Thursday, 13 December 2007

God is Kind

It's been a hard few months. I lost my job in September, and I've lost a good friend. I'm tired of instability, I'm suddenly lonely, and I'm ashamed and afraid of the future. My pride is tattered, and I am thrust, at odd times, to the edge of a precipice overlooking a vast and vacant wilderness. Depression, fear, and loneliness send their howls and shrieks from its depths to chill and oppress me, and I am heartsore and weary with it all. I like to put on a good face and pretend (to myself as much as anyone else) that I am mature enough, that my coping skills are advanced enough, to manage my churning emotions, but the truth is, I'm just tired and scared and cold and I want this to be over. Now.

But lest my words ring hollow when I sit again at friendship's fire, warmed by laughter and encircled in security, let me tell out of this darkness who my God is when I am weak and childish and shivering. Look on my humiliation and see Him - who has chosen it for me - full of love strong enough to allow pain, and merciful. He is kind. I will say it now because it costs me admit it now. I don't always feel it to be true. I don't always feel that it even matters. But I always, always know it it true. I hear it as a steady drumbeat above the din of my clamouring emotion - His mercy endures forever. I will tell out of my weakness that God is wider than my wide wilderness, and deeper than its nether reaches. Even when I refuse to be comforted by that, I know it to be true. Beneath, above, around my bewilderment, I know with surety that God is kind. I cannot deny it, even when I would. I ask him, "Why?", and he holds out bleeding hands. He has been where I am. He has begged our Father to make another way for him.

Some day I will kiss his lovely feet. But today, I will tell who he is.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

WDJD - What DID Jesus Do?

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement sprang up about ten years ago. It was loosely based on a book that asked people to consider their actions in light of what Jesus would do in their position. The acronym WWJD suddenly appeared everywhere - on keychains, rings, wristbands and bracelets, bookmarks, stickers, Bible covers, even backpacks and purses. It was a nice sentiment - a bit cheesy, but more or less harmless and not really offensive even to members of secular society, most of whom could respect the humanitarian teachings of the historical Jesus.

In reality, WWJD is a signpost that ought to warn us just how far into wish-land Christianity has slipped. Instead of concerning ourselves with facts and realities, those of us who call ourselves Christians have collectively become more and more interested in what might be and what we hope, think, wish to be rather than what is. We dabble in shadows. We are convinced by dubious accounts of the "miraculous", stories that play on our emotions, and meta-philosophies that do little more than confirm what we are already sure of - our own superiority. We ignore most of what ought to uniquely concern human beings, what is natural and reasonable - our responsibility to manage and nurture the earth, our relationship with other human beings, all that belongs to the realm of reason and human experience. Instead, we want to play about with the supernatural. We take our delight not in the wonders of oceans and trees and stars, nor the mysteries of love and life. We have lost sight of what IS, and have become fascinated, rather, with unverifiable tales, and ideas that lead us out of our natural sphere and into a land of half-lights where we are singled out for special revelations. In that land, our imaginations are given free reign, and we are elevated to gods and demi-gods by virtue of our individualised experiences of a "God" who not vast and unchanging, but as various and as fickle as we are.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Secular Humanism, which has at last stood up and said, "Enough is enough". Though its adherents deny God, they at times demonstrate who He is and who we are with more clarity than much of what masquerades as "Christianity".

We who call ourselves Christians need to stop believing the lie that calls "mysterious" what might be better labelled murky and dubious. I don't deny the existence of a spiritual reality. The supernatural is just as real as the natural. But it is not the native sphere of the human. And we ought not to confuse the spiritual with the merely supernatural. Neither one is a thing to be toyed with.

What is spiritual is not fully comprehended in reason, but that offers us no excuse to lazily toss reason aside and settle for wishy-washy definitions, or to fully depend on personal experience. The spiritual realities described by the Bible are NEVER unreasonable. Even while they are not fully comprehended in reason, they never deny reason's bases, nor its value.

The question then is not, "What WOULD Jesus Do?", but "What DID Jesus Do?". And indeed, why should it matter?

At the center of Christianity is the issue of who Jesus is. The linguistic root of "Christianity" is "Christ" - the Greek word the Hebrew "maschiah" or "messiah" - the "sent" one. Jesus is "sent" from God in fulfillment of God's promise to the world through the Jewish people. "Jesus" comes from "Yeshua", meaning "saviour". His full title is tranlated into English as "the Lord Jesus Christ". "Lord" is a term used in place of the Hebrew "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" - the Almighty God. Jesus is the Almighty God, Sent as a Saviour.

Jesus is God come to us in human flesh. He is the Creator of all things. He is God demonstrating his love in willingness to experience what we experience as humans. He is God willing, for Love's sake, to humble himself, to take on the pains and indignities of human life. He is a Holy God beyond the scope of our universes and countless universes unimagined by us, the Source of Light and Life and Love. He is in his essence, not merely his position, Worthy and pure. He is Light and lives in Light. He is personal. The Eternal One showed his pity for a beautiful but flawed and floundering humanity not by reaching down - but by becoming what we are; by sharing our experience. Jesus is the High and Holy God willing to leave behind all that belongs to him - glory, peace, worship, light, and the full fellowship of Love - in order to demonstrate Love in human terms. He doesn't hold out a tingly experience, shiny angel-sightings, or sweeping emotion. He comes himself - Love eating and drinking with fishermen and prostitutes, Love attending weddings and telling stories; Love paying taxes and cooking breakfast; Love tired and hungry, with a beard and dirty feet; Love sweating and breathing and crying and bleeding.

The Lord Jesus Christ laid aside all that is his - the worship of a realm we cannot imagine, the incomprehensible glory belonging to the Prince of heaven, the deep beauty of God, the undisturbed joy of Love's daily fellowship with Love. He became part of the secular, human world that he had created. He ate and drank, worked and wept. He shared the simple joys and the wracking suffering that belongs to humanity. He demonstrated Love in a tired, hungry world reaching for the divine but devastated by selfishness.

But that isn't all he did. He didn't just hold out the love that we so long for. He stood between us and God. He accepted the consequences of his own character. He took on the results of our flaws and our selfishness before God. He allowed God to lay our guilt on him. Jesus died to demonstrate his full indentification with a broken, dying humanity, and he accepted God's judgement of our selfishness. Through him, we can approach a pure and holy God. Because he sacrificed his own comfort and his own pleasure for Love, he broke the hold selfishness has over us as humans. In choosing him, we can be free from the flaw that eats away at our best gifts. He offers us his own Spirit, not to give us supernatural powers that will allow us to cure our friends of cancer or deal masterfully with demons, but to give us a spiritual power that demonstrates itself by setting us free from the selfishness that destroys us.

Jesus comes not, as we have presented him, in white-robed splendour with coast-to-coast tours and glowing billboard testimonials, promising freedom from poverty and sickness. He comes to us in the dust of the everyday. He reconciles Jews with Palestinian Arabs, North Americans with Iranians, Britons with First Nations peoples, Koreans with Japanese. He says that Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Mormans and Wiccans are not enemies, but fellow humans to the Christian. To the one who chooses him he gives a power that overcomes the seeping poison of self-interest that hides beneath mother-love, humanitarian compassion, and the fidelity of friends.

He who is Love, demonstrated Love to his own hurt, and offers us the power to love truly. That's what Jesus did.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Ancient Wisdom in Modern Language

It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve, and bad things are very easy to get. (Confucius)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Faith: How Much is Enough?

ex·pe·ri·ence (ĭk-spîr'ē-əns)
The apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind: a child's first experience of snow.
Active participation in events or activities, leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill: a lesson taught by experience; a carpenter with experience in roof repair.
The knowledge or skill so derived.
An event or a series of events participated in or lived through.
The totality of such events in the past of an individual or group.
tr.v., -enced, -enc·ing, -enc·es.
To participate in personally; undergo: experience a great adventure; experienced loneliness.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin experientia, from experiēns, experient-, present participle of experīrī, to try.]

'For which reason, because we have righteousness through faith, let us be at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; Through whom, in the same way, we have been able by faith to come to this grace in which we now are; and let us have joy in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but let us have joy in our troubles: in the knowledge that trouble gives us the power of waiting; And waiting gives experience; and experience, hope: And hope does not put to shame; because our hearts are full of the love of God through the Holy Spirit which is given to us.' (Romans 5:1-5, Bible in Basic English)

'I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again.' (2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible)

'A big wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so much that the boat was already filled. He himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up, and told him, "Teacher, don't you care that we are dying?" '(Mark 4:37-38 World English Bible)

Sometimes I can really relate to those disciples in the boat, crying, "God, don't you CARE? Don't you SEE?" It's always amazing to me that God is not weakened by his love for me. His pity doesn't soften his resolve to give me the experiences I need. I've been in the boat with him before. I am beginning to realize that he never planned to keep the storms from touching me. I'm beginning to learn that with a little patience, I'll have an experience that will allow me to trust him further.

I can sympathise with those who find themselves unable to span the chasm that lies between their present knowledge and a knowledge of God with a great leap of faith. We who ask others to do such a thing ought to first ask ourselves if this is what we have done. I have not.

