“Deus ex machina” is a latin phrase that means “God from the machine”, it refers to the practice of rescuing the plot of a play by introducing a divine character into the act via a machine of some sort, often in Greek plays when the author had painted himself into a corner with the script the entrance of a new character that moved the play forward was a tactic used by playwrights in order to salvage the scene, the origin was a god/godlike character was lowered onto the stage via a “machine” of some sort and thus the play ended or the story was rescued.
Used in theology the term refers to God stepping into the world in such a way as to rescue the story, sort of a divine escape clause written in that defies all logic, but it begs the question does God intervene in the affairs of men and if yes how, if not why? We all know of people who will claim Divine intervention saving them from an airplane crash or some other trouble but it drags into the light the question of the others who did not survive and when you shine it on the stage of Auschwitz it does not play out so well, where was God in all of that?
I will admit to struggling with this idea for a while now, I have moments in my life where I prayed for a distinct miracle and saw results that were miraculous, but also have run aground on the reef of unanswered prayer just as often, this idea “Does God intervene in human affairs” is not a subtle question to ask it requires honesty and an openness to both sides and frankly I am not sure we are ready for any concrete answers one way or another, to suggest “No” is to assign ourselves a fatalism that burdens our hope (and to ignore the entire point of the incarnation), to say “Yes” is to ignore the reality of unanswered prayer and a robust theology of the cross in favor for a theology of Glory and it bends hope into a magic dust rather than a serious tool for advancing humanity.
So I’ve been thinking about it a while, and I have not solidified my conclusions but want to offer some idea as to where I think a healthy discussion can take us.
Recently I have been going through physical therapy for adhesive capsulitis aka “frozen shoulder” it has been a slow and painful process, both discouraging in the amount of pain/work I am required to engage in but encouraging in that I can probably avoid serious rotator cuff surgery and get back to full use. For those who might not know me, I have never gone to doctors, mainly because i never needed to, but also because I was raised in a deeply pentecostal background where the instinct was to reach for the anointing oil before you went for the aspirin.
I remember my first real self healing experience was when I was about 19, I was working as a cabinet maker running a shop and I got one of those intense debilitating migraines that plagued me growing up, but this time I was under deadlines and only one there, I was in no condition to even drive home with the coming darkness. The pain was overwhelming…(what I say next please bear with me there is validity behind some of it)…I had been reading some of Kenneth Hagins books on healing and confession, I was on the outskirts of town and normally in a migraine crisis all I could do was take 4-5 tylenol bury my head under a pillow in absolute silence and darkness and sleep it off, but that was not an option this time. Instead I went out into the middle of a nearby field and began to declare “By His stripes I am healed”…I declared it for 15 minutes bringing it to a feverish shout, determined that His reality of pain had the power to displace mine and then suddenly something snapped I was instantly free of pain, my sweat broke and I started laughing, it was the last time I ever had a migraine in my life.
No you can smirk and make all kinds of comments you want about the “name it claim it faith movement” but the experience changed me, no one else was within miles of me and I was able to get the work done in a noisy shop without any symptoms again…there was no medication, not even any lunch just prayer.
I bring the story up to point out that my history requires me to examine the question of Gods intervention with an affirmative, but how I interpret that is really a bigger question and thats where the idea of “Deus Ex Humana” comes into play for me.
Just today on several posts on facebook (Michael Hardins page in particular) the question of Jesus cleansing the temple has come up, and for most of my life I have read that passage as most of my contemporary violent retributive evangelicals have read it, Jesus is so passionate about the Fathers house rules being broken he is willing to break a few noses himself…BUT…I am changing my tune on all of that because of what is happening to me in way of current healing…here’s why…
See I went to Bethel, to all the healing gurus to get my shoulder fixed by Deus Ex Machina, because, well thats what we believe as charismatics and Pentecostals, we believe that no matter how bad the situation God can step into your play and change the ending of it to a “Everyone lived happily ever after” sort of thing because, well let’s face it, thats what a Savior is best for, ie saving us.
I did not get healed.
Nada…nothing…I confessed “I am healed by his stripes” until I fell asleep in weariness and pain and nothing got better, things actually got worse…I was peeved, I was ticked, actually I was pissed.
While it is nowhere even on the radar of “Where was God during Auschwitz” the question unquestionably bubbles up, where is God in my pain and why am I not getting healed? Frankly to tell me that “Jesus is there suffering with you” is pretty lame in my opinion, I don’t want someone to suffer with me I want to not suffer, yes I get it He takes sides with the victims, but as a realist I want solutions not a partner in pain.
So what does this have to do with the cleansing of the temple vignette in John, how does this relate to us in our pain and suffering? Well the reason Jesus said he was doing what he was doing was because the place of prayer had become a place of merchandise, a place where the human and the divine could commune had been warped into a place of of commerce where an economy of exchange determined the success or failure of the communion, and Jesus did not simply point to an individual place of prayer but he said it was to be a house of prayer “for all nations (Mark 11:17)” and then in John he immediately begins to speak about his own physical body as the temple that would be both destroyed and raised back up.
