11 December 2005

But what is this God-thing of which you speak?

Gary asked the question above as his parting shot in the longest comment-discussion in the short history of my blog. OK, Gary, I'll give you an answer, and it may or may not be the one you were looking for. As I said in another comment on that post, for me, the three major sources of knowledge about God are 1) the witness of other believers, 2) Holy Scripture, and 3) first-hand experience. So following that general outline,

God is the One who, through a two-way relationship of trust and love, shaped the lives and missions of Jalaluddin Rumi, George Fox, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Juliana of Norwich, Jim Wallis, Brother Lawrence, Desmond Tutu, the Christian peacemakers currently in mortal peril in Iraq, and many, many other great souls who I know only through their writings and from reports about them.

God is the One who, through a two-way relationship of trust and love, shaped the lives and missions of Papa Bert, Joe, Melissa, Abid, Jaimie, Sam, Grandpa Del and Grandma Marion, Rick, Blair, Lou, DeDe, Dwight, Sue, Frankie, Carl, Allen, Susan, Bob, Cheri, Patricia, Virginia, Christine, Joanne, Susan, Ann, Wally, Hazel, Janice, Shirley, Sandy, Frances, Eleanor, Charles, Jane, Charles, Kate, Lisa, Marlene, Suzanne, Marco, Kathy, Marlene, Norma, Ken, Peg, John, Carolyn, Mary, Mary, Betty, Ellie, Stu, Karl, Blaine, George, Jim, Jack, Chester, Linda, Israel, Sonja, Ross, Pete, Mike, Stacy, Deanna, Helen, Caryn, and many, many other believers whom I do know (or have known) personally (if in some cases largely electronically) and who have impacted my own faith journey.

God is the One who Jesus knew as his Father. Therefore, I know God through those passages in Scripture where Jesus speaks of his Father. (If you follow that link, you'll need to skim past the references to "father", not "Father", since the search isn't case-sensitive.) I also know God as the Holy Spirit and as Jesus himself, the one who emptied himself and became incarnate, fully in the world, as a helpless baby in a cold stable--and who went on to do the other things I mention in this post. Much of this "understanding" I get from the Bible (as well as from the folks I mention above), and all these stories and testimonies are like brush strokes that paint a picture of God that's much more impressionistic or abstract than it is like a technical diagram with clean lines that results in an unmistakably coherent mental picture.

Finally, God to me is the One who called me (and continues to call me), gifted me (and continues to help me discover those gifts), and sent me (and continues to send me) into the world on a mission of love. God has done this through all the people mentioned above and through Scripture, but over time my "knowledge" of God has come increasingly through a personal relationship of love and trust through which God shapes my life. But I hope I'm being clear that it's not really about "knowledge" for me at all. My faith has almost nothing to do with logical propositions about God which I can hold neatly in my head and feel like I have achieved Understanding. (Anyone who thinks he understands God is a virtuoso of self-deception.)

It's about relationship, love, trust, mission, service--these are things which need to be lived, not defined. I leave definitions to the philosophers--I'm no philosopher. As I prayed this morning, and as we pray every Sunday during the Sending portion of our liturgy, we have work that God has given us to do. I'll let the Buddha make my point for me.

God needs agnostics who are ready to get busy. Too much seeking after understanding and the poison arrow may never get pulled out--too much certainty and people tend to start jabbing it into other folks. But healthy agnosticism combined with a conviction that the world needs help and that even I should be helping--that's something God can use. Love is more important than understanding--love is perhaps the only reliable path to understanding. And if the understanding never comes or turns out to be flawed, but the love was real? In the end, I think that's OK with me.

8 comments:

Gary McCullough said...

Thanks for the thoughtful and eloquent response!

Like you, I think, I am skeptical of the ability of rational thought to capture reality, or God, or the transcendent, or the Real, or whatever you might like to call it. Unlike you, I suspect, I am equally skeptical of the validity of my intuitions, perceptions, feelings, etc., to serve as reliable criterion of the same.

I think there are people who perceive what they take to be God, or godness, or spirit, or something transcendent. And there are those who do not have these perceptions or do not interpret them in the same way. Ever the twain shall meet, and scratch their heads at one another! I used to be the first kind, now I am the second kind. So I get to scratch my head at myself!

Mike Croghan said...

So what made you so skeptical? That wouldn't be a good question for some people, who were pretty much dyed-in-the-wool skeptics from the age of reason onward (my lovely wife, for example), and actually why *do* people believe in such things is porbably a more interesting question, but you say you used to credit your own intuitive perceptions about the numinous, so what changed? (I recognize that this is a rather personal question, and of course you're free not to answer it--at least not in some goombah's public blog comments.)

I myself have been a credulous wonder-believer all my life, more or less, though I used to belong to the Skeptics Society and I continue to get pissed off at "psychics" and the like who con suffering or merely naive folks out of their money through evil deception (John Edwards, James Van Praagh, Sylvia Brown, etc., to mention some of the pretend-to-talk-to-ghosts villians).

I guess I believe in the unexplained, but am very skeptical of the "you-may-not-be-able-to-explain-it-but-I-can-not-only-control-it-but-make-a-pile-of-money-off-it-at-your-expense". :-) That goes for made-up "medicine" and lots of other forms of pseudo-supernatural/pseudo-scientific BS too. So to me, it's OK to say you believe in things you can't explain or define, but if you claim to be able to *control* such things, then unless you can demonstrate such in a double-blind lab trial, I strongly suspect you're full of shite.

But I digress--why so skeptical of things unseen, if it wasn't an inbron tendency?

Gary McCullough said...

The short answer is meditation, cogitation, and study. For instance, Ramana's "who am I" technique: go looking for yourself, you won't find it. Then what's the source of this notion that I am something? The mind is the source. That's what mind is meant to do, create this representation of me. And then there was studying Nagarjuna and classical skepticism. And lots of thinking about the nature of consciousness and of rationality. Having been absolutely certain about many things which just weren't so, I don't find certitude a very reliable criterion of truth. Assertions about the transcendent are logically absurd: either that which is being asserted is not transcendent, or the validity of the assertion is unknowable.

Mike Croghan said...

Hmm. I haven't studied many of those topics nearly to the extent you have, but I've meditated on some Nagarjuna in my time. ;-) Funny thing is, I pretty thourougly agree with you. Certainty is far, far more dangerous than doubt. And certainty about the transcendent is, as you say, absurd. I place much more stock in what the Buddha called "meditation on emptiness", the Hindus (was it Shankara?) called "Neti, neti" ("Not this, not this"), and the Christian mystics called the Via Negativa--if you want to form ideas about God, you'd better be prepared to be immediately and blatantly wrong. Of course, the same could be said for the mental constructs we create to "explain" anybody interesting enough to be called a person....

Gary McCullough said...

You sound like you're ready to join my church of the indeterminate! Check it: http://www.mccull.org/gary/indetermination/

Mike Croghan said...

Uh, I think you may have a lawsuit on your hands, buddy. What you call "indetermination" is already practiced by a well-established religious organization, but they call it slack.

;-)

Gary McCullough said...

I see no similarity.

Mike Croghan said...

Well, you would say that. Luckily those Subgenius guys are no match for Scientologists when it comes to litigiousness....

I'm *kidding*!