Thursday, September 24, 2009

Understanding God: little look at big picture

How to say a few words about the gigantic subject of why God has chosen to allow humans to know him in the way that he has. In other words, many wonder why things have gone the way they have in getting to know God, rather than perhaps God imposing more of his presence on everyone in the world simultaneously. So here goes, but to keep this reasonably short and sweet, a few points to ponder rather than discourse.

1. God did introduce himself to everyone in the world, since he created Adam as first man, Eve as first woman, and they not only knew who God was but he was physically present in a form with them in Eden. We know this because they heard God's footsteps as he walked in the Garden in the cool of the evening, so God took a human form to interact with them face to face. (No, this does not mean that "all of God" is thus inserted into a human form. God IS everything, both visible and invisible, so he can't take all of himself away from heaven and the universe and stick his entirety into one place and not still be everywhere else. It never occurred to me to have to explain that until I came across people who actually thought that, particularly regarding Jesus. Pagans have a mental block with this, since they imagine their mythical and bogus gods to be able to move their position in a godlike way, appearing here and there, but when they are "there" they are only there. Pagan gods are by definition false since their believers do not acknowledge that the one true God can only be all encompassing and everywhere at the same time, since life and time do not exist outside of him. Thus God manifests in angelic or Theophany form, but that's an image of him, not his totality of spirit by any stretch of the imagination). So God did do the logical thing, which is to create a perfect place on earth where the first man and woman can know him and be companions to him.

2. Thus, even when they disobeyed God and were put out of Eden, they of course retained knowledge of God and a relationship with him. We know this because their sons, Cain and Abel, knew how to make offerings to God and received direct feedback from God on how worthy (or not) their offerings were. So God continues to speak with all the people of earth at the same time through Adam and Eve, their children, and the extended families that these children married into and beget on their own. Thus God continues in dialogue and relationship with each growing generation after Adam and Eve.

3. Now, as I discussed, at the same time as God is the creator of all that exists, both seen (earth and the universe) and unseen (heaven) in a physical way, God is also the creator in a spiritual way. Understanding God's role in the physical realm is like one lens in your pair of glasses, while understanding God's role in the spiritual (faith) realm is like the other lens in your pair of glasses. You need to look through them both at the same time, in a balanced way, to have a full and correct view. So it is alright for some of the faithful to be totally comfortable with Adam and Eve being literally the first humans created directly from dust by God, while others of the faithful believe that God created all that exists, including Adam and Eve, but that they are the beginning of "faith history," the "faith parents," not the only two human beings that exist in the beginning of humanity. Why do we know it is OK to have either view and still be faithful to God's word in scripture? Because if it were not OK to understand that other humans come into existence, God would have explained where the spouses of Adam and Eve's children came from. So it is not unfaithful to God's word in scripture to believe that Adam and Eve are either or both the actual biological parents of all human beings or they are the faith parents of all human beings, since they are the first and only that God chose to make himself known to.

The whole debate about evolution or creation, seven twenty-four hour days or millions-of-years God-days is really a diversion from faith, rather than faith affirming, because it is trying to textbook scripture into a "how did God actually do it, molecule by molecule" attempt that hinders rather than strengthens faith. I know that many in good faith feel the opposite, that they are somehow being disloyal to scripture if they believe that God had other people alive soon after Adam and Eve's creation, or that God may have used his own definition of a "day" during creation, rather than an earth-solar day. But again, if you really have faith in the scripture, which 1) states that the children of Adam and Eve married real people and had real children and 2) which states that God created the animals and the plants, but does not give details about his exact process, but extols Adam's naming and stewardship of them, you have to recognize that God used visible processes that humans can later discover, study, name, ponder and so forth as they collect knowledge (knowledge being one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by the way).

Adam and Eve got into trouble because they sought the wrong knowledge, knowledge that would be used, they hoped, to be like God. So there is nothing wrong with knowledge (in fact, God teaches them how to create clothes from animal skins once they had their fall and had shame over nakedness in his sight). God expects humans to study nature and ponder how God made things work and ponder their wonder. There is a lengthy discourse by God in the scriptures (I'll let you look it up, LOL) where when he chastises humans and puts them in their place, he recounts the qualities of various animals that he, not humans, created, and the forces of nature that he, not humans, create and command. That is "good" knowledge, to understand (another gift of the Holy Spirit) the world around you, both geological and life forms, and the processes like weather... but the "bad" knowledge is to 1) think humans created it 2) that humans or idols control it, and not God and 3) to use that knowledge to be bad rather than good stewards, or to be unjust rather than just. So people of faith need to have faith that they are not "letting God down" or being "disloyal to his word" if they acknowledge that they do not fully understand how, or even why, God rendered creation as he did, using the time frames and processes that he created, ordained and commanded.

