Posted by: dacalu | 16 January 2009

Incredible Hulk Theology

Last week I spoke about God as a soul. I’m curious, what you expect me to say next. I’m curious because my background has trained me to think of a next line—something intuitively obvious, and dead wrong. What I want to say next is this: think of God as a really big soul. No, no, no, no, no. Souls don’t come in sizes. We don’t meet big souls and little souls, good souls and bad souls, black souls and white souls. Souls is souls. They all come in a straightforward, one-size fits-all simplicity. Souls cannot be reduced, measured, or explained in any other terms than existence. We start the path of Christianity by setting up the playing field. You are. God is. And we try not to make any further assumptions than that.

The analogy between humans and God starts to break down at this point, and I need to say something about what I call the Incredible Hulk notion of God. Quite a few people, from unsympathetic atheists to (sigh!) devout Christians, think of God as something like the incredible Hulk. Take a normal human soul and bulk it up with whole lot of testosterone and muscle. They fit omnipotence (the power to anything) on a human soul the way you would put two tons of muscle on a human body. The result is grotesque. That much muscle doesn’t belong there. If we think of a whale, on the other hand, or an elephant, that much muscle belongs. We see whales as graceful and elegant, so it is not the two tons of muscle that are grotesque, it is the juxtaposition. God exists much as we exist, but that doesn’t mean that God is like us in all ways but power.  I find that type of omnipotence just as silly as the most unsympathetic atheist. God’s power fits because God is a thing in and of Godself and not a human with extra bits tacked on.

I also like the Incredible Hulk analogy because it speaks to popular notions of the God of the Old Testament. “You’re making me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Once again we start with a human notion of emotions and install more jealousy and more power, as though we were buying a new car with optional extras. “Oh yes! Give me a God with extra wrath please, with all weather smiting.” I don’t think so. Admittedly, were one to only read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (and maybe the histories), one might walk away with that notion of God. Even a cursory glance at Genesis, Song of Songs, Psalms, Job, or Jonah will show that God is a great deal less obvious than that. One has to get to know God, and that takes time. God is subtle and varied (though still not complex). One cannot pull a deity template out of the cupboard. God comes as a package. The Incredible Hulk God won’t work. Comic books and real life differ because in real life the characters are three-dimensional.

The Christian God is three-dimensional. I will never describe God fully; I can only make an introduction. And so Christians cannot say we know all about God, we say that we know God—we have a relationship.

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