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Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Some days ago I explained that the concrete world we live in is permeated by spiritual reality. The reason we cannot "see" God is because we cannot really "see" many things that we "know" are there. Faith is the key. Today I would like to look at those events in church which are means of "seeing" God at work...

Water, we have been told, is the primary component of the human body. It is also covers most of  the earth. Water can be lifegiving or destructive. Water cleans and refreshes, it also washes away and destroys.

There is a powerful psychological experience of "feeling dirty" and needing to "get clean" which is connected to some particularly nasty encounters or experiences. In a movie a woman taking a shower was often a less graphic way to depict that she had been vilated. Humans are constructed in such a way that the experience of guilt/shame is often expressed in terms of dirt. Likewise, the experience of being made clean is associated with renewal and new life.

Across the globe there are numerous sacred rivers and sacred water rituals which connect people, through washing, with their god(s). For some, this universalized reality is proof that there is no God, just something inherent to humans. For others, all the other acts are pagan and useless, Christian baptism is a unique event. I am somewhere in between. Obviously, Christian baptism has Jewish roots. John baptized Jesus after all. It also appears that many different kinds of people have an awareness of something wrong with themselves. There is also something inherent in people that washing is seen as a symbolic way of making things right. There is a sense in which we know being clean is a gift. Human beings wash for practical as well as religious or spiritual reasons. If you "look through" baptism you see there is a power (God) behind the activity which is also at work. I believe that God is behind all this. It is best understood in Christ (who alones washes away our sins). The efficacy of other religions is in God's hands to decide. Tomorrow we will look a bit more deeply into Christian baptism.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I am not greatful by nature. I worry. I look at what is not done yet, or what needs to happen. I analyze threats and look at trends. I read and study and pray and try to do what is right. Some of that is because of my genetics and some is because I am a first born. Some of it is choices I have made and some of it is the type of work I do. Some of it may  be just plain habit.

Today I was reflecting on the different kinds of people. Many focus on what could be, others on what was. Some like to talk about their aches and pains while others are stoic and silent. Some hunger for more while others work hard to get it.

There just do not seem to be alot of people who are constantly greatful. Even as I sat this day in prayer identifying all the things I am greatful for: eyes to see, ears to  hear, I can walk and I have people who love me, I have a place to live with running water. I make enough money to eat and travel and live in wonderful comfort. I really have a great life. Yet even though I am aware of all that I do not have a tsunami of jubiliance and thanks flowing out of me at all times. Maybe once we are in God's presence in the Kingdom it will  happen. Maybe some day my emotions will be at full blast when it comes to crying out thanks. Maybe some day every inch of me will radiate with thanks. I hope so. I truly do. For now, I am pledging today to say thanks and to be aware of my blessings. That is my base for sprining into more exhuberant gratitude.
I am thankful that there are people who read what I write! Thank YOU!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Frustration in Prayer

I think we have made the case for a "sacramental" world the last few posts. One where actions that can be seen (like a kiss) convey deeper meaning (like love). If God is also at work "in and through" the world, then His activity will not be obvious. His activity will be open to interpetation. It will take faith to find Him there at all.

I plan to continue to write about sacraments later. However today I want to share some personal things about prayer. As I think I have written before, I have spent a great deal of time praying in my life. As a young man I thought that when I was older I would be close to God and really experience remarkable things. The truth is my prayer is very mundane and often not too exciting. I sometimes feel like it is a struggle. I thought I would have some level of intimate contact which, as of today, does not seem to have happened.

The last week reflecting upon the sacramental world has helped me understand this better. I think that the sacrament is also a barrier. It draws us in yet keeps us away. There are times of close connection when I have heard people say "I could just eat you up." Usually it is affection, sometimes for a small child, which is the motivation for saying this. I believe the language image reveals the hunger we have for connection. It also shows the frustration of not being closer. The desire to "be one with" is very real. Most of us, by middle age, are worn down by the frustration. The disappointment of unfulfilled love makes us less enthusiastic.