On reflection and careful consideration, however, it has taken a little faith. Enough to make me begin, and to keep me searching for what I had only sensed, and that rather dully. There was no single leap, for me, from doubt to faith. I carried both all along the way. I took little steps with the hope that there would be Something There, and my "faith" was replaced by experience.

Just as there is no way to quickly know or trust a person, or even a methodology, so knowledge of God is rarely sudden and undeniable. Rather, it is a cumulation of experiences that, looked at individually, may amount to little, but as a whole offers a body of knowledge that satisfies the questions we ask.

How much faith does it take to know God? A little. Enough to give me a little patience so that I can see the end of a thing. Enough to take a single step forward in the search for what God is - not a super genie offering wishes; not a white-robed grandfather-in-the-sky, but Light, Love, Truth. We need not take a second step until our faith be replaced with knowledge.

To all of you who have tried to make the leap and failed, many have done as you have done. But God does not require a leap into the dark. I hope that I can shine enough light on the trail to convince you only to take a tiny step toward whatever you may sense of Him who is Light. You don't have to take off your "atheist" sticker. You don't have to change your religion. You don't have to begin attending church. Just take a little step. Put yourself in a place where you could experience a God who who is Light, Love, Truth; the kind of God who makes stars and suns and trees and oceans and lions and puppies and people; the kind of God who is what he is no matter how much it hurts you OR him.

Faith doesn't mean deciding what God should do and believing sincerely that he will do it. It means knowing God well enough to be sure that what God does do is good, no matter how rotten it feels. There is a huge difference. Faith requires experience.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

In Light Inaccessible

I've been in a thick fog lately - struggling to think clearly but sinking further down with every flailing attempt to re-surface. I hate my weak self; I hate to admit what, deep down, I know myself to be; I hate to be shown the dark spots of selfishness that eat away at everything I do; above all, I hate to have my weakness and bewilderment exposed. Yet the God I love is dedicated to shedding his light on the very things I long to bury and forget. When he begins his work in me, I reach for him in desperation. Blinded by my refusal of the light that exposes me, I grope in the darkness for my God, and he hides himself in a thick cloud.

Slowly, I am coming to realize that there is a pattern to God's withdrawing from me. He hides himself when I refuse to admit some aspect of his character. "God, come and comfort me, but don't shine your light on my weakness. Don't let me be ashamed - " this was my prayer, were I to admit it. Even as I began to see and confess it, I rationalized my thinking - aren't there multiple verses in the Bible that tell us if we trust in God we won't be ashamed? (“…and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 9:33) But, ah, I read my own hopes into those words. It is in trusting in him that I'm to be kept from shame - not in trusting myself! Indeed, the more I trust in my own ways when I know them to be different from God's, the more shame I have.

I'm still a bit lost. I hardly know where to begin dealing with the flotsam that has surfaced in my turmoil of soul. I don't know how to stop being the person I sense that I am in the carefully hidden recesses of my self. Again, I realize that whether or not he does help me, I need God to help me. He is the One who can make me whole and my life complete. Lest anyone say that I worship him because he speaks kindly and softly to me, helps my favorite basketball team win, saves me the best parking spaces at the mall - let me tell out of my misery who is that high and Holy one who withdraws when I reach out for him in desperation...

He is Light. He is Love. He is Truth.

As I become willing to accept the consequences of knowing Love and Light and Truth, my blindness is departing, and I begin to see - not the kindly father/comforting teddybear/soft-hearted auntie-God-all-in-one I was reaching for, but the Living God, the Most High, in whom mercy and truth are met together. I cried for comfort, but he is too good to give me a thing so small. Instead he offers healing through pain. I'm too weak to reach for it, but I choose it, and he will give it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

He Is Not Far...

The following piece keeps popping up everywhere I go lately, so I thought I'd share:

Acts 17:21-33

All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

A Strange and Costly Beauty

This video offers one of the best demonstrations I've witnessed of the strange beauty that is sometimes born of ugly, terrorizing pain; that rises in sweet triumph over the destructive power that has brought it to light. Too easily we are convinced, from the vantage point of our safe and comfortable but airless and visionless lives, that happiness is the highest good and pain the greatest evil in the universe. Not so, says this video. Eliot and his parents have experienced a thing of goodness that you and I, with our all-important comfort, may never experience. They have drunk deeply of Love, and having lost all, are neither empty nor bereft.

We ought to be careful how we judge things. Most of us have tasted so little of the goodness that is sometime revealed amid the destructive forces clearly at work in our world. It flames out now and again with a deep beauty that shines its light upon our narrowminded assumptions and quells our childishly arrogant sums of things.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

What I Could Not Say - Oswald Chambers on "Sin"

We Christians love to think of ourselves as brave "soldiers of the cross" - until we mess up big-time. It's then that we realize that God hasn't called us soldiers - he's called us sheep. Stubborn and easily distracted, but sought after and loved by the Good Shepherd, we are asked not to fight, not to defend - but to follow. I've been discouraged lately, in discussing a number of things (including sin and its heredity), by my inability to explain what I know and understand in a way that is not completely incomprehensible to another. Why am I so unable to bridge the gap of thought when I do understand both perspectives? Why must I play so handily into the "narrow-minded Christian" stereotype?

Then that darling of a sister of mine, who sees things so differently from me, came out of the blue with an explanation by Oswald Chambers that is everything I wanted to say, only with pith and restraint. It satisfies my longing to bridge perspective with rational communication. I've included it below. It no longer matters whether or not anyone else sees what I see, because Chambers, at least, understands and has explained, and has done it well. Oh, I know that God will not be sorted and explained by mere words, because he is not known by the intellect alone. But how lovely to have my intellect satisfied, too - and in far less wordy an attempt than mine!

When I am filled with my own inadequacy, God reminds me that I am not all that important, after all, and I am comforted. What does it matter how I appear? In my very best talents and abilities, the flaws begin to show themselves, and I go running again with sweet, rushing relief, to the Christ - who alone is flawless.

The Nature of Degeneration (from "My Utmost for His Highest", by Oswald Chambers)

" Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned . . ."
—Romans 5:12

The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin, but that the nature of sin, namely, my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race through one man. But it also says that another Man took upon Himself the sin of the human race and put it away— an infinitely more profound revelation (see Hebrews 9:26 ). The nature of sin is not immorality and wrongdoing, but the nature of self-realization which leads us to say, "I am my own god." This nature may exhibit itself in proper morality or in improper immorality, but it always has a common basis— my claim to my right to myself. When our Lord faced either people with all the forces of evil in them, or people who were clean-living, moral, and upright, He paid no attention to the moral degradation of one, nor any attention to the moral attainment of the other. He looked at something we do not see, namely, the nature of man (see John 2:25 ).

Sin is something I am born with and cannot touch— only God touches sin through redemption. It is through the Cross of Christ that God redeemed the entire human race from the possibility of damnation through the heredity of sin. God nowhere holds a person responsible for having the heredity of sin, and does not condemn anyone because of it. Condemnation comes when I realize that Jesus Christ came to deliver me from this heredity of sin, and yet I refuse to let Him do so. From that moment I begin to get the seal of damnation. "This is the condemnation [and the critical moment], that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light . . . " ( John 3:19 ).

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Guest Post: How Far Will We Go?

*Editor's note: Today's post is the story of my fellow blogger, Karen K, whose knowledge of God has cost her more than most of us could imagine paying - yet she testifies (with more depth and reality than most of us can) that He is worth any price. Check out her blog, aptly named Pursue God.

How Far Will We Go?

The defining moments of life lie in our response to God when the unexpected comes. Sooner than later we face a rude awakening: Christians are not exempt from pain. Life will treat us unfairly—and God will allow it. How we grapple with our faith at these pivotal turns sets the direction of our lives. Do we persist in pursuing God? Or, in our disillusionment, do we abandon him? These questions pressed hard on my own mind for many years. It began in 1992. That’s when I looked into life’s mirror and was startled to see the unexpected. That’s the year I knew I was gay.

My same-sex attractions barreled into consciousness during Bible college, stripping away years of denial and wrenching my presuppositions of God from their secure sockets. The Church never told me a good Christian girl who sang in church choir, went on mission trips, and served in youth leadership could be gay. Weren’t homosexuals outside the Church—a subgroup of activists with an “evil agenda”? Didn’t Romans 1 teach homosexuality is caused by hatred toward God? How could I be gay?

The unexpected challenged everything I believed about God and Christianity. For ten years I wrestled with, What does this mean for me? Was I born this way? Is homosexuality truly wrong, or was it my fundamentalist upbringing that convinced me it is? I studied Scripture. I got involved in lesbian relationships. I went to ex-gay support groups. I read pro-gay theology. These were difficult years marked with crying, pleading, trying, exhaustion, failure, painful losses and suicidal thoughts. My healing never came.

American Christian culture teaches us God will fix all our problems. We just have to pray hard enough, seek him earnestly, and surrender more readily. After all, Christianity is about the “abundant life.” All God wants is for us to be happy, right? The truth is God can be unnervingly patient in the midst of our storms. He let me sweat it out. Just as he may let you wrestle with your pain. Our response to such treatment is often anger—at least for me. I thought God was callous, a cruel jokester playing a cosmic game. I didn’t understand; his silence was moving me past superficial comforts to find deeper wells.

