Thursday, March 12, 2009

Understanding God: God is active & involved

Many people, even those of strong faith, have a stumbling block to fully understanding God. It is that they tend to think of God in the abstract, and not as someone who is very aware and involved in each individual's life, and who cares very much about the day to day of the world's joys and, it seems, increasing sorrows. I find I have to remind people, even those who have always believed in Jesus Christ, and Biblical events, that God is constantly present and concerned. Further, God's concern is not abstract but reactive: God does respond to what individuals do.

So it is odd for me to see that people continue to wonder if God is "around" at all when there are thousands of encounters with God that happen every day. In a way I understand that modern people have great difficulty perceiving that God is present. People are very poor listeners of each other, so it is not surprising that moderns barely "hear" or notice God, if they do at all. Everyone is guilty of having conversations with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers where you barely listen to what they are saying because you are eager to get to your point. In many ways people are like that with God except people jump directly to their point. People do not listen to God's "conversation" first, if you know what I mean. It is like you know that one of your colleagues loves to talk about football, so instead of waiting for him, one Monday morning, to start the conversation about the past weekend's football, you jump in, start the conversation (anticipating what he might say) and basically all by yourself provide both halves of the conversation. So it is with many people who seek dialogue with God. They both start the conversation (usually by asking for something in prayer) and/or anticipate what they think God is going to "say" anyway (that he will like some of the things you did and disapprove of others). But God may not really have "in mind" to discuss that day's praiseworthy, or shortfalling, event. He often has a different "agenda" than what people expect.

So there is the problem of moderns having difficulty noticing how God really is present due to their controlling impulses in all dialogue, including with God. A second problem is that God is drowned out by so many people claiming to "understand" him and who "market" him. There's too much preaching and too much teaching, and not enough meaningful silence in God's presence. Here is an example. Suppose you have a wonderful grandfather in your family, a "paw paw" as they say here in the South, who you and everyone else loves. What if he lived in your house, and his room was right through one door, yet you never saw him because people constantly blocked your way to his room, telling you "on his behalf" what he would "probably say to you anyway." So you go to your paw paw's room to wish him "Good Night" and someone blocks your way and says to you, "He would probably wish you 'Good Night' in return. He might ask you how your day went. If you told him about that thing you did he'd praise you, but if you told him about that other thing he'd give you some stern advice. Then he'd tell you to 'get some rest' and 'don't stay up too late' and then close the door." So after telling you what your paw paw would probably say, the person pushes you away from paw paw's door and you never got to actually talk to him.

That, my friends, is what many of the preaching and teaching "choices," both in the mainstream churches and the goofy New Age and 'self help' voices are doing: drowning out your own dialogue with God. They are so busy telling YOU what God would "probably" say, think or do that you never actually have a conversation with him. The person who blocked you from your paw paw and told you like some sort of surrogate what your paw paw would say when you wanted to wish him "Good Night" at the end of the day may have been a good mimic of your paw paw, or may have been totally wrong. One thing is for sure: he or she deprived you of your paw paw's authentic companionship.

So even as I am, to be very candid with you, extremely shocked at how much moderns have lost their ability to authentically commune with God, I can easily see why this has happened, though I am horrified at its depth of rupture and the swiftness with which it has happened over the past several decades. One need only look at the quality of listening and dialogue between two people to see how agenda ridden virtually all discourse, even the most casual and friendly, has become, say nothing of how intensely controlling and directed even believers are when they initiate dialogue with God rather than be open to his form of continual dialogue. Again, it would be like you only wanted to speak to your paw paw on a schedule, let's say at each of the three mealtimes, and only when you have something that you want to say to him, not about the things he genuinely wishes to speak about with you.

A third reason people have trouble understanding and noticing God's constant involvement is that his involvement does not look like the type of involvement that many 'expect' to see. This is a problem of not understanding the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit seeks to reach all and to help them to know and to serve God and, also, to bear the burdens of life and seek out the genuine joys too. Believers do not have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit seeks to be known even (one might even say 'especially') to non-believers. Sometimes believers think that the Holy Spirit is present in direct proportion to one's faith. Actually, I'd explain that the Holy Spirit has to be more persistent, and work the hardest, among those of weak or no faith.

Think of how the Holy Spirit usually appears as a bird. Think of how easily a bird can soar, especially on a light breeze, where it can travel with very little effort, with just a few flaps of the wing and a tilt to change direction. That breeze is like a person of faith. However, think of the person of no faith as having no breeze. The bird has to flap mightily in the still air in order to remain in place over that person. It is like the Holy Spirit has to expend a huge amount of effort "hovering" over the unbelieving person. As the gospel singers sing "Have you got the Holy Ghost?" means that the Holy Spirit is moving with you, with ease. However, a non-believer does not "have" the Holy Ghost in the sense of moving in unison with the Holy Spirit, but forces the Holy Spirit to hover in place trying to reach the person on his or her terms.

An example of this is with a virulent and mouthy atheist, the Holy Spirit has not given up, even though the Holy Spirit, as God himself, of course, is not believed in. The Holy Spirit may even try things such as bringing a particularly irksome believer in contact with the atheist. This is not an intellectually persuasive or debating strategy, such as what the atheist seeks, since he or she constantly seek 'worthy' 'combatants.' Rather, the Holy Spirit may cause the type of believer for whom the atheist has complete scorn and contempt for to cross his or her path in encounter. For example, the believer may seem like a simplistic dunce to the self congratulatory elitist atheist. On the surface that would seem a poor gambit by the Holy Spirit, as the atheist has only more contempt for the "stupid sheep" who are so dumb that they "fall for" religion as a "crutch" since they are too ignorant and shallow to know better. That is an example of how God has dialogue with people in ways that humans just don't seem to expect or understand anymore, but they used to. Students of human nature, as the elders used to be, and of animals, such as sheep, know that curiosity, even if based in scorn, opens more minds than intellectual lectures. Even hardened atheists start to wonder, how can this stupid person be so believing? After a while they might start to explore the foundation of that person's faith.