Commitment to prayer is like that. I remember long ago being told that our prayer life really creates more frustrtation. We increase our hunger for God without fulfilling it. There is reason to believe that once we pass over into His presence then all the empty places will be filled. So frustration now is good. It is a hollowing out and a preparing for consummation. Sacraments mediate God's presence (be it a flower, or wind, or a church event), but some day our contact will be immediate. We will see through to the face of God. In the meantime, we livef faithfully and try to see as best we can.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Finding God in the world 3

 Continuing discussion of sacramental worldview.

A sacramental worldview recognizes a hidden 'depth' in reality. Most people are able to do this on a regular basis without trying. For example, a young married couple has been separated for some months. He has served in Afghanistan. They see each other in the airport when he has returned from his tour of duty. As she sees him her eyes fill with tears. Each tear is a natural sacrament. They are objects (basically salt water) which trickle down her cheeks. But for any observer with any sense they are more than salt water droplets. They are a sign of relief, of joy, of pent up loss and fear. Those tears communicates something. It lets us know, without words. Of course, words may be needed. Perhaps she is crying because she hoped he would never return. Maybe she is sad about that. In the real world sometimes sacraments (visible reality conveying invisible meaning) are ambiguous. However, in our illustration this couple is in love and she is crying tears of joy. Her tears are effective signs. Seeing her cry has a deep impact on him. He feels an even deeper surge of emotion. He is more powerfully drawn to her. They wrap arms around each other and kiss. The hug and the kiss are two more sacramental acts. Each one conveys an invisible reality, namely love. The hug and the kiss are love incarnate. They are love manifest. The feelings inside each of their "hearts" is expressed in these acts. No one can see 'love' but one can see acts which express love. Once again, many people hug and kiss (and do other things) which look like love but are in fact not love. The ambiguity is what makes trust necessary.

Let's say we have been hurt in relationships. We do not trust others. Then the tears, the hugs and the kisses may mean nothing to us, even though the one crying, hugging and kissing is pouring himself (or herself) out in each act. Get it? Our faith, our trust is what allows us to experience, in and through a kiss or hug, the warmth and love and commitment. That is the way the world works. With a skeptical mind and a closed heart we are never able to experience what is hidden in the world around us.

Certainly many people are disingenuous and their sacramental acts are in fact a sham. No doubt. Therein lies the dilemma. What is worse? Is it worse to trust and be made a fool, or to not trust and never be open to experience the love someone else has for us? Eyes cannot see what they refuse to believe is there. Our world is full of signs and events which convey something deeper. Just reflect on the world you live in. Think about how often you do things which convey meaning. Things which impact others when they are open to receive the hidden message. Do not even worry about God yet. We will deal with God later. Let's just reflect on the world right now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Finding God in the world 2

premise: the world is a sacrament. A sacrament is a visible reality IN and THROUGH which we see the spiritual. Literalism cannot easily fathom sacraments because they include mystery, symbolism, myth and metaphor.

Science tells us that there is more to the world than meets the eye. Physics and biology show us that there are micro-worlds. Cosmology reminds us that we are a small dot in an unimaginably large place. I think that there is also spiritual dimensions to our daily lives. Why not? A composite of molecules plays piano, does book-keeping or pitches a baseball. Is it so crazy to think that composite of oxygen, hydrogen, etc. is also able to think, to dream, to choose, to pray?

So how does God (pure spirit) interact with people (matter and spirit)? First of all, there must be something about concrete, material reality which allows it to interact with spiritual reality. Human beings are biological machines. Brains function. Yet there is ample evidence that minds exist as well. How can a spiritual thing like a mind work in and through a physical organ like a brain? Well, it is a mystery. A literalist mindset, such as Naturalism (also called Positivism, Scientism, or Materialism; this is the atheist explanation), thinks that everything that cannot be explained without mystery is hogwash. They lived in a closed world of pure material explanations.

But what if what is true of humans (body and soul) is true of the world? What if the material universe is also open to spiritual influence? It would not be something that could be seen or measured. Weighing dying bodies to see how much the soul weighs misses the point that souls are immaterial. Spiritual things cannot be seen or weighed because they are immaterial. But what if there were a way for a spiritual force to effect the material realm. As a proponent and practioner of prayer I obviously believe it does. As a proponent and practioner of the healing ministry I have seen what looks like numerous examples of this force at work. As a counselor and care giver I have seen what looks like dark forces at work.

