Archives For Hebert McCabe

I’m marking Holy Week again by reading the work of the late Herbert McCabe, a Dominican philosopher who had a gift for articulating the ancient Christian tradition in concise, clear, crisp prose.


“In the first place, it seems to me that Jesus clearly did not want to die on the cross. He was not crazy, he was not a masochist, and we are, of course, told that he prayed to his Father to save him from this horrible death. Matthew, Mark and Luke all picture him as terrified and miserable and obviously panicking in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He came through this terror to a kind of calm in accepting the will of his Father, but he is quite explicit that it is not his will- ‘not my will but thine be done.’

He did want to accept his Father’s will even if it meant the cross, but he most certainly did not want to the cross itself.

Well, then, did the Father want Jesus to be crucified?

And, if so, why?

The answer as I see it is again: No.

The mission of Jesus from the Father is not the mission to be crucified; what the Father wished is that Jesus should be human.

Any minimally intelligent people proposing to become parents know that their children will have lives of suffering and disappointment and perhaps tragedy, but this is not what they wish for them; what they wish is that they should be fully alive, be human.

And this is what Jesus sees as a command laid upon him by his Father in heaven; the obedience of Jesus to the Father is to be totally, completely human. This is his obedience, an expression of his love for the Father; the fact that to be human is to be crucified is not something the Father has directly planned but something we have arranged.

We have made a world in which there is no way of being human that does not lead to suffering and crucifixion.

Jesus accepted the cross in love and obedience and his obedience was to the command to be fully human.

Let me explain what I mean. As I see it, Jesus, not Adam, was the first human being, the first member of the human race in which humanity came to fulfillment, the first human being for whom to live was simply to love- and this is what beings are for.

The aim of human life is to live in friendship- a friendship amongst ourselves which in fact depends upon a friendship God has established between ourselves and God.

When we encounter Jesus, in whatever way we encounter him, he strikes a chord in us; we resonate with him because he shows the humanity that lies more hidden in us- the humanity of which we are afraid.

He is the human being we dare not be.

He takes the risks of love which we recognize as risks and so for the most part do not take.”

– Good Friday: The Mystery of the Cross

Untitled101111For the past year, I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation. The reason being I’m convinced its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Cancer’s gotten me off my blogging game, but it’s Advent and the schedule of questions I outlined a year ago has incarnation in the queue.

You can find all the previous posts here.

III. The Son

15. Would there have been an Incarnation without the Fall? 

Just asking the question is important to reflect upon what Christians mean we say Christ is the eternal God incarnate.

My answer?

Of course.

If Jesus only comes to forgive sin, if he’s born in order to die, then the incarnation is determined by our transgression. Christmas is thus contingent upon us; the infinite determined by the finite.

The cross is what we choose when we meet God in the flesh.

The cross is not what God chooses as the reason for meeting us in the flesh.

The former means God endures our very worst evil for love’s sake while the latter means God trucks in the very worst evil for his holiness’ sake.

Not only is the finite determining the infinite a logical impossibility, it treats the incarnation as the outworking of God’s frustration with us rather than as the manifestation of God’s eternal decision not to be any other god but Emmanuel, God-with-us.

To suggest there would have been no journey to Bethlehem had there been exit from Eden is to say that the incarnation is something less than an eternal, unchanging decision of God’s. That then means at some point in time God changed his mind about us, towards us.

But God doesn’t change.

The ancient Christians had a catchphrase: opus ad extra, opus ad intra; that is, who and what God is towards us in Jesus Christ, God is antecedently and eternally in himself.

Before he’s Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, he’s the eternal Son, in the Trinity. That’s what Christians mean when we say that Christ is pre-existent.

There is not when the Son was not, and there can not be when he will not be.

Thus, the incarnation only unveils what was true from before the beginning, before, even, the Fall: God’s decision to be God-with-us.

As it happened, humanity did sin and Christ does reconcile us, but incarnation names a still deeper mystery. The mystery that the nativity is an event that God has set on his calendar from before the first day of creation, that before God brought forth light and life on Earth, God’s shaped his whole life to be Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Jesus isn’t born simply to die for our sin. If Christ is preexistent, then everything goes in the other direction. Jesus isn’t born for us; we were born for him.

We are the ones with whom God wants to share his life. Had there been no need for a cross, there still would’ve been a crèche because the eternal reason for his coming is that God wants to be friends with us just as Father, Son and Spirit are friends with one another.

‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; all things have been created through him and for him…‘     – Colossians 1

Untitled101One of the things our youth have conveyed to our new youth director is their desire for catechesis before college. Training before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

Here are questions 18-21

I. The Father:

18. Is God Indifferent Towards Us?

Of course not.

A person’s act of being as well as every action done by a person is an act of God. So, if the creator is the reason for everything that is, there can be no actual being which does not have the creator as its center holding it in being always.

So God literally cares more for us than we can conceive. Our compassion is a feeble attempt to be what God is all the time.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” – Psalm 139

19. What Do We Mean that God is Love?

If everything is contingent such that its existence is not necessary but relies, at every moment, relies upon God for its existence, then everything in your life, at every second of your life, is a something that could be nothing. Without God.

