Curveball | Reflections & Notes

Peter Enns. Curveball: When Your Faith Takes Turns You Never Saw Coming. HarperOne, 2023. (229 pages)


Human organization requires boundaries. It is how we define who we are, where we are, and where we can find meaning, purpose, and identity. Religion has been one of the predominant forces that provide these “boundaries of play” manifesting in doctrines, beliefs (e.g. mythologies), and rituals (e.g. liturgies) that result in social cohesion. Without these boundaries, we lose all sense of meaning and purpose. While we may not lose our biology, we will lose our humanity.

But if this is true, inevitable questions arise. Where are the edges of those boundaries? How “sharp” or “defined” are those edges? How “absolute” are those limits? Are any of them “true?”

Contrary to what some may believe, the Christian tradition has, throughout its history, pressed the limits of these boundaries and their respective questions, redefining them, shifting them, remaking them, and even reinventing them for new times and new circumstances. Some of these moves result in deconstruction or disillusionment. Others result in reformations, revolutions, and even revivals. Regardless, they happen. The stodgy fundamentalism that is so often experienced is a minor anomaly in the long history of this tradition. What is most important in that mysterious journey is not that we get it “right,” but that we realize we are not alone. In Christian/Evangelical circles, Peter Enns has been that “academic friend” that soothes our intellectual/spiritual loneliness. He has been articulating this journey for quite some time (cf. Inspiration and IncarnationThe Sin of CertaintyThe Bible Tells Me So…, The Evolution of Adam, and How The Bible Actually Works). Curveball is his most personal and most radical.

The ideological and theological conceptions in this book are accessible to a broad audience (with plenty of concessionary humor) and this is one of the gifts of books like this. (Stuffy “academic” books with highfalutin language can be “so heavenly minded, they’re just no earthly good.” This is especially true when waxing eloquent on the divine.) There’s plenty to consider and even debate. One of the “boundaries” of Christianity is the person of Jesus, and it would be interesting to consider if Jesus himself would have accepted or even embraced a conception of “God” as articulated in these later forms (e.g. “panentheism.”)

What will be more difficult is the discomfort one feels when engaging with anything that may threaten one’s convictions. If one feels that “panentheism” is already “unorthodox” then reading about panentheism’s existence throughout Christian history will be discomforting. For me, it was the Near-Death Experiences and parapsychological section. For others, it will be that the Bible just doesn’t work the way “inerrantist” and other related views believe it should work. These, and other “curveballs” could perhaps be, for some, an inconvenient and unwelcome provocation. For Pete’s sake, buy the book and give it away to someone. (I’ll send you the marketing bill). But for the rest of us “normal people,” let’s just take a swing at it. After all, is that not the very expression of Christian faith?

EVENT—April 23, 2023

April 23, 2023

(Audio/Video is forthcoming)


Prologue: Abundant Life

I spent much of my life unknowingly abdicating the task of taking full responsibility for my faith. (1)

By curveball,… I mean those experiences that are so momentous we simply cannot continue living as if they hadn’t happened—everything changes, and we know we cannot remain as we were. (1)

The big lesson I learned from wrestling with my own curveballs is how deeply my faith in God had been cemented in fear…any thought on my part of listening to my experiences and interrogating my inherited faith—to inspect its boundaries let alone climb over its walls—was seen as a crisis that had to be averted or at least resolved immediately. (2)

| But over time I would come to see that this is precisely the wrong attitude to take. … It would take years for me to truly accept the idea that my disruptive experiences are not outside impositions to or an attack on my faith, but are the soil out of which my faith matures and takes shape. (2)

I can live my life seeking God with curiosity, courage, security, and peace, knowing that making adjustments is a part of the life of faith. (3)

An abundant faith while embracing the curveballs of life—that’s what I’m after, and that’s what this book is all about. (3)

Chapter 1: My True Purpose. Or Not.

…you never outgrow your childhood passions—and if you’re lucky, you get to bring them back into your life in ways you couldn’t have predicted when you were all-or-nothing convinced of what you would and wouldn’t do when you grew up. (5)

My First Blown Elbow

I’m not kidding. I was eleven and I damned God. Nothing I’ve ever written about God that has made my critics go nuts can even come close to this sacrilegious moment of biblical proportions. (7)

Oh Lord, Thanks for Nothing

Adjusting My Swing

When we get thrown a curveball, it doesn’t have to mean “game over,” but it does mean we have to be willing to make adjustments to our swing in order to make contact with the ball. (13)

To me, baseball has always been a reflection of life. Like life, it adjusts. It survives everything. —Willie Stargel

Yay, Willie! But let me add that baseball does more than survive—it thrives, it grows, it evolves. The same can be said for faith. (13)

| My faith crisis was not about God as much as it was about how I expected God to show up. …I came to understand that my understanding of God was not adequate for handling reality. My crushed dream was an invitation—actually, an offer I couldn’t refuse—to recognize that I had been laboring under a small view of God. I was beginning to find out that God is bigger, completely out of my control, (13) and more mysterious than I had been able to capture in slogans and childish expectations. (14)

[via: I cannot tell you how delighted and appalled I was that Enns referenced “Tootin’ Tilton” in his book as an example of the immature ways in which we frequently disdain the faith of our upbringing. To confess, I spent far too many hours sharing and laughing at this exact video in Bible College.]