Ultimately, I came to a deep spiritual peace in choosing not to be in homosexual relationships. Not because of my fundamentalist upbringing. Not because of family or peer pressure. Not because I was afraid God would hit me over the head or send me to hell, but because the Spirit testifies in me that homosexuality is not what he wants for human relationships. This life is short; my destiny is not about finding a lover or a life partner, as good as those things are. It’s not your life purpose either. Our destiny in life as followers of Jesus is to proclaim and live out, on a daily basis, the Kingdom of God until He comes.

Scripture says the Kingdom of God is where righteousness dwells. Righteousness is a word that is often misunderstood. We tend to associate it with legalism, perfectionism and trying to measure up. But, the Bible associates righteousness with joy, life, beauty, healing and all that is good and pleasing in the eyes of God. It is especially related to shalom—which means holistic well-being. Psalm 85:10 says, “Righteousness and shalom have kissed each other.” The ways of God and well-being are intimately conjoined. To value righteousness is to value our own well-being and the well-being of others.

I still have same-sex attractions. I might have to live a life of single celibacy. All my problems haven’t gone away and all of your problems, whatever they may be, might not go away either. Jesus said in this world we will have trouble. The question is: Will we follow him anyway? How far will we go in our pursuit of God? Will we give up when pain and loss slap us across the face? Will we falter when loneliness taunts us? Will we throw aside faith when God shatters our presuppositions of him? Or, will we cling to him even when he is silent?

Let me tell you something; Jesus is the priceless pearl worth losing everything for. Don’t throw away your destiny for that which fades in a matter of days or years. Don’t hold onto bitterness and anger because life didn’t turn out the way you expected. The picture is grander than what meets the eye. God can be trusted. When the unexpected knocks you flat, get back up and keep walking. I am walking with you.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Is God Better Than Sex?

Slapdash raised this question with her "Sex Entry". Don't think I am being facetious. It's a question for my generation. We have been led to believe by all that surrounds us that sex is the greatest rush of all. Is it?

As a single 32-year-old who knows and is known by the God of the universe, this is a question I have had to look at seriously. This goes past philosophy and moralizing. It's a question I answer daily, not with my words, but with my choices, with my life.

Let me say it in every language I know, with every breath, with every ounce of my being: God is enough. He is the loveliest and deepest and dearest that I know. He is better than sex.

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (C.S. Lewis)

**Check out this blog of a Christian with same-sex attractions for a much more eloquent look at this issue.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Give Me Jesus

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
When I come to die, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

(song by Fernando Ortega)

Some months ago HeIsSailing described his own feeling of queasiness at the love for Jesus that is so ubiquitously present in Christian circles. Since then, I often considered the way in which I have come to love the Lord Jesus. This is my response to his question, "why do you love Jesus?"

I didn't always love Jesus. Even after I came to be thankful to him for what he did for me, I didn't feel that I loved him. It was easier for me to think of loving a spirit-God than a human-God. I felt a kind of awe at the holiness of God, and I could imagine him loving me as a Father would - but Jesus? - He was too close for comfort in some ways, and in other ways I felt that I could never know him as I might his Father.

I too felt ill at all the gush-y-ness that seemed to flow out of other Christians at the mention of his name. I just couldn’t feel it. I felt grateful to the Christ who came from heaven and shared the human experience. I could respect Jesus, the historical person who dealt with people so compassionately. Maybe my deepest feeling was reverence for the God the Son, who became the Messiah. But there was no emotion welling up in my heart, no love as we commonly know it for the man Christ Jesus. I couldn’t understand where other people were coming from. It all seemed so fake and so nauseating to me.

Suddenly, I came to a crisis in my life. I guess, thinking back, it wasn’t all that sudden, but I was thrown on almost every level with a force that took my breath away. I spent a whole year searching for the God I had sensed and trusted as a child and poured my heart out to as a teenager. I didn’t care what his name was – God or Jesus or something else – I was desperate for someone to answer me. I felt utterly abandoned and alone. I prayed, but the words rose slowly and woodenly from my heart, only to hit the ceiling and come tumbling back again. I read the Bible, but it was just words. I walked outside almost every day and looked up at the sky. I had only one prayer – “If you can hear me, I can’t hear you; please talk to me, touch me, let me feel that you are there.” I knew there was a God; I just wasn’t sure how much it was possible to know him or how much I mattered in his great scheme. I feared him, but I didn’t love him. I didn’t even feel I knew him. I ached for more than a great and vast Creator; I needed something personal, something warm and deep and near. I wanted to be touched by the kind of God who would create a tree, a dog, a soul. At the same time, I was aware of a vast cavern within myself that made me want to hide from God – a deep ugly blot that made all the good I tried to do flimsy and fake. I knew that if there was a God, then my sins were forgiven, but I was filled with self-loathing and I felt utterly alone.

After a year of groping about in the dimness of my weary self, I was reading my Bible – rather hopelessly – when I heard the “still, small voice” once again. Suddenly the words on the page were no longer just words, clanging senselessly against the metal wall in my head. They had meaning. They were spoken to me. I was reading in Psalms 16:11 – “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy.”

There were no flashes of light, no angels singing; but from that moment, I had hope that the God of the universe knew me, and that it was possible to know him, really. I don’t know how or when exactly I came to the realization that he was Jesus. All along, I had known the great Ruler of heaven. I had reverenced his holiness, I had even felt his fatherly kindness from afar. But he had shut himself off from me so that I could realize what I was missing – the personal God.

Jesus is (still is!) a human, in addition to being God. He knows what it’s like in my life. He is touched by my weaknesses. He has been here. I can love him as I love another human being, because that’s who he is. But you can’t love someone you don’t know. When I came to a place of longing for Jesus (even though I didn’t know it was him I longed for!) that was when I came to know him. He crept in softly, and lit a flame, and sat beside me. By the time I was aware that he was there, I knew he was the one I had needed all along.

When I am overwhelmed by the loneliness of humankind; when I feel the howl of a vast wilderness waste in my soul, Jesus comes near. He lights a fire and I am warmed from the inside. He listens, and he understands. He is a sweet relief from the cold, grasping darkness that grips me suddenly, inside and out, because he is light, “and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) He is love, personified. While the presence of the almighty God fills me with awe and wonder, and a strange longing for something deep and old, Jesus gives the warm comfort of a dear friend. I know God in the ocean, the stars, and pour out my soul and bow before him; but Jesus is here with me.

More recently, I have come to appreciate the Jesus presented in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series as Aslan. He has a wildness, an animal-ness that is very like the Jesus I know.

I still don’t like the gushiness that is poured out on the weak-mouthed, white-skinned, blue-eyed Jesus of mass-mediated Christianity, forever holding out his hands to be touched. But I love the God who knows what it is like to be hungry and lonely and catch a cold and have dirty feet. I love the God-man who is utterly free –and offers me his freedom! - from the dark selfishness that rises up and threatens to choke me. I love Jesus, at last.

When the bottom drops out of my world, give me Jesus. He is enough. Only he is enough.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Warning: This Post is Based on My Subjective Experience and May Be Rambling and Boring!

This post is in response to another question asked by that relentless question-asker, Slapdash. I'll warn you before you go skipping blithely onward, that it's rambling and more vague than I like to be. Moreover, it concerns my own experience of things, which may in this case be quite beside-the-point for most of you. Nevertheless, I must attempt, though my powers of self-analysis be strained to the breaking-point. Please keep in mind that my purpose here is not to convince but to explain.

Slapdash's question:

**Can you define what you mean by “know” and describe what you think the door [to knowing God] is? (Slapdash)

I'm not sure that I can communicate this, but I will die in the attempt. By knowing, I mean being sure with sense, mind and spirit.

Of course, we may not truly know a person through the senses, but the evidence our senses are able to gather about a person must either match the other knowledge we have of that person, or the mind must be able to postulate a reason why the sensory evidence does not match.

In order for the mind to know, reason (in as much as we possess it) must be satisfied. I don't say that reason must understand fully, but certainly it must not be ignored; its questions must not be brushed away. If I know my sister, I don't necessarily understand all that she is, nor do I necessarily have a good grasp of the biochemical processes that function in her body and brain. Rather, my understanding of who she is and that she is, is accounted for by reason and does not oppose my logical powers.

The testimony of my senses attests to her existence as an individual. Though I have had greater sensory evidence of her existence than I have had of yours, Slapdash, reason allows for both of you.

But knowing that someone exists and understanding what kind of a person exists is not knowing a person. Knowing a person involves shared experience; feedback; an exchange of views and perspectives; ultimately, a changed understanding because my understanding has been acted upon by the force of another's. When my understanding alters on its own, the alteration is clean and complete. We like to illustrate this in our culture as a light turning on. While this kind of realization may, in a more complex way, happen in conversation with another person, it is usually through a rather more complicated process that I am "convinced" or brought to an understanding and/or espousal of another person's point of view.

I am rationally convinced that I know God based on two theoretical evidences which are convincing to me as an individual. The first is that he offers arguments and opens my understanding to other things that neither appeal to me nor appear in any way to be an extension or progression of my own views. The second is that I am coming to understand who he is and why. The fact that I know WHAT before I know WHY signifies non-progression and offers me evidence that this sort of knowledge is not my own imagination or wishful thinking.