Now if the world is the kind of place where "spiritual things" can be at work in "material things" then the way God is present in the world can truly be said to be "in and through." Manifestations of God in the bible are frequently described as fire, (dark) cloud, loud trumpets and, of course, Elijah's still quiet. Are these descriptions meant to point to an inexpressable experience? Is God fire? or mist? Why does God use fire to manifest His presence? Is that what happens when God intensifies His presence among us? Or is it a useful way to let us see something (rather than nothing)? Fire purifies, it destroys. Dark clouds befuddle. There is a deeper mystery at work and we are called to reflect on what these experiences are conveying to us. But, clearly, if the INVISIBLE God wants to be manifest, it is IN and THROUGH the visible. And when we talk about God doing something, the best we can say is "it is LIKE this" or "it is LIKE that." So the way God works in the world is based on the kind of world that is. With that in mind, then when we look for God, it is best to see the world as a window (a stained glass window!!!) and be open to Him Who stands behind (and above, and below) all that we see. I will get a bit more churchy next time as we investigate a sacramental world view.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Finding God in the world

So we live in a world where God is active, yet so much seems to happen based on human choice, the 'haphazard' unfolding of the laws of nature and what looks like blind luck. We hear people talk about 'God doing this' or 'God doing that' but much of the time it is not easy to make sense of any of it. So what is going on?

What is the world? I think it is a material, concrete physical construction. I also believe that "behind" the visible world there is a spiritual world. The spiritual world can only be known through analogy. This is vital. Analogies are "like" statements. They are "sort of the same but different." Analogies are needed when what we want to say is bigger or more complex or beyond our ability to communicate. Literalists have a hard time living in the world of metaphor, symbol, myth and analogy. Without trying to sound mean, I think, at times, the real world is too deep and complex for the literalist.

Much unbelief comes from the refusal to be humble and acknowledge that reality is beyond our grasp to describe. People disappointed in "God theory" think they must become agnostic or atheist. People frustrated with church and preachers (with good reason; I am sure I drive lots of people away) walk away from belief. So much of this is due to bad theories. Our theory of the world, our "world view" dictates all sorts of things. Our assumptions produce beliefs. So I want to say that our starting place, "what is the world?" is also crucial. I want to offer a world view and return tomorrow and flesh it out.

The world is a sacrament. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an invisible spiritual reality. "In-and- through" signs God is working to rescue and heal a lost and broken world. Let me illustrate with a brief parable: I am sitting in an airport, feeling disconnected and alone. I am carrying the weight of my various doubts, fears, frustrations, worries, and anger. I am out of sorts. Suddenly, I see a grandma running to take her two grand children in her arms. There is laughter and excitement. It brings tears to my eyes. Why? Because for that moment I am torn out of my mental cycle of despair and "in and through" those dancing strangers I see a reason for joy and hope. This encounter symbolizes for me the depth of love and grace in the world. I connect them to my own experiences and my own desires.
So do I need God to give me a fireworks show with miracles to see God? Nope. God is alrady manifest, I just need to be able to discern Him present. I need eyes to see. I need ears to hear. I need a heart to discern. I need the courage to trust that those people are a window to the truth of the universe. What matters is self gift and love. The whole world is a sacrament. "In and through" we can encounter God.
Much more to come. Today, try to look through the world to see what treasure lurks behind the curtain of the physical!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Co-creator 2

Yesterday I offered that we are in a world with rules. In general God operates within those rules. By His own free choice He has constrained Himself. His activities can be seen as interventions.
 So if a small child wanders into the street and a driver does not react in time because of the rules of physics and biology the small child may be killed. In terms of physics this is nothing spectacular. In terms of a parent it is a catastrophe. Human reactions indicate the there is something "wrong" with babies being killed like that. Our reactions (emotional and intellectual) do not make sense in a purely biological sense. If it is only about reproduction of our species then this is no tragedy. Our world population is growing steadily. So the spiritual component, the level of relational love and meaning come into play. This is, I think, one of the fingerprints of God. There is a deep longing in each of us for a world where physical laws are transcended. A world where no one will ever have to mourn the loss of a child. (and for that matter, a world where all children are loved and cared for).
At some level the world seems to be ruled by chaos. Jesus refers to that as "the Ruler of this world" and He is refering to satan. Our earth is not always a friendly place. Jesus did battle with this world.
My belief is that the world can be seen as chaotic and "lost". It is a chaos of our own choosing. We push God away (actively and passively) and the world is left to operate under its rules. Then human choices (we are co-creators) begin to impact the environment. Kings declare war and soldiers destroy and kill. Human remember harm done and seek vengeance. Life becomes a living hell where human compassion is crushed and smothered. In the midst of it we demand God to save us. We blame God. The same God whom we expelled with our desire to do it our way.