Don’t Be Afraid

…I would like to encourage you to become more aware of that inner voice telling you that adjustments are needed and not to feel broken or unfaithful about making those adjustments. (15)

But I am also hoping to channel a sense of urgency. (15)

I am not interested here in defending how our experiences prove (or disprove) God. Rather, I want to show how my experiences have called me to see a God beyond the limiting and inadequate conceptions of God I had. … When I cursed God at age eleven, I was cursing a false deity. (16)

Adjusting our understanding of God isn’t a sign of weak faith, nor is it an attack on faith—it is faith. (16)

Chapter 2: I Love You, Bible. Just Not “That” Way.

Be Careful What You Wish For

If my notions about the Bible could evaporate like (21) an August dew within a half-semester of doctoral classes and doing some reading, then perhaps the weakness wasn’t in my spine. …perhaps the real problem wasn’t me but the fragile, unsustainable version of Christianity I had been told was my only option. Maybe the pressure of reading the Bible “literally or else” was the deeper problem, not my questioning it. (22)

The Beatles and Israelite Origins

A Little Breathing Room

  • Not just Genesis, but any biblical books that deal with history are not so much accounts of “what happened” back in the day, but religious and political lessons to be learned for the writer’s audience.
  • Many biblical books were written by anonymous authors living generations and even centuries after the events they describe.
  • The Bible is not truly a “book” but an anthology of ancient texts written over about a one-thousand-year span of time and that contain diverse and contradictory points of view.
  • The Hebrew Bible as we know it did not exist until centuries after the sixth-century BCE Babylonian exile when it was brought together by anonymous scribes.
  • The biblical writings are not fully unique but reflect cultural assumptions of antiquity and thus contain myth, legend, and folklore. (29)

A Better Bible and a Better God

My view of the Bible changed because I committed myself to read-(30)ing it and not turning a blind eye to what I was seeing. (31)

The more flexible we are when it comes to reading the Bible, the more prepared we will be to adjust to the curveballs of life. The more inflexible we are, the less prepared we will be to make those adjustments precisely at the time when they will be needed to keep our faith alive and thriving. (32)

I do not believe that the Bible is a stand-in for God; God is not far off attending to other affairs, leaving us a book of instructions so we can make do. Rather, the Bible—in all its weird cultural foreignness—is a means of deepening our communion with a God who is ever-active and ever-present with us here and now. (32)

[In Scripture] older texts are reappropriated, reinterpreted, and read with new eyes in new contexts. They become Scripture by being read anew, evolving in continuity with their original sense, tacitly corrected and given added depth and breadth of meaning. This is a process in which the word gradually unfolds its inner potentialities, already somehow present like seeds, but needing the challenge of new situations, new experiences and new sufferings, in order to open up. —Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Chapter 3: Welcome to a New Normal

maybe when it comes to God I don’t have the slightest (36) idea what I’m talking about. (37)

Adjusting Our God-Talk Goes Way Back

…perhaps wrestling with God is God-initiated and a blessing. Why is it a blessing? Because we never come out of that wrestling match as we entered. (39)

…the Hebrew word “Israel” … Whatever the name’s obscure historical origins, the ancient Israelites chose to understand it as a description of the type of relationship they had with their God—a relationship marked by God-initiated struggling. (39)

Rather, the story of Jonah is an object lesson—a story about Israel adjusting its understanding of God: God now has compassion on a nation that was responsible for relocating, assimilating, and making disappear roughly 80 percent of the Chosen People (not to mention harassing the remaining southern nation for a few decades thereafter). Our author poses not a God of uncompromising harsh judgment; rather, in his fictional story, he is posing a question: What if God is not our private deity who aims to wipe out our enemies? What if our god Yahweh has room in His heart for everyone, even the people we hate most? (41)

Living side by side with the enemy, our author came to see the Babylonians as people, rather than simply as objects of God’s wrath. (42)

No Thanks, We’re Good

Adjustments Just Keep Going

cf. Alexander the Great; Philo of Alexandria

…rather than God being sorry and grieved, the translators said God thought deeply and pondered the situation. [LXX translation of Genesis 6:6] (48)

Judaism has a history of adjusting the faith of old to meet the challenges of the new, which, as we’ve seen, began already in the pages of the Hebrew scriptures themselves. (48)

historically speaking, it sure looks like adjusting one’s understanding of God is pretty normal. (49)

Chapter 4: Adjusting for Jesus

Not Your Father’s Judaism

The curveball of the MEssiah’s crucifixion led to an adjustment about what God was up to—an adjustment that, on the face of it, made no sense. (53)

