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Who Made God?

Over the last couple of years, my kids have periodically asked some variation of this question: “Who made God?” Usually, in response to their queries, I have stumbled and bumbled my way to an unnecessarily complex and probably not entirely satisfactory explanation of divine aseity (well, I don’t use the word, necessarily). Come to think of it, my explanations almost certainly aren’t satisfactory because the question seems to keep popping up.  I guess six years and tens of thousands of dollars of theological education only gets you so far :).

At any rate, thanks to a wonderful story I came across tonight (h/t: Faith and Theology), I have a pretty good idea how I will respond next time the question comes up in our house.  I may simply read them this letter written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in response to a similar question from Lulu Renton, a six year old Scottish girl, whose father Alex passed it along to Lambeth Palace:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu—Nobody invented me—but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.

Then they invented ideas about me—some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints—specially in the life of Jesus—to help them get closer to what I’m really like.

But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.

I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan


20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    Rowan Williams has evaded the question. Children know this, as do we.

    The answer most compatible with modernity and postmodernity, at least, is: we created God, or rather, God is a product of evolution. This does not represent a theological problem, unless aseity is a fundamental.

    Perhaps Williams admits that we have created God in his expression, “they invented ideas about me.” Someday the children will learn, if they don’t already know, all we have are ideas. Or maybe those who know will later forget, as in the e e cummings poem:

    “children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)”

    April 25, 2011
    • I don’t think he evaded the question: “No one invented me.” There are more complicated and theologically sophisticated ways of putting it, of course, but that’s where many end up.

      At times, I’m tempted to think that the answers compatible with modernity/postmodernity are also ways of evading the question. Telling ourselves that God is an idea we came up with to cope with fear, uncertainty, or whatever else, is, perhaps, a way of avoiding what Williams calls the surprise of discovery—the possibility of an external reality that genuinely confronts us, and does not owe its existence to the vicissitudes of our own minds.

      April 25, 2011
      • Ken #

        Is aseity then, like resurrection, a critical belief, a fundamental for a Christian?

        I think the postmodern answer is congruent with the implications of evolution as that process is understood in biological science. It does not necessarily involve a claim that religion is the result of uncertainty or fear, only that it has a history, like everything else in an emergent universe, in chance and necessity.

        April 25, 2011
      • I don’t see how you could believe in anything like a creator God without aseity. If God is an actual being, as opposed to merely an idea, it sure seems fundamental.

        Religion certainly has a history like everything else in the universe, but the girl in the article asked who invented God, not religion.

        April 25, 2011
      • James #

        The question is- “Is there a Creator or are we the product of chance?”
        One answer is, “There is a Creator.”
        Another answer is, “”We are the product of chance.”
        If we believe there is a Creator, I think Rowan’s answer is a pretty good one. If we believe that we are the product of chance his answer is annoying.
        Those who don’t believe in a Creator, however have a similar puzzle, “What happened before the Big Bang?”
        Stephen Hawking’s answer is, “You can’t see beyond a singularity.” It is the materialistic version of “aseity”. I think it is a puzzle without a better answer than Rowan’s and Hawking’s.

        April 25, 2011
      • Ken #

        Ryan, then, is process theology, for example, “off the reservation” (the metaphor Larry introduced in the resurrection discussion)? Is theology like that of Tillich or Macquarrie, in which God is being, not a Being who created, unacceptable theology? Is Teilhard de Chardin, off the reservation?

        By religion, above, I meant also God. I meant God has a history like everything else in an emergent universe, in chance and necessity. We made God, or, rather, chance and necessity did.

        Aseity seems to be tied up with creation. It seems that creation is a fundamental like resurrection in certain theologies but not in all. I don’t think it is fundamental universally. Theology works without it, just as it does without the resurrection, without the atonement, without the second coming, without the incarnation, without …

        But can a church survive without dogma, without doctrine? This I doubt. Can we be human without myth? This I doubt.

        James, yes, one answer is that there is a creator and another answer is that we are the product of chance (and necessity.) Clarity is enhanced by seeing these answers as different, as two different answers to a question that forces choice.

        April 25, 2011
      • Tyler #

        James, using the example of the big bang is problematic because while it is desired to know conditions prior, it is not crucial in unravelling scientific theory…. With regard to theology, well, it is a pretty important piece.

        In regards to the letter itself, the language of ‘discovery’ doesn’t really highlight anything unusual. The descriptions and language used can just be discovering self, nature, a wholeness… It is a pretty big leap to get to God from that and I agree with Ken, it evades the question. ‘I don’t know’ would be a much more beautiful answer.

        April 25, 2011
      • James #

        I agree with you Tyler, “I don’t know” is the right answer. I also tend to agree with Ken that William’s answer is unlikely to have satisfied the 6 year old girl. I kind of liked it because I believe that the God of the Bible exists. Before I believed that I would have been annoyed by it as well. I retain a good deal of sympathy for that annoyance.

        Re: the Big Bang and aseity. I think a lot of scientific effort is actually expended on the question of origins. That is the whole purpose of the countless billions being spent on particle colliders and a large portion of popular science books. Those who invest in these quests feel that everything depends on the answer even if these questions have almost no implications to anything in real life. I think they are part of the human quest to answer unanswerable questions. I believe that every belief system comes up against its limits. I like Hawking’s concept of stopping at the singularity. I think that it is a good theological concept as well and should be employed more often.

