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.