“…the Church approached God as a deus ex machina. God was introduced into the world on our terms in order to resolve a problem rather than expressing a lived reality. The result is a God who simply justifies our beliefs and helps us sleep comfortably at night” (13-14).
In the first chapter, Rollins argues that religion treats God as a deus ex machina, a plot device inserted into the narrative of our lives to make sense of the seeming meaninglessness or to solve a problem. In deus ex machina religion, God becomes a function, a crutch, dropped into our story when convenient. We find comfort in the idea of someone watching over the world, valuing our life and cherishing our existence, who will step in when life does not make sense and provide outside intervention when needed.
“What is lost here is a way of relating to God as deus ex machina, as some being ‘out there’ who ensures life makes sense. On the Cross, Christ becomes the absolute outsider…. All that would ground him had been fundamentally shaken apart” (27).
Rollins then invites us to participate in the crucifixion by participating in the doubt, suffering, and divine abandonment Christ experienced on the cross. We are to let go, allowing the religion that makes sense of our lives die, and experience the sacred nihilism of the cross. This is the loss of the various mythologies we use to explain our lives: the way we believe everything will turn out because God is in control, and the way we believe our little life is not meaningless because God loves us.
“…[the preacher] went on to proclaim that while we may doubt God, we can be confident that God never doubts us…. While we are told that it is fine to doubt and struggle with our faith, in the same breath the preacher [performs] a sleight of hand that enables him to relocate certainty at a higher, hidden level” (52).
Next, Rollins reveals the way the church aids us in holding onto faith, onto the God that acts as deus ex machina, and keeps us from participating in the crucifixion. We affirm doubt in the church, as the preacher does above, but only when we are allowed to hold onto the ‘security blanket’ found in the structures and leadership of the church. As long as the worship songs affirm faith, and our leaders continue to believe for us, we are safe to doubt, The church believes on our behalf. We find comfort in knowing we can retrieve long-abandoned faith or lean on the faith of a friend should difficult times arise. And as long as our pastors do not join us in our crisis of faith, we can doubt without experiencing the pain of total uncertainty. Rollins explains that we participate in a communal game of self-deception in the church, questioning but not directly confronting our doubts, participating in a structure that uses faith to protect us from the difficulties of life. If we are ever to experience the void of the cross, radical doubt and mystery must invade the structure itself, becoming part of our songs, prayers, and liturgy.
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