        April 26, 2011
  2. Paul Johnston #

    “So I came as Jesus” instead of an especially good hint in Jesus.

    Weak Christology aside, a letter I would be pleased to deftly edit 🙂 and reread to my children.

    April 25, 2011
    • Paul Johnston #

      I especially like your comment, Paul. Do you understand all of the others? Not entirely sure, Rowan but I send them lots of love.

      Ken are you suggesting that since man has created God in his own image, you may create him in yours? Who is God in these scenarios?

      April 27, 2011
      • Ken #

        I don’t know. I don’t mean to make that suggestion. I was just writing in a postmodern genre, of the implications of evolution as understood in biology for theology.

        In that genre, God is no one. God is being. Or, as Chardin wrote, the universe is the body of Christ. Or Moses – the eternal God is our dwelling place.

        April 27, 2011
  3. Rita #

    I find it interesting that someone opened the envelope addressed ‘To God”. Ummmm…

    Who invented God? My answer might be something like… “gee, um, gee… you know something? That is a VERY good question! (Double underline the word VERY). People have been asking that for ever, and as far as I know, no one has ever come up with an answer that really truly answers the question – so far. Wow – you thought of one of the very hardest questions ever!”

    April 25, 2011
    • Yes, that is also a very good approach Rita—in fact it sounds suspiciously like a few of my recent responses :).

      (Re: opening the envelope, according to the article, Archbishop Williams only opened the letter because it was sent to him by the little girl’s father—an atheist, incidentally—who was surprised to see it as part of her schoolwork. I give him credit for pursuing the question on his daughter’s behalf…)

      April 25, 2011
  4. In response to Ken, above:

    I’m not sure I’m necessarily the gatekeeper for the “reservation,” but I think the question of what is or is not “acceptable” theology depends on the criteria being used to evaluate. If the Bible is in any sense taken to be authoritative in formulating one’s conception of God, that affects what works and what doesn’t. As I understand it, process theology is tough to square with the portrayal of God in Scripture.

    Re: the aseity question, of course theology as a system of ideas can work without it. I’m less interested in whether or not we can put together a coherent intellectual structure with the word/idea “God” in it than I am with the question of whether or not there really is a non-contingent being—an author to the story, to quote Williams—out there.

    April 25, 2011
    • Ken #

      Re: God in the Bible

      I agree with the importance of continuity in some way with the Bible. At least, I can say that the Bible is quite important to my faith, such as it is, and it has unquestionable significance to the church. Tillich, for example, and Bultmann, sought such continuity through the use of Biblical and traditional theological expression even while their understanding of God and theology was not traditional at all. But is God there in such theologies? That seems to be the question, just as you say.

      At the same time, I don’t know that the Bible claims aseity or even creation of the universe. It may just make the claim that God is sovereign, the maker and keeper of order, the one who defeated the forces of chaos. If so, then it does not seem discontinuous to see God as being, rather a Being who created everything.

      Re: ideas

      If Darwin and the postmoderns associated with the linguistic turn and even Kant are right, then we cannot escape or get past ideas. If they are right, we can never answer the question that concerns both you and I: whether there is a God out there. It may be that I am more persuaded by Darwin and the linguistic turn than you. That may lead me to seek more theological compromise – God without resurrection, without aseity, and so forth.

      Re: gatekeeper

      In the resurrection discussion I think you said something like your faith rested on a conviction that the resurrection happened. I was just wondering if it also rests on a similar conviction about aseity or creation?

      I think for myself, my faith rests on a conviction, or hope, associated with the final blessing of Moses in Deuteronomy that I mentioned in the resurrection discussion: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” It does not seem to depend on resurrection, or creation, or atonement, or incarnation. It seems to be the way I find continuity between my faith, such as it is, and the Bible, and also with nature. Perhaps there is something like aseity in the words “eternal” and “everlasting,” something like creation in the word “underneath.”

      April 26, 2011
      • Yes, I certainly do have convictions about aseity and creation, but I don’t like to think of these convictions (and others) as a bunch of non-negotiable doctrines or propositions comprising an edifice of correct beliefs about God that define “true” faith or orthodoxy, necessarily.

        I am inclined to start from the end (I like the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, here): eschatology sets the agenda. A God who can bring life out of death, good out of evil, etc, can presumably bring something out of nothing (creation) and is, presumably, not dependent upon anything else for existence (aseity). I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself very well, but that’s kind of how I think of it.

        I very much like Moses’ blessing in Deuteronomy. I think there is room in there for creation and aseity (and maybe even some potential links to incarnation, atonement, and resurrection :)).

        April 26, 2011
      • Ken #

        I follow what you are saying about eschatology.

        Re: I think there is room in there for creation and aseity (and maybe even some potential links to incarnation, atonement, and resurrection

        And there is as well room for pantheism, or panentheism. God as dwelling place.

        April 26, 2011
  5. Paul Johnston #

    Hey, Ken are you describing God as a force, as a Buddah; an allegory. How does God as Christ enter into history, if God is no one?

    April 27, 2011
    • Ken #

      In Chardin’s version it appears that God enters history, Christ enters history, is incarnate in the universe.

      Buddha? Not me. Allegory? Not me.

      April 27, 2011

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