I was struck last week when a politician said that even in the case of rape when a child is conceived it is the will of God. At first I thought: “how could anyone believe that?” Then I thought: “Wait, I believe that.” Then I had to sit back and ask myself: "what do I believe about God?"
First, we need to clarify what the politician said. He did not say that the rape was the will of God. No one who is professes faith in the God of Jesus could say that. There are certain Old Testament stories that might lead one to believe that an act of violence such as rape or murder could be God’s will but it would violate the image of God as Abba, as a loving parent, that Jesus presents in the Gospels. Such Divinely ordained violence threatens to annul the paschal sacrifice of Christ which suffices to atone for all the evil in the world and to cancel once and for all whatever divine wrath is due to sin. So much for the rape issue. What about God willing a conception of life resulting from this act of violence? When this issue came up, I realized that I had long believed that God directly willed the creation of each and every human life at the time of its conception. But after reflection it also dawned on me—in this context—that I have not for some time believed that God has directly willed the creation of each and every human life at the time of its conception. It took a shock like hearing this jerk say something as outrageous as God has willed the conception of a baby as the result of an act of violence for me to realize that my thoughts about God and his role in our lives have indeed changed over the years. Now, I am not saying that God therefore gladly permits the termination of an innocent life because of the circumstances in which it was conceived, but what I am saying is that I have come to more clearly differentiate God the Creator of Life from Santa in his workshop. The creation of life is a biological process not an artisan craftsman at his skill. I don’t mean that God has a conveyer-belt that piles up souls and shoots them into embryos like Pepsi being mass-squirted into racked bottles passing through a machine. To be honest, I am not sure exactly what a “soul” is. I am not saying that I don’t believe in souls, only that I don’t know what one is and how one is joined to a biological product. I haven’t gotten that far yet. And to be honest, I probably won’t spend a lot of time figuring that one out. The important thing is that I realized I have begun to seriously reconsider what I think about God, how I understand God, my “concept” of God—my theology. And obviously I am not alone.
This is no surprise. We Christians have redefined God at any number of points in our history. Indeed the People of Israel redefined God periodically through their history before Jesus ever came along and gave us a very new and very different notion of God than had been held by his co-religionists. Maybe we should look at some of these shifts in our understanding of God. I am not saying that God changes but rather that our human understanding of God has changed throughout the history of our religious thought.And it is this shift in our basic understanding of the most important object of belief that has so many Catholics frightened and the consequent polarization as some in our faith have moved into brave and new experiences of God and others are anxious to keep God in the same Box in which they found him in as children. We are going to have to look at this conflict.