So everything, everything in your life, every moment of your life- existence itself- is completely gratuitous.

It’s a gift. Grace.

“I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10.10

20. How Can God Possibly Love Us Creatures?

The gulf between Creator and creature is so great it would seem that God cannot love us in any meaningful way.

Yet Jesus affirms repeatedly that God loves him and through the Holy Spirit we are incorporated into the Father’s loving relationship with the Son.

So God can’t love us. God can only love us in the Son through the Spirit.

“Anyone who loves me my Father will love him…” – John 14.23

21. How has God Shown Love for Us?

Creation itself is a revelation of God’s love for it’s completely gratuitous. God reveals God’s love by giving us life, by responding to the crosses we build with resurrection and by taking us up into God’s own life through the Holy Spirit.

And if everything in existence is grace, then God, in his nature, is Love. Not: God is loving. God is Love.

And if God is Love, then the universe’s blueprint, its grain, its logic is Love.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” -John 1.1



Untitled10I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

Questions 7 & 8~

I. The Father

7. Is belief in God credible?


While God cannot be proven, the case for God can be rationally persuasive. Belief in God is not superstition.

Indeed because God is the answer to the question ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’ God is the most obvious thing of all.

“God is love.” – 1 John 4.8

8. What are some ways of demonstrating belief’s credibility?

The ancient Church called them ‘Ways’ of reasoning such that ‘God’ was the most credible conclusion. These ways derive from God’s self-revelation as Being itself in Exodus: ‘I Am He Who Is.”

They are:

The First Mover

Some things have been moved

All things that are moved are moved by a mover

An infinite regress of movers is impossible


There is an unmoved mover beyond creation from whom all motion proceeds

This Mover is what we call God


The First Cause

Some things are caused

Everything that is caused is caused by something else

An infinite regression of causation is impossible


There must be an uncaused cause of all that is caused

This Cause is what we call God



No things in the universe must necessarily exist; that is, all things are ‘contingent’ beings.

It is impossible for everything in the universe to be contingent because something cannot come of nothing, and, if traced back, eventually there must have been one thing from which all others have occurred.


There must be a necessary being whose existence is not contingent on any other being or beings.

This Necessary Being is whom we call God.



In all creatures and objects there is found some degree of beauty.

Something is called beautiful according to its nearness to some principal of beauty.


If an object possesses the property of beauty to a lesser extent, then there exists an entity which possesses the property of beauty to a maximal degree.


This Infinite Beauty we call God.



All natural bodies in the world act towards ends.

These objects are in themselves unintelligent.

Acting towards an end is characteristic of intelligence.


There exists an intelligent being that guides all natural bodies towards their ends.

This Intelligent Being is whom we call God.


“The heavens declare the glory of God…” – Psalm 19.1


Untitled9This weekend we kick-off a new sermon series for the summer, Songs of the Messiah, which will track the way St. Paul uses the Psalms in his Letter to the Romans to unpack who Jesus is and what God accomplished through him for Israel and the world.

In the first 3 chapters of Romans Paul famously argues that the creation itself is both a revelation of God’s love and a revelation of human sin, such is the extent of our depravity. Only through the faith of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is the story of Sin unwound and retold, writes Paul (3.22-25).

Another way of putting Paul’s point: the devil was right.

“You shall be as gods,” said the serpent to Eve, and he was right. We shall be as gods.’ At least that’s how the late Dominican philosopher, Herbert McCabe, saw it.

It’s Christian cliche to call the devil ‘the prince of lies,’ but for McCabe any proper understanding of the Jesus story hinges on the recognition that what the serpent promises Eve is true.

We will become as God.

The devil tells the truth.

Just as the devil tells the truth to Jesus in the wilderness. All authority on earth will be given to Jesus- is given to Jesus, as Christ as much says before ascends to the Father at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.

The devil tells the truth.

It’s just a question of how that truth will should come to pass.

imagesSays McCabe:

‘But the question is ‘How?’ How will we become as gods? In the delusory way of claiming a separate, independent divinity for ourselves, or by receiving the only authentic divinity as a gift from God himself in Christ through his faithfulness?’ 

The story of sin and salvation, according to McCabe, is really just the story of the two ways we become as g(G)od: on our own terms or by Christ.

‘Sin is itself a strange and distorted caricature of the gift of God. Sin is to grab for yourself autonomy, to deny your creature-hood, to make yourself a god; but the gift of God is to receive divinity, to be taken beyond creature-hood. 

Strangely, it is by accepting our creature-hood, by obeying the law of the Lord (which is just the law of our created being, the law of our humanity), it is in obeying this law that we are miraculously carried beyond it into the friendship of God.’ 

So the devil told the truth about the what- our eventual divinity.

It was the ‘how’ he and we were- and so often are- wrong about.

‘When we acknowledge our existence, our selfhood, our meaning as a gift from God we find that this gift is even greater than that, that we are given more than good creature-hood.’