Yet in the midst of the chaos there is a number of joys in the occassional oasis: time in prayer, time with family or friends, time at a lake or the beach watching natural beauty. It stirs in us. The hunger and desire. "I want more of this" is a reminder that we are not creators on our own. We are not all there is to the mystery. There is something else (Some ONE else). Tomorrow I want to begin writng about reaching Him.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


God had the freedom to do lots of different things. God chose to create a particular world with concrete rules. Gravity works because it is grafted into the creation. Atoms make molecules because that is the working plan.

I am daily confronted with all sorts of things which make people say, "Why would God do that?" Everyone has a list of such things. If we take seriously that the world is running along as designed then we know that things happen because there are causes and connections. When my son hits a baseball there is a matter of physics involved. The construction of ball and bat, the speed and location of each, the wind all combine to determine if it is a home run, a weak ground out or a foul ball. God does not sit and decide where to make the ball go. That is a mathematically determined outcome. Now my son and the pitcher operate in God's world. They are co-creators of the event based on their skills, choices and execution. Most of life is like that. Where does God come in? In the hearts of each player, that is where the most important events take place.

Monday, November 15, 2010

God's acts

Yesterday I offered a reflection on the multi-layered world we live in. Somehow we humans are atoms, cells and free agents. One does not negate the other. In the midst of all this God is at work.
Does He control everything we do? I think not. The bible says that God does act. He hardens Pharaoh's heart for example. But I recently heard at bible study that the way He did it was by relenting in punishment. Each time Pharaoh "got away with it" his heart got harder. Just like real life! Escaping consequences produces the same behavior often times. We all know that having our choices catch up to us makes us more willing to change. Pharaoh did not have to be a puppet to have his heart hardened by God.
Jesus told a story about preaching. Some people hear the word but it never penetrates their lives, others are interested for awhile, but lose interest because they are shallow or too busy with life. But, Jesus proclaims, some people are open and produce great fruits. Mother Teresa and Billy Graham are two recent examples. So are countless other unknown Christians.

My offering today is that God is more active in those who offer themselves to Him. People who respond to the Message and His invitation to follow. God respects human choice. A person who tells God "please run my life" is going to be more likely to have God running their life. One danger of the "God controls everything" belief is it may allow people to minimize the importance of response to God. There are holy places in the Bible. There are holy people as well. Holy means given over or set aside for God's activity. Being holy means being His possession. Becoming a tool for God is, in part, our choice!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What kind of God 6

So how can "God be in control" and "human freedom" exist at the same time? Is God pulling the strings in brutal massacres, senseless torture, dehumanizing pornography, etc.?