4. So now you start to understand why so much of Genesis is genealogy, with lists of who begot who. It is not just the list of proud parents and sons, but it is also a list of the humans and their families who keep in touch with God, who preserve the knowledge and dialogue initiated with Adam and Eve and their children. This is why it is called "faith history" in addition to "secular history." It is regular human history in that it lists events and places, but it is also faith history because it lists those who continued to know God and pass that knowledge and access to him through worship from generation to generation.

5. As I discussed in a recent blog, the early descendants of Adam and Eve met humans who, being from actual cities and their equivalent of "advanced civilization", seemed wondrous and they intermarried. We can understand that human nature is the same from the beginning to today. Some of the descendants of Adam and Eve would marry and bring their spouses into the faith, and knowledge of God, while others would marry and drift away, settling in distant places (which in those days could have been as short a distance as fifty miles) and not take their faith with them, and instead adapt to the local pagan beliefs and mythologies.

You see that same behavior on a micro scale every day in each family. Children in families that are religious move away, marry, and may change faith, lose faith, or transmit their faith to others. This is what happened, since humans are humans and God has given them free will, to the descendants of Adam and Eve. This is why a core of people retained the knowledge of God as he introduced himself to them, while others melded into the local pagan beliefs and mythologies.

6. This is where one must have faith and admire, rather than be disturbed, that God did not chase after every human being and demand that they know the one and only true him. Why is that reassuring rather than worrisome? Well, for many reasons. But the bottom line is this. Human beings will continue to exist and thrive only if they live in a truth based world, one that is genuine reality and honesty. The core of truthfulness and reality is realization of God's existence and his control of all that is and ever will be. Understanding humanity and understanding God are the most basic survival needs for the human species to continue living, say nothing of salvation after death. When humans start to deny God, it is the first warning sign that they will not thrive, and indeed could self destruct, very soon thereafter. This is not because God will smite them for not believing in him (as you can see, he lets regimes that deny him come and go, such as Communism). It is because when humans start to deny reality in the form of God, they will then start to engage in other self destructive behavior that is counter to reality as it really exists. Humans who live outside of truth and reality rapidly decay and fall apart, both individually and socially. We see much of that happening now. So God allows free choice (as he did when he created the angels and some decided not to serve and obey him, and hence fell from heaven) because free choice IS reality. God always opts for truthfulness and authenticity. If he wanted cool titanium robots he would have made them. He didn't. He made angels and he made human beings and they both have the ability to make a choice to believe and serve or not. The angels that fell believe God, obviously, since they were there in heaven with him and thus knew "how he did it," but they would not serve. Humans have to believe and choose to serve if they are to acknowledge truth and reality. It really is as simple as that.

7. Because God loves his creations, humans, who he considers, as the scriptures say, adopted children (and there is all sorts of cultural nuance in the esteem of those Biblical times for foster or adopted children, but rather than get into detail, scripture presents God's love as such to make clear that God is not false like the pagan gods, who presumably have biological children and so forth... God thus calls humans his adopted or foster children when he wants to be precise about that)....because God loves his children, even if they leave him and no longer believe, God has put in place a fail safe mechanism, LOL, or, a beacon, or a homing device, or a longing... or an emergency cell phone, whatever image you prefer, in their soul... a longing to know him. That is the movement of the Holy Spirit.

8. The Holy Spirit moves constantly among all individual human beings, and gatherings of them, whether near or afar, believers or not, stirring them to the desire to know the truth and to reach for that which is higher and the only genuine goodness that exists, that being God and a relationship with him. It is the Holy Spirit that maintains that yearning in people even through the spiritual aridity of living under God-denying tyrants and despots, of pagan rulership, or of people who drift away from knowledge of God and who have forgotten him and their faith history with him. It is that yearning, from the Holy Spirit, that results in societies and cultures developing respect for natural law and codes of conduct and humanity. It is the Holy Spirit who stirs among people who may develop a faith that is good intentioned but erroneous in theology, because the Holy Spirit is able to get at least a partial response that people want to be good to each other, and want both a more prosperous but also a more spiritual world.