The devil told the truth as far as he could know it. He could not know the means by which that would become true, that in the Son and through the Spirit we would be taken up into the very life and love- the friendship- of the Triune God.

Or, as St Athanasius summarized it so well:

God became human; so that, we might become God.


Does God Exist? No.

Jason Micheli —  June 12, 2014 — 6 Comments

Untitled10Lately I’ve been working to write a catechism of the faith for our students, one that incorporates both the particular confessions of Christian belief as well as the philosophical commitments that make such beliefs intelligible.

Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed an increasing number of young people who go off to college and subsequently ‘reject’ Christianity especially and even belief in God generally. Such rejections are often voiced in the name of science and reason. Frequently it’s not God so much as the behavior and closed-off worldview of other Christians with which they wish to part ways.

I’ve discovered too how all too often the Christianity which gets rejected is not

the actual Christian tradition as such.

It’s not the ancient Christian tradition and its conception of God, Christ and scripture.

Rather the faith an increasing number of the ‘nones’ reject is the sort of pop caricature of Christianity that our connected culture allows to metastasize until the god rendered therein is either unbelievable or repugnant and sometimes both.

So over the past couple of years I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures. The Q/A’s of a catechism are, really, the pretense for a longer dialogue.

Given the post-Christian world in which we will live, I think it’s important to outline the faith such that people can see- and learn- the philosophical foundation beneath it.

It’s important for (young) people to see that ours is a faith which isn’t afraid of doubt even as it takes the reasons for doubt with moral seriousness.

Ours is a faith that has ancient answers for ‘modern’ questions, a faith that will always rely upon God’s self-revelation but it is not irrational for all truth is God’s truth.

In other words, ours is a faith with the resources to tame the cynicism of a post-Christian culture.

I’ve used the catechism of the Catholic Church as a basic skeleton of categories. I’ve phrased the questions in the approximate wording of the questions I’ve received from doubters and believers over the past couple years while the answers are an incestuous amalgamation of Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley, Stanley Hauerwas and all my other theological crushes.

Here are the first 3 (of a couple hundred) Questions:

Part I ~ The Father

      1. Does God exist?


To say something exists is to suggest that it had a beginning in time, that it is an object in the universe, but God is without beginning or end, is outside time and is not an object within the universe.

God just is; therefore, the subject and the predicate of the statement ‘God exists’ are identical.

So God does not ‘exist’ in our sense of the term, rather God is the Source of existence itself in that everything which exists owes its existence to God.

God said to Moses: “I Am He Who Is.”’ – Exodus 3.14

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” – Hebrews 11.3


2. Do human beings exist?


A ‘being’ is someone who is still, someone who doesn’t change, someone constant, someone who’s always true.

Human life isn’t really being in that sense. Only God is a true being. The only being who can act without changing identity is God.

Everything else in creation is a “becoming,” a creature or thing that’s in constant process of changing. Everything else acts in such a way that it closes off some of the possible options and thus reduces the potential of their existence. God alone acts in such a way that there is no loss, just being.

So, no, human ‘beings’ do not exist. Human ‘becomings‘ exist. To speak of human ‘beings’ is only possibly by our incorporation into God’s Triune Being through the incarnation of the Son.

“For you [God] created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4.11

“For in God we live and move and have our being.” – Acts 17.28


3. Is God knowable? 

In a certain sense.

As Being that supplies existence to all created things in the universe, God is knowable for God is literally closer to us than we are to ourselves.

However, as Creator, God is necessarily greater than his creatures‘ apprehension of him. Our knowledge of God is never full or perfect. We can know that God is but never know what God is.

Therefore we know God only analogically; that is, we can know what God is ‘like’ but we do not know God in his essence.

“I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.” – 2 Maccabees 7.28

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” – Psalm 139.6




Defiance_Logo_Tv_ShowMy friend Morgan Guyton points out: ‘when Paul uses the term haeretikos in Titus 3:10 that gets translated into our term “heretic,” the problem with the person he’s describing is not the incorrectness of his views, but his divisiveness.

Ironically, the greatest heretic-hunters are usually themselves the greatest heretics if we are using the word the way that the apostle Paul used it.’

The same point Morgan makes from Paul can be made by way of St Thomas Aquinas.

St Thomas AquinasAs I’ve been hammering here on the blog lately, Aquinas’ central thesis in his Summa Theologica is that the God who reveals himself in the Burning Bush (‘I Am He Who Is’) is not a god among the gods of the world. God is not an object within the material universe. God is not a kind (Thomas uses the word ‘genus’) of being alongside other beings like you or me.

God is the Source of Being. It’s because of God that anything from quarks to quacking ducks is at all. It’s because of God that there are somethings instead Nothing.

Everything that is is because of God, and that includes everything that happens, all our thoughts and deeds and decisions exist because of God.

A song relies upon the singer to keep it in being; likewise, God is the cause of all things in every moment.

As Hebert McCabe elaborates on Thomas:

“It is quite a thought that if you choose to break the law of God by cruelty or indifference to suffering, it is the Lord who is keeping you in existence while you are doing this, from second to second.

