Thursday, June 11, 2009

Understanding God view of "the past" and mercy

Human beings are limited, due to their human frame of reference, in their ability to understand God. This little blog posting will not be a scripture citing exercise, but rather, one to help people understand a few things about God that I know puzzles them.

People, being human, tend to obsess about the past and the future, and have difficulty remaining in "the present," which is current time. Almost without realizing it, people thus make the same error when they think about God. They tend to think that God gives greater weight to the past and to the future than he does the present, but this is totally untrue. If one were to characterize where God "pays the most attention" or "puts the highest priority," one would have to say that God is the most focused on what humans are doing in the here and now, and neither the past nor the future.

The error in logic regarding God is easy to understand in its origin. Humans reason using this kind of logic: God judges humans based on sins they have committed and what they have "done in the past" and God alone knows what will happen in the future, so he must obviously be constantly "looking ahead." Thus many people think that God is like them, looking constantly back at "mistakes" and injustices while at the same time just "waiting" for the "next thing" to happen.

Thorough and open minded reading of either the Bible or the Qur'an, however, demonstrate that those views are not only false and misleading, they are actually the opposite of the truth. If one were to characterize what God "focuses on" it can only be described as the present.

When you understand that God is neither "living in the past" nor constantly "looking toward the future," one better understands an apparent, but false, contradiction, which is how can God be all merciful, while at the same time sternly judging what one has done in the past?

Ah, now do you see? God is all knowing, so of course when one dies, one is judged by God on the totality of what one has done in his or her life. Simply having all knowledge of one's past actions, however, is not the same as being focused on the past. God is not looking down from heaven fuming about what one has done in the past. Rather, God is fuming at the present, that one has not changed their ways in the here and now.

This is why sincere repentance and conversion, even at the end of a sinful and dreadfully lived life, is acceptable to God, assuming one has not continued sinning while cynically figuring that one can "confess at the last minute" and obtain forgiveness from God. Someone who genuinely has the "light bulb" moment of conversion and repentance will receive mercy from God. Someone who keeps on sinning but figures that he or she can sin for x or y amount of time and then "convert" will not receive that mercy because the conversion is cynical and insincere and of course God knows one's every thought and intention in one's heart and mind.

But because God does not obsess, as humans do, about the past, this is why God can both be perfect in his final judgment of each person (since God knows their every thought and deed from their entire past) yet still be a potentially infinite fount of mercy, since is it conversion, repentence, and reunion in his good graces that God constantly seeks with each human, regardless how wretched their past.

It is this tender concern for every human being that also is the reason that God must be understood as not just sitting around waiting for the "future" to happen. God cares about what each and every person is doing NOW, both in his or her relationship with God and in how each human is living their life with their fellow human beings. God, through the Holy Spirit, is constantly calling upon people to become "right" with God in the here and now AND to have righteous lives, and hopefully fulfilled ones, in the real world in the here and now.

For example, God is not looking at a person who is sinning, for example, and just shrugging dismissively and thinking, well, in so and so many years that person is going to get what is coming to them. No, that is not how God interacts with or prioritizes his relationship and viewpoint with each person at all.

Think about this carefully. You might think that since God knows everything, and knows every future thought and deed of each person in advance, that God is basically in a "wait" mode. That is not true. Why? Sure, God knows what will happen... and what happens is the result of God applying constant pressure in the here and now on each and every person to repent and convert sincerely. In other words, if God did not focus on the here and now with each person, no matter how wretched the person, and if God did not apply as much pressure through the Holy Spirit as he does, on each and every person, the future that God foresees would obviously be a different future than the one that is in his perfect plan.

Here's an example. Suppose you are going to drive your car a long distance, and that you are a rather forgetful person about stopping at the gas (petrol) stations along the way. But fortunately you have a passenger who reminds you every one hundred miles or so to stop at the next station and top off your tank. It would not take a psychic to predict that a forgetful person traveling alone might well run out of gas along the way, and thus not arrive as planned at one's destination, while the forgetful person traveling with the nudging friend will most likely arrive at the destination as planned.

God is like the nudging friend. Thus God's perfect knowledge of the future, and how one arrives at it, and is judged, is based on knowing how each person will or will not react to the constant nudging of the Holy Spirit.

God is constantly focused on his relationship with each person in the here and now, and, through the Holy Spirit, nudges, without destroying each human's free will, that person to do the right thing in the moment, and to live a coordinated and realistic life of righteousness and goodness.

Thus, the future that God is in control of, and knows to a detail that no human can imagine, is based on God's constant "nudging" through the Holy Spirit of each person in the "here and now." God is not "waiting" for the future: the future arrives as it does because it is the result of how responsive each human is to God's constant attention and invitation to participate in grace, goodness and righteousness based on a realistic and reality based relationship with him in the here and now.

