What then can we actually expect God to do for us? From the spiritual vantage point of St. John of the Cross, or the lofty philosophical perspective of D. Z. Phillips, we must truthfully say that we are called to love God for being God – not for anything God can do for us. However, we are human and all too often in desperate need. Then the question of what God can and will do for us cannot be brushed aside by either mysticism or philosophy. We need to know what we can expect of God.
Moreover, our longing for God to be a Savior and Redeemer is not inherently selfish.[i] Leave our personal needs out of the equation. A child dies of poverty or a preventable disease every three seconds. We expect God to do something about that, or at least want to do something about that. If God is not responsive to the suffering of creation, then is this God loveable? Setting our own needs aside, we still insist that God must be a Savior and Redeemer in order to evoke our love. Indeed being a Savior and Redeemer is part of the definition of divinity, a criterion of what we worship, a key element of what we mean by the word “God.” God, in order to live up to the name of God, must be willing and able to offer us hope.
Our Family Trinity view of God gives rise to two distinct forms of hope – short-run hope for good to prevail here and now in the affairs of this world and long-run hope that in a future beyond our view all will be well. The short-run or immediate hope is this: There is no situation in which God is not active, working for peace, justice, and healing.[ii] That is part of what we mean by the doctrine that God is everywhere, including right here with us. Because God is present in every situation, there is always hope. Expecting miracles, as Robert Schuller prescribed, is naive. Miracles are by definition what usually do not happen. You cannot expect them. Hoping for miracles, however, is a natural expression of a reasonable faith. We acknowledge that there are limits to what God can do in our affairs, but we do not know what they are. Scripture and experience abound with God’s surprises of saving and healing grace. There is always hope for something good. Indeed, good things often happen. Sometimes glorious things happen, occasionally miracles.
Our ultimate hope, however, is in the long run. Christianity is a faith that offers healing and reconciliation now, but on a partial and temporary basis. Everyone Jesus healed eventually died. Our real hope is resurrection hope. Our ultimate hope lies in a world to come.
What is the ground of that hope? Although the universe has freedom to defy God, that freedom does not put the universe and God on equal footing. God is still creator and we are still creature. The difference between the Creator and the creature is that God’s persistent love lasts for eternity. All that resists God is mortal, and therefore ultimately futile. Human souls created in God’s image are neither useless nor futile, but eternal and blessed. The forces that resist God’s love, however, are futile. Those forces are such things as death, disease, cruelty, injustice, and prejudice. God wins, not by force but by persistence through eternity. That’s the meaning of God’s unchanging faithfulness. Because God’s persistent love lasts for eternity, our ultimate hope is assured. All God has to do in order to redeem the whole creation is simply to remain God and wait.
Ocean waters are swept along temporarily by waves, swells, and tides. But deeper currents, like the Gulf Stream, determine the water's long-run course. God’s faithful love for creation is the deep current in reality, the current which will eventually carry us home. When we arrive home, we finally see God. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”[iii] Marilyn McCord Adams defends this hope in her argument that the beatific vision of God’s beauty will in eternity redeem even the horrendous evils that can never be justified or explained.[iv]
If our ultimate hope lies in God’s eternal persistence and in the final futility of all that resists God, does this lead to universalism, the claim that God’s salvation is not for a chosen group, but for all? Gregory of Nyssa’s answer was “yes.”[v] While much Christian tradition insists on a final division between good and evil, theologians such as Origen as far back as the 3rd Century insisted that the nature of God assured us of the final redemption of the entire creation.
love for us. However, when we have said God is present in all situations, that God is working
for our good, we have been rather vague. In the coming chapters, we will try to clarify how
God acts in the midst of our hardships. We will see that God reaches out to us in three
distinct ways to help us with suffering. The Job Description Trinity represents these three
fundamental ways in which God touches us and responds to human affliction.
[i] I am flatly disagreeing with D. Z. Phillips here. My fundamental argument with D. Z. Phillips (the reason I side with Marilyn McCord Adams instead) is this: Phillips is right that determining God’s connection with evil depends on what we mean by “God.” But Phillips’ definition, limited by Wittgensteinian linguistic analysis, is of a God who creates the universe but is indifferent to it’s well-being. Phillips’ God sits back waiting to be loved for who he is in his sublime indifference. His is not the Triune God of the Christian tradition, not the God manifest in Jesus, not the Holy Spirit moving with power in our midst. It is not even clear that such a God is lovable.
[ii] Theologians differ as to the means by which God acts in the world. Some emphasize God’s involvement through the action of natural law, which is usually beneficent. Others, such as Thomas Aquinas, have spoken of God’s action through “secondary causes.” Certainly when people do God’s will, acting kindly and justly, we can be such secondary causes. Process theologians emphasize God’s influence or persuasion. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin described God as a goal toward which evolutionary processes advanced. Alister McGrath, pp. 186-291. Gordon Kaufman adds the more mysterious factor of creative serendipity. Gordon Kaufman, God In The Face Of Mystery (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993) pp. 264-280.
[iii] 1st Corinthians 13: 12.
[iv] Adams, p. 147.
[v] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty Of The Infinite, pp. 408-411.