…another serious adjustment is that crucifixion was understood by the New Testament writers as a sacrifice. … But Jesus’s crucifixion was seen as a sacrifice that God made on behalf of humanity. Sacrifices usually work the other way around… (And, incidentally, this is why it is wrong to think of Jesus’s sacrifice as something Jesus did to calm God down and appease God’s wrath. …fundamentally it is to be understood in the context of God’s love, not anger.) (53)

One other crucial adjustment concerns the place non-Jews have in this Jewish Jesus movement. (54)

…Gentiles as Gentiles, simply by virtue of their faith in Jesus, were equal partners with Jews in God’s ultimate plan. (54)

[via: It should be noted that this particular theological assertion is scrutinized and debated. Is it that the people had faith in Jesus, or is it more that people are saved because of the faithfulness OF Jesus?]

As distinct as Judaism and Christianity have become, they are united at least in this respect: both have a history of making adjustments to their shared scripture in light of unforeseen, even paradoxical, circumstances. (55)

And So It Continues

The ancient creeds are not a repetition of the biblical language. They are adaptations of the tradition to reflect the questions that concerned people in their time and place in Christian history. (57)

…the creeds, which have been so central to much of the history of the Christian faith, are not simply repeating what was in the Bible but building on it and thus going beyond it. The ancient faith was adjusted to speak to a new time and place in order to make the tradition meaningful for the people in that time and place. That’s what happens when you try to keep a tradition going; to use the language of jazz, the tradition encourages improvisation, not conformity. (57)

It Really Matters

The point of all the wrestling and adjusting isn’t just to change our understanding of God for the sake of it, but to find a better God because (57) the circumstances demand it—meaning, to see that God is better than we thought. (58)

…adjusting our understanding of God is never about throwing it all away and starting from scratch. The wrestling happens precisely by bringing the old and new together somehow… (58)

These conversations are a group effort, since the life of faith is more a symphony of voices than a twenty-minute head-banging drum solo. (58)

What if a central feature of the life of faith is the very challenging of our ideas from one season to the next, to show us that all our thinking about God is to be held loosely to keep us from ever believing that our thoughts about God are permanently settled? (59)

Chapter 5: Blink of an Eye

Way Faster Than My Fastball

It is truly the case, as is often said, that there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on the seashore. (64)

To sum up, the cosmos is incomprehensibly large and largely empty,… (64) … So here is my point: this information stuns me into silence when I try to “explain” God to myself. (65)

All I know is that the God I am familiar with—the God spoken of in churches and books;…—this God makes little sense to me against the backdrop of infinity. (65)

Imagine That

…the heavens of which Solomon spoke were not thought to be (for all intents and purposes) infinite but to be made up of successive layers, and the high god dwelt in the highest of them. (This is one reason why Israel’s God is sometimes referred to by the superlative “most high” God.) (66)

If we choose to borrow that ancient idiom to speak of God in the context of modern cosmology, we should be clear what we are doing: adapting that language to something it was not designed to address. And that is fine by me, but let’s just be upfront about what we are doing. (66)

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? … The eternal silence of the infinite spaces terrifies me. —Blaise Pascal, Penses, “O the Necessity of the Wager”

We do not share the cosmology of Jesus, the biblical writers, or most of human history. Our heavens are not theirs. That means, when I want to speak of God or Jesus in relation to the “heavens,” I need to boldly go where no one has gone before. I need to enter the realm of imagination, not formulaic certainty. I need my imagination when asking what God is like in light of the universe as we know it. My eyes and ears will not take me where I need to go, nor will I find verses in the Bible that make sense of all this. I am left only to wonder and search for adequate language knowing that I will find none. (68)

The universe—which Christians believe God created—is declaring perhaps not so much God’s glory (wow, look at that!) as God’s incomprehensible mystery (uh, what?), challenging us to never mistake our limited understanding of God for God. (69)

If we hope to echo Paul’s words today, we need a Creator God who outmatches the expansive, dynamic creation—a Creator who out-mysteries the mystery of the creation. (69)

Adjusting to an Infinite Universe

…only the most deluded among us would think they have figured God out,… (70)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has revisited the famous Pillars of Creation, revealing a sharper and wider view of the structures in this visible-light image.
Astronomers combined several Hubble exposures to assemble the wider view. The towering pillars are about 5 light-years tall. The dark, finger-like feature at bottom right may be a smaller version of the giant pillars. The new image was taken with Hubble’s versatile and sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3.
The pillars are bathed in the blistering ultraviolet light from a grouping of young, massive stars located off the top of the image. Streamers of gas can be seen bleeding off the pillars as the intense radiation heats and evaporates it into space. Denser regions of the pillars are shadowing material beneath them from the powerful radiation. Stars are being born deep inside the pillars, which are made of cold hydrogen gas laced with dust. The pillars are part of a small region of the Eagle Nebula, a vast star-forming region 6,500 light-years from Earth.
The colors in the image highlight emission from several chemical elements. Oxygen emission is blue, sulfur is orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen are green.
Object Names: M16, Eagle Nebula, NGC 6611
Image Type: Astronomical
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