To think you are defying the Lord is the ultimate absurdity and contradiction, for you only exist, you only are because of God.

This self-delusion, the delusion that you can stand over against God, that you are not a creature- this is what sin is.”

It’s worth repeating in case you skipped past the quote: to think you can defy God, who is at every moment the cause of your being at all, is the definition of sin. images

It’s to deny a creature-hood which entails God’s constant sustaining. It’s to imagine we’re something more than creatures- to imagine we’re gods, free and independent of God except when we call upon the great cosmic butler.

And when see ourselves as already more than creatures, we forget the meaning of salvation: that God aims to take us beyond our creature-hood in the Son and through the Spirit into the life of the Trinity.

If imagining that we can defy God is the most basic and thus the most absurd of all sins, then ironically…

it’s those of us who obsessively point out other people’s sins- those people we perceive to be defying God- who are the worst sinners of all.

We look at people and refuse to see them for what they are: creatures held in being by God at every moment- every moment- of their lives.

In other words, Thomas simply points out what we learn from the Elder Brother’s refusal to join the Father’s Feast (Luke 15).

Sin = Refusal of Grace.

image001A few weeks ago I posted a reflection on the ancient Christian doctrine of God’s immutability, God’s unchangingness. Admittedly the jumping off quote from the late Dominican philosopher, Herbert McCabe, was a rhetorical stick of dynamite:

‘Never think that if you’re contrite and pray to God for forgiveness that God will forgive you…In a fairly literal sense, God doesn’t give a damn about your sin. It’s we who give the damns.’ 

Your prayer for forgiveness doesn’t incline God to forgive you.

God, by definition of the word ‘God,’ does not change.

In the posts that followed the initial reflection, I’ve become increasingly convinced that retrieving the first Christians’ speech about God could pull away some of the cobwebs believers and nonbelievers get tangled up in today.

Just as immutability was a surprise to many, I think many Christians would be surprised by what we mean by ‘Creation’ and how that impacts our speech about ‘miracles.’

The Apostles’ Creed begins seemingly innocuously: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.’

But already in that first breath most believers have already gotten off on the wrong track. The creed’s beginning is neither innocuous nor, it seems, self-evident, for most Christians mistakenly assume that by calling God ‘Creator’ we refer to God’s prior activity that we can locate at some debatable point in the past (millions or thousands of years, depending on whether or not you’re ignorant).

Those same believers erroneously assume that by calling God ‘Creator’ we mean that long ago God rolled up his sleeves and worked on some-thing called no-thing which resulted in creation. Once set in motion, God stepped back and, as though on a cross, declared it is finished. Like a watchmaker, God could hang up his ‘creator’ hat confident that the atomic and evolutionary gears would hum in perpetuity. Or, if not a watchmaker, God could step back and like Santa watch us from afar, keeping track of who is naughty and who is nice and occasionally intervening in creation to answer a prayer, smite a sinner or take responsibility for insurance claims.

To profess the first line of the creed with this in your head is to get the ‘Creator’ exactly wrong from how the ancient Christians so thought of God. For them, to call God Creator is to believe that God is the One who makes things to be without there being anything prior to his creative act save himself. For God to create is to make it be that something simply exists. When we name God as Creator, we confess that without God there would not be anything at all.

Whereas the watchmaker makes it be that there is a watch out of all the disparate parts that were prior to the watch, God makes it be that things just are- from the quartz in the clock to the simplest raindrop.

By calling God Creator we profess that God is the reason there is something instead of nothing, and this is a confession that quite obviously renders any debates about the earth’s age or the mode of creation forehead-slappingly irrelevant. To say God the Creator is the reason there is something instead of nothing is to say that God makes it that things are at all moments of their existence, past, present and future. Without God, all things would cease to exist in an instant.

The ancient Christians so emphasized this ongoing, continual, present creative act of God that they even believed it was irrelevant whether or not the earth had a beginning.

This is the ancient doctrine of creation that God is the reason there is something instead of nothing- a question beyond the bounds of the material world and thus a question science could never answer in the affirmative or the negative. According to this ancient doctrine of creation, everything other than God is completely dependent on God for its existing and for being as it is; therefore, God’s presence is nearer to every thing and every creature than believers today often suppose. God is everywhere, closer to us than we are to ourselves, for God is the one making it that we exist at all. God is not everywhere in the sense of taking up physical space but everywhere in the sense of causing the existence of all things.

According to the doctrine of creation, God is always everywhere, always present to creatures.

This means, in a certain manner of speaking, that there is no such that we commonly call ‘miracles.’

imagesWhat we mean by ‘miracles’ are those occasions when (the distant watchmaker) God intervenes in the created order. Implicit in our use of the word ‘miracle’ is the Enlightenment presumption that God otherwise is set apart from creation; that is, you can only intervene where you were not previously present and active.

To intervene, as Herbert McCabe says, you have to be an alternative to, or alongside what you are interfering with.

