viewpoint on this issue. Instead, we see a range communities within each of these great faiths with a broad range of views on the continuum between these two extremes.
The “distant” conception sees God as a distant, uninvolved deity. In this view, humanity is often seen as an accidental or deliberate byproduct of creation, as rejected or cut off from God, or perhaps even forgotten by Her (or Him). Adherents of this view usually believe it is up to humanity to somehow bridge the gap between us and God to achieve salvation. For myself, I have difficulty with this view, since I believe God can (and does) have a personal relationship with us. A distant and uninvolved God wouldn’t care about us one way or another, and our very existence would therefore be meaningless and futile.
A “Highly Involved God” is one where all pain, suffering and bad choices in this life are “fixed” because of God’s love for us. While I believe God loves us, I have concerns with this point of view because it requires God to interfere in human affairs on an ongoing basis. If God miraculously heals or favors me in some way, the cost is probably that someone else must suffer or be denied access to the benefits I am being given. As a Rabbi once said: if I take a walk one day and see a fire engine racing by me towards smoke rising in the distance from where my house is, and I pray for God to let it not be my house that is burning, then am I, in effect, asking that someone else’s house be burned? A God who interferes in human existence in such a way would not be respecting the gift of freedom of choice, which I believe lies at the heart of what makes us human, and is what makes us capable of having a true relationship with God. If God does not permit us to suffer the consequences of our own choices, then we are no more than pets, or perhaps robots: playthings without a meaningful existence of our own.
The Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible makes this same argument: as a human, I am finite and limited in my understanding. Therefore, I cannot know all the consequences of what I ask of God. So, when God does not grace me with what I see as a favorable answer to what I am requesting, is that a bad thing? I think not. To me, it merely means that I do not know the full story, and that I am asking for something that is not in line with God’s perfect will for me and for all of Creation. It is not a matter of “not having enough faith” or not being perfectly obedient to God’s will. (In fact, I would argue, as did Paul, that no one can ever be perfectly obedient, and therefore none of us ever “deserves” God’s grace.) But, let’s get back to the question of “Is God Involved?”
Is God involved? Does God actually care for us as individuals? Does God even notice that we exist? For me, the answer is “Yes”
I believe that the primary reason for the historical existence of Christ is to demonstrate that God shared with us and walked with us, both fully human and fully divine. God knows what it means to be happy, to be sad, to be hungry, to be satisfied, to love, and to grieve. Through Christ, God has experienced all of these things, and so knows exactly what it means to be human. Through doing this, God demonstrated that he (or she) cares for us as individuals: that each and every one of us matters to God.
Further, as Christ said in John 14:26, the “Comforter”, the Holy Spirit, is still with us. I believe this is the same spirit that manifested itself as the “voice” that came to Elijah in the cave (I Kings 19:13). I believe that the Holy Spirit is but one of the many avenues God uses to communicate with us, to help us learn for ourselves what God already knows is best for us. Yet, God will never seek to shield us from the consequences of our choices. If we make a bad choice, bad consequences will follow. For me, the doctrine of “original sin” teaches us that we cannot help but make imperfect choices. In other words, any choice we make will ultimately lead to negative consequences for someone, if not for ourselves.
So, the answer is Yes, God is involved: God is constantly talking to us, feeling what we feel, walking our walk. But, it is up to us to choose to listen and to walk the path that God knows is best for us. Yet, if we fail to do so, God remains with us, experiencing with us the pain and loss we’re experiencing.
I believe that God never gives up on us, and so I will never give up on the God I see as a very personal and very loving God.
Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).