So think about this. The world is in pretty bad shape, and there's no sugar coating how estranged many have become from not only God but also day to day goodness, righteousness, and even sanity. Think about how much worse the world would be (if it even still existed at all) if God did not, still, constantly send the Holy Spirit, ceaselessly, to each and every person, attempting to nudge them into the best grace that they can be? Sin and ignorance are tremendously powerful lures that humans promote among each other. Most people would fall into the chaos of sin and ignorance if God did not constantly "nudge" each and every person through the Holy Spirit.

Look at the forgetful driver analogy again just for a moment. How easy it is if one has an amiable companion who reminds you to top up the gas tank every one hundred miles or so? Who could fail to reach their destination then, and in a most pleasant way?

Well, someone who is playing the radio or a CD so loudly that they drown out their nudging companion would be one possible fail. If one is either willfully or ignorantly playing music so loudly that one drowns out the reminders of one's passenger, then one is losing the benefit of the nudging, either on purpose or because one doesn't realize that the nudging is happening.

Someone could also have a chip on their shoulder, or other bitterness, so that when the nudging passenger reminds the driver to stop for gas, the driver snaps at them to stop "nagging" and "mind their own business." In other words, the desire for power and control, coupled with resentment, could cause the driver to ignore the nudging that is for his or her own good.

A third example would be a driver who is so narcissistic and self absorbed that he or she does not even hear and process the words of their passenger. The passenger could be reminding them over and over that they are nearly out of gas and the driver just does not hear them because he or she is too busy thinking about themselves.

The future exists at all because God is constantly focused on the present, on the status of each person in the here and now, and exerts the Holy Spirit to reach and touch each person, striving to be heard and obeyed. It's not like the future just rolls along, arriving when it does, and God just taps his foot "waiting" for it to unfold according to his will. The future arrives minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year as a result of how each person responds to God's constant nudging, invitation and ultimately, "the offer that cannot be refused" via the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Bible one can see that God is constantly interacting with people in the "small details" of their lives. I don't mean that God cares about one's decor. I mean that Jesus Christ, for example, converted the hearts of thousands one conversation at a time, in the "here and now" of that moment. Likewise God traveled with the Israelites, and dwelt in their midst, particularly, of course, during the time of Moses, listening, with Moses, to each person's problems and woe. This is why God had on the ark the "mercy seat," and why God appeared as the cloud within the tent that was allocated to him. God demonstrated that he is with each and every human, no matter how small their situation, and cares, deeply, throughout their lives.

Everything in the Bible is significant in the "here and now," and not as grandiose "future" prognostications. God tells and demonstrates the reality of his constant presence throughout the pages of the Bible. Think, for example, of those in the Bible who requested a child from God. Did God ever reply with a "big picture" or "the long term outlook?" No. God responded to each request with the "here and now" of the parent either receiving the hoped for pregnancy or not. God does not reply with future prognostications about the "significance" of the prayed for child in the future. Think about it.... of the twelve tribes, is there any mention of what kind of lives each patriarch lived in the Bible? Of their "significant deeds" and their "impact on the future?" Nope. Men and women prayed for children and they received them; God did not have like some laundry list of main "players" in the central casting of the future, and then check them off as each parent vied to have a child.

God constantly issues the invitation to life, and he knows how each person will respond. That is vastly different from "fate" or "destiny."

Back to our analogy before concluding this blog entry. God is constantly seeking to be heard, loved, and reconciled with, through his constant attention and focus on each human's present reality. God achieves this through the constant presence and work of the Holy Spirit among all humans, both believers and non-believers. Thus the Holy Spirit is like the nudging passenger who knows the driver is forgetful and could run out of gas and not safely reach his or her destination without constant reminding and help. Sin and ignorance (both inadvertent ignorance and willful ignorance) plus pride and ego are all human barriers to hearing or even feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit and, ultimately, God.

God does not "care about the past," no matter how dreadful and dire, wretched, evil or sinful, until one either dies and is brought into God's presence for final judgment or, in certain circumstances, when God delivers a smiting while the person still lives. Only God in his perfect knowledge knows why he smites and chastises those who he will while others seem to evade punishment for the moment. Be assured that the wise understand that a smiting can be a great gift, though it may not feel that way, if it saves one's soul by bringing one into a clarity of bowing to God and heeding his presence at last. The truly wise man or woman is glad for a smiting that results in their wake up call that ultimately saved them from hell. That, by the way, is one reason God does not smite everyone who deserves it. God knows that attentive people will understand that someone is smited and that others, through observation and reflection, can understand the message without having to receive a personal smiting.

God does not care about what a person "has done in the past" unless one continues to do those bad things in the present.

Open your heart to a reality based relationship with God in the here and now and do not allow yourselves to continue to be trapped in obsessing about the past and the future, which only God can understand.

I hope that you have found this helpful.