Well, let's take a look at the world.
  1. Atoms. The world of atoms and sub-atomic particles is incredible. Theories about the world at the sub-atomic level are mind-blowing. The world is made up of these incredibly small bits of energy. The atoms and molecules also make people. We are, therefore, subject to the laws of physics. But all the laws of physics do not fully explain us. There is more than atoms to a human.
  2. Cells. These little packages funciton and live in a real sense. Cellular biology constantly uncovers new and amazing insights into the remarkable nature of cells.What mechanism governs this process? It is not conscious. We are made of cells (doing their thing) but we are more than a collection of cells.
  3. Organs. A huge collection of cells produces a functioning organ. Liver, brain, heart.... Each one interacts and depends on the other. Yet there is no conscious choice made about that function in 99% of the cases. We live because these organs function and the organs function as long as we live. But we are more than a bunch of interconnected organs.
  4. Body and soul. At this level we suddenly have rational function and choice. A heart does not decide to beat, there are physical, chemical, mechanical-organic laws at work which explain all that. But it is possible to do something intentionally to make a heart beat faster, or slower, or to stop. Somehow freedom enters into the equation. There is a sense where the body which I can never fully control, can be controlled. There is mechanical necessity and spiritual freedom. This is the mystery of human being.
  5. Community. Humans are impacted by their relationships. We all know that in different settings we act differently and have a different sense of self. Social sciences reveal that people are maleable and will do things that they would not ordinarilly do in a group (peer pressure). So our freedom is impacted by physical and social pressures.
  6. Divine. As we go from one level to another we see that the word "cause" has different levels of meaning. In explaining human life physics, chemistry, biology all play a part. So does personal choice and interpersonal relationships. We do not think that humans are explainable simply by looking at bonds of oxygen and hydrogen. Nor is cellular reproduction the total explanation.
So what does this mean? I think that God works at the divine level of things. This means that He is doing what He does without disrupting the lower levels (most of the time). So the laws of physical existence work on physical entities (gravity, for example). The laws of biology work on biological entities (breathing, for example). The laws of spirituality work on spiritual entities (choosing, for example) and the laws of social interaction work on social entities (group think, for example). Let's look at it:
"A man is going to the store. In the parking lot he is shot by a robber. He dies."
Why did the man die? Because of physics. A gun operates because of these laws.
Why did the man die? Because he wanted a gallon of milk and went to the store.
Why did the man die? Because a young boy raised in a chaotic home and violent neighborhood had no respect for life.
Why did the man die? Because guns and bullets are manufactured and are available to young men like this.
Why did the man die? Because the bullet entered his heart and did catastrophic injury.
You get the point, there are dozens of "reasons" or "causes" and just because one is true does not mean that the others are not true. So what is the point?
God acts at a level beyond our understanding. To say, "God decided to take the man home" may not be a helpful way of wording it (unless one is also willling to say "God decided to motivate a thug to shoot someone today.") It is enough to say that God is at work at a macro-level (and a micro-level) beyond our current assessment capabilities.
In a sense this does not answer anything, but it does broaden the discussion. The world is one mystery wrapped up in another. We are deluded into thinking that we understand more than we do. We need to be humble. It is Sunday, go to church! Worship.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What kind of God 5

Is God in control?
Depends on what you mean by control.
One of my assumptions is that the way we talk reveals what we really believe. I shared some time ago that atheists frequently talk about evolutionary processes in terms that imply intentionality. It shows that at our core we do not think this whole big world is simply a chaotic accident. Likewise, when some well-meaning Christian lays down arguments that 'God controls everything' the act of doing that proves that they do not believe what they are saying. Here is why. If God controls everything then arguments are useless. You cannot change someone's mind by making a good point because there is no choosing. We are just puppets. The fact that we employ rational debate and argument shows that there is human choice. It implies that we can choose one thing or another.
So what about God being all powerful? Can't God do anything He wants? This is probably one of our great misunderstandings. We want to respect God (He is awesome and perfect) and it sounds bad to say God has limits. But God does have limits. Once God decided to create a specific kind of universe He imposed limits on Himself. He could have made a universe where babies were delivered by storks. He didn't. He created this world where babies come about in a different way. He could have created a world where a full human life span was two days (like some bugs). He didn't. He created this one. He could have created a hundred different worlds. Maybe He has. But we live in this one.
In this one there is cause and effect. In this one there are rules over matter. In this one human choices can create beauty, joy, disaster and misery.
Why does God let bad things happen? Because He has chosen to create a world where we all share in the creation process. Every detail of every moment is not simply handcrafted by Him. Yes, there are times when He intervenes, when He imposes Himself in a situation. There are other times when He is not active. The bible says over and over again that He does both. His big picture goals do not necessitate micromanaging ever aspect of creation.
I do believe God is at work in the world and leading things to His goals. I also know that God can cause at a different level, a deeper more foundational level. But in saying that I am also saying that the way it is often expressed ends up sounding like there is no freedom and God controls everything on this level. (More later) I think we need to take the real world we live in real seriously. I think God does. That is why prayer is so important. Sometimes God is waiting to be invited into our lives...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What kind of God 4