A God who does not connect to the world around us is a God who cannot speak to us. Believing in a God who demands that we continue to adopt only biblically ancient ways of thinking of God, which are themselves rooted in their own cultural moment, is to diminish God’s active Presence here and now. This is what I believe. (73)

For God to be intelligible to believers and broader culture, we are obligated to embrace our sacred responsibility of finding language that consciously respects the broad and ancient Christian tradition while at the same time pushing beyond it—which is to say, to embrace the wrestling match. (73)


…if there truly is a God, this God’s “existence” has to be different from what we mean by “existence” for any other thing. … I do not believe we can point to evidence for God’s existence as we would evidence for binary stars, black holes, or the ozone layer without tossing the idea of God entirely out the window. (74)

[via: This reminded me of John Caputo’s line, “The folly of God is that God does not exist. God insists, but God does not exist.” (From The Folly of God: A Theology of the Unconditional.)]

…God is not “a being,” but more like the ground of all being, the fountain of being, Being itself, or the energy that pulses through all matter. … To prove or disprove the existence of the Creator of the infinite mystery of the cosmos by means of evidence we can grasp is to confuse the Creator with the creation—which the Bible calls idolatry. (74)

[via: What other ancient authors spoke this way?]

The problem…is that all our language of God has to be humanized,… (74)

Perhaps heaven is just an old term for another dimension entirely? A parallel universe? I have no idea, really, and I’m fine with it. My point is simply that, as we stare into the infinite void, any conventional sense of going up to heaven and God looking down seems unlikely. (75)

Is God only for a few, or for everyone? (75)

The universe has brought me to believe more deliberately that God is Spirit and is present in every atom and subatomic particle in the cosmos—in every person, every creature, and every life-form. God is ever-present, ever-creating anew, and guiding the cosmos to a goal, in which all of creation will be renewed and take part. Of course, I can prove none of this. Neither am I suggesting I’ve figured it out. (76)

And in light of that, the heart of the Christian faith—the profound mystery of the incarnation, that God walked among us in human form—takes on new meaning. (77)

…pondering the immense paradox of the God of the cosmos dwelling in human form makes me want to stay in my own lane. (77)

God is not simply “great.” God is mystery, a mystery I am invited to respond to. (77)

Chapter 6: Just When You Thought You Had the Bible Figured Out

the Bible invites its readers to embrace the mystery of God, the kind of mystery that our lives and the universe we live in demand of us if we want to continue to be people of faith. (81)

Mystery helps tie my world to that of the biblical writers. (81)

Revisiting an Old Friend

…as biblical writers tend to put it, the “fear of the Lord.” …the cosmos drives us to say something about God, and that something should be laced with a healthy dose of awe because of what we observe around us. (82)

…the psalmist’s God-talk fits well with his heavens and not ours (remember his cosmos has a dome overhead), but the principle is the same for both ancient and modern pilgrims of faith: the big sky above is telling us something about God. (82)

Had the ancient Israelites not adopted agreed-upon notions of the cosmos, their God-talk would have fallen on deaf ears. Had they simply made up their own story with no connection to the common knowledge of the time, they would have been whispering into a hurricane. So, too, if we wish to speak of God meaningfully, in ways that engage the people of today, we cannot do so by forcing them to swallow an ancient reality that is demonstrably not real. We have to work with the science we have as they did with theirs and find words to talk about this God that show awareness of our cosmos. (83)

[via: E.g., Psalm 104 “echoes closely a much older Egyptian hymn to the sun god Aten.” (83)]

…wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is therefore a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is. —Abraham Heschel

…the world that our ancient authors saw pointed them to a God they could not see, and back to a time they did not experience—the dawn of creation. This is exactly the role that modern cosmology can play for those who are seeking a deeper sense of the Creator. (84)

That meeting of infinite reality in a finite human is perhaps the grandest mystery of the Christian tradition, a notion that I find both incomprehensible and comforting. (85)

Paul the Mystic

I take Colossians to be a very early example in the Christian faith of a later generation adapting the voice of their late, revered teacher to address things that he had not addressed. After Paul’s death around 63 CE, others, no doubt indebted to Paul, picked up his mantle and wrote a letter to Colossae, a community Paul had founded, taking on Paul’s persona. And what we find in this letter is a way of speaking of faith in Christ that takes on a mystical bent. (86)

I am using “mystical” to mean an immediate experience of spiritual reality that cannot be fully articulated by words nor captured by analytical means. To borrow Paul’s words from elsewhere, the experience of God’s Presence “passes all understanding.” … Paul is gone, but the Christ is as near to them as ever. I think that’s the author’s point. (86)

Whichever way we parse it, “Christ” is not simply a synonym of “Jesus of Nazareth.” … Colossians 2:3 is hinting at that deeper, more mystical meaning. (87)

The words “all” and “hidden” stand out to me. …God is far more than we perceive God to be. All of our (87) theologies, no matter how robust we claim them to be, never grasp the all-ness and hiddenness of wisdom and knowledge. … How could we think otherwise? (88)

It seems to me that, in his suffering, this writer sees himself as not just mimicking Jesus or following his example, but “being” Christ for the sake of the church. (88)

Don’t Forget John. John is Huge.

