A friend and I have been discussing the promise of God’s power alongside threats to human flourishing and the struggle for justice. The discussion started right before COVID-19 hit California and a few weeks before the murder of George Floyd. As we continued talking and more events unfolded, our emails came into sharper focus. My plan is to post a series of our exchanges here. Part Two is a reply to one of my first emails.
March 15th, 2020
My thoughts on your comments have hovered around this line from the book: “God consents to our reluctant consent, resulting in this painfully slow but inexorable transfiguration of our violent world.” I guess I don’t believe in “this painfully slow but inexorable transfiguration of our violent world.” I mean I don’t believe that is what God is doing. So this could be at the heart of much of the misunderstanding.
Do you see this “slow transfiguration of our violent world” message in Jesus’ teaching (or the rest of the bible)? There’s prophecies of a new world, but the biblical description I see is something sudden and complete, clearly a gift of God. The new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. But I don’t see Jesus teaching that the world is going to become nonviolent (or godly in other ways either). He says the world will persecute his followers, and the more so the more closely we follow. There’s no suggestion that I see that this will only be for a while, that eventually everyone will all become followers of Jesus and persecution will end. And I don’t see that occurring yet, over two thousand years later.
What I hear from Jesus is that God wants us to change (repent) and follow him by accepting his power, because it’s impossible to do it by our own power. (This reminds me of your AA comments.) This is what God is trying to do. And this doesn’t require a nonviolent environment, a garden of Eden. I believe our world is the right environment for what God is doing, the right environment for personal repentance and abandoning ourselves to God’s grace. After Adam and Eve sinned, God changed their environment. What they needed then was struggle and suffering and challenges much bigger than them.
People keep trying to create a more perfect government or more advanced society. Individuals are sacrificed for the advancement of human society. I think maybe we think God has the same goals. But God cares about each individual infinitely. God is trying to save the individual, you and me. In the end, God will give us the perfect environment, the perfect society. But I don’t think that’s what God is doing here and now.
And I don’t think the point of nonviolent, Christlike actions is to transform society (like some activist technique). These actions are meant as witness. They are meant to reach out to the souls of others and appeal to them to change, to hope, to love. They are meant to do exactly what God is doing.