Friday, November 20, 2009
Thinking about Reinhold Niebuhr
The experience of Jesus upon the cross is not one of a dreamy pantheist who imagines God in easy and magical control of every process of the universe. It was the experience of a spiritual adventurer who saw life as a struggle between love and chaos but who also discovered the love at the center of things which guarantees the victory in every apparent defeat.
That quotation is from an essay that Niebuhr wrote for the Christian Century in 1927. According to an article by Editor John Buchanan, it is attached to a poster sized picture of Niebuhr that hangs in the entry to the Century offices.
It is striking on so many different levels.
I cannot help thinking that we do not spend enough time in quiet contemplation. And that Niebuhr, for all of his famous activism, was much more in tune with a quiet center than most of us are today. Maybe it is just me, but it seems that we are impatient with our questions. We cannot sit with them and wait for answers. We want to know. And we want to know now.
Our world seems sharply divided between those who believe that God really is “in easy and magical control,” and those who believe that God simply is not real. Niebuhr’s vision does not fit into neat categories. God is real, but there is no magic.
He speaks of a struggle between love and chaos. It’s not a struggle between love and hate, or order and chaos, or good and evil. Love and chaos are not normally understood as opposites. But again, Niebuhr does not give us neat categories or easy answers.