I don't have the book in front of me now (probably in storage) but in one of the books, I think the series of books that interviewed Pope Benedict XVI before he was Pope, and he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, that he explains this in a very kind and insightful way that impressed me as I read it. I think he was being asked about other faiths, such as Buddhism and so forth, and why God would allow them to develop. The Pope explained, and here I am using my own words, that each faith that seeks belief in a higher power and spirituality and an inherent goodness among humans to each other is in a way, even obscurely or dimly, trying to reflect as in a mirror some level of acknowledgement of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

So this is why as the growing multitudes of descendants of Adam and Eve populated the earth, just the core group, detailed generation by generation in the Bible, in the secular and faith history, maintained knowledge of the true God as he made himself known from the very beginning. However, you read in the Bible examples of where even pagan king, certain ones, had a open mindedness and even a longing for, and thus grew to respect and to worship, the God of the Israelites. Often that was through a demonstration of his power, as when God gifted Joseph with interpreting Pharaoh's dream. But there is no mistaking that there are examples in the Old Testament of where the demonstration of the true one God's power is the door opener, there is a yearning to understand the truth, a higher truth of God, that is like a slow growing seed, even among those who worshipped many idols and false gods.

9. So.... one of the questions, asked in jest sometimes but often in pain or puzzlement, by Jews is "why were we the Chosen People?" What I have detailed is why... because they are the lineage that through the generations of proliferating descendants of Adam and Eve, they have had consistent knowledge of the true one God, even when they were at their most disobedient. This is why I commented that the Jews know, at a gut level, God better than anyone. They have a continuity of God's constancy and eternal oneness and sameness through just about every possible variation of human history and challenge to their faith. This is why they were, Biblically, the Chosen People, because they have the unbroken continuity of knowing God as God first introduced himself to the first human beings.

10. To use a modern music term, Jews heard and hear the same song that is the true God, both plugged and unplugged.

11. However, God has always been consistent in stating that humans need and he will send the Savior, the Messiah. All of scripture points to the coming of Jesus Christ. God alone comprehends all of the perfection of his timing, that he sent Jesus when he did, where he did, to minister as he did, and to fulfill the scriptures and proclaim the New Covenant. This is, obviously, a huge topic of itself, but Jesus must be understood in the context of what I am explaining to you as being the refreshment, the renewal, of God's relationship to humans, beyond the tenuous, extreme minority of human population that were the descendants who have held fast to the continuity of the lineage of knowing God from the time of Adam and Eve to the then present. In the perfect timing that only God understands, since he is All Knowing, and knows all of what humans need, Jesus, who already existed in heaven as part of God himself eternal the beginning and the ever being of All, took human form in order to bring knowledge of God to all the world.

12. Previous to Jesus being born to humanity, humans knew God one of the two ways I have described. The first was through the lineage of those who recall and renew their relationship and service to God since Adam and Eve. The second was through those who seek God, in often very wrong or imperfect guises, but in honest response to the urgings of the Holy Spirit throughout the world. This is one reason that Jesus is given a title of the New Adam, not only because Jesus, corrects the great wrong of disobedience by Adam, but also because Jesus brings the face of God to all the world, as Adam first knew God in the Garden face to face. Jesus ministered only to the Jews, since Jesus was fulfillment of the Old Covenant with the Israelites and the bringing of the New Covenant to them... but it was obvious that Jesus was, as he said, the sign for all humankind. After his Resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God made it known that now the Gospel was to be preached to all. Jesus was like global email :-)

13. Now you might better understand what I have explained in previous blog postings about Islam. Descendants of Adam and Eve, and of Abraham, the Patriarch of what would become the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the forefathers of the Arabic people who would become Muslims were of that lineage who knew the true God, but who moved and settled at a distance from their brethren. This is all detailed in the Old Testament, but not what happened specifically to them, but we know through the obvious secular history that they settled among pagans in the area that is now Saudi Arabia. Thus they are a group of the many descendants who did not take the faith "along with them." That was not easy to do, since the Israelites were local patriarchs and eventually after the Exodus, a theocracy (religious rulership) on a very local basis, with the Ark and the Temple central. It's not like today where people could pack up their faith and believe in another neighborhood or country. So when people spread out to gain land for their growing families (and to avoid conflict), they could not really take their faith and remembrance with them. The Prophet (PBUH) reconnected those descendants back to the lineage of remembering and knowing the one true God, the God of Abraham, and also faithfully repeating the message and miracles of Jesus. Islam was born in order to plug those descendants of Adam and Eve back into the shared lineage of knowledge of the one true God.

