God is not dead

Recently I was watching something (clearly forgettable, as I’ve forgotten what it was) on TV, and had a thought on hearing a father reading to his child, ending “and they lived happily ever after”.  The thought started with a memory of a BBC science fiction series of the late 70’s called “Blake’s Seven”. It was the 70’s, it was the BBC, and the budget massively failed to live up to the space opera setting, and the acting was a little lacking from time to time, but I really liked it – perhaps heretically, I actually liked it rather more than “Dr. Who”.

Anyhow, the last series ended with virtually the entire cast being killed, in a tableau vaguely reminiscent of the end of “Hamlet” (at least to anyone whose tastes run to both extremes of theatre, high and low), resulting in many of the series fans expressing outrage and/or anguish in letters to the editor in various places. The authors had very clearly made it impossible for there to be a fifth series (or so thought the fan base, although the Wikipedia entry suggests an avenue was still open, albeit without the title character, Blake). The story had, it seemed, conclusively ended – and fans were disappointed.

What struck me, though, was that the words “and they lived happily ever after” also finish a story conclusively. There is no more to be told. The story is, if you like, dead, even if the characters (unlike the appearance of the end of Blake’s Seven) live on.

Being a theology nerd, this made me think of the common concept of God put forward by philosophical theologians in the West fairly consistently between Augustine and sometime in the 18th century (at the earliest), and which agreed pretty closely with the concept of God reached by Greek philosophy. God, it was argued, is perfect, and therefore possesses the quality of aseity (being entirely complete in and of itself), is unchanging (as any change from perfection is argued to be impossible while remaining perfect) and is therefore impassible, i.e. incapable of being emotionally moved by any outside influence.

I’ve long thought that this may look like good philosophy, but doesn’t resemble the God of love, who has mercy, sometimes changes his mind (e.g. in the book of Jonah) and can be swayed by argument (e.g. when Abraham argues for the sparing of Sodom) who is described in the Bible, nor a God to whom there is any point in praying. Here, however, was another angle.

If indeed God were perfect, unchanging, impassible, then God’s story would be at an end. God would, in effect, be dead – not in the sense of Niezsche’s madman running through the streets saying “God is dead, and we have killed him”, but in the sense of being inert, non-living and rather less relational than a brick.

To a mystic (and thus a panentheist) or anyone who espouses process or open and relational theology, this is not God – God has to be capable of the statement “God is love” having the deepest possible reason; instead of the “unmoved mover” of classical Western theology, God is the most moved mover – God is radically immanent, radically present to all events, and if not moved by them, is not God.

So, I assert that “God is not dead”.

Not in the sense of the film of that name (which is worth a trip to avoid seeing), but in the sense that God is in relation to and is moved by everything and everyone in creation.


(This post first appeared, mutatis mutandis, on the Way Station blog)

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