God as Absentee Landlord

God as Absentee Landlord October 19, 2015

I was very struck by Allan Bevere’s recent post, “God is not an absentee landlord,” because that very image of God appears in one of Jesus’ parables, assuming the historic understanding of that parable is correct.

Absentee landlords have been hated by ordinary people down the ages. I’ve long wanted to do a study of the negative images of God and the kingdom of God in parables attributed to Jesus in the Gospels – the absentee landlord, the unjust judge, the man who hires day laborers and pays them all the same, leaven, mustard, and so on. I mentioned the idea way back in 2007 here on this blog!

God is an absentee landlord

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  • jekylldoc

    The early doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Paraclete, ruah, etc.) is closer to the modern idea of God than the Yahweh of Genesis (not just creation – all of Genesis) is. I think we should consider revising the Trinity Formula to Loving Spirit, Loving Son and Traditional Image of Power.

    • charlesburchfield

      meta image of power, the all in all, (‘infinite singularity’ my internet bud likes to say).

  • John MacDonald

    The characterization of God as an “absentee landlord” is also in one of my favorite movies, “The Devil’s Advocate,” with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdR_StE6Niw

    • charlesburchfield

      yikes! just took a look at the trailer. too scary! I just love al pacino tho…

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I would really like to see a study on the negative images in parables used for God. It probably demonstrates how little Jesus expected us to form grand theologies out of every detail in those stories as opposed to getting across a pithy truth. I’m looking at you, traditional Hell people.

    • John MacDonald

      Well, the gospel writers thought Satan was real (Matthew 4:1-11), so why not hell?

      • Kevin Osborne

        If someone who is creating his or her own reality is convinced hell exists, it will be created. The set up means it won’t be permanent, but why exist in an unnecessary hell?

        • Ricca

          In my experience it is a personal however misguided choice.

    • charlesburchfield

      traditional hell *snerk!* howzabout counter revolutionary hell or ‘new age’ hell, 31 flavors of hell? *|:•D

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    If God is an absentee landlord, are we praying for him to come and fix the boiler? And if that isn’t what we expect – i.e., if we don’t expect sudden and spectacular interventions in the natural order of events – what do we expect? Is it possible to make a case for a theistic God that will be intellectually respectable in the modern age?

    To pursue the metaphor, if the landlord doesn’t fix the boiler, is it enough if he inspires in us the fortitude to withstand the cold? It might be argued that God’s role is limited to providing inspiration. However, this raises a tricky question, because if God is inspiring us, then He is having an effect on the world. Any feeling of inspiration that we have must be experienced in our brains – and our brains are physical objects. So if God does inspire us, then He must be exerting some influence on at least one part of the physical world.

    • charlesburchfield

      IMO if one can expect to have expectatons of god
      The expectations are inspired (something outside breaking in to one’s thot processes). The expectations god reportedly puts on himself that one can read about in the bible might lead one to consider expectations are reasonable, right, true & one can depend upon god to keep his word (such as a promise never to leave or forsake, he’ll be w one till the end of one’s life, till the end of time, till the end of the world & his word will not return to him void). to qualify just how he’ll ‘be there’ is a carry on, i’m all right jack sorta-kinda deal IMO. twill be different in my exp than it is in yours, I suppose. jesus is reportedly saying (to whom?) ‘ask anything in my name & I will do it’, ‘ask this mountain to move…’etc. These ‘asking/seeking/knocking’ declairations set one up to have expectation vibes for sure! Pretty kookie yeah? yet I personally believe & have a felt sense of wellbeing that is reasonable reality to me, feel sustained & supported & I continue to pray to the god I know. my expectations of him are on a need to know, need to have him follow thru, daily repreve fr the insanity of my own life & history of insanity. At 64 I’m still here, clothed & in the rightest mind i’ve ever had! It’s all good, it’s all grace!

      • Cecil Bagpuss

        That is a very interesting way of putting it, Charles. God is something that breaks into our thought processes. If God is more than just an idea and God has the power to influence us, then eventually we have to think in terms of something “breaking into” our thought processes, and indeed of something breaking into our Universe.

        The difficulty that the theist has is in trying to explain how this actually works. This is something that I have been pondering. I think there may be an answer.

        • charlesburchfield

          I am now thinking of what might motivate one to try to explain why/how god interacts w humanity. one of my internet buds is fond of saying how this place works is like discovering pieces to a puzzle. wowza! the athiests hate that & hate him for suggesting something so ‘woo’. should one care what anybody elses thinks abt what one believes?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            There is no point in worrying about the views of people who are openly hostile to your beliefs. The main concern is to resolve things to your own intellectual satisfaction.

            You talked about moving mountains in your previous comment; so let’s take that fairly literally. Suppose that an asteroid was on a collision course with Earth. Would God intervene to stop it, and if so, how would He go about it? Would we see the asteroid suddenly change direction for no apparent reason?

            In fact, if God wanted to prevent an asteroid collision, He could do so, if He acted far enough in advance, by imparting an infinitesimal nudge to change its course.

            To return to the original metaphor, God may only appear to be an absentee landlord. In reality, He may work by guiding events in a way that is imperceptible.