But if God is present everywhere, in everything, at all times the reason there is something instead no thing at all then there is no thing that God is alongside of or apart from.

There is no such thing we call ‘miracles’ because

you cannot intervene in what you yourself are doing.

To call God Creator is to name the most mysterious miracle of all- that there is something instead of nothing. This is a miracle that then determines what we properly mean by the word ‘miracle.‘

A miracle is not when God intervenes in our lives from outside our lives to act upon us. A miracle is when only God- and no other secondary causes- is acting in our lives, not from beyond but from the nearness where God has been all along.


image001Led by Hebert McCabe, the late Dominican philosopher, I’ve spent nights and early mornings the past few months rereading many of the ancient Church Fathers as well as St Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the ‘Doctors’ of the Church.

I discovered McCabe a few years ago by tracking back through the footnotes of in one of Stanley Hauerwas’ books, and he’s provoked me to return to material I’ve not read since my very first theology classes with David Bentley Hart. dbh-ima

Back then, as an undergrad, I had no inkling that archaic church doctrines like immutabilty could be explosive in both the life-giving and death-causing connotations of the word.

Back then, I had no idea my inbox would one day be filled with messages from all over the globe, from believers and non, pro and non, because of this simple pericope from a blog post:

‘Never think that if you’re contrite and pray to God for forgiveness that God will forgive you…In a fairly literal sense, God doesn’t give a damn about your sin. It’s we who give the damns.’ 

Your prayer for forgiveness doesn’t incline God to forgive you.

God, by definition of the word ‘God,’ does not change.

This has been the consensus belief of most of Christianity since the time of Christ and continues to be so in most of the Church catholic.

To some, the idea that God is unchanging allows them to hear the gospel for the very first time.

After all, who would want a god whose love could change because of little old me?

To others, the insinuation that God is unchanging sounds like an a-biblical intrusion into a narrative that gives us nothing but a pathos-filled God.

And, after all, who would want a God whose immutable nature necessarily means he’s also impassible- unaffected? By my love and devotion? By the world’s sin and injustice?

To the former, a God who changes based on relationship with us not only contradicts God’s self-disclosure (‘I am He who is’) it threatens to break the first commandment. Such a god bears a striking resemblance to us.

To the latter, however, a God who is unchanging seems to bear no resemblance to the God of Israel who frequently rages and weeps like a cuckolded husband.

For reasons that fill more space than I can devote here, my feelings convictions passion lie with the former. I’m convinced the first Christians rightly held God to be immutable.

Not only do I think this is the only logical way to insure that the God the first testament is identified with the God who takes flesh in the second, I also do not think it renders a dispassionate god.

Far from saying God has no feelings or love towards us, immutability secures the fact that God has nothing but loving feelings in perfection towards us. Our relationship with God doesn’t change God because God literally can’t love us more than God already does.

Nor do I think the ancients’ immutable God an abstraction since at several points scripture tells us that the Word made flesh is the visible image of this immutable God.

Alright, but admittedly that begs the next question.

If God is immutable, if God doesn’t change, if God can’t change, then what exactly is prayer?

Isn’t prayer the spiritually-sanctioned means by which we manipulate god to do what we want, ask, or desire?

Doesn’t answered prayer imply a changed god?


imagesAt least that’s how Herbert McCabe sees it.

In line with Thomas Aquinas, McCabe sees all prayer as a kind of parable of the Trinity. All prayer is made possible by the fact that the Son prayed to the Father and all prayer continues that prayer in that whenever we pray it is not us praying but the Spirit praying through us, as St Paul says.

Just as no one can understand or know God except God himself- the Word being God’s idea of himself made flesh- no one can speak to God except God himself. It is the same with prayer, McCabe argues.

“Prayer is God’s communion with God, prayer is the Holy Spirit breathed forth by the Father and by the Son because of the Father. We share in the Spirit in the inarticulacy of our prayer…When we pray we are prayed in, we become the locus of the exchange between the Father and the Son, the Trinity has made its home in us- for that we don’t need the right words with which to pray.’ 

So we don’t pray to God so much as God prays through us. Or, we pray to God in the sense that the Spirit prays through us to the Father and the Son.

As Aquinas says, ‘we should not say in accordance with my prayer God wills that it should be a fine day’ we should say that God wills it to be a fine day in accordance with my prayer.’

God wills our prayers as much as God wills the fine day.

What does that mean?

It means, says McCabe/Aquinas, that God wills it to be a fine day through my prayer; in other words, that it should be more than a fine day. God wills through us that that fine day should be a sacrament of God’s love.

To understand prayer in the categories of answered/unanswered prayer gets prayer exactly wrong, according to Aquinas, in the same way that the category ‘miracles’ gets God’s activity in the world all wrong.

God is never not active in any part or at any moment of the world. A ‘miracle’ is not when God is suddenly intervening in the world; a miracle is when only God is acting upon something in the world.

Similarly, an ‘answered’ prayed implies God is not active until/unless the answer arrives but rather, says Aquinas, the very wants and desires we pray are themselves the handiwork of the ever-present Triune God. Unknown

The desire you pray pray for healing, love, fill-in-the-blank is not your desire.

