by Lon Marshall
Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast called Revisionist History. I recently listened to episode 7, entitled “Hallelujah”. In this episode, he talks about artistic genius and how it works. Sometimes it is seen in Bob Dylan, who writes songs that practically write themselves. Other times it is like Cézanne, who has been called an experimental innovator. He experiments, doesn’t like it, changes it, and (after many iterations) comes up with a painting he likes. The episode spends a good deal of time talking about Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”. This song is in the consciousness of most contemporary music lovers, but it almost never came to be. Its history includes several years, several record labels, and several artists taking it up and rewriting it. It took a number of people, a lot of luck, and unique circumstances to give us the song we have today.
That is kind of what happened to this essay. I’ve turned in four different “final drafts.” I probably should not have been so eager to submit each one. Each time it did not convey what I originally hoped to say. It’s a bit embarrassing. Tom and his editors have been very gracious. Friends have offered their input, and I have had experiences that have helped me reflect on what to write. I’m not trying to say I am a creative genius, just that my brain seems to work like these experimental innovators, and the collaboration of others combined with time, experiences, and contemporary circumstances have all worked together to create this essay.
When I imagine God anew with the theological lens of open and relational providence presented in The Uncontrolling Love of God, many possibilities become available in how to interpret scripture and think about God with an eye for Shalom. Becoming aware of my assumptions reforms something lower and more foundational than beliefs or doctrines. Knowing I am created in God’s image, I am reminded this is what God is like, with an open mind to the future and the audacity to cooperate with humanity and creation as an experimental innovator.
God is like Jesus
I’m not sure where I picked up the idea, but my default assumption used to be that Jesus was somehow less than God. Without ever saying it out loud, I assumed that Jesus was not the complete package. The powerful, violent God of the Old Testament was being subtracted from in the revelation of Jesus. Some Bible scholars like to interpret the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians to say he “emptied himself” in this way. But recently, theologians are thinking about this differently. Instead of talking about how God diminished God’s self in the incarnation, some are saying the revelation of God in Jesus is a more complete revelation of God’s true nature. (pp. 153-160)
This means God’s full nature can be seen in how Jesus lived, taught and acted. It was radical then, and it still is today. We need look no further than Jesus to see what God is like. And it is clear that Jesus was love personified. He lived and died a self-sacrificial life. His weakness was his superpower. He overcame violence and death by nonviolence. He told Pilate his followers would not fight. His kingdom is different (John 18:36). Colossians 1:15 tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Tom says in chapter 7, “God’s power is essentially persuasive and vulnerable, not overpowering and aloof. We especially see God’s non-coercive power revealed in the cross… which suggests that God’s power is cruciform… other-oriented love. (p. 155)” In my opinion, Tom even goes as far to suggest Jesus was an experimental innovator. He describes Jesus as seeking people to cooperate with him in miracles of healing. Jesus does no healing where the people do not believe, rather he often says, “Your faith has healed you. (pp. 199-204)”
If we keep separate the God of the Old Testament from Jesus and read all scripture as equal, we may extrapolate a God that brings justice with a sword instead of a cross. It matters what lens we are using. As those following an uncontrolling God, we examine the scriptures with new eyes, the eyes of Jesus.
God is looking for partners in the new creation project. God is looking for vulnerable, other-oriented people like you and me, who are willing to love at great risk to ourselves and to influence the dynamic cosmos for good. God is looking for partners who understand the gospel of peace and how to live it in a cruciform fashion. God is looking for partners who use mercy and restorative justice as their weapons, who stand with the rejected, who long for the reconciliation of all things, and who will do no harm (no matter how right it may seem).
Tom Oord’s The Uncontrolling Love of God is advocating that God’s transformative quality is love, not power. From a certain perspective, this may seem like a weakness. We, in our humanness, tend to like the certainty of guarantees through a coercive, forceful God. The God revealed in Jesus imagines a new world of mercy, peace, and enemy love that brings a new hope for everyone. This is the God of uncontrolling love.
Lon Marshall is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He spent most of his life in the Church of the Nazarene. Lon is an alumni of MNU, and UMKC with a MA in Counseling Psychology. He now attends a rural Mennonite MCUSA church and lives in Kalona Iowa. He’s been married to Julie for 27 years and have 3 daughters, 22, 18, and 13. Lon blogs at http://lonmarshall.blogspot.com/