the speed of God

Many of the key ideas in Andy Crouch’s new book The Life We Are Looking For emerge from his definition of the human person, which he derives from the Shema of Deuteronomy 6, as adapted by Jesus in Mark 12 (keywords emphasized):

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Thus Andy: “Every human person is a heart-soul-mind-strength complex designed for love.” Simple and direct; but the more you think about it the more complex and generative a definition it is.

Early in his book, Andy talks about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who want to give us “superpowers.” And he says:

Here is the problem: you cannot take advantage of a superpower and fully remain a person, in the sense of a heart-soul-mind-strength complex designed for love. This is not an unfortunate side effect of superpowers or a flaw that could be overcome with future improvements. It is the essence of their design because superpowers are power without effort. And power without effort, it turns out, diminishes us as much as it delights us.

Elsewhere in that same chapter he quotes the Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama saying that “the speed of God” is three miles an hour because that was the speed at which Jesus moved through his world. So maybe, and I think this is one of the chief burdens of Andy’s book, what makes the most sense for us is to try whenever possible to move at the speed of God – and in that way refuse the offer of superpowers.

Of course, this dovetails with a lot of things people have been writing lately about slowness, but what I like about Andy’s book is that it specifies why we can find ourselves responding so warmly to the possibility of slowness. What happens when we seek superpowers, and especially super-speed, is the sacrifice of what I want to call our proper powers – the powers through the exercise of which we (heart-soul-mind-strength) flourish in love.

Let’s take a peek into Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God:

Jesus Christ came. He walked towards the ‘full stop’. He lost his mobility. He was nailed down! He is not even at three miles an hour as we walk. He is not moving. ‘Full stop’! What can be slower than ‘full stop’ ‘nailed down’? At this point of ‘full stop’, the apostolic church proclaims that the love of God to man is ultimately and fully revealed. God walks ‘slowly’ because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.

Thus: “I find that God goes ‘slowly’ in his educational process of man. ‘Forty years in the wilderness’ points to his basic educational philosophy.”

When the economist Gary Becker delivered his Nobel Lecture in 1992, he titled it “The Economic Way of Looking at Life.” Here’s a key quote:

Different constraints are decisive for different situations, but the most fundamental constraint is limited time. Economic and medical progress have greatly increased length of life, but not the physical flow of time itself, which always restricts everyone to twenty-four hours per day. So while goods and services have expended enormously in rich countries, the total time available to consume has not.

So it turns out that “the economic way of looking at life” – which is pretty much the American way of looking at life, and certainly the Silicon Valley way – means that you think of time as a scarce consumable resource. Which is indeed how most of us, it seems, think about time, and that, in turn, is why we might experience the idea of traveling at the speed of God as not just wrong but, more, offensive – a failure to maximize consumption.

Breaking that habit of thought, and imagining how to move at the speed of God – these are real and vital challenges. Maybe the first thing we need to learn how to repair is our disordered sense of time — time is not a scarce resource but rather a gift.