Remembering the Suzan maxim (Any God small enough for me to understand is not God) we approach talking about God with humility. There are limits to language so our words always fall short. But we can say some things that are at least pointing in the right direction.
  1. God is the source of everything. There are many debates about how much God controls everything. Scripture does not give a clear answer to that. In some places God seems to be pulling the strings, but in other places He clearly deals with humans as independent agents. It does not seem logical to say God controls everything (Is God really the author of rape, muder, torture?). On the other hand, the idea of a Divine Plan is pretty clear. God has a desire (to save all people) and God has engaged in activities which lead Him to realize the plan. I think it is not the case that everything happens the way God wants (not if you read the prophets or see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem) but I do believe God is resourceful enough to find a way to achieve as much as possible within the limits of creation as He has made it. We can look at this tomorrow.
  2. God is the Judge. Too  often I hear humans hold the Father up to scrutiny. People act like they are able to judge what is best and to criticize God. When there are problems in the world they blame God. My favorite is "fat and happy" Middle Class people who complain about God letting people starve. In the Scriptures God is the one who is mad about it. Basically He says, there is enough food for everyone, why do you not figure out a way to share it better? It is arrogant to judge God. It also makes no sense.
  3. God wants us to pray. Prayer is less about talking then it is about listening. Some people tell me that they tried prayer but nothing happened. What???? That is like going to the gymn for twenty minutes and saying, "I did not lose any weight so I quit going." God does not need a "to-do" list. Ironically we do! So listening (primary way is to read the Bible for long stretches of time) is the most important part of prayer. Prayer is not easy. It is also not optional. Giving God our time is a wonderful sacrifice of love. If you are too busy to pray then you are too busy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What kind of God 3

Assumptions are the foundation of all our thought. We cannot get away from assumptions. Many of our assumptions are housed in "If...then" statements. Here is a simple example:
  1. If God loves me, then life should be pleasant.
A wrong premise will logically lead to a wrong conclusion. Let's look at this statement. If I believe that statement and if my life is not pleasant (statistically most lives are not pleasant) then I would logically think that either God does not love me or God does not exist. But what is the basis of believing that "if God loves me then life should be pleasant"? Certainly there are preachers and teachers who say such things. Anyone with a bible can find a dozen quotes to support anything. But the consistent message of the Bible and church history is people struggle. Life is hard. Good people suffer.
I think that the media (especially Christian media) has equated God with the spectacular and wonderful. So we think "if God is here then I should feel goose bumps, I should see signs and wonders, I should be able to avoid the normal struggles of life." But I do not think that is in fact the case. Lots of martyrs can testify that sometimes it can get real painful. Lots of missionaries can testify that sometimes it gets real lonely and discouraging. Lots of ministers can testify sometimes it can get very frustrating and depressing. Lots of Christians can testify sometimes it gets real hard to be faithful. The struggles of life and the challenges of faith do not market well. But as someone who regularly hears from struggling people trying to be faithful, I can tell you it is a consolation for them to know that God loves us and life can still be unpleasant. How many people lose their faith because of mistaken assumptions? Many. I am here trying to support you on the journey of faith!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Kind of God 2

My last post expressed my belief that Islam and Christianity do not believe the same things about God (and in that sense do not believe in the same God). The central feature of Christian theology is the role and person of Jesus Christ. Something strange is at work in the Christian worldview. We begin with the mysterious claim that the eternal God became a human being. The Old Testament hints that such a thing is not as unthinkable as it seems.

God comes to us. He speaks a word to us. This communication is housed in human language. That means "the Eternal" is clothed in "the limited, the temporal." We call it revelation. Some things are revealed to us in creation. This "natural theology" refers to what we can discern through our intellect. This is what Paul refers to in Romans 1:19 (God can be seen through the things He made). Revelation is what God has shared with us and revealed to us, generally through some human witness (Moses, prophets, biblical authors, perfectly in Jesus). The Bible is called the Word of God. There is also a long chain of teaching and practice which conveys to us the identity and will of God. This is called Tradition. Reason and revelation (in bible and tradition) are the basis of what we believe about God.