John’s Gospel is asking what happens to the Jesus movement as one generation gives way to the next and then the next. The answer is that they who believe without seeing are nevertheless blessed by Jesus himself. (91)

I have come to think, as have so many others in the course of history, that the goal of Christian faith is the experience of God, not the comprehension of God. It saddens—better, frustrates—me to reflect on some of my earlier Christian influences, where my personal experience was not simply sidelined but vilified as subjective and even sinful, something that should by all means never be trusted. (92)

…if we choose to listen, the creation will point us toward relinquishing the illusion of intellectual control and seeking instead what we truly need; the intimacy that John and Paul hint at, an intimacy that can only be experienced. (93)

Becoming Divine

theosis is trying to get at a weighty spiritual reality of the Christian faith: the whole purpose of the mystery of God entering the humane experience concretely in Jesus is for humans to be able to take on divinity. In other words, CXhrist brought together the divine and the human, and those who are “in Christ” (to use Paul’s language) likewise participate in the divine nature. (94)

[via: cf. Athanasius and C.S. Lewis]

…I have come to believe that the future viability of the Christian faith depends on our willingness to adjust how we understand God, Jesus, the Bible, and the nature of faith in light of an infinite universe. To embrace the mystery of God is vital to a “third-millennium theology.” (95)

| And that is the point, isn’t it?—to make our faith viable, not simply for others but for ourselves. (95)

[via: Is this still, eh, “evangelistic?”]

If God created the physical universe, then the knowledge gained from the investigation of this universe cannot be unconnected to its Creator. —Mark William Worthing

The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not be at all. —Karl Rahner

Chapter 7: The Other 99 Percent

cf. Göbekli Tepe; Stonehenge

…humans have been around for eons, and for most of that time they have known nothing of the religious faiths and conceptions of God that I take for granted. … I struggle with this. I am left wondering how the other 99 percent of the human drama connects with the God I have come to accept as the one who always was. (99)

THE Curveball

I would argue that evolution remains the intellectual curveball thrown at Christian faith… (101)

…the Bible leaves no room for the emergence of humans over a multimillion-year process. (101)

…if God did not directly create us humans but we are one species that evolved along with all others, what makes us so special? How could humans be made in God’s “image,”… (102)

The biblical story that takes the biggest hit from evolution, especially for Christians, is the story of the first couple’s unfortunate act of eating the forbidden fruit. (102)

In one fell swoop, evolution wreaks havoc with this scenario. … Death actually propels evolution forward via random genetic mutations, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest. If it weren’t for this death-studded process, Christians, ironically, wouldn’t even be here to ponder whether evolution is true. (102)

…I think the ancient Israelites were quite intent on letting their readers know that the story is not history, seeing as it includes a talking serpent and two magic-like trees. The story is screaming to us, “Please read me symbolically, metaphorically, theologically—anything but literally!” (103)

But what if evolution is alerting us that we need an understanding of God that makes sense in view of the whole shebang of evolution? (105)

Another Way

…the Bible is not suited to give answers to our scientific questions, nor does it need to be reconciled with science in order to remain religiously potent. (106)

It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [cosmological] topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. —Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis

cf. The Great Partnership; Maimonides; B. B. Warfield; Charles Hodge

The conflict arose because science collided not with Christianity, or even with the Bible, but with literal readings of Genesis. (108)

[via: Enns mentions here the famous Dover Pennsylvania Intelligent Design case for which NOVA produced Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.]

A Better God Through Evolution

…Israel’s creation stories mirrored the stories of their cultural environment, but also distanced themselves from the common mindset of the day. (110)

[via: My videos, “Story” and “Bow,” attempt to get at the same idea that Enns is writing about:]

…when I say evolution is God’s way of creating, I don’t mean to suggest that God intervenes from the outside and directs evolution like a conductor of an orchestra. I mean that God “inhabits” the process of evolution, not micromanaging it, but by being the divine Presence that lives in every particle of it. (111)

As much as evolution wreaks havoc with a literal reading of the creation stories in Genesis, to those so inclined, it helps expand our minds to understand God differently. Creation is shouting to us something of the deep mystery of the character of God and of creation. Pitting evolution against the Bible, or Christianity, or God is a missed opportunity to make God relatable to ourselves and to others. (112)

Evolution drives us to think differently about God because evolution is ongoingGod’s creative work did not end at the dawn of time. Some theologians add that an evolutionary cosmos implies a purpose to the universe—evolution is heading toward a goal. (112)

[via: This “teleological” view is a bit harder to reconcile because, evolutionarily, that “goal” is, (in Darwinian terms), “survival” and ultimately entropic heat death. This, in my view, is the harder point to reconcile; not that “evolution is ongoing” or that it dismantles the mythical “Adam and Eve” but that the underlying mechanism is brutal, violent, and filled with suffering.]

