Sunday, August 5, 2012

Believing in God

"This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?   --  John 6:29-30

Faith really all boils down to this:  Belief.  In the passage above, some of the people want proof that Jesus is who he says he is.  All they need is a sign.  They need irrefutable proof before they will believe.

Personally, I have to wonder.... Have they not been watching Jesus?  Have they not been listening to Jesus?  Clearly not.  Otherwise, how could they ask such obtuse questions?  

But maybe... maybe, they just didn't know how to look.  Maybe they expected a sign to come in a different manner.  Maybe they wanted rain to start and stop on command, or the waves of the Sea of Galilee to part, or to have a sheep skin soak up water on dry ground.  After all, God had performed some amazing signs in the past.

So, why doesn't God make himself obvious to everyone?  Wouldn't that just make belief so much easier all-around? 

Well, according to the Bible, God did make himself absolutely obvious to everyone once.  When Moses rescued the Hebrew people from eternal Egyptian slavery, God performed TEN signs, of increasing power, just to be obvious about it.  Yet even then, whenever things became difficult in the wilderness, the people still doubted God.  Moses had to continually remind them of the God who had rescued them. 

So it doesn't seem to matter what God does.  Even when he is obvious, we doubt. 

Thankfully, there are many examples of people who believed in God's existence.  Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Jonah, Mary, etc. all felt God's active presence in their lives.  And many people throughout history have felt God's presence.  St. Augustine, St. Francis and Gandhi come to my mind immediately.

Why is it that God only becomes known to some?

Does it have anything to do with the spirit with which we view God?  Richard Tarnas describes this understanding in a beautiful parable of two suitors in his book, "Cosmos and Psyche:  Intimations of a New World View":  Imagine that you were being courted by two suitors.  One "approached you as though you were essentially lacking in intelligence... who thus saw you as fundamentally inferior to himself... and whose motivation for knowing you was ultimately driven by a desire for increased intellectual mastery, predictive certainty, and efficient control over you for his own self-enhancement?"  And the other "viewed you as at least as intelligent and noble, as worthy a being, as permeated with mind and soul, himself, [and who] seeks an intellectual fulfillment that is intimately linked with imaginative vision, moral transformation, empathetic understanding, aesthetic delight....[and whose] act of knowing is essentially an act of love and intelligence combined, of wonder as well as discernment..." (pg39).  Which suitor would you show yourself to?  Which suitor would you turn away from?

These hypothetical suitors of Tarnas' at least believe in the one they are courting.  If we do not even believe that God is a possibility, then how could God show himself to us?  Every move on God's part would be ignored entirely, or explained away, or even medicated away.  Which is, as we see to a large, and increasing, degree, the way things are today.

While driving up to Phoenix on Tuesday, I was listening to a lecture about the beginning of  "modernity" (The Great Courses, "Philosophy and Religion in the West", lecture 17, by Prof. Phillip Cary), which is when our modern way of viewing the world began to take place.  Prof. Cary states that with the Reformation, the Pope was no longer seen as the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith.  And because Catholics and Protestants interpreted the Bible differently, it too could not have the final authority for many people.  And so the question became:  what, or who, could determine the ultimate truth?  Rene Descartes reasoned that the only authority we could trust for sure was our own power of reasoning.  John Locke followed this by reasoning that the only way we could trust our reasoning was if it was based upon empirical evidence -- that is, upon whether we could see, hear, touch, smell, or taste what we believed to be true.  So, since many beliefs cannot be tasted, seen, heard, smelled, or touched, they were discounted.  And this seemed reasonable to a lot of people.  And it still seems reasonable to a lot of people.

Which is why many atheists do not believe in God.  Since God cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted, God cannot be real.  One person who thinks this way recently told me that my belief in God is all in my mind.

Well, where else could my belief be?  However subjective Descartes thesis may be, it is true that everything we know is founded upon our powers of reasoning.  Even whether the sky is blue.  Recent developments in science have determined that sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, are also essentially "all in our mind".  Our brain takes the input we receive from these five senses and then "makes sense" of what we are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.  Does that make the sky any less blue?  Does that make the taste of ice cream any less sweet?  Not to me.

In the same way, my brain processes the input I receive from simply being aware of the amazing intelligence, beauty, and connections in the world around me.  My brain takes this input, tries to make sense of it all, and concludes that I am a witness to God's presence.  How is that any different from how my brain processes the fact that I am witnessing snow when I experience white fluffy cold flakes floating down around me?  However my brain interprets the input, the experience itself is no less real.

Dear God,  thank you for all the wonderful insights brought into my life this week.  Thinking about you only makes me more aware of how truly present you are in the world.  Love always, Pam

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