To wrap up this little look at the big picture, one must, in honesty, admire and appreciate that God is no autocrat. God makes himself known as he really is, as he truthfully is, and is consistent and constant through the generations of human beings and indeed through the ages, since he is Eternal and Unchanging. He does not force humans into robotic or other artificial obedience since that is not his nature but more important than that, it is not the truth. Life and love is the truth, not coerced or enforced behavior, and God is the source of all life and love. Thus God provided a constancy of access to knowing him from the very beginning, and sent prophets among believers when they needed to correct the disobedience and straying of his people. Why does God punish, as we know he does, then? Because what he is punishing is denial of truth. Denying truth is, as I explained in the beginning of this commentary, not a useful survival trait for humanity. Disobedience to God is denial of truth, not God being arbitrary. For example, it's disobedient but also more to the point simply wrong, a lie, to worship an idol, a false god that simply does not exist, or the workings of human beings own hands. God punishes humans when they deny the truth because ultimately humans will destroy themselves (as they are most certainly doing now) by living amidst a fake world of lies. Denial of truth, constant lies and falseness are already destroying the livelihood, the sanity, the health, the morality, the ethics, and the decency of humanity... God dumping an asteroid onto the earth would just be the icing on the crumbling cake of what humanity is already doing to itself by denying truth in all arenas of life.

A species, human beings, cannot continue to thrive and/or survive in a world that they perceive in increasingly total falsehood. God already knows "how it will all turn out." More to the point, though, is to recognize that each saved soul is precious to God, just as each and every of the innumerable multitude of angels are known to him individually and loved by him, and as they serve God they share in his beatific vision of all that can and will be. Thus God will continue to be patient with generation after generation of unfaithful disbelievers because he loves and will save those, however few, that DO remain faithful to him and thus cognizant of the truth. I wrote not too long ago about the importance of not seeking the "best" or "right" faith, but seeking the truth, which will if honestly (and sanely) done will only lead you to the one true God who is truth and the source of all that is true. This is why humans can, and should, only marvel at the one true God, not the imaginings of human beings, who can in his perfection balance the giving of human beings the "free will" that they, like the angels in the beginning, craved and demanded, but will also draw a firm line in the sand about reality and the inevitable consequences of denying the truth and, thus, him.

Denying the truth of God is just like denying the truth in a secular life or death situation. If the bridge is out, broken over a raging river, it is not a survival strategy to deny the truth of the bridge being out and driving over it, and thus plunging to one's death, nonetheless. News story commenters often sardonically call that "Darwin at work," when someone does something incredibly stupid. It is the same with believing in the truth of how the world and the universe really works and of God's real presence. Disbelieving the truth means bad and stupid decisions that have their own consequences in the near term (as we see all over the world these days) AND, even if one evades outright denial of survival trait truths in life, when one dies one finds out the reality of God when it is too late to change what one has done in disobedience while alive. Again, it's not just because people "behaved bad" and God's "mad at them," but because disobedience to the God and denial of the truth is viral... disobedient believers and disbelievers don't just harm themselves but they harm others and lead others away from the truth. We see this on a massive scale today, one of the greatest perils facing young people today who have grown up in such hugely false times, knowing nothing different from fraud, fakery, poseurs, pride, denial and falsehood.

How difficult is that to understand? When Satan refused to serve he then got busy egging humans on to likewise not serve God. In a similar way, disbelievers and disobedient believers behave like mini-Satans, since their teachings, deeds and life examples are likewise intended to mislead others, leading them astray from God. That all ends badly, either by making life a lie and thus unbearable in either the short or the long term, or at the very end, when one finds that indeed God exists and he knows all that you have thought and done and has judged you upon your death.

The reassurance of God's constancy and ability to forgive anything (if sincere and immediate) should be of far greater comfort to humans than it is. Why is it not more reassuring? Because people have become somewhat addicted to uncertainty and falsehood, where even miserable lies are "better" than hopeful and good truths, in the minds of many.

In closing that line of thought, let's loop back to Adam. Think about how he dealt, poorly and thus fatally, with certainty and uncertainty. Adam embraced certainty, but only partially. He obviously believed in God, being face to face and taught by God, and thus he believed that the tree of knowledge had fruit that would give him some of God's knowledge. But here is what I mean by false love of uncertainty. God tells him not to eat the fruit of that tree. Eve, at the prompting of Satan, brings the apple to Adam. You must understand that in that moment Adam loved uncertainty, the "maybe" .... because obviously he thought, "Maybe I can get away with this." That is the horror of what modern humans are increasingly falling into. They have become in love with lies and uncertainty, and even denial of truth, since it plays to their weakness, which is pride. I mean, how dumb could Adam be? He believes God about everything, but then when offered the first chance to be uncertain about the truth of one specific thing that God says, he "bites." But far from being dumb, Adam is classic human being, where pride tempts a human to disbelieve the truth since he, or she, then thinks they control other "options." Then, like I gave the analogy above, people will drive over bridges that have fallen down, thinking that they have "options" rather than the humility of truth that the bridge has fallen down.

I hope that you have found this helpful.