Updated April 3, 2012: Fixed some grammar typos.
This is part of multi-part series of blog posts on the nature of faith and religion. (you can read the previous installments by following these links: Part 1 (June 2010) and Part 2 (October 2010)).
I have long intended to continue my previous discussion on what it is that I believe about God and about faith itself, but life got in the way of that. And it has been an interesting trip over the 18 months… I ended up reconnecting with a long-lost friend, and ended up marrying her. I also became a father (to a really cool step-son). My church situation changed in some interesting ways (my situation at my Mennonite church improved, while due to life circumstances I haven’t been as involved that much these days with the local Quaker Meeting) and finally my career has been turned upside down.
So obviously this has all factored into how I’ve come to work through issues of faith.
In many ways I have fresh new reasons to believe in a kind of God who is present and active in the world (or at least in my own life), and yet I’ve also come to see 18 more months of evidence to the contrary. The world has continued to become more brutal and cuthroat all around us. War, starvation, disease, these are things continue to ravage the world. For me, I can’t wrap my head around that. There is simply no way that the traditional Christian understanding is true, that God is truly all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful, all at the same time. It just doesn’t make sense to me. A recent example was of the school shootings in France. One report told how the gunman approached a young elementary school aged girl, pointed a gun at her head and then fired. The girl was only a few years older than my son. Surely her parents loved her just as much as my son is loved by his parents? Yet, God let this happen.
So, to me we are left with a few possibilities…
Possibility #1 – God is all-powerful and all-knowing. God sometimes steps into human history and changes things (i.e. miraculous events), but often does not. My response – So this makes God an arbitary monster, who uses humans for amusement. (the book of Job would seem to back this idea for what its worth).
Possibility #2 – God is not all-powerful and all-knowing, and does not step into human history at all. God might have created the world, but we humans are pretty much left to our own devises now. My response – Again, it seems like God is only using us for his/her amusement. We were created for some purpose but then are left on our our own to figure it out.
Possibility #3 – God does not exist. The world is random and meaningless. Humans created the idea of “God” or “Gods” to satisfy our deep longing for meaning. My response – There are days that this theory is compelling, but that there are other days that something in my heart tells me that this theory is not the truth, that there is something of the divine that is real, even if the ideas we often hold about the divine are hogwash.
Possibility #4 – Humans intuit that God exists, because God is present. But God is not a “man in the sky” but rather is force, a presence, that is all around us and in us. God doesn’t interfere with the laws of nature, but God does speak to the hearts and consciences of human beings. Good happens all around us, because God is present. Incredible good happens when human beings act in solidarity with each other and that of God at work inside them. There have been many prophets and enlightened people throughout human history, but they are simply men and women who have best connected with the divinity that is in us all. My response: Today the fourth possibility seems to be the most accurate way of understanding God, and yet, it seems incomplete too.
It feels cold and incomplete. It lacks the power of the story of the Christian scriptures, in which we see God evolve alongside the children of Israel (and later the early Christian community) to be more loving, more just and more inclusive, as time goes by. And this fourth possibility seems to demote Jesus from being God incarnate (Emanuel) to being simply, at best, another enlightened person who has connected with “that of God” in us all. Maybe this is ok, but as someone who has spent much of his life connecting with the life and story of Jesus, this somehow feels inadequate.
So that is why most days I say I have a something of a Quaker theology (or more precisely a liberal/universalist Quaker theology) but something of a Mennonite faith practice. The Quakers teach me how to connect to God and how to see God at work in the world, but the Mennonites teach me how to live like Jesus taught and lived. Neither tradition has the whole truth (at least as I understand it), but I do feel like I can encounter a lot of the truth by engaging with both traditions.
Well that is enough for tonight. There is a lot more I want to talk about but it is bed time…