It’s God for you.

Implanted in you by God.

Prayed in and through you by the Holy Spirit.

Put another way, prayer is the sacrament that God wants healing, love, fill-in-the-blank for you as much as you do.

Link Love

Jason Micheli —  May 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

AE_LinkLoveHere are some things you might’ve missed this week that are worth a read:


On the First Things blog: If You Don’t Know the Bible, You Don’t Know Bob Dylan


If Christians can’t be bakers and hoteliers because of same-sex marriage, should Christians be soldiers or politicians? St. Hippolytus says said No. Here’s this thought-provoking piece.


Josh Luton at the Apprentice Institute has a good piece jumping off from my recent post ‘God Doesn’t Give a Damn about Your Sin.’


Some of you asked about my affinity for Herbert McCabe, the late Dominican theologian/philosopher. Here’s a piece from the Christian Century that unpacks why he matters.

imagesHerbert McCabe was a 20th century theologian who deserves to be rediscovered. McCabe was a Dominican who brought an Irishman’s clear, vibrant prose to the Church’s greatest of teachers: Thomas Aquinas.

Here’s an excerpt on the atonement:


What does the death of Jesus have to do with us? Why is it important to us?

One such answer, which has been very influential in the past, is that by his death Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world. The idea, I’m sure you will remember, is that sin had offended God and since God himself is infinite such an offense has a kind of infinity about it. It was not within our power to restore the balance of justice by any recompense we could pay to God.

So God the Son became man so that by his suffering and death he could pay the price of sin.

This seems to be based on the idea of punishment as a kind of payment, a repayment; the criminal undergoing punishment ‘to pay his debt to society,’ as we say. It takes a divine man, however, to pay our debt to divine justice.

Now, I can make no literal sense of this idea, whether you apply it criminals or to Christ.

I cannot see how a man in prison is paying a debt to society or paying anything else at all to society. On the contrary, it is rather expensive to keep him there…It is impossible to see Christ hanging on the cross as literally engaged either in making restitution or in serving as a warning to others.

If God will not forgive us until his Son has been tortured to death for us then God is a lot less forgiving than even we are sometimes.

If society feels itself somehow compensated for its loss by the satisfaction of watching the sufferings of a criminal, then society is being vengeful in a pretty infantile way.

And if God is satisfied and compensated for sin by the suffering of mankind in Christ, God must be even more infantile.

As St Thomas says, satisfactio really means restitution or ‘paying damages.’ Unknown

It is indeed true that we could not afford to pay damages to God, but it is also true that such payment could not be needed for plainly God cannot be damaged by my sin.

We kicked off weekly worship our satellite campus this Sunday with the first in a sermon of series: The 7 Deadlies and the 7 Ways that Jesus Saves Us. As you’ll see, the new venue allowed me to use slides and video for the first time.

During the series I’ll be pairing one of the ancient capital vices (aka: Deadly Sins) with one of the Church’s ancient or modern understandings of atonement- how Jesus makes us at-one with God. In this sermon, I owe a debt to Jonathan Martin’s work in Prototype and, like him, owe a debt to St Iraeneus and the late Herbert McCabe.

You can listen to it here below, in the sidebar ‘Listen’ Widget to the right or in iTunes under ‘Tamed Cynic.’

      1. Believing in Jesus, Believing like Jesus - Jason Micheli



christ-in-the-wilderness-briton-riviereMatthew 4.1-11 & Ephesian 1.9-10

Who are you?

Not only is that a question some of you might be wondering about me, especially after seeing me on toilet, I’m convinced it’s the most important question of all.

Who are you?

I believe it’s the question at the heart of what we call the Gospel- the good news.

And it’s the reason I believe people need the church- need a church.

Because we certainly don’t have all the answers but we have heard one answer.

We’ve heard the answer to that ‘who are you?’ question.

Since it’s so important, it makes sense to tell you.

Who I am.

Without going into genealogies or boring you with begats, the best answer to who I am starts here with this boy. 942763_238129929671334_1061230345_n

He’s 4 or 5 here.

And twice a day, morning and evening, breakfast and dinner, on the back deck, a brown squirrel would wait outside the screen door, sitting on its hind legs, and beg for food.

Twice a day the squirrel would eat out of the little boy’s hand.

The boy called the squirrel ‘Foxy.’

He was only 4 or 5, but even then he knew that squirrels don’t eat out of people’s hands.

But Foxy did. This boy- he lived in an enchanted world.

He felt happy and special and free and infinitely loved. He’d never heard the word ‘God’ before, but even so he felt surrounded by God’s loving presence.

This boy- he felt no fear, no doubt. He felt no shame, no reason to hide behind any masks, no self-consciousness at all.

You don’t wear shorts that short if you’re burdened with self-consciousness or shame.

If you asked this boy that question ‘Who are you?’ then I probably would’ve told you: ‘I’m the boy with the magic squirrel.’

1233470_238129893004671_1944569950_nBut that boy grew up to be this boy.