          • charlesburchfield

            I think there’s a whole other side we’re not looking at just yet. how’s about the way our spirits recognize truth and resonate w it? I think this is especially true when our lives are on the line. In Alcoholics Anonymous lore there is a story about a hopeless alcoholic who contacted Carl Jung in 1st days of the formation of the 12 step program. jung counseled the guy that he wouldn’t stop drinking until he had a spiritual awakening. The man immediately resonated w the truth of it and carried the message back to the states to Bill and Bob. apparently all three hovered over this new information, experimented with prayer to try to contact a higher power, were willing to take some risks bc all three were dying last stage alcoholics. millions of hopeless alcoholics have been helped to quit drinking and are now living their lives sober and serene by following this simple program. IMO whoever is open minded and willing may have a spiritual awakening. Carl Jung was a catalyst appointed in some particular way to carry a message of hope to a particular person in time who in turn carried this message that has meant liberation from the oppression of alcoholism for millions who suffer from this disease. what was Carl Jung’s role in this snowballing effect of intervention of the Holy Spirit? IMO his autobiography is extremely interesting & maybe a document allowing one a key of insight about how he was prepared to bc a vessel of hope to one of the most afflicted and marginalized populations. One of my favorite quotes of his is: ‘I don’t believe. I know.’

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Charles, you have reminded me of what really matters – which is the power of God to transform lives. I believe that you understand this far better than I do. Thank you for sharing your perspective with me.

          • charlesburchfield

            Thank You Cecil Bagpuss for your ceaseless purr-fection! *[|:•D

    • jekylldoc

      Cecil –
      A spirit (such as the Olympic spirit or the Spirit of 76, or a spirit of materialism) does inspire changes in the minds of those inspired. The influence is influence upon the self, as Kierkegaard observed so long ago.

      Dunno about a theistic God, but a God at work in the reflection process of many, and the common affirmation of values, is a mighty God. You can make a case that the Hebrews were constituted as a people by such a God, and came to understand themselves as being in covenant with that God because, well, because they were.

      • Cecil Bagpuss

        You raise an interesting question, jekylldoc. Can we be affected by something that isn’t physical? If we regard ideas as non-physical in some sense, then the answer appears to be yes. If we make a distinction between the “spirit” of 76 and the events that made 76 what it is, then the spirit seems to be non-physical. This may be like the difference between the idea or essence of a poem and all the physical representations of it – i.e., every page on which the poem is written.

        It might then be said that God exists and has the power to affect us, simply because the idea of God has this power. It might also be the case that the idea of God will inevitably occur to any creatures that reach a sufficient level of intelligence.

        Of course, this way of looking at things will not satisfy the traditional theist. He or she will regard God as more than an idea. I shall say more on this in my reply to Charles.

        • jekylldoc

          Cecil
          The question of physical existence of a poem, for example, is a bit semantic. I like Popper’s “World Three” of things that “exist” by virtue of people knowing about them and thinking about them, like the United States of America.

          Every deity is a world three entity. Whether there is some other thing, prior to the mind, that is behind these is a much more difficult question. It suffices to observe that if there is such an entity, it is not eager to be known by evidence.

          However, you can make a pretty good case that almost all of the true claims made by people as evidence for the claims of religion are traceable to the effects of spirits, which are dynamic interactions between people’s motivations. And the image of a deity is a symbol of a spirit in most cases.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, I really find Jesus’ comparisons of God to some jerk or another quite funny. We shouldn’t look to deep into the parables.
    Regarding Jesus’ and the Kingdom of God, as we talked about earlier, I do find that within what we can reasonably believe are Jesus’ thoughts a couple of contrasting ideas. One that God was going to come soon, smash the wicked many, save the righteous few and set the world right. Here the absentee land lord, God, has been off not minding the property but will come back to set it right. This is a troublesome theology and notions that this is all so that the wicked may have time to repent don’t reassure me much. The other is the notion of the kingdom of God as the small thing that grows huge, and here it seems that what Jesus is doing the small thing that will grow to heaven, the final redemption of God happens when the leaven has spread throughout the dough.
    My hypothesis is that Jesus had an optimistic phase when he thought his preaching would sweep the poor of Judea and create a new society that would spread the world over. I get the impression from Mark that once Jesus started to get huge crowds he became disenchanted by their misunderstanding of his message and reflected on the fate of the also popular John. I think he expected, maybe hoped, to die in Jerusalem before his followers became militant, or perhaps demonstrate that a messiah doesn’t rule, she/he serves. His traditional apocalyptic utterances were perhaps made in the understanding that few would follow his message and God’s judgement would not be averted by mass repentance.

    Of course God did not establish his just rule after the destruction of the temple as Jesus may have expected, but I think his optimistic outlook is salvageable if we are not impatient in the implementation of the Kingdom and Jesus’ later followers seemed to have agreed. As far as what that means regarding a situation where Christians are the state and how they should behave is another question. As I’ve said before, in no way did I think Jesus address these issues as they were during his ministry academic questions that lay in the future , and might in any way be resolved supernaturally by God bestowing prophetic wisdom on all, or even governing personally in some form (perhaps as his wisdom gifted to the faithful, we should not I think Imaging as magical being on throne giving orders to saints and angelic creatures as his vision of the world the saints would live in)