These evidences have been reflected in experience for me by God's fulfillment of the promises he has made to me. There have been times when I haven't understood what he was doing. There have been times when I've believed he wasn't fulfilling his promises. In the end, he has fulfilled every one. In doing so, he has brought me to understand on a rational level the reasons he had for allowing me to misunderstand him or for appearing to fail me. He has also, in different ways and different times, given me satisfying answers to every question I have asked him, with the exception of one. (The exception is a question I asked him recently, and it has been partially answered but not completely.)

As I put into practice the things that God teaches me, I am coming to trust him as well as my knowledge of him. I see evidence that the things he has asked me to do which seemed ridiculous to me have results that are not ridiculous at all.

Finally, I may compare my understanding of God with all of my other hopes or imaginations. While all else that I dream up on my own claims that I am brilliant and under-appreciated, God alone reveals my foolishness, even to me, and attests to the destructiveness of my pride.

I cannot say much on a rational level about the knowledge I have on a spiritual level, but I will try to describe the results. When I am overwhelmed and weakened, there is a strength and a comfort within me that I am aware is not of me. This grows as I share experience with, and come to know God. I am also aware of a growing freedom from myself - from my own wants and wishes and feelings. My self does not dull nor grow less, but my freedom grows greater, and I have a heightened ability to will what I do not want or feel. I have increased joy in things despite the hurt or difficulty they bring me, as I come to know God.

What is the door through which we may know God? The Bible says that door is Jesus Christ. He is the beginning of knowing God as a person because he puts us in a position to approach God and to allow God's Spirit to enter us.

"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved..." (John 10:9)

Then how is Jesus to be known?

Through exercise of the will. He calls himself the Truth. Thus all who honestly will to know the Truth will to know him.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Please don't assume that my meandering attempt here is the real answer to this question. The truth is, I am trying to share what is really a very individual experience. My sister, who shares my knowledge of God despite our vastly different personalities, priorities, and approaches to knowledge, would describe it differently. And yet the God we know is the very same person.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

God in a Bottle

We 21st century urbanites harbour grave doubts about tap water, fruit picked from the roadside, and animals that come complete with toenails. We like our beverages in plastic bottles; apples with little stickers specifying their variety and lot number; and animals that have been appropriately groomed, leashed, and otherwise rendered harmless. We like things that have been well measured and counted and regulated; treated and stamped and packaged; filed and trimmed and sanitized. What lies beyond our control, or the control of the vast network of machines we have created to expand and maintain the reaches of our great domain, is plainly not to be trusted.

On top of all that, we want convenience. We no longer have to knead bread dough, or wait for it to rise. We just pop by the corner store on the way home. We figure we can pick up an understanding of world events with just as little effort from half an hour spent watching the 5 o'clock news.

And this is one of our main issues with God.

We'd be happy with a lap dog, one who'd sit when we said sit, and wag his tail nicely at passers-by. If only he'd do things as we want them done, we'd happily drop our tithes into the box on Sundays, and offer to bring potato salad to church functions. If only he'd offer digitally recorded, downloadable seminars in 15-minute segments covering the major aspects of his character, we'd see that our friends were well-informed. We'd even donate to help send the VHS versions to Africa and Indonesia. At the very least, he ought to be quite evident to someone who sits through an hour-long sermon every Sunday.

After all, how can we be expected to trust a God who won't perform miracles when we ask for them, refuses to submit himself to any sort of inspection, fails to mount a marketing campaign, and is liable to up and let us die of some painful disease in the end of it all, in spite of all our belief in him?

I've often heard, from someone admiring the exuberance and freedom of a child, the beauty of a sunset, or the joy of a couple deeply in love - "if only I could bottle that..."

We'd love to have God in a bottle - a personal genie who could prove us right and amaze our friends, heal our relatives, keep the neighbour's cat from digging in our garden; a well-behaved God who would always do what we think best; a friendly grandfather-type who'd be grateful for our forgiveness of his eccentricities and who'd do his best to keep difficulty from our door. We could give him an updated look when he lost brand appeal, and label him "new and improved"...

Some things can't be bottled.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Search for the Invisible God

" faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?" (Job 26:14)

If God really wanted to be found, why didn't he draw a better map? Why does he hide in clouds and parables? Why does he speak to us in his "still, small voice" when Isaiah and Job assure us he can "thunder", while Ezekiel and John describe the sound of his voice as "rushing waters"? Why doesn't he just lay it out all plainly? Do we have a hope of hearing his gentle whisper amid the cacaphony of an Information Society?

It is unfortunate htat our "fast food culture" extends its reach to ideas. Never has such an array of information been available to us. On the other hand, never has there been so much to sort through, to analyse before we come to a reasoned decision. A veritable buffet of data, complete with various perspectives and opinions, is open to us at any hour of the day. What can the postmodern citizen do except throw up her hands in despair and resort to the random or to personal whims? Even those of us who call ourselves "seekers" like our ideas pre-chewed and presented to us with bullets, via Powerpoint if possible. The possibilities are simply too overwhelming. In fact, one who says he "knows" anything must be considered a near fool, since it would be impossible to draw conclusions from more data than could ever be analysed.

We have an invisible God who refuses to conform to the parameters of any measurable data set, and on top of it all, speaks in a bare whisper. Are we to be blamed if we don't believe in him?

How does one recognize God? The Jewish people of Jesus' day puzzled over this question. They were waiting anxiously for a messiah who would deliver them from their oppressors. Instead, along came a carpenter from Nazareth (of all places!) who spent time with the wrong people; forgave a woman plainly caught breaking God's law; and spoke of God as his father.

'Then they asked him, "Where is your father?" "You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also." (John 8:19)

Those who looked for the messiah, basing what they looked for on what they knew of God, recognized his Son. Those who looked for the messiah as they hoped he would be were blinded by their expectations.

The disciples, too, were confused at Jesus' approach. "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" they asked.

Jesus explained that God's secrets are not heard by the ear nor known in the intellect alone.

For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' (Matthew 13:15)

The problem wasn't their ears or their eyes or their I.Q., it was their HEART. They were looking for the wrong things. They had become hard. They didn't long for what God was, therefore they couldn't appreciate it though Yahweh himself came and lived among them. Is this our problem?

Oh, I'm not advocating letting go of ears or intellect. God gave them both to be used. But be careful of what your heart longs for. It blinded the scribes, despite their education. It blinded the priests, despite their religious experience.

If you long to know God, you can't begin with a leap into what you don't know (even if you like to call it "faith").
Don't search for a supernatural being (for there are many such beings).
Search for what YOU know of Light, Love, Truth, wherever and however you have gained knowledge of those three. Surely those who looked for such things in Jesus' day recognized him when they saw him, while the scribes and studied theologians argued among themselves about whether or not it was lawful for Jesus to be healing on the Sabbath!

Please don't think I'm saying everyone who doesn't know God this second has a "heart problem" (we all have sin!). Sometimes God hides himself from us when we become too satisfied with too little of him. Sometimes he empties out our little store of "God moments", scattering them in the dust of doubt, in order to give us a deep and abiding experience of him.

Oh, give up on the "God" you have constructed in your mind! Call yourself an atheist or an agnostic if you must. But seek Love with your last blink, your last synapse, your last breath!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

On God, Love, and Darfur

Can a thinking person truly believe God to be both good and omnipotent without ignoring the existence of the kinds of atrocities now taking place in Darfur? Can we face that fact that a God powerful enough to speak worlds into existence is not doing anything to relieve the intense suffering so many humans are experiencing? Can we tell people with a straight face that such a God cares?

I once participated in a program called BaFa BaFa. BaFa BaFa is an exercise whose goal is to promote cross-cultural awareness and understanding. The participants are divided into two groups. In separate rooms, each group is given a goal and a list of rules. Both groups have pieces of coloured paper with numbers on them. Group A's goal is to get "sets" of the numbered papers. They may signify the numbers they want by calling out that number of syllables, using the first letters of their first and last names paired with any vowel. In this way, they are able to trade with other participants. The Group A member with the most sets of numbered papers wins. Group B is told that their goal is to protect one of their members, who has been selected and placed inside a circle. I forget the details (I was in Group A), but I think that men are not allowed to approach women in Group B - to do so is a sign of disrespect. Or something like that. Group B's members are protectors. They may interact with others, but they must act together to forcibly remove those who break the rules.

Of course, when the groups were brought together, confusion ensued. Group A quickly learned how easily Group B's members were parted with their numbered papers. Group B members enjoyed interacting with Group A but were constantly on guard. Group A members seemed either ignorant or uncaring in relation to the rules. Group A members who inadvertantly stepped inside the sacred circle became belligerent when they were suddenly removed and prevented from trading coloured papers. Even Group A members who tried to learn from their team member's mistakes and avoid the circle found themselves removed for inappropriately approaching their counterparts in Group B. It was surprising how quickly the situation escalated.

BaFa BaFa was a great illustration of what happens when we fail to understand priorities that are different from our own. One of the biggest problems in dealing with God is understanding that his economy doesn't work on the same basis as ours. It did once, but sin has altered what we see as important.

The value of a life, or anything else, in God's economy, is completely centred in Love. A successful life is not marked by happiness, but by love.

