John begins by presenting the new, “Untangling Christianity” private Facebook group. John explains that the goal of this group is to be a place for deeper conversation about subjects raised on or related to the podcasts, and that the group can be accessed by sending us an email request.
In this episode John and Gregg discuss a comment made on the Untangling Christianity Facebook group by listener Anna, referring to Episode #71: Does God Act Individually or Personally?.
Anna disagrees with Gregg’s skepticism about certain claims to experience God, such as when seeing an eagle on a hike one might believe: “God put that eagle in the sky for me.” Anna agrees that we can’t be certain if God put the eagle there ‘for’ the hiker, but if the hiker interprets the eagle as “a demonstration of [God’s] love and attention” then, in her view, we should not question the hiker’s belief about this. To do so would essentially be claiming that “there is no way that God would go out of his way to do that for you: you really aren’t that important.”
Gregg appreciates Anna’s response and notes that we need to be careful in several regards. First, not every action or expression that God may make toward an individual should be seen as aimed at expressing love and attention. In other words, communication can be oriented toward informing, assuaging, correcting, promising, guiding, etc. This is clear in human interaction, and so too with God: we see numerous examples in the Bible of God interacting with human beings according to these various orientations.
So on the one hand, relative to a given experience Gregg recommends that Christians maintain less confidence either that a) the event is somehow from or related to God, or b) one’s initial sense of its meaning or significance is correct.
On the other hand, Gregg emphasizes that God’s actions for / toward human beings is always contextualized by the larger story of Israel, the covenant, and Jesus as the one who has fulfilled that covenant and opened its ultimate promise—the promise that all beings may be in right relationship with God and therefore with all things—to all people. This story, which is ultimately the story of the God’s claim to kingship and the coming about of God’s kingdom, is the context within which all claims to God loving us, attending to us, and “going out of God’s way for us” must be situated (and so understood).
So in Gregg’s view, given the type of world that we live in (where phenomenon such as eagles can suddenly appear as we hike a mountain ridge) and given the type of beings that we are (we are finite beings with whom God seeks to engage), we should instead see God as raising possibilities for us to enter, invigorate, and renew relationship with God.
With the example of the eagle, one person may perceive it as indication that God is helping them through a difficult time. Another may see it and feel envious and anxious that they are weighed down by a particular problem. Yet another person may be overwhelmed with the beauty of the scene, while the last person does not notice it at all. And in Gregg’s view, none of these would be more right (or wrong) than the others.
In other words, Gregg notes that discerning divine purpose within events is difficult, and the more subjective the experience and general the event, the harder it seems to make specific (and especially grand) claims about it. Similarly, the more legitimate it appears for a listener to be sceptical of such claims.
Instead Gregg argues, as in other areas of life, that such events should serve as prompters and reminders that can point us toward better ways of understanding ourselves, relating to others, and being in the world. So Gregg prefers to see such events as opportunities to stimulate our thought, employ our memory, and engage our imagination towards truth, towards diversification, and towards enjoyment.
From a specifically Christian perspective such opportunities are both innately part of the world that God has created and, possibly, represent more direct action on God’s part (while recognizing that typically we can’t be very sure about this). Again in a Christian vein the truth, diversification and enjoyment that result from applying our thought, memory, and imagination are ultimately oriented toward / contribute to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.