lifted-image 01 Dec 2017

Anxiety / Therapy

I want to think briefly about this old chestnut: ‘If there is an all-seeing, all-powerful, benevolent God why would S/He render us so vulnerable and have us live in a world of suffering and finally death?’ Two things have prompted me to want to linger for a moment with this question. The first is the fact that so many people I meet in my work struggle at some point with how to come to terms with the random, ultimately tragic nature of the human condition. The second is the imminence of Christmas with its connotations  of family and cribs etc,.

One small blog isn’t going to scratch the surface of the surface of this question which, I hasten to add, and without meaning any rudeness to people of faith, I am not addressing from a religious perspective.  I am just going to share a few simple and parochial, human-focussed thoughts about the idea of an infant god – i.e., the baby Jesus – which our ‘Christian’ culture reifies and commodifies at this time of year. If you want to use them as a springboard from which to take your own dive into this question’s deeper waters, go ahead!

Now if, for want of a better descriptor, this ‘infantile’ aspect of the idea of God is to be properly considered from a human point of view then we have to think about babyhood, about babies, how they are, what they need etc,. If this is right then it follows that the specifically infantile aspect of ‘God’, in human terms, needs mothering, nurturing, being cared for, and so on. And fathering – being raised and then helped on out into the world of other people, of work, politics, etc,.

As a human concept then, does ‘God-as-an-infant’’ need feeding and nurturing, as we do, by way of our feeding and nurturing our babies and children? Bringing them up to find their own moral feelings and encouraging them as they mature to do kind, humane things in the world so that the ‘work of God’ (i.e., being distinctively human rather than just animalistic) can fully be realised?

More contentiously perhaps, does this humanised notion of ‘God-as-an-infant’ mean that having entered time and space, here on earth ‘God’ may actually be learning Him/Herself to be completely helpless and dependent in the first instance, and then learning to walk as a toddler, to fall over, to cry and to need comfort, to grow older, to become pubertal, to have moods, even to make mistakes? And as adults, most of us, to bring up children, to work, to struggle with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in our lives, to suffer physical and emotional pain, and eventually to die? Conceptually speaking, does this child aspect of ‘God’ mean that we humans, as sentient animals, have both to suffer and to grow old and to die, and at the same time, as knowingly sentient human creatures, also to find morality and kindness (i.e., love in the most inclusive meaning of that word, rather than war, selfishness etc.,) while we do so, in order to enable ‘God-as-an-infant’ to develop and mature into an adult?  Are we, therefore, in a ‘spiritually’ emotional way, partly more grown-up than this infantile aspect of our creator? Don’t we have to be? (And if so, shouldn’t we do what we can, to actually de-commodify our celebration of it at this time of year, find a way to return to a more authentic ‘Spirit of Christmas’?).

Maybe this kind of thinking takes a tiny, baby-sized step towards answering the very big question why our existence requires suffering and ultimately, death. And if an implication of it is that we humans are a part of ‘God’ learning what love is, that is a theological issue and therefore not for this blog.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

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