Humans do value love, but we generally see it as secondary - a support - to happiness. That is why the horrors of Darfur cannot be reconciled, in our minds, with a loving and all-powerful God. Love is valuable to us because of the happiness it brings, but happiness itself is everything. We may trade one kind of happiness for another kind (ie the happiness of wealth for the happiness of health or family love), but we almost cannot imagine anything being worth the sacrifice of happiness.

God can. And so he chose to let go of his control over our happiness so that we might have the ability to choose and give love. He doesn't sit back in the La-z-boy when Darfur makes the news and say "gee, that's too bad" - he chose suffering himself in order to offer us the choice that allows us to love. When people choose selfishness or hatred, we end up with situations like the one in BaFa BaFa, and in more extreme cases, like the one in Darfur. Since we don't operate in a bubble, we have the power to take away the happiness of others by our choices.
But no one can take away our choice to love. Not even the God who gave it to us. We may choose by our "wants", but he may never take or offer the lesser at the cost of the greater. And the greatest of all is Love.

One of my favorite films is Roberto Benigni's 1997 film Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful). Benigni plays Guido, a gregarious Jewish Italian charmer who loves to laugh and enjoys his life to the full, until he is interned with his young son in a Nazi concentration camp. His main goal becomes protecting his son from the horrors of the camp, which he does by pretending that it is an elaborate game whose prize the boy longs for: an army tank. Guido's love for his son forces him to smile and laugh even after days of back-breaking labour. He seems amazingly able to set aside his own feelings for the sake of his son.

Such love is truly what makes life beautiful, and the film reveals that Guido's life, destroyed among the hatred and the horrors of the holocaust, is more lovely and more valuable than mine, wasted amid the freedoms and comforts of 21st century North America. Having given all, he is something far better than I am. Vita e Bella says that I needn't pity Guido or others like him who have chosen love and to love. Rather, I am to be pitied for the selfishness that robs my life of its beauty.

God stands by. He allows people to suffer because he protects the choice of each one - to love. We may refuse. But those who choose love will find themselves at the feet of a God who is Love. They may suffer. They may lose their lives. But such lives are not wasted, as we may someday find ours to be. They are beautiful. They are valuable.

Once chosen, God is not standing by any longer. He is able to choose for those who allow him.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Wow! says the Christian, eager for blessing. He begins counting what God will give him. Of course, he'll tithe, and God will be appropriately grateful - grateful enough to bless him even more...

Sorry. What we call "good" and what God calls "good" are different things - remember? To us, "good" is happiness. We like to skip the difficult, boring parts and get right to the juicy bits; the reward. That's why our society sees love as a side dish and sexual gratification as the main entree. God serves it the other way around. To God, happiness is a byproduct of Love, but never a goal in itself. Sometimes it is only through suffering that we may receive what is good from God's hand - but when we allow God to choose for us, our suffering is never the result of another person's choice. It has been weighed, measured, and chosen by the One who chose suffering for himself.

God loves the people of Darfur and the Sudan and Rwanda. He longs to give them what he longs to give us - something far, far lovelier than happiness. He longs to give them himself. Love. And they may be hungrier for the main course, since, unlike us, they've been denied the opportunity to gorge themselves on side dishes.

The soul who chooses love may be beaten, tortured, and tormented. She may be violated and imprisoned. She may be robbed even of life itself. But she will have, in spite of her pains, what only one who has experienced both may tell us is far better. No sword may separate her from that Father and Mother and Friend who alone knows the deep things of the human heart. No lock may bar her from that unfettered freedom that love alone imparts to the sou. l No violation may rend from her the sacred self that belongs to God alone. She is at no one's mercy, for God himself counts the drops of blood that may be spilled from her body. She may bleed, but it will be as God bled. She will love as God loves. She will fly free.

Cry for the people of Darfur. What is in your power to offer as relief for their suffering, hold not back. But cry for yourself, if you don't know Love.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Why Hell Instead of House Arrest?

My favorite question - WHY? - was asked by fellow blogger Slapdash, who uses it to challenge my previous post:
Why does evil deserve eternal punishment? How on earth does it square with Jesus' commands for us to forgive others 70x7 times, and to turn the other cheek? Why does God insist that we forgive others for their sin/evil, but he doesn't actually have to forgive us for our sin/evil, and in fact will infinitely punish those who committed finite crimes here on earth?

Answering these questions is a bit tricky, not because there are no answers, but because I need to make sure I don't come across as though I have a right to do any more than recount them. I also don't want to give the impression that hell and eternal punishment is something I can talk about glibly. The reality of hell and the lake of fire is something that would shut every mouth, were we to grasp even an edge of it.
Nonetheless, I am going to foray into this minefield of a topic because the questions Slapdash asks are vital ones, and the answers even more so.
I think there are three aspects to what we are calling "punishment". One is just that - punishment, or moral retribution; a fair return for an evil act. When we talk about justice, we are talking about morality - not values, but rather those deep "rightnesses" that underlay our knowledge and on which the universe is hinged. Another aspect is destruction. The third is separation. (For ease' sake, I'll refer to the final dealing with evil, or "punishment", as simply "hell", although those of you familiar with the Biblical use of the word will know that I am not technically correct in doing that. Notwithstanding, I press on...)
Hell does involve a punishment - the just reward for evil. It is a punishment that all who choose evil will share, but it was not created for human beings. It was created for the Devil (Satan) and his angels. (Matthew 25:41) Humans were tricked into choosing self over God and allowing Satan to have a moral power over them, even though they were warned that doing so meant death. Hell is not our punishment, it is Satan's, but we will share it with him if we allow him to choose for us. Satan is more powerful than we are. We cannot resist him, except with God's help, who is stronger. The death of Jesus means that the torments of the lake of fire are not the just desserts of one who has stumbled and fallen, but rather the ultimate destination of one who has ultimately chosen the road of selfish pleasure (sin) over the Source of all goodness. If we choose self, we have no power against such an enemy as Satan, and he will overtake and choose for us. It is he who longs for us to be in hell.
God, knowing that we are born into a world that is already under Satan's power, demonstrated his nature- Love- when he took responsibility for our sin and took on himself the sentence of death that Evil, with the inarguable sanction of humanity's choice of self over God, had every moral right to impose. This is what both logic and our moral sense of things tells us a God who is good should do, but not one of us has the faintest inkling what it cost him, who is Light and Life and Love; who is all powerful, all knowing, and whose presence reaches throughout the expanses of all the universes - to subject himself to life as a created being and bow in submission to death, that great bastion of Evil. In any case, he took on death in recognition of two things: the moral rights of Evil over the human race, who had chosen it over him; and his own moral responsibility to them whom he had created in love. Evil no longer has the right to hang a death sentence over humanity, because God came in flesh as Jesus Christ and satisfied its claim to our lives with his own.
Thus God becomes both the enforcer of the moral laws and the one bent beneath them. He doesn't lighten the blow as he accepts sin's consequences. He forgives freely, but he hasn't forgiven us cheaply or easily. He allowed himself, for a period of about thirty years, to be mocked and ignored and thought a fool. He placed himself in a world ruled by Satan, and made himself subject to the indignities that Evil had wrought amongst his magnificent creation - hunger and thirst and tiredness and fear and pain. Then he, creator of heaven and earth, bowed himself and accepted death.
He who is God accepted such humiliation because there was no other way to satisfy the claims of sin. As Jesus comes face to face with his choice, alone in the garden at Gethsemane, he pleads with his Father, "If there is any other way..."
But there is no other way for God to be God.
A God who is unchanging AND good AND all-powerful cannot, even for a second, being good, become amoral; nor can he, being all-powerful, refuse to exert his power for good. Evil is what sets itself against good. It is not that God chooses to destroy evil, but rather that, being both good and all-powerful, it is his nature and his responsibility to destroy evil. Hell is the place where evil is kept continually in the state of destruction.
The third aspect of hell is, as I have mentioned, separation. The lake of fire takes its nature from the absence of God. God will have turned his back on such as fill its depths.
When the grandfatherly God of popular imagination is rejected, no such horrors as those of an eternal state of dying are necessitated. But when the God who is Love, Light, Truth, be rejected, what comfort can exist where he is not? I am no scientist, but I have a rudimentary understanding of what is necessitated by a vacuum. When God withdraws, there is only evil and its torments left to go rushing into the void.