Follow with me a moment, Jesus is doing a prophetic act, he is cleansing the place of prayer/communion with God from an economy of exchange and pointing to the moment where it will be accomplished, his death and resurrection.
When the bible refers to Jesus as a perfect sacrifice we should not see that as something God required, it is what WE required, and by “perfect” what is meant is “mature/final/exactly what you asked for”, the death and resurrection of Jesus is NOT God demanding a sacrifice and some exchange, it his ultimate answer to our prayers, it is the perfect answer to every demand of religion and justice, it overturns the tables and says “I have given you EVERYTHING you have demanded, will you be healed now?”
Now if we are honest (and we should be) this creates all kinds of problems for LOADS of our pentecostal/charismatic/evangelical prayer theology, prayer can no longer be about “Seven Steps to Answered Prayer” because ALL OF THAT is based on an economy of exchange, in other words it’s NOT like that scene in Beverly Hills Cop II where Gilbert Gottfried’s character says “Is there something in THIS hand that could sort of make you forget about all those tickets in THAT hand?” where we by fasting, confessing our sin (or the sins of our fathers/generational) loud entreaty, seriousness, determination wrestle from God our healing or deliverance. Like Randy Clark will say, to beg God to heal us is to imply we have more mercy than He does.
Jesus goes right to the heart of the economy of exchange AS IT EXISTED IN HIS OWN CONTEMPORARY RELIGIOUS SYSTEM, do you realise that people were required to bring certain sacrifices when they went to the temple? The fact that Jesus would not let them carry any of the sacred vessels is another clue as well, he is pointing out that not only is the economy of exchange obsolete, but so is sacred violence of any kind, and the two go hand in hand (The only vessels in the temple were for carrying the blood or offerings)
Basically Jesus is telling us that the Fathers house does not have system whereby you can barter with God and get prayers answered, there will be no “buying and selling” but instead a place of prayer.
Now before people get up in arms about lumping our prayer theology into an economy of exchange we have to ask what is it we are supposed to be doing when we pray?
If you believe in sacred violence then you have no choice but to expect an economy of exchange, and you are not the one who gets to draw the perimeter of what is required for the exchange God gets to, and it is this formula that has introduced confusion into the pain/prayer/healing equation, what confuses us is “What do you want from me God in order to heal me?”
This is where my title takes us a new direction, it is no longer “Dues Ex Machina”, God rescuing us via some machine, it is now “Dues Ex Human” God rescuing us through humanity itself, the new humanity of the resurrection, God was in Christ (Deus Ex Humana) reconciling (healing) the world to Himself.
All sickness and disease, whether social or individual, whether national or biological is simply a part of creation as an enemy of God, something God has already overcome.
“Your kingdom reign on earth as it is in heaven”, that is prayer and it is not calling God to come and bail out the earth with a crane lowering Him down, it is asking Gods nature to coalesce into whatever part of earth you happen to be, or be in. His kingdom come means come reign in love through this bit of dust and earth I am made of…and that CAN look like painful physical therapy, or it CAN look like an 19 year old declaring his body is healed of migraines until it is.
Like I said I have not worked it all out with any sense of finality, but I am getting a glimpse of the end game as I go…“The last enemy that will be destroyed is death…(1 Cor.15:26)” …
Gradually as I watch the development of humanity I am seeing more and more the defeat of all of His enemies, slavery, poverty, diseases, sexism, lots of data is available that these things are changing and a lot of them have changed in the last 100 years alone (infant mortality and poverty are on the way out all across the globe)…let me ask you a question:
What happens to humanity when we finally get rid of death? I don’t mean simply learn how to overcome aging or something like that, no what I mean is what happens to us as a species when we find a way to live with ourselves, creation and our God without requiring death on any level? Death is an enemy, but not simply the fact of it, the very IDEA of it is an enemy as well, what happens when we can come to a place of communion with God and others that has no death in the equation?
Let me stop here with this thought about “Deus Ex Humana” Saint John Cassian said:
““The Doctor of our souls has placed the remedy in the hidden regions of the soul.”
What I’m getting at is instead of a theology that has God rescuing us via some artificial system that includes an economy of exchange, we must entertain a theology that has God recalibrating what it is to be truly human a creation of love itself with no economy of exchange at all.
This gives us a path to explain healing of humanity (which happened BEFORE the cross) through humanity as the agent rather than requiring a crane of prayer to lower God down to the stage and rescue the plot, and what this does is allow prayer to return to a communion table rather than a barter table, it gives me a path to explain the miraculous answers I have encountered without imposing a cost analysis upon them from God.
“Christós anésti ek nekrón,
thanáto thánaton patísas,
ké tís en tís mnímasi,
“Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
In the tomb of disease and human suffering a better solution than always needing to come rescue would be simply placing healing in the tomb itself, maybe that is what eternal life is supposed to do, displace death…some of that can be done by rearranging the DNA through faith and declaration, and some of that will need to happen through therapy…and that is my final thought to ponder here…what if the cleansing of the temple was simply therapy for a part of humanity that had gotten “frozen up” on Gods nature and prayer?
My therapist smiles and tells me to repeat after him as he makes me hurt in ways that bring tears to my eyes “I love therapy”…lol.