Thoughts on Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God

I recently finished reading the wonderful Quest For The Living God, by Elizabeth Johnson. The following are a few notes I made for myself to help process and retain some of the glory contained within its pages. I thought I'd share them because the book is so great I want as many people to read it as possible. I also speculate on what the book would look like were it made into a movie.

The Book in a Sentence…

Across the globe people are seeking the living God whilst remaining faithful to their culture, history, and environment, this is leading to surprising, profound, and beautiful glimpses of God with us.

The Book in a little longer…

Western Theism tendency to view God as the apex of beings, the highest of the high, the ultimate monarch – unchanging and beyond (yet surprisingly definable) – is failing the church. Contemporary challenges and changes are seeing it undone. However theologies developing in the 2nd half of the C20th are seeing God anew. Johnson chronicles a host of these new theologies popping up around the world, seeking the living God whilst remaining faithful to their particular contexts. Examples include: Feminist Theology, African Theology, Asian Theology, Latino/a theology, Black theology, Eco Theology, Religious pluralism, and new ventures in Trinitarian thought. From the survey we see the excellent work that brings new light, new perspectives, new hopes, new language, symbols, images to bear on our God talk. Particularly striking is the way these works respond to the particular and specific existential crises of our day, how they help paint pictures of a more involved, intimate, immanent God, how they open up (and remain open) to the mystery of God, how they often place renewed focus on the Spirit of God, and how they just all around kick ass! What we are left with is a two-fold takeaway: 1) the spirit of God has been working throughout history, all over the world, and now, in post-Constantine Christianity, we are hearing testimony to that fact. 2) God is much more interesting than many of us have been tricked into believing.

The Book as a movie...

Unhappy with the way her father preserves the memory of her mother, a middle age woman journeys around the world seeking the traces of her mother's life in the various communities and individuals she touched. Along the way she discovers the vibrant variety of her mother's past, something which puzzles her, imagine the moment where she discovers her mother helped inspire revolution in Central America, or journeyed with the black slaves in the US (ok, we might run into a problem with the age of this mother... perhaps we re-write to make her some kind of eternal figure... are vampires still popular?). Along her journey she realises that despite the differing traditions of memory there are common traits which persist. She comes to see her mother for the relational, compassionate, impassioned force of liberation and solidarity that had long been forgotten by her father. In the final scene of the movie she sees her mother living in nature, sustaining the unfolding world around her (remember, the mum is still alive after the re-writes... maybe she's a forest sprite?), and we fade to black.

Sure, not a prestige film, but think of the landscape shots - and it could maybe pick up a costume nomination. It might also provide a solid lead role for a comedic actress looking for a dramatic turn, or a talented middle-aged actress tired of guest starring on Law and Order. I'm thinking Patricia Clarkson for the lead and Gael Garcia Bernal as scene stealing role in the second act.

Do you really think you wouldn't want to see this movie?

Do you really think you wouldn't want to see this movie?


Some choice passages and phrases…

·      Why the Living God? “elicits a sense of ineffable divine mystery on the move in history, calling forth our own efforts in partnership while nourishing a loving relationship as the centre of our being” (Introduction - p4)

·       Why the Quest? “The profound incomprehensibility of God coupled with the hunger of the human heart in changing historical cultures actually requires that there be an ongoing history of the quest for the living God that can never be concluded” (Ancient Story, New Chapter – p13)

·      “At the heart of the Christian faith is the almost unbelievable idea that the infinitely incomprehensible holy mystery of God does not remain forever remote but draws near in radical proximity to the world. This is accomplished in a single act of self-bestowal that shows itself in two mutually conditioning elements. In doctrinal terms these are incarnation and grace; in personal terms they are Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit” (Gracious Mystery, Ever Greater, Ever Nearer – p39)

·      The motive of the incarnation is love: “The Word became flesh so that God who is love could enter into deep personal union with the world, the beloved. This would have happened even if human beings had not sinned” (Gracious Mystery, Ever Greater, Ever Nearer – p40)

·      Liberation Theology: God’s preferential option for the poor – “precisely in this partiality is the goodness of divine love revealed to be truly universal, because it includes the nonpersons whom the powerful and wealthy thought did not count” (Liberating God of Life – 74)

·      “If God is indeed Love, and if this Love is active in history to redeem from sin and death, then in situations where people encounter death, where they are impoverished and dehumanized, the divine option to see, hear, know, and come to deliver results in God’s abiding, suffering, toiling, and pouring forth in solidarity with the struggle for life” (Liberating God of Life – 80)

·      “Naming God the liberator does not craft one more symbol to add to the treasury of divine images. It puts a question mark next to every other image of God that ignores the very concrete suffering of people due to economic, social, and politically structured deprivation” (Liberating God of Life – 86)

·      “Far from being silly or faddish, the theological approach women are pioneering goes forward with the conviction that only if God is named in this more complete way, only if the full reality of historical women of all races and classes enters into our symbol of the divine, only then will the idolatrous fixation on one image of God be broken, will women be empowered at their deepest core, and will religious and civic communities be converted toward healing justice in the concrete. Along the way, every female naming of the Holy produces one more fragment of the truth of the mystery of divine Sophia’s gracious hospitality toward all human beings and the earth” (God Acting Womanish – 110)

·      “Redemption can have nothing to do with a bloody act of one person being killed in place of another. Such substitution is repugnant. Rather, through Jesus’ ministry, with its hopeful healings and its preaching about the kingdom of God, and through his resurrection and consequent flourishing of the Spirit in the world, God gained victory over the evil that tried to kill the gift that Jesus brought” (God Who breaks Chains – 129)

·      Divine overabundance. “There is no end to the being and fullness of God, who creates heaven and earth and is continuously present and active throughout the world in all ages and cultures” (Generous God of the Religions – 161)

·      The very existence of other religions “reveals the overflowing generosity of God, who before, during, and after the coming of Christ approaches all people with the invitation to divine life” (Generous God of the Religions – 175)

·      “Human thought and love are not something injected into the universe from without, but are the flowering in us of deeply cosmic energies… in this telling, human persons are not aliens set down in a strange physical world but an intrinsic part of the evolving story” (Creator Spirit in an Evolving World – 185)

·      “Ecological theology proposes that the Creator Spirit dwells at the heart of the natural world, graciously energizing its evolution from within, compassionately holding all creatures in their finitude and death, and drawing the world forward toward an unimaginable future” (Creator Spirit in an Evolving World – 191)

·      “The unfathomable mystery of God is a communion of overflowing love enfolding the world with gracious compassion” (Triune God of Love – 222)

·      “The revitalized idea of the Trinity makes clear that, far from existing as a monarch ruling from isolated splendor and lording it over others, the living God is an overflowing communion of self giving love. The practical importance of this notion lies in the way it exposes the perversion of patriarchy, racism, and other sinful patterns” (Triune God of Love – 223)

·      “The glory of God is the communion of all things fully alive. Wherever the human heart is healed, justice gains a foothold, peace holds sway, an ecological habitat is protected, wherever liberation, hope, and healing break through, wherever an act of simple kindness is done, a cup of cool water given, a book offered to a child thirsty for learning, there the human and earth community already reflect, in fragments, the visage of the trinitarian God, Borne by ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’, we become committed to a fruitful future inclusive of all peoples, tribes, and nations, all creatures of the earth. The reign of God gains another foothold in history”  (Triune God of Love - 224)

Go buy the book! Then let's chat :)