God as Abba
John Cobb's Proposal that we
Rediscover God with
Help from Jesus
God is not an all-powerful ruler in the sky, or a judgmental moralist,
but an eternal companion and healing presence, more concerned
with the well-being of life than being flattered or worshiped.
Excerpts from the Book, used with John Cobb's permission
Two Problems with "God"
as Too Often Conceived
John Cobb (from the Preface)
For me, God is of central importance to life and thought. As a boy I found that my conviction fitted comfortably with widely shared belief. I did not agree with everything I heard people say about God, but the problem with “God-language” was not much different fromother instances of disagreement and confusion.
Table of Contents
John Cobb (Postscript)
The purpose of this book is to propose that it is time for thoughtful Christians to free themselves from acquiescence to the late modern worldview. My conviction is that the biblical worldview in general, and the worldview of Jesus and Paul in particular, is superior. Of course, there are many respects in which their worldview is out of date. But bringing it up to date is much easier and more fruitful than trying to make the modern worldview adequate to our needs. We certainly have a great deal of knowledge about astronomy today that is far more accurate than the beliefs that prevailed in New Testament times. But adjusting to that information is no threat to the basic insights of Jesus or Paul.
"Abba cares much more about the future of the world than about who believes in him and who does not."
But loving an omnipotent God, or a morally judgmental God, or an exclusivist God, or a God who demands sacrifice in order to forgive, can be harmful. Abba is none of those things. I believe that loving Abba is the best hope for the world’s future, and loving Abba means working with Abba....Abba cares much more about the future of the world than about who believes in him and who does not. We who love Abba will eagerly cooperate with those who do not, if they are working to save the world. But today we may rejoice that the leading voice in the movement to save the world comes from one who loves Abba: Pope Francis. It is my hope that my tiny effort to renew and strengthen the worship of Jesus’ Abba will also build support for the great work of Pope Francis. (John Cobb)
"Abba is always present in the world working for good."
In sum, with regard to all that I have said thus far, I believe that we experience in some usually faint and fragmentary way Abba’s presence with us, working in all things for good. Abba’s work is most effective if we attend to it, open ourselves to it, align ourselves with it. This is part of the meaning of faith. Our resulting thoughts and actions sometimes have effects beyond our intentions. We can experience ourselves to be participating in Abba’s salvific work in the world. And we can sense the companionship of Abba as well as of others who work with Abba. We can know something of the divine commonwealth, the presence of which Jesus announced. (John Cobb)
"Abba is present even in the cells in our bodies."
I am repeatedly surprised by how rapidly wounds heal when the body is given the chance. Doctors often comment that their medicines do not heal us. They counter hostile forces in the body. When these are removed, nature works its healing power. When thought and emotions are healthy and supportive, the healing work of nature is speeded and strengthened. For me, there is no “nature” from which Abba is absent. That does not identify God and nature. There is much in nature other than Abba. But I think that it is Abba’s presence in nature that makes for healing. I believe that Abba is in every cell in the body calling it to do its part for its own well-being and for the well-being of the whole
Notes in the Margins by Jay McDaniel
Abba is not an abstract idea. Abba is the embodied self of the universe, filled with compassion and beckoning care, whose body includes the hills and rivers, trees and stars, the plants and animals. We are part of Abba's body.
This doesn't mean that everything that happens in the universe is Abba's will. Some things happen in our universe, or at least in our world, that are terrible, even and especially for Abba. Witness the rape and murder, witness the greed and injustice, witness the unspeakable sadness.
It means that everything that happens in the universe affects Abba's heart, just as everything that happens in our bodies affects us. Abba is not a disembodied mind.
Abba does not know the future in advance, because there's not yet a future to be known until it happens. This means that Abba is not an all-powerful architect of the universe with a predetermined blueprint, but rather the lure toward order and novelty within the universe as a whole; toward multiple forms of life on our planet (and any others where life exists); and, in human life, toward love. Abba is the reason why, despite entropy, new forms of order and rich forms of experience emerge. There is a creative and exploratory side of the universe. Abba is the catalyst.
This catalyst is inside each of us. Abba calls us to open our windows, seek the truth, step forward in love, and welcome the stranger. Abba can be comforting and also unsettling. We do not always become more peaceful when we are in touch with Abba. We can also become more restless.
Abba is more than a catalyst. Abba is also what holds everything together: the pattern that connects. Imagine a universe that unfolds inside a sky-like womb. Abba is this womb: the embracing arms. We live and move and have our being in Abba. No sentient being suffers alone. Abba is the fellow sufferer who understands.
A good complement to John Cobb's book is Thomas Oord's The Uncontrolling Love of God. What John Cobb means by Abba, Thomas Oord means by God. I would change Oord's title ever so slightly. I would call it "The Uncontrolling Yet Continuously Present Love of God Who Shares in the Experiences of All Sentient Beings and Whose Body is the Universe." But maybe that would be a bit long.
When we are true to our deepest selves -- the loving selves we may not have yet become -- we are true to Abba, even if we don't believe in Abba. Abba is more interested in the fullness of life than in being flattered. Sometimes people who don't believe in Abba are much closer to Abba than people who do.
Abba is not supernatural but ultranatural. Abba is the primordial nature of nature. We don't have to drawn an ontological line in the sand and say "Abba on one side" and "the universe on another." This doesn't mean we can't be awed and humbled by Abba. We are small but included in a grandeur much greater than ourselves; a Life infinitely more amazing than our own. Abba is extraordinary, and so are lots of other things. We live in an enchanted universe. It's all kind of amazing.
Abba does not control everything in the universe, just as we don't control everything in our own bodies. The actualities of the universe have power of their own, not unlike the way in which the living cells in our bodies have power of their own. There are plenty of things that happen in the universe that even Abba cannot prevent.
Abba is temporal: always affected by everything that happens and then responding, in ever-adaptive ways, with loving care. Abba responds by offering fresh possibilities for healing, wholeness, and creativity. These possibilities are Abba's grace. Grace changes from moment to moment.
We can have a personal relationship with Abba. We can rightly address the Life in whom the universe unfolds a Thou -- our Abba or Amma -- and trust that Someone is listening.
But if we wish we can speak of Abba in less intimate terms: as the Deep Listening or the Great Compassion or the ultimate Becoming. Some people are comfortable with the personal imagery and some are not.
Either way we can love Abba and give our hearts to Abba - albeit with a love rooted in affection not fear. It's good to ce awed by Abba, but there's no need to be overly frightened. Abba is not in the business of reward and punishment. Abba is love.
To live in a spirit of wisdom, compassion, and creativity -- this is what it means to work with Abba. To love yourself as well as your neighbor -- this is what it means to work with Abba. To seek what is true and good and beautiful -- this is what it means to work with Abba. To help save the planet from our own greed -- this is what it means to work with Abba.