So if there is a God why are there so many religions and so much disagreement? I think many people assume that if God exists then everyone should "see" Him and believe the "same thing." It is not clear to me that that is true. I think this is an important point to reflect on. If God wants human beings to be free then isn't it necessary that He give them space? From the beginning it seems that God was both absent and present. Read about Adam and Eve in Genesis 2&3. God showed up to walk with them in the evening when it cooled down. They make the decision to eat the fruit and hide from God. Even before the sin there was a time of absence and a distance. Even before the sin people were capable of making independent decisions. I think we need to remember that absence and distance are part of God's relationship with us. From the beginning.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Does God Exist 2: What Kind of God

Oct 29 in Does God Exist 1 Suzan (my sister) left a comment which nailed the central issue. I want to begin wrestling with that today!

We have looked at the thinking-feeling-willing components of saying "I believe in God." In summary, the word "believe" has different shades of meaning. Today a new direction, the word "God" also has different shades of meaning! I thought about doing some comparative religion work here, but honestly think it is beyond my reach. However, a comment about what I am doing in this blog appeared in Facebook some time ago. I so want to address that.

"All Christians and Muslims are on the same path as I see it" was the comment. My response: It is probably true that is the way he sees it. However, it is probably not the way most people see it, especially people who know much about Islam and Christianity. Perhaps it is snarky to suggest that the commenter move to Muslim countries and spend a few years trying to preach that message at the local mosques. My guess is he would quickly learn that there are many Muslims who strongly (even violently) reject such beliefs.

In fairness, the word 'path' can simply meaning "seeking God" and in that case I do think it is true. I think it is fair to consider Christianity a world religion. (I know some Christians do not) It is certainly helpful to discuss Christianity in terms which could similarly be addressed to Muslims (revelation, worship, ethics, etc.). But where the commenter is totally wrong is Christianity is on the path named Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me." Islam condemns the Chrisian belief in the Trinity as polytheism. Calling Jesus divine is blasphemous to them. What we say about God is not the same and there is a sense in which we worship different Gods. With the reminder from Suzan, that "any God small enough for me to understand is not big enough to be God", we will look at some pointers to what kind of God Christians believe in. Fortunately, we are not alone in this quest. Others go before us marked with the sign of faith!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Believing: willing it

Please read Doorag's comment from yesterday. I really think he has nailed it. Thanks for the e-mail today from a long time friend. I am praying for you! 

The third component of believing is "will." Obviously there is a given-ness to belief. Some folks seem to have an easier time of it. Our personality, our upbringing, our experiences all contribute. There is also something else at work. Christians call it grace, or Holy Spirit. So much of the reason "why" we believe is out of of our control.

But there is definitely work involved. Faith is a choice, too. I must decide to want to believe. I must decide to not want to believe. I have to decide every day to do the hard work of prayer, study and living a holy life. Or I have to decide not to do such things. I have to choose to be part of a community where I can grow and learn. Or I have to choose other kinds of communities. Probably the most important thing is to face myself and answer this question: "Am I willing to love, obey and worship a Creator?" The refusal makes belief almost impossible. The willingness to submit (always polluted by self seeking and infidelity) gets us going in the right direction. Either way, there is some deciding and choosing going on.

In my journey, even though I have solid intellectual reasons for believing many times I have doubts. Even though I believe my feelings can get in the way. Sometimes I do not care about God. Sometimes I am afraid I have been duped. Sometimes I just want to give up.... But even in those times I can choose to believe. I can choose to act like I believe. I can choose to do the things believers do. So if someone is in need I can treat them with love and respect, I can take time to help. I can read my bible and study. I can pray and listen. I can work to benefit my brothers and sisters. I can choose to act like someone whose horizon extends beyond this life. I can live in a way that reflects the belief that, in the end all will be well! If you can't believe in God maybe it is because, at least in part, you choose not to believe. 
Next we will look at what kind of God we believe in....

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Believing: Feeling it

Is it rational to believe there is a God? Yes,  millions of intelligent people do believe. But when most of us say "I do/don't believe in God" is that all there is? Are we just being rational? I think not.

In the popular typology found in Kiersey's book Please Understand Me II we know that there are Thinking types and Feeling types. I am the latter, as is about 50% of the general population. "Feelers" tend to make our decisons based on feelings. Some people say "I believe" which really means "I feel."