And it’s true that this boy isn’t happy to wearing a cutesy, home-made costume that only other moms will think is cool. It’s true this boy isn’t happy he’s not wearing one of those cheap, plastic superhero masks, the kind with the one staple and the rubber band that snaps as soon as you try to put it on your head.

It’s true this boy isn’t happy to be dressed like a clown, but, truthfully, this isn’t the first time this boy learned how to smear a fake smile on his face.

A few months before this Halloween was the first time the boy laid awake in his bunk bed and listened to the screaming and hitting downstairs.

Other nights he’d cry quietly, sitting at the top of the stairs and listening to his parents below when they thought he was asleep in bed.

Right before this Halloween was when his Dad hit the tree in their front yard after another night out drinking too much. He knew because he heard his Mom say so when he was supposed to be asleep.

But when the boy asked his Dad what happened to the car, his Dad lied to him. And when the boy asked his Mom what happened to the car…     So if you asked this boy that question: ‘Who are you?’ he might’ve said ‘Who do you think? Obviously, I’m a clown.’

But the truth is, the boy didn’t know.

Halloween was just one day of the year that he wore a mask.

When that boy became a teenager, he wished he could wear an actual mask.

This is one of the only pictures of him. 1174693_238129899671337_673103939_n

When that boy became a teenager, he didn’t let that many pictures of him get taken. His complexion eventually got so bad that after exhausting a battery of treatments the doctors prescribed him the same medication used to treat leprosy.

To add another layer of biblical allusion, the leprosy once got so bad that the kids at his bus stop would throw stones at him.

He responded by retreating into sarcasm and when that didn’t work he just retaliated. Desperation, it turns out, makes for a good fighter.

Not having any answer to that ‘Who are you?’ question made it impossible for him to forgive or turn the other cheek or think about walking an inch in his bullies’ shoes or even trust someone else enough to tell them what was going on with him.

His family was broken up and his body was broken out, and if you asked him that ‘Who are you?’ question there’s no way he would’ve answered honestly.

He just would’ve hid, but the truth was he felt unloved and unlovely.

One day the boy next door invited him to church, a house church.

He’d never heard of such a thing but as invitations to anything were a rarity he went.

Already feeling unloved and unlovely, the friendly souls at this house church told the boy there was something else wrong with him.

They told him he was a sinner.

That’s the answer they gave him to the ‘Who are you? question.

To make matters worse, they gave a teenager homework.

They told him there was something he had to do.

Believe in Jesus.

So that.

God would forgive him and love him.

So that.

He could go to heaven one day.

But this boy really didn’t think he needed forgiving, and he wasn’t interested in how to go to heaven so much as how his life could stop being a living hell.

Who are you? It is, I believe, the most important of questions.

So having the right answer makes all the difference.


The most important part of Matthew’s Gospel story today is what comes before it.

Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized.

And as he comes up out of the water, Matthew says the sky opens up and the Holy Spirit comes down and God’s voice declares like it was the first week of creation: ‘This is my Beloved in whom I delight.’

But no one falls down instantly and worships Jesus or signs up to be a disciple.

So no one else hears God say ‘This is my Beloved.’

Only Jesus hears it, like a voice in his head.

It’s not like proof or evidence.

It’s more like something Jesus has to trust and believe: who God has said he is.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God declared to them: ‘I will be your God and you will be my Beloved.’

But not long after God rescues them from bondage, when they’re still damp from crossing through the Red Sea, the Israelites forget. They forget who God said they were.

As soon as they’re in the wilderness, they start to worry and complain that they’re going to starve or die of thirst or be left all alone.

And God responds by giving them bread and water, but God tells them you can’t live by bread alone. You have to know who you are. Don’t put your God to the test because that just shows you’ve forgotten who you are. And don’t flirt with any other little ‘g’ gods. Remember, I am yours and you are my Beloved.

But soon after they forget again.

Immediately after he’s baptized and hears God declare ‘You are my Beloved’ the Holy Spirit thrusts Jesus into the wilderness. And in the wilderness, after 40 days of fasting, when Jesus is weak and lonely and at his lowliest, Jesus hears another voice:

‘If you’re really God’s Beloved…

Turn those stones to bread.

Take a leap and let everyone see.

Bow down and I’ll give you power the world will recognize.’

Each step of the way Jesus’ experience in the wilderness echoes Israel’s own. And where Israel forgot who they were, Jesus remembers. And believes it.

Not only that, Jesus’ experience in the wilderness echoes Adam and Eve’s experience in the Garden.

The questions the devil puts to Jesus aren’t really any different than the very first question the devil ever asked: ‘Did God really say…? That you’re very good…that you’re Beloved?’

Isn’t it interesting how scripture never personifies the devil with horns and a pitchfork but as that voice in your head, that voice around you, tempting you to forget what God has said about you, to forget who you are?

I never went back to my neighbor’s house church.

