Landscape from Young, NSW 2011

Living in Exile

Andrew:  ..... I needed to rethink so much I really felt like I could not say anything with integrity.  It was like I needed to wear a sign saying "Last year's opinion... haven't worked out the new view yet!"

 Jan: Where have you come to with all that?

Andrew: God still is.  I have no doubts there. In fact, having to rethink a lot of things has probably increased my sense of the reality of the Divine.  What I think Spong gives us is a call to a new church.  This is probably his most important legacy.  He talks about a new Exile for believers, and I think this idea offers us a way to go.  

Jan: Andrew, let's begin with an outline of the notion of Exile. Where does it come from?

Andrew: "Exile" as Spong uses it, is a biblical term that relates to the experience of the nation of Judah which was taken into exile by the Babylonians. The cream of the society was taken away and resettled around Babylon, which was a common way of destroying resistance to the conquering overlord.

This caused a huge challenge to the people who were taken. Not only had Yahweh-God allowed them to be defeated, but now they were outside of his sphere of influence. It was understood at the time that the God of a people could only act in its own territory, so to speak. So in Babylon they were out of reach of God anyway. This leads to that sense of loss in Psalm 137. "How shall we sing the Lord's Song in a foreign land?"

In that situation, either you change your understanding of God, or the God you believed in becomes irrelevant and eventually ceases to exist, because you are believing in something obviously ridiculous.

It would appear that many of these exiles still felt the presence of the Divine and so were able to remodel their understanding of God to include the fact that God transcended national boundaries and defeat in warfare. Spong points out the difference between Psalm 137 (a psalm of the exile) and Psalm 139 (a post exilic psalm). 

"If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea
even there your hand shall lead me."

He says this is a new understanding of God. I think he is simply reflecting common biblical scholarship here. There is nothing controversial in what he says.

Jan: But then he goes on to say we are in a situation of exile?

Andrew: Yes. Mind you, what Spong is saying, is what many of us already feel! We have been shifted into a world that no longer makes sense if we approach it with our old model of God. God as understood by our grandparents and their parents simply does not work. In fact, that God does not exist at all. We recognise that God as the ridiculous God of the so called Christian Reconstructionists of this world, and other fundamentalists, who essentially want to reshape reality to fit their old non-working theology.

Jan: This is the whole thing we have talked about in previous conversations on this site where the miracle working, interventionist idea of God doesn't make sense in a modern world.?

Andrew: That's it. People can't square this traditional model of God with the reality they see around them. God doesn't make sense, or there is no need for God, or God seems abhorrent.

Andrew: There are three choices in this situation. Either 

1. the world has a totally warped view of reality, the traditional understanding of God is the true reality,
2. or the world is right, God does not exist in any meaningful way,
3. or our model of God must be changed, just as in the biblical exile.

In Case One we put up a pseudo science we call Creation Science to try and validate the 7 day story of Creation as a historically literally true story. And we aim at re-instituting the "biblical" standards of morality, which is where the Festival of Light, and all those very conservative morals groups come from.

In Case Two we give up on God, realising that God simply can't exist. In other words we accept the obviously valid, and quite reasonable, criticisms of the society around us and accept that God does not exist. In this case we may not have had any strong sense of the Divine, and so the criticism makes very good sense of our reality/experience. Or it could be that sadly we give up on our sense of the Divine because we do not have the philosophical or theological equipment to separate the sense of the Divine from the dominant model of God that the churches are pushing.

In this case people are being very honest, I think. And the fact that the church often puts them down is really sad. I admire someone who says "I thought I had felt God, but obviously I was wrong" so I will make the best of life, and seek to live a good life, without God. That is a really hard choice we ought to respect. I find it much easier to respect than the reality warping view of the fundamentalist, which it seems to me is much more about protecting themselves than real faith in God. "I will so believe in the Easter Bunny" seems to more often be the attitude rather than a real love of God.

In the Third Case we realise we can say, "Hey, maybe we are wrong about how we understood God. I still feel God. It still makes sense to me that there would be some divine principle in the world.. So maybe I need to understand God in a new way. maybe I need to re-model my experience of God."

It doesn't mean a loss of faith. It will seek to retain the connection with the history of the faith, just as the post exilic Israelites did with their heritage. But it will take account of the new and see God in very new ways as well.

It is risky. There is no path to follow. There will be huge hostility from the threatened sections of the church

July 26 2001

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