As a youth retreat leader for many years, one common problem was kids "not feeling" God. Some of them assumed that they had no faith because they did not have a great emotional rush relating to God. Well, most of life is not a great emotional rush. And feelings are tied to sleep, eating, relaxing, stress, environmental comfort and a myriad other factors. There is no reason to assume that if God exists then I will have some sort of positive feelings, even the feeling of certitude. I have long observed that sometimes a meal or a nap can be a better cure for my spiritual crisis than prayer! It helps to be aware that feelings are not a good measure of faith. And if you do not believe in God ask yourself honestly do you ever feel like you do not love your friends or family? Do you ever doubt your job is important? Do you ever feel like nothing really matters? If you are honest the answer is yes. The reason that "you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone" is because the loss produces intense feelings. It is hard to generate intense feelings 24-7-365.

In issues of faith it is helpful to assess what one's "feeling" expectation is. Do you expect to "feel" God before you believe in God? If so, how do you know what is causing the feelings you have? My feelings may dominate me at times, but I always know that my feelings are not totally trustworthy. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Believing: Intellectually

(Continuing Day 3)When someone says I (do not) believe in God there is an intellectual/rational aspect to that statement.
   We all analyze things and make decisions based on our analysis. [As an aside, most of us, most of the time, do not do very deep analysis. We are too busy, have too little information, are not up to the task and are sometimes a bit lazy. It is important to be honest with ourselves about that!] There are numerous philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Some of them can be reduced to the statement: "God is the best explanation for the world" (popularly expressed as "where did all this come from if there is no God?") The complexity of life is a genuine mystery. How does inert stuff (atoms) become a concert pianist? Where does the human desire for eternity get generated? How come we recognize morality is real? Is the wide spread belief in gods across time and culture a freak accident? When atheists talk about evolution why do they slip into language which implies intentionality and direction? If life has no meaning why do so many of us need meaning to live?
   It is not my intent to do complex apologetics here. I am more pointing out that apologetic arguments do exist. The point I want to make is once one has come to a conclusion intellectually, there may be some degree of rational certitude without an accompanying emotional connection. In other words, I may reason that God exists, but really do not care in a meaningful way.
   An example,  I believe George Washington existed. I have read books and visited historic sites. However, I also know history is always subject to revision and new information. There is room for doubt. I can not "prove" that George Washington existed to someone intent on not believing it. A person can say it was all made up and come up with a theory which "sounds" reasonable. (Isn't that what Hollywood is based on?) In the end most of us would say such doubt is silly. But believing George existed may not really motivate us to embrace his thought or inspire us to imitate his life of service. We can say "I believe, but who cares."
  Believing God exists is more complex than believing Wahsington existed. In the end, I think the philosophical arguments show it is more reasonable to believe in God. But having argued for this belief, I still can live my life without caring about this God/god. So my first point is this, intellectual arguments are only a part of the answer. For many of us, a very small part. More tomorrow

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What is Believing?

My last post focused on my own struggles with faith. Now I would like to look more deeply into believing (it is called de-construction by smart people!)

I think there are three components or aspects to faith: thinking, feeling and choosing. The cognitive, or thinking, part is rational. It has to do with analysis. The feeling, or affective, part has to do with those swirling emotions which push and pull us. Choosing, the volitional function, comes down to decisions we make. No one of these three is the total picture. Different people tend to emphasize one more than others because of their personality. Different situations can also influence us to lean more on one than another. All three have conscious and unconscious aspects.

So what does this have to do with faith? We will look at each one individually then tie it all up during the week. At least that is my plan right now. I conclude with a little biography. When I was five years old my mom walked me the half mile or so to kindergarten. We lived in Chicago so the streets were busy. I remember the exact location (in front of Sears, across from the school) where I asked this question, "Mom, how do you know if you really love some one?" (That's right barely out of diapers I was filled with existential angst about authenticity.) Long story short my mom told me love was like giving someone your gloves when it was cold. (it is always cold and windy in Chicago!) In other words, love is not a feeling, it is an act of self-giving and other-blessing. I think faith questions are similar. With the constant changes in our thoughts and feelings and our wavering commitments and failures, from minute to minute we may have a different answer to the question "do I know I believe in God?" As important as that question is, it is more imporant to remember that God believes in you. More in the days ahead.