The Bigger Picture

In my view, evolution is the story, the meta-narrative of our age. It is not only a scientific explanation for physical reality; it is, rather, the overarching description of reality, the cosmological framework for all contemporary thought. —Ilia Delio

Chapter 8: Other People (Eww. I mean, Yay.)


…engagement with other people actually shapes how I think about God. … How we experience God is determined in no small measure by how we experience each other. (118)

As I see it, what binds a spiritual community together is love, because God is love,… (119)

No One Has Ever Seen God

On Mount Sinai, Moses did catch a glimpse of God’s back,… (119)

[via: The Hebrew there is quite poetic: והסרתי את כפי וראית את אחרי, “I will take away my palm (‘cupping’) and you will see my ‘after'”.]

No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us… (122)

…and so we “see” God by mimicking God’s love; though we cannot physically see God, we can experience God through the love of others. (122)

God is experienced in mutually vulnerable relationality—which is just a fancy way of describing how God in Christ loves the world. If I want to experience God’s loving Presence, I am to love others my mimicking God’s love for me. (122)

What if we “are” God to each other—not literally, but what if God is actually Present in the cosmos through us? (122)

A Partial Theory About Why Christians Can Be Horrible Humans

…as distinct as these groups [“evangelicalism” and “fundamentalism”] may be in certain important respects, they share a core feature: both are deeply intellectual movements. (124)

…this claim may sound odd. .. Why? Because their core values are doctrines—a collection of beliefs about God, Jesus, the nature and ultimate fate of humanity, and biblical inerrancy (the Bible is always right on whatever topic it deliberately addresses), among other matters.

[via: So, I feel like I’ve been “chasing” after Enns’s work for years having thought the exact same things before Pete publishes. First, with The Bible Tells Me So… with the idea that the violence in the Bible is not what God commanded but what the Israelites BELIEVED God commanded. Now, the idea that the problem with evangelicalism/fundamentalism is not that they are anti-intellectual, but rather they are too intellectual. It’s been quite a journey.]

Love is an easy casualty when maintaining that ideas are the core value, and especially when maintaining them is tied to the reality of God’s existence. (125)

[via: Cf. Jared Byas’s Love Matters More.]

cf. the Wesleyan Quadrilateral; Richard Hooker

…For [Richard Rohr’, how we understand God is analogous to a tricycle—its three wheels are experience, scripture, and tradition. …the real breakthrough of this analogy for me is that experience is the front wheel that guides the back wheels of scripture and tradition. In fact, Rohr insists that we all do this anyway, even when we think we are simply reading the Bible “plainly.” (127)

…the tricycle moves—it is a dynamic rather than a static system. (128)

“All theology has an adjective.”

I believe that no human tribe can capture the divine. … And so, we need each other,… (128)

Something Happened

It seems that the glory of God is not just shouting at us from the edges of the cosmos, or from the beauty of the diverse life on our planet, but from those glimpses of God’s love we see in each other, our neighbors, whoever might cross our path. I try to internalize those glimpses and carry them with me each day. (131)

Chapter 9: Quantum Weirdness

Not to Worry. We’re All Dumb.

…the ignorance is compounded by the fact that the following “basic” equation of quantum physics looks like my cat peed on my keyboard and broke it:

[via: This is a version of the “Schrödinger’s Equation”.]

I think I copied that correctly, but if not, you’ll never know, which is my point. (137)

Reality That Bends

cf. “gravitational time dilation” / “relative velocity time dilation”; Carlo Rovelli

If the (141) physical universe is really such a place that does not match my experience, can I say any less of my experiences, perceptions, and thoughts of the Creator of this universe? (142)

I am actually thankful for the quantum revolution from a spiritual point of view. Amid the weirdness, God is getting bigger, for I am reminded of the marvel of creation and my human limitations. The quantum world is showing me a God who transcends every shred of my thinking on a level higher, deeper, and (142) wider than I ever could have imagined. God is the Creator, and the creation is bringing us face-to-face with the implications of that seemingly innocent statement. That, I believe, is good news. (143)

The Impossible and Inexplicable

Is “New Shimmer” A Floor Wax or Dessert Topping?

…we are in some sense “involved with the nature of reality in a fundamental way.” Others are so bold to say that we actually “create” reality by looking at it, though most physicists have seemed unwilling to go that far. (148)

“intelligent observer paradox,” …performing a measurement somehow affects the way matter behaves. (149)

Can We Wrap This Up Already?

