Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Divine Improviser

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I was at theological college, my final dissertation was on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This came out of a questioning with what we mean when we say that ‘God is sovereign’, ‘God is in control’ or ‘God reigns’. The question nagged then, and continues to nag, especially when it’s the only thing that some of our worship songs seem to say.

Often in a pastoral situation, someone will tell of a multi-dimensional tragic experience, and yet conclude by saying, ‘But God is in control’, suggesting that this was God’s intention, as if this is part of the blue-print of his plan. Mostly that isn’t the appropriate time for a theological discussion, but inwardly I’m asking, ‘what do you mean by that?’. I believe that God is sovereign, but that means that I still pray, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

Continuing with the improvisation theme of the last blog, and picking up on Glen’s helpful comment, I have played with understanding God’s interaction with his world and with human beings as an improviser, ‘the divine improviser’.

The string quartet playing one of the Bartok string quartets, is determined by the notes, and although there is some room for interpretation, Bartok was very exact about every detail. If one of the quartet plays any other note, it is wrong! There’s no wiggle room here. To move from string quartet to piano, there are 89 keys on a piano, but no delete key. However, for the improvising jazz musician, within the givens of harmony, rhythm, and some continuity with what has preceded, there are no wrong notes. Every ‘wrong’ note can be turned into a passing note, and incorporated into the music that’s emerging. This isn’t to say that evil isn’t evil after all, but is made good. Evil remains evil, but God is not deterred by it. ‘In all things, God works for good …’

This is a variation on the weaver who doesn’t unpick the mistake in the carpet, but subtly alters the design to accommodate the new situation. It’s a risky and a vulnerable enterprise. But surely that's the nature of God’s sovereignty as testified to in Scripture. And while there is plenty of risk in playing one of the late Beethoven piano sonatas, it is of a different kind to the person who is conceiving and performing the music at the same time.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

Many thanks for this one, Geoff. I'm enjoying the analogy. It works for me.