Deus ex Machina and Other Fallacies

DeusexmachinaHorace, in his Ars Poetica, said that a playwright or poet should never resort to “God from a machine” (Deus ex machina) “unless a difficulty worthy of a god’s unraveling should happen.”  In Greek tragedies, the protagonist would often find him- or herself in such an unredeemable situation that there could not possibly be a positive outcome, when suddenly a person playing a god would be raised up from the floor or lowered from the ceiling by a machine to save the day.  This is where we get this term.  Horace’s words rang true over 2000 years ago and they still ring true today.

I have been reading Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt, Divine by Peter Rollins – just one of my favorite Irish-folk.  In this book, he makes many great points on how we view God and how we live in ways that are often antithetical to our views.  It got me thinking about how our faith has evolved over the years.  In today’s post-Christendom culture, there are few who would subscribe fully to a 1950s version of traditional theology.  Congregants, non-church goers, and even pastors have become more progressive in their thinking when it comes to things of God – but do we act like it?

As a pastor, I write liturgy, choose hymns, and craft sermons for every Sunday.  I realize that much of what I create is geared toward my audience and it’s never a good idea to piss off those who pay your bills.  BUT, how are any of us doing when it comes to our words and actions in relation to our understanding of the workings of the cosmos and the nature of God?  When I pick hymns, I often have to stick with old favorites to appease folks, but is it really healthy to sing hymns about a royal deity much removed from creation when our thoughts actually tend toward the panentheistic?  Is it ok to pray that God heal Mrs. Jones when we’re not so sure that’s how God works?  What about throwing out cliches to comfort someone during loss when we’re pretty convinced that we’re not going to be gathering at the river when this horse and pony show is done?

So, most of these are inconsequential examples, but I would also argue that they have large ramifications.  Something that isn’t inconsequential, however, is how we live our lives.  When we have moved far beyond a belief system that assures us that God will some day send Jesus back and make everything alright after kicking the “bad guys'” butts, why do we act like we still adhere to it?  If our theology tells us that the God that works ex machina is a long-dead construct, then how are we doing in light of our evolved theology that informs us that WE have work to do because God works through US?

When it all comes down to it, we are all living our lives as if we still adhere to a theology that we wrestled with, tasted the bitterness of cognitive dissonance, and finally freed ourselves from.  Why do we bother?  What if our actions and our beliefs were aligned in a way that we actually put our money where our faith is, so to speak?  Random acts of love and kindness, intentional work to bring hope to the downtrodden, freeing the oppressed with words and actions – it all takes guts and embracing the idea that nobody will do it for us.  As a pastor, I guess it’s my job to set the example and call on other clergy to set the example for their congregations to live as they believe.  Man, why do I always have to do all the work!?  Life would be so much easier if Horace were wrong and the conservatives were right . . . .

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2 Responses to “Deus ex Machina and Other Fallacies”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    “Random acts of love and kindness, intentional work to bring hope to the downtrodden, freeing the oppressed with words and actions”.

    Such are examples of what come to mind when I think of Christian acts.

    Two weeks ago you preached movingly of having witnessed acts of love, between spouses, two different couples — one at a wedding and another at a birthday party — and if memory serves you opined that in those loving spousal exchanges did you glimpse God’s love.

    You powerfully and persuasively advocate the doing of acts such as the above to live out one’s ministry, and in so doing continue to inspire those in your congregation, intimate though it is, and more than make up for the, ahem, sometimes dated and staid hymnals! 🙂

    • Thanks, brother! I sure did see God’s love and thank you for embodying that. It would indeed be a remarkable world if Christians would focus on acts of love instead of dogma and being right.

      And I can’t wait to get rid of most of those hymns! Some of them are ok, but the theology is mostly bad. Hopefully they will let me get with the times without sending me to the Gulag 🙂

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