Deep reality is not a consistent, solid thing you can point to. It is a range of possibilities. (150)

It seems that at the smallest detectable levels of physical reality, we arrive not at the smallest things, but things-in-relation. (150)

Chapter 10: Quantum God-ness

Reality is not a well-oiled machine that behaves in logical, predetermined ways. Instead, it is an ever-unfolding process that defies precise prediction. In it, order and chaos are not enemies but fraternal twins. Creation depends on both of them. Together they shape life. —Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous Web, p.44

The discovery of evolution and quantum physics opened up a new window to the divine mystery that illuminates the role of God and human in evolution. It is not a matter of trying to fit the old God into the new cosmos; rather, it is the birth of a new God. —Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, p.60

Of All That Is, Seen and Unseen

A Religion built on stability and immutability [Newton’s laws] could not be prepared for a cosmic order based on change [quantum physics]. —Ilia Delio

Consistency, stability, and predictability describe NEwton’s world of the big things. The quantum world deals in what is impossible by Newtonian standards. The unseen reality is one of unpredictability, possibility, indeterminacy. I feel my conceptions of God have to keep up—at least they need to try. (155)

| As I see it, the quantum revolution, along with evolution and cosmology, has done me a favor. (155)

A God who encompasses the infinitely large and infinitely small must truly be Spirit—though even that image might suggest and “entity” floating about. As Spirit, it seems to me, God is not simply a big “thing” that is everywhere at once, but woven in and through all of reality—all matter. The best way for me to think about God at the moment is as vibrantly, energetically present in creation, from the inside out. (155)

Panenetheism is the belief that God is separate from all that exists but is in (en) all things and likewise that all things exists is in God. (156)

My words are more of placeholders; at the end of the day, I believe all our words are simply holding a place for that which is beyond our speech.Placeholder theology is the very nature of theology. (156)

A Story About Hell

I can no longer abide thinking of God as a being who is in a perpetual state of anger,… I believe God’s justice, whatever that might look like, is restorative rather than punitive—and certainly not eternal torture. (157)

cf. The Sin of Certainty

Love, I have come to believe, is God’s core character trait. All other divine traits flow from love. It infuses the cosmos and will bring it to its full purpose. (159)

Jesus at the Interstellar Bookcase

At its core, existence is not individual things occupying space, but things existing in relation to each other, and those larger systems or organisms are more than merely the sum of their parts. (160)

The atom is the relation these elements have to each other. Protons and neutrons in relation are the atom’s nucleus, and they themselves are each “made up” of three smaller elements called quarks in relation to each other. (161)

Nothing is conceivable as existing all by itself. There is no true being without communion. —Denis Edwards

God Is a Relationship

..the Trinity is the closest thing to rocket science you’ll find in theology. (162)

The language of the Trinity is an approximation of the mystery of God, as is all our theology. But it is also a profound and unique statement about the nature of God—an approximation that points us to contemplating the mystery of God and God’s relation to us and the cosmos. (162)

Let’s call the three together “God,” but God is not “made up” of Father, Son, and Spirit. Rather, like the makeup of an atom, God exists as the relationality of the three. (162)

Relationality is not only at the core of reality, but at the core of God’s nature. Both the Creator and the creation are relational. The creation reflects our relational Creator. (163)

Maybe God is relationality all the way down. (163)

…the bottom line is that God’s relationality is within Godself, toward the cosmos, and toward us. We matter (an unintended but useful pun). (166)

All I can say is that I have gained a better understanding of God that includes the physical world rather than trying to explain it away or cram it into familiar ways of thinking. (166)

Chapter 11: Thin Places

…in my opinion nothing brings us to ponder our place in the cosmos more than contemplating the end of our own existence and of those we love—and whether death is the end of it all. (168)

Staying Curious

Generally speaking neither Paul nor the other New Testament writers seem to be focused on the afterlife. (170)

I think finding peace with death has allowed me to be open-minded about the possibility of a thin veil between the worlds,… (170)

A Reality We Don’t Often See

…I am not a scientific materialist. As much as I love science, I do not believe that what is real can be reduced to the kinds of things that the scientific method is set up to study—namely, material things,… (171)

…there is an area of study that has something to say about death and life: the study of near-death experiences (NDEs) and other parapsychological phenomena. (172)

cf. University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS)

It seems to me that, if even a small percentage of their work is valid, it alerts us to a reality beyond what we see or understand. (173)

Over the past five decades, I’ve interviewed thousands of people who were brought back from the threshold of death—or in some cases pronounced dead—and had striking tales to tell. Although it’s impossible to say for certain what happens when we die, I have heard hundreds of accounts of people claiming to have left their physical bodies and seeing things they shouldn’t have been able to see, while they were unconscious. —Bruce Breyson, “I study NDEs. What I Learned About Near-Death Experiences Changed My Life,” Newsweek, March 13, 2021

cf. Soul Survivor: The reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot; Dale Allison

…in the same way that ancient Celts talked about “thin places,” where the realms of life and death conjoin, there are also “thin people,” who are more open to such things than others. (176)

cf. Bruce Greyson’s sixteen-point scale; Caleb Wild; Molly Steinsapir

…I do not think I can simply disregard learned inquiry or people’s experiences, even when factoring out the lunatic fringe, just because it doesn’t jibe with (178) my own common experience. Indeed, why would I want to? “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”—and I might add “in your theology.” At least in mine. (179)