What then of Jesus' commands to forgive? How is it that we may let evil go its way, when he cannot?
God's command to those who have been freed by Jesus' death is to recognize that they have not liberated themselves. Just as we who have been forgiven were in need of God's goodness and mercy, so we are to offer goodness and mercy to those who will accept it from us. Just as we did not deserve what God gave, so we are commanded not to put constraints on whom we offer goodness and forgiveness. It is the same moral law that both allows us to be forgiven and makes it necessary for us to forgive. If we refuse to recognize our responsibility to forgive others, we at the same time reject God's forgiveness by denying his responsibility to forgive US.
We must forgive because he has died to offer us forgiveness. He cannot overlook evil, but, having dealt with evil on a moral level, he can set us free from its grasp. He must judge and may only forgive at his own cost.
As God, it is not only his right, but his responsibility to judge. We cannot judge each other for numerous reasons. We are fallible; God is perfect. We cannot see hearts and motives; God reads the meanings behind our thoughts. It can never be the right of one sinner to judge another sinner. What can we do, morally, except forgive?
And yet, how much it has cost God to forgive? He has paid the price with his own blood, and he longs to forgive! It is not sin that will stop him, nor evil, but only the choice to reject him, which is the natural and inalienable right of an eternal soul.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

God is Not a Big Meanie

Had an interesting conversation with one of my most broadminded friends tonight. I love getting her perspective. We talked about evil, the world, and us. I've been thinking aboout how these things relate to God.
Let's face it, God gets a bad rap in our culture for being so tough on sin. We're only human, after all, and is sin really SO bad?
There are a couple of questions on which God's reputation really hangs here. First of all, what is sin? Second, how big is it, really?
Broadly, sin is selfishness. It is the opposite of, or the absence of, love. It is the lifebreath of a greater thing - evil.
The problem with sin is this: it is much, much bigger and more powerful than we imagine.
I've been watching the Lord of the Rings for the first time. The thing that grips me is the movie's understanding of evil. Sometimes evil looks good. Sometimes it smiles and speaks softly. Sometimes it comforts the good guy when he's tired. But once chosen, it ends up with a power over the very one who chose, and a vastly greater power to destroy.
This is just myth, our society tells us. These things aren't real. Even children know the difference between reality and the movies.
This is not myth: I throw a bottle in the garbage. (Can't be bothered lugging it all the way out to the recycling bin. It's no big deal - only a single bottle.) Unless everyone in your city and my city and cities all over the world does the same thing. That's millions and billions of bottles filling up landfill sites and polluting lakes and rivers and ultimately, destroying the whole universe. We've gotten used to the idea of living in a polluted earth, whose soil lacks the nutrients to grow the plants we need to be healthy; whose air and water are full of toxins and destructive pollutants. The idea of a depleting ozone and the threat of global warming have got to be commonplace. No big deal, we suppose. Someone in the future will invent a way to fix what we've done.
We haven't yet.
Instead, even with our recycling programs and eco-awareness, we've only barely managed to slow a process that has left us on a dying planet, rampant with cancers and diseases that all our medicines hardly leave a dent in.
When we choose sin, we see ourselves as entirely in control. Just this - that's all I want. Along with our little self-indulgences, evil comes slithering smoothly through the door we've opened just a crack. That evil is destructive. It's bigger than you or me. And we give it a power and a freedom in our lives and in our world that is destroying far more than just us. Take a look at the earth we were supposed to care for. We've forgotten what it's like to breathe pure air, to drink water that hasn't been chemically treated, to eat food that doesn't have to be supplemented with synthetic vitamins. Our selfishness has opened the door to a level of destruction that is bigger than our lives, bigger than our cities. It's destroying our whole universe.
The God of all was willing to suffer and to submit himself to death in order to defeat sin. When he judges sin, he's not being tough - he's dealing the only way possible with his enemy and ours. There is no such thing as a little sin - when it comes in, it brings destruction with it. There's no overlooking it. There's no brushing it under the table. There's no excusing it with the "we're only human" mantra.
Sin and evil will either be destroyed without mercy or they will destroy without mercy.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Through a Glass, Darkly

"For in and out, above, about, below
'Tis Nothing but a Magic Shadow Show
Play'd in a Box whose Lantern is the Sun;
'Round which we Phantom Figures come and go."

- from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

- I Corinthians 13:12

It is hard for the human to imagine that what is tangible - what has texture and form and and smell - may be simply the shadow of what is REAL. And yet, don't we have a sense, in spite of what our bodies tell us, of a world more deep, more rich than the one we sense so concretely? And are there not, even in our merely dual world, evidences that there is something greater of which we may witness only a reflection?

For instance, take love. If you have ever been lucky enough to carry in your heart such a paradox of weight and lightness, then you must know the strain of communicating the thing materially. The evidences we are able to produce and witness (kind words, gentle touches, beautiful gifts) seem a pale smoke beside the richness of love as we know it to be. Even our own experience of such a thing must make us aware that there is more than just emotion in the grand landscape of love - something so deep and pure and real as to make us, in comparison, mere specks. And yet, after all, are we not elevated in our experience of love so as to be more than simple humans; more than beautifully orchestrated, fascinatingly scientific bodies; more than minds full of intelligence and philosophy and the amazing ability to learn? Have we not all, at times, woken to the awareness that what may be produced, spoken, even thought, is nothing more than the shade of what IS?

It will not be denied. Just as a Valentine's Day rose or a Mother's Day card is a paltry symbol speaking of a greater, less tangible thing, what may be sensed is little more than the reflection of what is REAL.

What is REAL?


And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM.

- Exodus 3:14

Saturday, 19 May 2007

On Knowing Truth

MarcoPolo asks, "What is the path to truth?"

(Thanks, MarcoPolo! It's so easy to get caught up with "what isn't" and forget all about the main issue: "what IS".)

If the ultimate source of truth be, as the Bible tells us it is, God revealed in Jesus Christ ('I am the Way and the Truth and the Life...' John 14:6), then The Truth must be revealed by him. Knowledge of the truth, as with all other truths, may be begun through reason. But pure reason is not enough in two aspects: the first is that we, being human, may only apply reason to our own realm. Our ability to reason is limited by our limited experience (the senses). The second is that our ability to reason is limited by our finite minds. We cannot comprehend even what may sense and must admit exists: infinity.

With reason as a beginning, but inadequate, how then may we progress to knowledge of The Truth?

'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.' (Jeremiah 29:13)

What this describes is not a mental sifting through information, but a heart-search. It is the heart that opens heavy gate of the mind to let the light shine in. Reason and the senses are the dual sentinels that stand at that gate, able to both testify to the truth and to identify the imposter.

An act of the will allows The Truth to reveal himself. This is the only way The Truth may be known.

We ought to take note that the searching is not for knowledge, nor is it even for God in the religious sense; rather, it is a search for what God is, in essence.

What is God?
'God is light.' (1 John 1:5)
'God is love.' (1 John 4:8)

If those things be sought, then truth must be found.

Jesus explained to his disciples why he didn't reveal himself clearly, but spoke in parables to the people:

'For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.' (Matthew 13:15)

Notice the references to choice: 'they have closed their eyes' (a deliberate choice); 'and turn' (a deliberate choice).

I have spoken of a "path" to truth, but this is not quite accurate. There is a path we must take to make ourselves able to accept truth; but after all, truth must come where we are, because where it dwells we cannot go.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Must the Bible Be 100% True?

Everything else is debated. History and science and geography and even language, are re-written daily. What can be considered "true" in our world is only what is socially accepted today. Why not the Bible, too? After all, there are a lot of people who consider its claims laughable. Why sacrifice credibility for the details?

If the Bible be only partly true, then we are left trying to decide which parts are trustworthy, and the Bible is rendered lame and disjointed, having no authority. It becomes a compilation of thoughts and experiences rather than the revelation by God, through history and culture and experience, of himself.

Then, is it necessary for God to be known through the Bible? What about our own personal experience of the Eternal?

I do understand the draw to focus simply on the individual experience of God. It is wearying to me to deal constantly with what must be dealt with if a perfect, holy God be communicated through the imperfections and complications of language and history. In addition, we are living in a period of history that is witnessing an unprecedented mistrust of the printed word. In a world thick with lies, it is indeed much easier to let go of the Bible as a revelation of God. It is so hard to obtain real, trustworthy knowledge about anything in 2007! Even doctorate-level study leaves so many questions that the experts argue bitterly about what may be known - so my measly B.A. offers me no intellectual authority. The temptation is almost overwhelming to give up and cease to strive for knowledge. Yet in so doing, humans become fools, denying our nature. We are not mere animals; the intellect, though imperfect, will not be denied.

And then, how much is lost if we lose the authority of the Bible! Through my experience, I can know with certainty that there exists a being full of love and worthy of worship. But without the Bible, there are no answers, no attempt by such a being at communication with my intellect, no reasons why the world about me and my heart within are so rich in loveliness and intricacy and yet so devastated by ugliness and selfishness. I can be certain of no savior, no one who is both able and willing to lift me out of the filth that I see all around and within. God I may know in my heart, but Jesus - he stepped into time, into space, into history. If there is no trustworthy record of the Christ, then I have no sure hope - just a blind, desperate cry to the one I have sensed. The Christian God becomes like every other God - a being who says "Come up to me"; not the one who shared the human experience - even death - in order to lift me up, to let me do what I could not.

While it is true that I have experienced God outside of the Bible, my sense of him comes and goes. It is trustworthy because it matches what I can know through cold, hard reasoned thought based on what may be read by me and verified by others in the Bible. I went through a long year of searching for God, during which he was silent to me and seemed infinitely far away. Without the promise and the appeal to reasoned knowledge I found in the Bible, I could not and would not have continued to search for him. Nor would I have known who such a person was when he did reveal himself warmly to my heart: I recognized him because of what I had read about him. The Bible continues to rearrange my assumptions about God, which can just as easily come from what I want to be as from my experience of him. My knowledge has to be continually pared and re-shaped so that I may know God as he is. Reason is not THE path to truth, else love and truth be forever separated, but it forms the fence that keeps wandering feet on the path. It tells us what truth is NOT.