I never went to any church for a half-dozen years. It was pre-smartphone, so I don’t a lot of pictures, but if there’s 1 image from those years, 1 image that best captures who I was becoming, it’s this one. 225px-Magritte_TheSonOfMan

Empty inside. No joy. Nothing to me besides what I presented on the outside.

And because of who she was afraid I was becoming, my mom one day announced we were going to church, which in our family was about as casual an announcement as ‘I have a tapeworm.’

The church she took us to was a new church. It didn’t even look like a church. It looked like an auditorium, and it was Christmas Eve. I now know that’s a night when many folks try out a church for the first time, but I didn’t know that then. I thought I was the only one there who didn’t belong. So I sat through the service feeling cynical and scornful and fake.

And I kept at it like that, kept up that attitude, Sunday after successive Sunday. My mom kept at it too, kept making us go.

One day, I don’t know how many Sundays after that first day, we read this story. The story before today’s story. The story where Jesus hears God say ‘You are my Beloved, in you I delight.’

3260 And this guy talked about the story. And this guy can barely remember what he had for breakfast so there’s no way he remembers what he said.

But I do. Because it changed my life.

He said:

If Jesus took on our humanity, if each one of us is represented in Jesus, then that means that what God says to Jesus, God says to each one of you.

You are beloved. In you God delights.

He told me who I am.

Jesus’ baptism is not the first time in scripture that God says to someone: ‘You are my Beloved.’

It’s not the first time in scripture that God says that to someone, but it is the first time in scripture that someone actually believes it and lives his life believing it and never forgets it even when he’s suffering and that other voice from the wilderness creeps back for another go at him.

The theologian Hebert McCabe says that what sets Jesus apart is not the miracles he performed. It’s not his teaching or preaching. Or, even, that he died on a Cross.

No, what sets Jesus apart:

is his deep and abiding belief that he was loved by God.


Jesus was like us in every way. Tempted like us. Flesh and blood like us. Born and died like us. In every way he was like every one of us who’s ever been since Adam.

Except one way.

Jesus never forgot who he was. He never doubted that he was Beloved.

And knowing, all the way down, that he was loved, set him free to live as though the whole world was a new and different creation.

That’s why Jesus’ baptism comes at the beginning of the Gospels. It’s what kick-offs his ministry. We make a big deal of Christmas, but it’s those words ‘You are my Beloved’ that’s when Jesus ‘becomes’ Jesus.

‘You are my Beloved, in you I delight.’

It’s just a few words, but the Gospels put those few words right before the beginning of Jesus’ ministry so that you can see that all it takes is to believe those few words.

That if you just believe those few words

That if you trust that who you are is loved

Then that can change literally everything.



Scripture says that pride- forgetting who God has said you are and trying to manufacture a different you- is the ‘head of all sin.’

But scripture also says Jesus ‘re-heads’ the human story.

That’s what Paul says in Ephesians 1: that God has ‘recapitulated’ all things in Jesus, things in heaven and things on earth.

The word Paul uses there, recapitulation, means literally ‘re-head.’

Jesus renarrates the human story. He renews our humanity.

He redefines what it means to be human.

The first Christians believed that’s one of the ways Jesus saves us.

Their way of putting it was that in Jesus, God became what we are- prideful sinners, people who don’t know who we are- so that we might become what Jesus is:

someone who knows he is beloved

and trusts it enough to live into it

and live it out in a way that changes the world.

In other words,

If that’s true,

Then Jesus isn’t just a prophet.

He isn’t just a preacher.

And he sure isn’t just a person who’s punished for your sin.

He’s the prototype for your life.

That’s what scripture means when it calls Jesus the 2nd Adam.

It’s what scripture means when it calls Jesus the eikon- the visible picture- of the invisible God. Good_Shepherd

He’s the prototype of a new humanity.

And you don’t bother to make a prototype if you don’t desire that one day there will be others just like it

There are some who will tell you that Christianity is about just being forgiven for your sin. But if Jesus is the prototype, then Christianity is about learning to become as fully human as Jesus.

There are some who will tell you that Christianity is all about believing in Jesus. Or believing certain things about Jesus.

But if Jesus is God’s prototype for a new way of being human then believing in Jesus has got to begin and end with believing like Jesus.

Believing like Jesus believed.

Believing that you can face trials without fear.

Believing that you can show mercy rather than cast stones.

Believing that you can love your enemies and bless those who curse us and forgive 70 x 7.

Believing that you can be a person of compassion and hope.

Believing that you- you– can bring news to the poor.

You can lift up the lowly.

You can show the world snapshots of what God’s Kingdom looks like.

If you only believe.

If Jesus is God’s prototype, then believing in Jesus has everything to do with believing like Jesus.

And believing like Jesus- for you that begins just like it began for Jesus: with knowing who you are.

You are God’s Beloved. In you God delights.

And that’s who I am.

I don’t have a magic squirrel anymore, but I do have these. photo-1

You don’t wear shorts this short unless you’ve been set free.

From shame and self-consciousness.

You don’t wear shorts this short unless you’re completely confident that you’re delight to the Source of all Delight. Unless you’re sure, all the way down, that you’re beloved.