Thursday, March 23, 2006

resisting as existing

I was reading for systematic theology, and again this week what stood out to me this week was from our book on Jonathan Edwards by Sang Hyun Lee. This week we're talking about the doctrine of divine "Providence"--I didn't even know people use the word "Providence" anymore in the twenty-first century, but I guess there's a whole doctrine about it. The Christian doctrine of Providence basically says that God is working in everything that goes on in the universe in order to bring about a good end, namely, in order to fulfill the covenant of grace begun with humanity (which seems kind of anthropocentric, but that's the doctrine anyway). This brings up a lot of questions, and maybe I'll focus on some of them a different day, but for now I'll just mention them: there's the ever-present "theodicy" question--if God is working for good, why is there so much evil? And if God is working to bring about a certain end, do humans actually have any freedom to choose their own actions? And more questions flow from these lines of thinking.

But what stood out to me was something I read Edwards' struggle with these issues. He was attempting to reformulate the idea of "substance" from Aristotle's idea of "forms," which is basically an archetypal form of perfection and beauty underlying the imperfect things we see and experience. Edwards says instead that substance is getting down to the solid part of things (which he calls "atom" although now we know there are smaller things than atoms)--so you get down to this solid part, where nothing can be divided from it any longer, and that thing-which-cannot-be-divided is "solidity." He says since it can't be divided it's perpetually in the action of resisting division, and it is this resistance to division which defines existence.

Therefore existence is essentially relational, because one can only resist if there's something else, something other, to resist. He says this solidity is God, because God is infinitely indivisible, active and relational. (He explains this, but I don't want to go into the details here, just suffice it to say he has some pretty good arguments.) An important distinction here is that everything solid isn't God exactly (as in pantheism), but that God is the substance that sustains everything. It is God's act of resisting division and destruction that causes existence to continue. This is how God is "Providence," in that God sustains everything and must be present and active, working for the continued existence of everything, in order for anything to exist.

So I thought this was a really interesting thought, and I thought of implications which I'm not sure if Edwards would think followed at all, but it sparked these thoughts anyway. And I'm going to set aside modern physics and chemistry all that, ignore the questions of whether there actually is anything solid and indivisible and not just loads of space between infinitesimal quarks and whatever smaller atomic pieces there are, because I don't know enough about all that to speak intelligently about it, and because for the sake of this thought process I'm going to assume there is something eventually, however small, that is solid and indivisible.

Here's my thought: if existence if the act of resisting destruction and division--basically the act of resisting falling into chaos, does this say anything about the way we should live our lives? Does it extrapolate to a relatively macroscopic level, where because our very atoms are resisting division, we also should live out this resistance in our lives? What would this look like?

I think what Jesus calls us to, what Donald Kraybill and others call the "upside down Kingdom," where the last are first and the first are last, the greatest is the one who serves, no one can enter the Kingdom except as a little child, where we foolishly love people, even our enemies, where we forgive people as many times as they ask it, this is the act of resistance to which our "atoms" call us. This is the acting out of our solidarity with others, our refusal to be separated--divided--by race, class, gender, nation, or culture. This is the sense of substance and solidity which is the paradoxical kernel of truth that can keep our world from spinning into the non-existent divisiveness of chaos and war, fear, hatred, and judgment without mercy which would (and does) threaten the very fabric of our delicately woven world of spacious atoms and microscopic solidity.

But to resist the obvious--what seems easy, what seems solid--the easy way out of hatred and "eye for an eye" revenge, to resist this and see that our solidity, our substance, comes from solidarity and relationship with the Living God who holds all things together and works for good, this is what existence is all about.


Paul said...

Okay. Yeah. Uh-huh. Got it. So we all need to work really hard at getting along. Right?


cherice said...

I guess that would be a loose translation, Paul...

I guess what I was saying was that our solidarity with one another ("work[ing] really hard at getting along") is our resistance to this world of chaos and evil, and that in participating in this resistance by loving one another we are participating in the Kingdom of God.

Sorry it's kind of convoluted--try reading J. Edwards! =)

Paul said...

Thanks. Very helpful.