Inclusive, therapeutic deism posits a benign encourager in the sky—not, perhaps, strong enough to combat evil, but certainly frowning upon unkindness; not, perhaps, miraculous, but certainly winsome. God is the best Ted Talk guy ever.
Carefully snipping away bits of the Bible that seem, well, problematic, has left a holey book in place of a holy book, casting the whole production in doubt. When we’ve done paring away God’s authority, opinions, power, and wisdom, we’re left with rather a small God.
How big is your God?
|Is he eternal? Is he creator?||OR||Was there something before him? Did he watch the world evolve and wonder what would come to be?|
|Then he is bigger than stars, older than time. All that swims or flies or leaps spilled from his fingertips, all that is splendor surged from his imagination. He is the Ultimate Creative, mix-master of beauty, from spinning electrons to spinning galaxies. He is exuberant, funny, winsome, orderly, precise, intricate, wise, and far-seeing. We, then, his creation, were plotted down to the DNA—chosen, intentional, designed, desired.||
||Then there is something bigger still. What was first, if not God? Was he the latest in a line of gods? Is he simply an observer? Then, big though he may be, he is limited—in time, space, imagination, and predictive power. And we, accidental, are little beholden to him, and little loved.|
|Is he all-knowing?||OR||Is he a spectator?|
|Then he sees every sparrow, every grain of sand on every beach. He simultaneously witnesses the chemical reactions in the birth of stars and the surge of endorphins in every falling-in-love. He sees every child that he designed in every tribe in every generation, every skinned knee, every epiphany, every action, every thought. He knows all of the complicated motives and implications and cultural forces better than any sociologist or shrink, knows all of the future cataclysms and inevitabilities. He knows the domino effect of every ionized atom and every spoken or written word. He sees every tear, every joyful moment, every fear, and every comfort. And, being outside of time, he knows the end of the story.||
||Perhaps he learns, as we do, accumulating knowledge over time, watching events as they unfold. Having been around awhile, he knows a good bit, but he is still as surprised as we are when a volcano erupts or a man cheats on his wife. Perhaps there is no grand plan in the universe, and we are all bumbling in the dark, God stepping in to help out when he can. Perhaps that time you felt alone in your suffering, you really were, because he couldn’t see you and didn’t know your pain. Then our sorrow is meaningless, and our redemption haphazard. And God, well-meaning, is simply ignorant, and doesn’t know the future any better than a beautiful gypsy with a crystal ball.|
|Is he all-powerful?||OR||Is he, say, a little powerful?|
|Then all the forces of hell cannot prevail against him. The fury of despots and devils does not faze him, the wiliest schemes and plots will never surprise him. All who would stand against him are mayflies braced against a freight train. No calamity can shock him, no danger can scare him, no obstacle can withstand him, no tragedy can thwart him. Evil will never have the last word. Redemption is always possible, and his victory is sure.||
||Then he is in a dogfight, good and evil sparring. The ends he wants are close but quite possibly unattainable, the odds just slightly in his favor. Sometimes he succeeds in answering a prayer or foiling a plot, but sometimes he is overcome. Rather than pray to him for intervention, we could consider praying for him, cheering him on. But to whom could we pray? He is, perhaps, a kind team captain, all of us together in the fight. Victory is by no means certain, but one can hope.|
|Is he good?||OR||Is he malevolent?|
|Then he is the source of all that is good, and all that opposes him is wicked. He is love. He must then hate anything that harms his beloved. Hating evil, he is holy, he is pure. He is both kind and truthful, plain-spoken and patient. He is not distant, but fatherly—faithful, generous, affectionate, and fair. All that he has seen, he will address, all that is wrong, he will make right. He will dispense judgment, justice, grace, and mercy. He has an answer for every question and a purpose for all that seemed pointless. He weeps with those who weep and restores all good things that are lost. He is the happy ending.||
Then in the words of Matthew Arnold,
“…the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
We’d be more afraid to let a kindergarten class loose in the art museum with scissors than we are to hack away at the bits of Bible we don’t much like. Instead of a glorious God we can’t quite get our mind around, we’re left with a paper doll snipped out in our own image—insubstantial, lopsided, hopeless. Maybe it’s time we let God be God, all-powerful, all-wise, creator of the stars.