by Jared Byas
Are we open?
This question has haunted me since reading The Uncontrolling Love of God. In the book, Oord affirms what many recent theologians have said before: the future is open. God doesn’t know nor control the future because relationships matter to God. In fact, Oord takes it one step further to say that God can’t control the future because love (which he defines as self-giving, others-empowering) is God’s defining and essential characteristic.
But if the future is open, what then of God’s plans? If the future is open, are we to believe that God’s plans may not come to pass? For instance, when Jeremiah declares that God has plans to prosper those Jews who have been kicked off their land (Jeremiah 29:11), is God just being hopeful?
Sort of. And it makes sense. In fact, I’ve made peace with God as someone who isn’t in control because I am at peace with a relational God who doesn’t treat human beings as pawns while God marches all the chess pieces toward a grand finale.
As I see it, this is the nature of love: having plans disrupted for the sake of relationship. So yes, even God’s #lifegoals are at-risk because relationship trumps plans.
What God is up to isn’t the question that keeps me up at night. The question that’s been nagging at me is: Do I bear the image of that God? Am I open too?
Or, to put it more simply: Am I willing to lay down my cause, my ideology, my vision for a “better world” for the sake of a relationship? Am I willing to embrace the same freedom-affirming love I see in God, even if it means not accomplishing my vision for the world?
This is a very relevant question. We live in a world of growing partisanship. Republicans and Democrats and their millions of social media minions (us) keep using apocalyptic language to describe what will happen if the “other” wins the upcoming election. It’s in this context where we would do well to remember the kenotic God who works for here-and-now freedom-affirming love.
To follow this God means that any vision for the future must submit itself to here-and-now, freedom-affirming love. Otherwise, any vision, whether it’s progressive, conservative, libertarian, green, democratic, or republican, will become tyranny. This merging of freedom and love in God is critical.
In her fabulous book, The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir describes a person who does not bear the image of the God of freedom-affirming love. She describes this person as the “serious man.” This person believes in a cause or goal so strongly that s/he is willing to sacrifice another person’s freedom to make it happen. But if the chief end of God is freedom-affirming love, the is no cause that can justify such an action.
The serious person, she goes on, “forgets that . . . human freedom is the ultimate, the unique end to which wo/man should destine him/herself. . . Therefore, the serious person is dangerous. It is natural that s/he makes him/herself a tyrant” (52-53).
With this, I ask myself: Am I a “serious person”? Or am I open?
Sometimes, I have worked toward personal goals so intensely that that people became things. They became instruments in my plan and I used them as such. For some, this does bear the image of their God, who also has a goal and will use people however necessary to make it come to pass. But not the God of freedom-affirming love.
Sometimes, I have had causes that I believed in so strongly, that people became obstacles. If I had the power, perhaps I would have banished them to hell so that I could move forward with my vision of the future without the obstacles. For some, this does bear the image of their God, who does banish them to hell in order to move forward without obstacles. But not the God of freedom-affirming love.
If we believe God is justified in ignoring our freedom for a higher purpose, we might think we can too. And that seems dangerous. If I am to imitate the God of freedom-affirming love, then I must commit to the relationship as the highest cause, the here-and-now freedom-affirming love over the uncertain there-and-then vision.
This, of course, doesn’t negate dreaming dreams or making plans. We find God doing such again and again in the Bible. It simply gives us an example to follow to make sure those dreams and plans ultimately lead to freedom-affirming love.