If I can know God only in my deep heart, and not with my intellect, then why have I been created with the ability and the need to reason? How can I be sure that my experience of God is "real"; not merely a sense, an illusion? How can I be sure of my own sanity? Why should my God be the one who is, when others have believed in other Gods? Why should God be so subjective, when the world he created is not? If I may know such a God in a way that cannot be communicated nor made openly available to others for logical analysis, am I not arrogant to speak of him?

No, I cannot accept a God who speaks only to my soul. I am also body and intellect. I need a God who communicates with my senses, with my intellect, and with my deep self - all three, else even trusting him, I dare not trust my experience of him.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

If we could see...

If we could see God, really see him - not with our eyes, because the eyes tell us nothing about a Spirit - but with our souls - what would happen?

We would fall on our faces before such a one. Our hearts would shatter, and all would flow out...
We would be humbled to the very ground. Not one of us would dare to criticize another, for we would be naked in our hearts before the Eternal one.
We would be fully willing, not only to die, but to live for the sole privilege of honoring his name.
No more would we get huffy and offended at obnoxiousness. No more would we seek our own justification.

We would seek Jesus, with every remaining breath.

I have seen him too little - fleeting glimpses that have taken my breath away and rearranged my thinking. But I have seen him, and he is enough. Only he is enough.

When I feel the howl of a vast wilderness in my soul, he is my comfort and my Friend.
I know and am known.

O, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Presenting the Presidential Candidate for the Democratic Republic of Your Heart

Brothers and sisters of humanity, we have been the victims of a Great Lie. We have been led to believe that our salvation will come in the form of a mighty Leader, one who will arrive amid the unfurling of banners and the blare of trumpets, and tell us how to live. When we know how to live, then we will be free.
We are all too content to gloss over and ignore the lesson we ought to have learned from history - that the perfect rules don't add up to a free society.
If there ever was a beautiful and perfect political system, it is socialism/communism. Now don't you right-wingers jump all over me just yet. Democracy may be the best of the worst, but it is neither so pure in its ideals nor so faithful to the inherent value of humanity as is a socialist philosophy. Democracy says that there is no right or wrong, but only different needs, ideas, experiences. The one of these shared by the greatest number of people should rule. Socialism says that there is right and wrong, that equality is right and that oppression, even of one person, is wrong. It says that people are valuable based on their being human, and that the value of all humans is more important than the wants of any number of individuals.
But flying directly in the face of such ideals, we have the testimony of history. Have socialist and communist systems set humanity free?
Rather, they have been abused and used to oppress vast populations. 'Why?', the idealist cries. 'Why? What flaw appeared in the implementation of those ideologies?'
The flaw is in us, friends. The ideas are pure and lovely still, and they mock us from the bookshelves.
This is the reason that Jesus came. This is the reason that he refused to stand up and reject the oppression of the Romans over the Jewish nation. This is the reason he didn't deliver a new "Ten Commandments" for Christians. This is the reason he didn't lead a revolution to liberate the downtrodden. He wasn't trying to perfect the world, or your country, or anyone else's country. He knew that the problem wasn't in the world, or your country, or anyone else's country. He knew that the problem was in your heart and mine.
And that's why Jesus didn't ask you to elect him, or his followers, for government. He didn't ask you to stop people from having abortions, or from marrying gay people, or from shopping on Sundays. He didn't ask you to make people pray in schools, in government offices, or at football games.
He's not the Presidential Candidate for the United Nations of Earth, or for your country, or for anyone else's country. He's the Presidential Candidate for the Democratic Republic of your heart.

Monday, 30 April 2007

The Story of the Universe

I will attempt to tell this story as I know it.
In the beginning, there was God.
This word - God - has been bandied about for centuries; millennia, if you want to talk cross-linguistically. Therefore, I shall be a good essayist and defiine my terms. By God I mean the highest and first that was and is. The Eternal One. The Most High. The absolute Source of all Good - Love, Light, Truth. He who fills all, and is in all.
I don't know what was the situation that made the time (a term utterly unknown in eternity, but I'll use it here for ease of understanding) ripe for love to be multiplied and reflected. Perhaps it was the challenging of God's authority by one of the highest beings in his service - an angel of light. That angel sought personal glory and power rather than Love. Maybe God decided military might, power, and authority were not the means by which he would ensure the reign of love and goodness in the universe. It could be that he decided to teach his remaining angels by an object lesson instead of a display of raw power.
In any case, he embarked on a very dangerous plan - dangerous because it did not immediately crush evil, but instead allowed Love's antagonist unprecedented power as a means of demonstrating its inherent inferiority to good; to love.
God created suns and stars that demonstrate, by contrast, the difference between moral light and darkness. He created a plethora of green, growing things that testified to the power of life. He created animals, through whom his warm compassion and wildness were displayed. But then, God created something quite unlike all that had been created before. He created humanity.
Humans were different from all the rest of creation in this: while all the rest of creation by its very nature glorified God, the Source of Love, humans God created like himself - personal, able to participate in that greatest of all things: Love. This was God's most glorious and dangerous invention. It was dangerous, because humanity was given the ability to choose. They could choose evil - selfishness - instead of love. Humans were vastly different from angels - they were nearly gods themselves. Such was the power and the glory God created in them that even he would not be able to take it back. If they chose evil, it would gain great power in the universe. But they could choose to love as no other creature could.
If humanity chose evil, it would have power in them. If they chose God, they would rule by and be ruled by love. Love would be reflected in myriad lives and thoughts and personalities, each a little different; each mirroring Light from a different angle.
Alas! Self, or the personal-ness like his own that God had given humanity, was used to trap the first man and woman into choosing evil rather than God. Evil gained the right to live among humans. Its power grew in the universe and destructive forces were allowed power from God throughout the earth. It seemed as though Love's rule was on the wane. Had God miscalculated?
God had a plan that was going to answer the challenge of selfishness. It was a plan that would cost him in the deepest way possible - causing him to take on pain. What is the most devastating pain for Love?
Being the one to give pain.
God himself, in Jesus, stepped out of eternity and into time. He limited himself as he had never done before. He took on a human body and submitted himself to all the indignities of living in a world under the rule of evil. For the first time, he knew weakness - hunger and thirst and tiredness. Finally, he submitted himself fully to that last triumph of selfishness - death.
All of eternity stood breathless at the sight. God had been challenged, and now mocked.
But just as a choice had sold God's creation out of his hand, a choice had been made by one of humanity's own - Jesus - to redeem it back to God. Each one would, by a choice, decide his master. God could not force humanity to choose love. But he had demonstrated its beauty and power over selfishness at the greatest price he could pay.
The angels looking on, were learning about Love - its cost, its value. They were also learning the emptiness of selfishness' golden promise. The challenge had been met, fully. Oh, there were battle scars (there always are!). Jesus would bear the marks of his sacrifice forever. Never again would he be Spirit alone.
The days and the weeks measure the passage of time, and many moons have waxed and waned, and still we humans go stepping, stepping through time's portals, tricked into pleasing self instead of Love and blinded by the evil that grows more powerful as we choose it. Still the angels watch and wonder at their God.
But time has an end, and one day God will decide that the power of love has been fully demonstrated. Choice will be no longer a tender shoot, pushing its way up. At the last, it will die or blossom, and the reign of love throughout the universe will be once again triumphantly complete, and richer than ever before, multiplied and glorified and reflected from millions of human souls who have chosen not only Love, but to love.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Not what we expect

Why is God so often not what we expect? He is so elusive, so unwilling to be neatly wrapped and tied into our smug understanding.
Take Simon's experience for instance. Simon was, I expect, a curious fellow. He had heard about Jesus, who was healing people and performing miracles. Not entirely respectable, mind you - rumor had it this Jesus was spending time with tax collectors and other, ahem, sinners. He was travelling about doing - well, other than the miracles, who knew what? Was he a prophet? A fake? A magician? An attention-seeker? Anyway, it would be good to be on the safe side - he might be a prophet after all. Weren't all of Israel's prophets a little eccentric?
Simon was no dimbulb. He was going to find out about Jesus. He was going to solve the riddle. First, he'd invite Jesus to dinner.
Jesus came to Simon's house. Simon was determined not to give him any honor until he had proven himself worthy. Simon was, after all, respected in his town, and a Pharisee. He didn't welcome his guest with any undue warmth. He didn't even have Jesus' feet washed, a customary gesture showing welcome and willing service.
But a woman in that place heard where Jesus was, and she came to Simon's house. She brought an alabaster box full of precious ointment. She didn't hesitate to welcome him. She wept, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Then she broke the alabaster and poured the ointment over Jesus' feet.
Simon thought he had caught a fraud. He was almost embarrassed for Jesus.
Surely if Jesus were a prophet, he would know that this woman was an unsavoury character - she had a reputation throughout the town. Surely, if he knew her sin, he would never let her touch his feet!
"Simon, I have something to tell you," Jesus said. He had seen his host's heart as well as the woman's. "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
Simon had been trying to judge Jesus by his own sense of right and wrong. But his sense was too dull; too narrow.
So it is with us. We think, "if God is who is says he is, then he will..." We should examine our intelligence, our understanding of such things. If we want to judge God, then we must be sure that the criteria we have established are valid.
God is apt to surprise us, just when we think we've got him figured out.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Who Do You Say That I Am?

