I began this collection of thoughts last night and have been sitting here all day with that infamous gloved hand hovering over “Publish Post,” but since I want to put myself out there through my writing, here you go:
I am continuing my long, joyous journey of gratitude and have been reading varying perspectives on religion and spirituality. I am grateful for the ability to read, pray, write, and experience God in a variety of different ways.
Lately, I have been checking out writers like Garry Wills, referring back to some of the writers I read in my early seminary career (Karen Armstrong, Placher, Otto, Kierkegaard), and reviewing old favorites like C.S. Lewis. I remember sitting in my favorite seminary class (Knowing God, taught by the inimitable Dr. Lee Barrett) and discussing the various ways in which people over the course of history have experienced God. We ventured into groups and discussed our own experiences and how they related (or didn’t relate) to those we were studying. There is little that fascinates me more than this type of discussion. The wondrous ways through which God reaches out to each of us speak of just how great, powerful, and good God really is.
So I’m studying these experiences and learning a great deal about opening oneself up to the possibility of encountering God anywhere and everywhere. Yet to listen to some religious leaders, you would think there is a singular set of practices that define or allow one to have the “God experience.” To listen to these assertions, you might get the idea that if you aren’t experiencing God in that way, you probably aren’t really experiencing “Him” at all. This harmful thought process may be driving people away from the church and religion all together, but that’s a discussion for another day.
On the face of it, a singular God experience strikes me as absurd. Who are we to tell anyone that their experience of God is wrong? It does not make sense to me that a God as omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, good, and personal as the God I pray to would put limits on how God reaches out to any being in the universe. I have long held the belief that God reaches us all where we are. God is capable of doing that, created us all to be unique beings who can achieve great and terrible things, and thus finds a way–God’s way–to reach each individual.
I have Christian friends, non-Christian friends, and atheist friends. While I cannot really relate to the line of thinking that insists there is no Supreme Being (primarily because I don’t know how one can “know” that there is not a god anymore than I can “know” that there is one), I can understand why someone might have questions and doubts. I have them myself, in fact, and I would be a dishonest Christian if I said I did not wonder and question. Among other things, the point of faith, I think, is to believe in something greater than oneself and broaden one’s perspective in order to see a greater meaning outside of the self. What faith is not, however, is an excuse to accept, at face value, all of the assertions made by this religious leader or that. The search for answers should never really end and we should all look deeper. In the interest of academic and theological curiosity, I cannot simply sit back and take what I’m being told without a spirit of conjecture. This may lead me to discover things and think about things differently than you, but it does not mean one of us is more right than the other.
So it makes no sense to me that God would not have a plan to reach people in third world countries or in areas of the world where the Holy Bible is not present. Doesn’t it seem a better fit to believe that God might be bigger than that? It strikes me as a contradiction to put human limits on a Being that is in no shape, manner, or form human. We may well have been created in God’s image, but we don’t know which part of us reflects that image (physical? personality? capacity for reason? spirit?). God is beyond our human comprehension. I mean, we do the best we can with the abundant tools we are given (intellect, biblical and other texts, reason, historical and anthropological studies, prayer, worship, whatever), but ultimately, if we are framing our entire concept of God solely around our own human understanding, maybe we do not understand God at all. Maybe that’s the whole point.