The Good News and, for Some, Not So Much

If any of this is true, and I think some of it is, two issues are square on the table for me. (179)

Out-of-body experiences suggest a way forward in the vexing “mind-body” problem. (179)

So, if these things are true, it would seem (I say this tentatively) to have something to contribute to the mind-body problem: perhaps our consciousness—which has heretofore throughout history been called the soul or spirit—exists independent of our physical bodies. Perhaps consciousness continues after death. (180)

…NDEs (and some other such phenomena) are reported across cultures, languages, and religious faiths. (180)

If people regardless of their beliefs about God share very similar—not to mention largely positive and live-altering [sic]—experiences in their NDEs, it suggests that one’s beliefs do not determine one’s afterlife. This is ap problem because Christianity has been, at least for much of its history, very big on exclusivity: only those who believe in Jesus “go to heaven.” (180)

Are we all the same? Does God have us all in the grip of divine love? (181)

God’s ultimate eternal embrace of all people is a very ancient view in the Christian church and has had its advocates throughout church history. …Clement, Origen, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory of Nyssa,…Hans Urs von Balthazar, David Bentley Hart, Robin Parry, and Brad Jersak

All these views together are often called “Christian universalism.” God is about the business of drawing to Godself all of fractured and wounded humanity through the mystery of Christ incarnated, crucified, and raised. God will bring this about, because God’s love is (181) relentless. Moreover, because God’s love is relentless, redemption does not stop at death. (182)

Of course, I do not claim to know the mechanics of it all, and I certainly can’t prove any of this—living with ambiguity and uncertainty is the cost of religious faith. But this is the picture of God that make the most sense to me here and now. There is, however, a bigger circle to be drawn beyond the human drama. (182)

A Reason to Hope

…there is more to say about death than this stand-off between science and faith. (182)

We do not live in a static, fixed cosmos with everything eternally in place. Creation is the evolutionary process. … Evolution is incurably forward oriented. And this should bring us hope. (183)

[via: Entropy is “forward.”]

Some Christian theologians, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Jürgen Moltmann, want to remind us that God’s location (if I can put it that way) is ahead of us, drawing us ahead, rather than drawing us back. The Christian faith is, to use the fancy word, eschatological. …the Christian faith is future oriented; God will see all things through, and all will be right. …we can no longer think of the future apart from what we are learning about God through evolution. Evolution is a key for unlocking what it means to speak of God as the Creator oriented toward the future. (183)

Such an evolutionary future orientation is, in my opinion, a key way that Christian faith can bring hope to our world—not by calling us to (183) maintain a fixed unyielding past that we hope to return to one day, but by looking forward to and working toward a future that the Creator is drawing us toward; and not simply a human future, but a future for all of life, our planet, and even the cosmos itself—for all of creation. (184)

The Pattern

…one dimension of Jesus’s death that might offer a fresh perspective on the crucifixion, …death is necessary for life. 9184)

The death of stars is the foundation of biological life on our planet. Truly, “we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon.” To be alive on Earth means something else had to die, and that which died was transformed into something new to make us us—and not just us, but every living thing. … If the cosmos reflects the nature of God, and if death is an integral part of the creation, then I might have to do some thinking about whether death is a friend or an enemy. (185)

Dealing with Reality

A boundless God will sooner or later render all our thinking obsolete, including the words on this page. I find great peace and hope in that realization. (188)

Chapter 12: Catching Glimpses

You Mean, It’s Not All About Me?

My understanding of God is not neutral but bathed in the totality of my human experience, which includes my privilege. (191)

While I will always be deeply grateful for the education as a hindrance when that perspective is seen as judge and jury of the others … rather than a voice…in a larger conversation about the bible and its use. (192)

The three main Christian traditions, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism, are all largely rooted in concerns that originated in the Roman Empire. (193)

I am being marginalized by the gospel… (194)

A Quick Glance at My Miserable Parenting Skills

We need saving, but not from God’s anger or from hell. We need healing from ourselves and our deep-seated dysfunction and the harm it causes. This is what I believe. (196)

Performance Art

“AA isn’t so much about alcoholism, but crushing the ego,”… (198)

I am not so much thanking God for “giving me” this, that, or the other thing,… I’m just trying to acknowledge that my existence is derivative of the One by whom all existence is possible. 200)

[God] is the one reality in which all our existence, knowledge, and love subsist, from which they come and to which they go, and that therefore he is somehow present in even our simplest experiences of the world, and is approachable by way of contemplative and moral refinement of that experience. —David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, 44

Epilogue: What If?

I do see a clear way forward, and it is not all that complicated, even though it may appear difficult at first. It amounts to a change in attitude in how we approach the life of faith. (203)

About VIA

One comment

  1. This is a life-changing lesson for anyone struggling in their walk with God. Thank you!

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