How is God to be known amid the babble of modern Christianity's myriad voices? Everyone's got a different opinion, and they're all on a mission to make that opinion orthodoxy. How ever does God expect us to know which one to listen to? Should we record them all and go through them systematically, run statistical tests and calculate probability? Should we deliver them all to the great philosophers, scientists, historians of our age, and trust that they will give us the right answer? Should we throw up our hands and "just have faith" in whatever we costs us the least, pleases us the best, or is easiest to explain? Would it have been easier if we could have met Jesus while he was on earth? Did Jesus really expect that the average Jew in his day would be reading the old scriptures and from them have a full understanding of the prophecies contained in the Tanakh? How did the disciples know that Jesus was their Messiah?
What does God expect?
Peter was a fisherman. Now, I don't want to presume - he might have been shipped off to university in Rome or Athens by his parents and rebelled by buying a fishing boat. He might have studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel, as Paul was supposed to have, but it's likely he was just a fisherman. Little knowledge of theology, history, or prophecy. And yet, when Jesus came along and said, "Follow me," Peter put down the nets and went. What made him do it? Was he just naive? Easily led?
Matthew tells us.
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?'
They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'
'But what about you?' he asked, 'Who do you say that I am?'
'Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'
Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven.'"
(Matthew 16:13 - 17)
Doesn't mean nobody told Peter. Doesn't mean he couldn't have learned something from the stars, as the wise men did, or from an angel, as the shepherds did, or from the Tanakh, as Paul did. But he didn't know for himself, for sure, from those things. God had to reveal himself.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Thoughts from "Toward Jerusalem"

O Thou who art my quietness, my deep repose,
My rest from strife of tongues, my holy hill -
Fair is Thy pavilion, where I hold me still...

- Amy Carmichael

I love Amy Carmichael. However different we may be in temperament and experience, she is a woman who knows my God.

Monday, 16 April 2007

God Himself

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." Revelation 21: 1-3

How I love that word - himself! It's so personal. The God of the Revelation is great, high, and above all - holy. But John records that God - himself - will come and be with men and women. He is not going to be their superhero, not their sugardaddy, not their good-luck piece, not their grandfather. He is going to live with them and be their God. Who can imagine living with God? Who can imagine being pure enough to want to live with God?
Something deep down in my soul is homesick for that God. I miss him. I was meant to be with him.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

God at my door...

I love God's way of speaking to us. Patiently, quietly, he speaks. Then he waits. He doesn't yell, he doesn't nag, he doesn't cajole. He gives us more respect than we give ourselves. We forget that we are made in God's image, but he doesn't.
To tell the truth, I used to wonder why God doesn't yell. I used to think, "Someone's dying inside that house, and he knows. Why does he knock so politely? Why doesn't he holler and cause a ruckus and break the door down?"
Time is such an issue for us. We are slaves to it. We can yell things like "fire!" because there's only enough time to get one thought across, and if we don't get that thought across, someone is going to die. To God, time is nothing at all. No one dies too soon for him. He never misses a deadline.
God doesn't let them die until his point has been made, and his point is much more complicated than "fire!". Not more intellectually complicated, but it requires a person's understanding on every level. He wants to come in and sit down, have tea. Today and everyday. It's going to take some time. He is communicating himself.
Love. Light. Truth.
Try running around yelling those words. You'll make people even more confused than they already are.
Never heard him? Listen.
Wasn't that a knock?

Monday, 26 March 2007

Richard Dawkins - the Case for Atheism

HeIsSailing over at posted this video, asking for responses. Since my response turned out so long, I'm posting it here. For those of you who don't mind a little controversy, here's the video, a presentation by Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion):

Oh, I was so disappointed in this video. When it started off, I found myself cheering for Dawkins, despite the fact that he does not believe in a living God and I do. He was upholding reason and rational exchange over "the process of non-thinking called faith". Yay, Dawkins! This is not faith as the Bible presents it, but it is the faith that is presented by popular Christianity here in the West, and also by any of the other religions that feel the need to present anything. And while I think it's a bit over the edge to call religion the "root of all evil", I do believe that a lie that convinces people to do good things will eventually destroy even what it pretends to save. What is not true, no matter how it appears, no matter what good seems to come from it, is worse than an ugly truth. I see no merit in any philosophy that deceives people into doing good. Better, as Dawkins says, the "bracing truth" than a comfortable lie. I agree with his point that if God is a lie, he is a terrible lie!
But just when I was starting to feel that there was some hope - while he was obviously disgusted by the herd mentality of organised religion, his criticisms were valid, reasonable, challenging - Dawkins turned religious himself! His presentation, which is set up in the style of a documentary -giving it an air of journalistic "objectivity" - suddenly begins employing propaganda techniques, some of them very elementary ones. His comments about evolution become less and less scientific and more and more dogmatic and authoritative as the program progresses. The "fear" tactics he employs later in the video (the "huge challenge to our civilised values", the facts of evolution being "threatened") mirror those employed by the "non-thinkers" on the other side!
I expected him to begin by poking holes in popular belief (which isn't really as "popular" as he presents it after all!) and then progress with an appeal to reason and a rational presentation of his ideas. He waffles back and forth, first saying that science is always revising its answers, so that we can't really say that we "know", but that the beauty of that is that there are always ways to learn more (even if not absolutely) - I liked this! - but then his defense of evolution includes none of the facts, none of the evidence - just his assertion that it is not just a theory, but "fact", and his childish, "Wanna bet?".
At the first down-turn, I was confused. Then I thought, "Brilliant technique- he's going to mirror the style of the religious rant and then contrast it with rational debate!" He never did.
Mr. Dawkins says, in the voice of one warning of impending doom, that “irrational, militant faith is back on the march”. I applaud this revelation and Dawkins’ gravity is justified, but while we’re facing facts, how about this one – irrational EVERYTHING is back on the march! The religious freaks haven’t yet cornered the market on irrationality, as this video so sadly demonstrates.
Okay, Dawkins. I get your point - religious people are stupid. Look at how stupid! But if you're going to pull the rug out from under people, you have to replace it with something better.
I believe that someone who is shaken emotionally or nursing some hurt (okay, that's a lot of people these days!) might have their "faith" (whatever it was worth!) significantly shaken by a presentation like this. But I expected an appeal to the rational seeker, and I don't think this delivered at all.
I would have been happier with something that would shake people up on a rational level, because at least with reason, there is the hope of coming to something real. I would love to see people throw off religious hocus-pocus, the "suspension of disbelief" that Dawkins assures us is necessary to faith, and embrace the scientific method, however limited it is. Science, while imperfect, is honest. It appeals to the highest that is in humanity - reason, and the search for truth.
I am not a scientist, but if I believed it the only path to truth I most certainly would be one. I believe with my whole heart that sincere scientific inquiry will always give us the same answers as the Bible. One hundred years ago, it was common knowledge that racial differences included variations in blood. The Bible said we all had the same blood. Today, science has proved itself wrong and the Bible right. Not so many years ago, Bible critics said the book of Job was flawed because it talked about the sun traveling a circuit. Others defended it, saying the book wasn't supposed to be a scientific treatise, and that back then, people thought that the sun travelled around the earth. Then science progressed a little further and guess who was right? Turns out the sun has an orbit, too!
The fact that there are a lot of religious nuts out there is no more evidence that God does not exist than the fact that there are a lot of divorces proves that marriage is a bad thing. I’ll be the first person to admit that those of us who call ourselves Christians are the number 1 reason why God has a bad name. And whether I agree with other “Christians” or not in the vast idiocy we have collectively displayed in the name of “faith”, I’ll stand up and take it on the chin – if only someone will offer something better. How hard can it be?
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. If he is THE TRUTH, you won’t have to find him in a church. You’ll find him in ANY honest inquiry into truth, whether that be the study of science, of history, of law, of art, of psychology, of philosophy. Insomuch as truth is accessible by any of these methods, so will Jesus be accessible. But no unified understanding falls on us randomly –it must be sought earnestly and energetically, regardless of how we go about it.
Mr. Dawkins, you are right about at least one thing. The God you are talking about does not exist. A God who would create a universe full of humming energy and warm personality and intricate complexity and intellectual humanity and then turn around and asked people to turn off their thinking and “just believe” is, if not evil, then ludicrous in the extreme.
And this is where we are ultimately left sitting if our idea of God is based on the culmination of human thought and the authority of religious leaders – with hatred, squabbling, pettiness, one-upmanship, and irrationality.
But (oh, how thankful I am for this dear, dear word!) BUT God – I will call him the God of the Bible, to differentiate him from the plethora of ridiculous ideas so-called God – he remains. It is his delight to reveal himself to humans through reasoned thought – that is why his chosen method is a book, the Bible. He doesn’t need to use it. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses had not a shred of scripture between them. There are people throughout the world who have come to know God without ever knowing that his name is “God”. Although wherever people seek truth – him! – he is able to meet them, his desire is that we will all know him using that thing which most sets us apart as humans – the intellect.
Oh, Mr. Dawkins, I am not sorry that you throw away what you and others have called God. I am only sorry that you throw away reason.