An appalling suggestion

What if the part human imagination plays in the experience of God is grounded in the fact that God does not have existence in him/herself alone, but is as dependent on the universe as the universe is dependent on God?

The great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna taught that “All things have their being and nature through dependence on other things; and aside from this co-dependency there is nothing.” When he was challenged that this would mean that the Buddha and Buddha Truth were dependent on other things, he did not repent but boldly affirmed this to be the case. Something that has intrinsic existence in itself cannot learn and cannot love for these involve change.

Now Nagarjuna was talking about Buddha who is the enlightened human being rather than God, so Christian believers might find themselves agreeing with Nagarjuna in respect of all beings in the universe, while denying that his doctrine can apply to God, who is not of the universe at all. God may be IN the universe in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but is not OF the world and no worldly conditions apply to him/her. Except of course, as a glance at the hymn book will confirm, believers characterise God as omnipotent, just, merciful, loving. St. Thomas says that these words are applied to God by analogy, just as the Bible depicts God as sitting, rising up, coming down, and so on. We do not mean such words literally, but as human similes which can be applied to God because after all humans are made in “his image and likeness.” If however, God is indeed like human beings, if moreover he/she is to love her creatures, then she must surely be subject to the fundamental condition of all existence, namely what Nagarjuna called “dependent arising.” God may indeed be the creator of this universe, bringing order out of chaos and life out of no-life, but God becomes God in and through the process of creation, as indeed is the case in the Hebrew story of creation in Genesis 1: God is revealed as the universe is revealed; God has no life before creation. The event of God is just as much a singularity as the event of the universe.

So OK, can the story of this God be told?

God comes alive as his/her Spirit broods over chaos, and with one enabling word creates energy which flows out in all directions here and there becoming light, the same light which burns in the Sun and is shed onto its planets. God’s spirit is in the energy, the light, the stars, the sun, the planets the earth, always persuading the existing particles into events of greater complexity -proteins, amino acids, organic molecules, and with extra persuasion, a living cell; life in the oceans, on land, in the air, plentiful and free. Nothing made to do anything, all persuaded into growth and development. That meant accidents. Life destroyed in volcanic firestorms. Life wiped out in the wake of asteroid collisions. But life itself insatiably finding its way over obstacles and through extinctions, urged by the persuader present in every event. And yes, eventually, but not at all finally, the hairless ape, which would be the greatest accident and disaster of all, appeared. The creator continues through the long 6th day of his creation to struggle towards the 7th day in which there will be peace and perfection. He/she is sadder and wiser than when the world began. The life of Jesus is the saddest and wisest event in this struggle.

I don’t think this story is unbiblical. It’s true that this God is not omnipotent, but subject to the resistance of the universe, and especially of Homo sapiens. Curiously, although the Bible often speaks of an all-powerful and commanding God who cannot be resisted, its main narratives are full of resistance and the stubborn refusal of human beings to obey. They are also full of the splendid stories of partnership with God, the Abrahams, Isaacs, Jacobs, the Sarahs Rebeccas and Rachel’s who allow God to do things that would have been impossible otherwise. Once you start interpreting the Bible with the concept of a co-dependent God, it’s hard to stop because it fits so well.

The story of this God is always twofold: the response of the creation to God, and the response of God to creation.The metaphor of the Virgin birth of Jesus shows him as the perfect climax of this double story.

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