Friday, January 10, 2014

God’s Uphill Struggle with Humanity (Part 2)

Gabrielle Giffords believes there is real promise inherent in slow, step-by-step work toward a hard-to-reach goal in spite of all difficulties. The former Arizona Representative, brain-damaged three years back by a gunman wounded her and killed six others, speaks of the “gritty, painful, frustrating” daily work of rehab. Such work that has only partially restored her mental and physical functioning.

The experience has become a metaphor, for her, of the struggle for gun control. Because she has “seen grit overcome paralysis” in her own therapy, and she has committed herself to building, day by day and heart by heart an “advocacy community” that can take on the uphill struggle with the powerful weapons manufacturers and gun lobby. She believes in the promise of the cause, and will “cede no ground to those who would convince us the path is too steep, or we too weak.” (1) 

A promise pledged or inherent?

For me, Giffords’ experience is an almost exact parallel to God’s uphill struggle with the human race for the full dawning of the rule of God “on earth as in heaven.” The promise of the kingdom is a paradoxical one, echoing the dual usage of the word “promise.” On the one hand a promise is a pledge one person makes to another, a commitment to give a gift or bestow a boon. On the other hand, “promise” speaks of the inherent potential of a person, proposal or cause: “she shows a lot of promise.” The kingdom is a promise in both senses, but conventional Christianity has tended toward the first usage: the kingdom is something God has promised, so God will deliver it in God’s good time.

Both biblically and existentially, the two usages are intertwined so that one can't be true without the other. Humanity, made in the image of God, shows great promise. God’s promise to us is that we can have the kingdom IF we "seek the things" that constitute the kingdom: peace, justice, compassion, right relationship, and openness to grace. The covenant people of God, both in and beyond church, synagogue and mosque form such an “advocacy community.” 

Evolution informs

The ways we were formed by evolution make clearer why, like Giffords’ struggle against paralysis, the way to the kingdom is such an uphill struggle. “The human brain is wired, first and foremost, with aggression for survival,” says brain and spirituality researcher Dr. Andrew Newman. “The wiring for social awareness and compassion are more recent developments.” (2) The prophetic vision of the possible kingdom dawns millenia later, after the violent conflict humans fall into so easily becomes intolerable to illumined souls. God’s struggle with our species for sanity and sanctity is a mighty uphill battle. God holds no magic wand to "make it all go away," but is in the struggle with us and has the scars to prove it.

Rather than despair that almost three millennia after the vision of the kingdom dawned our species is still capable of so much destruction, we need to marvel that we’ve come so far against such great odds.

Next:  God’s Uphill Struggle with Humanity (Part 3)

1.  See her op-ed "The Lessons of Physical Therapy" at

2.  Newman and Waldman run the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. See Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain. See


  1. Ultimately it has been proven that evolution is the result of random mutations that happen to "work" and having been through physical rehabilitation myself the key was more to be better than to make better.. Having said that I agree we are beating the odds.

  2. Not sure I understand your point about evolution, Carl. yes, it's random selection, but the selections foster survival which means the results are aggression and social awareness. To say the adaptations are "for" something does not imply inherent purposiveness, merely end result. Our later conscious capacity to manage our impulses and choose non-violence are crucial to the survival project at this point in social evolution.