God seeks to comfort everyone, in every place and at all times, even in the most painful and disastrous of circumstances. This is one reason why, as we have seen in the dreadful shootings in the past two days, the pathos of rage within the perpetrators who explode into killing machines because they feel they deserved "better." Even the most violent, disenfranchised and mentally unbalanced people know, in the center of their spirit, that there is something better that should have been taking place in their lives. Even in those who do not believe, God is there inside of them, in the form of the Holy Spirit, as a touchstone for what ought to be everyone's spiritual stability and reality. When their personal reality does not match the internal imprint of what every child of God is entitled to, whether due to mental disease, addiction, the degradation of their family life or societal exposures, trauma, abuse, meanness of nature, you name the reason, there is an explosion between their reality and the core, even if it is minuscule and not even believed in, imprint of the worthiness of what each and every person should experience as a child of God. Often the angriest people are those who in their heart of hearts know that there is "something better than this," with "this" being their life's circumstances.

Remember that the Holy Spirit is encountered not only as a gentle bird, but as a flame. The flame inspires people to know the truth and to crave justice, and to be active, not passive, in the search for God in a personal relationship. Yet the dulling of moderns in their many addictions and false idols, and the slavery of the demands of modern society (get a job, have a perfect career, otherwise risk homelessness, medical insurance disaster, and scorn) mask genuine dialogue with God. For example, many pray to God as they have lost their jobs and their homes, and believe me, God sympathizes more than you can realize. But God cannot or will not "fix" a broken system that humans have made for themselves. People who have lost their homes and their jobs are not the failures: society with its free market slavery has become the dehumanizing new reality idol. God not only "wants" for you to have your job back, but he wants a more just society where you are not at the mercy of political patronage, looting bosses, "obsolete skills" and cruel "performance reviews." So when you pray to God in petition about your suffering, know that he hears you very well, but may be responding in something of a parallel tract to you. He may be telling you that this is all part of the falling apart of something that has been built wrong throughout society, and that you should consider how you might be part of building something more righteous and filled with peace of mind, rather than hoping for restoration of what was wrong for you in the first place.

Many of us have been told that we are "not good enough" or "qualified" for a job by someone who actually is not even fit to tie our shoelaces.

Again, think of your paw paw, the good one of our analogy. Would he think of you in terms of how you scored on your most recent performance review on your job? Of course not. Likewise it is difficult to get the full benefit of dialogue with God if you figure that he shares the values of the society that you are immersed in. Believe me, there's not much in this society that he shares the values of. So God is always there for you, always on your side (unless you are one of the looters and oppressors, liars and power hungry idolaters... in which case he 'wants you back' on the good guys' side). The comfort of God is both not of this earth but also surprisingly practical. The comfort of God is of things beyond the limitations and potential for sorrow on earth during one's life, but also asks you to consider how to break out of the slavery that modern society has imposed on just about everyone, rather than hoping just to regain one's place in the chain gang.

God understands that if you don't get the job or the good performance review that you face paycheck and medical disaster. But God, when you open yourself to him, will ask that you do not judge yourself the way others have judged you and that instead of hurt and rage you try to find a way to join with others and not allow one's soul to be sucked dry by the injustice of the times. Jesus Christ got some pretty bad "job reviews" in his several years of public ministry, where people attempted to stone and to kill him even as he preached goodness and raised the dead.

Unless people start to care for each other again and help each other this worldly economic and spiritual disaster will only get worse and worse. The Holy Spirit moves constantly among people to urge them to recognize what is good and of God, or is at least worthy of him, and what is the idolatrous lies and dross that passes for so much of "value" and "reality" today. Honestly, I never thought I would see times such as these where just for one example of contradictions, we have fights over the right to experiment on embryos to "save lives," while babies are being given bath products and food containers filled with toxins. I mean, I could use the obvious example of abortion, but its more fundamental even than that. The things that are given to babies to consume, or put on their skin, are filled with cancer causing toxins, yet moderns crave the purity of an "unwanted" frozen embryo to perform medical experiments on. The milk of living babies are poisoned while their cells are valued to cure those who have at least reached adulthood but who suffer from some illness. If you could see through my eyes you'd be horrified.

Another problem with having a personal relationship and dialogue with God is this drama queen society and media with its "watch the train wreck" fascination used as a metaphor for God and his "miracles." Um, consider this.

o Hudson River plane "miracle"
o A few days later in Australia "we have our 'own' miracle" as a plane lands on a beach
o Buffalo plane.... hmm, well, a big silence there, not so much a 'miracle.'
o Turkish plane in Amsterdam .... "miracle" (except for those who did die, of course).
o Helicopter ditches on way to oil platform off Scotland "miracle" as all survive.
o Helicopter today ditches off of Nova Scotia, one alive, one dead, rest missing (er, not hearing about the miracle of the one survivor so far).

How about not using the term "miracle" except for, you know, real miracles? I mean, where in the Bible are there lists of people who "miraculously" survive donkey cart accidents?

It would be funny if it were not so profane and awful. It is no wonder that people do not even see the thousands, yes millions of low key but real interactions of God with those who turn their eyes and heart to him, and even those who don't. The noise, distractions and sheer effrontery of "identity theft" of the divine has made it difficult for even the most pious and believing to retain the intimacy of authentic quiet contact with God that your ancestors had without even trying.

I hope that you have found this helpful.