A search...

God is the thing which enables us to do what we want to do when we lack the courage or will to follow through... The thing which enables us to do what we want in spite of ourselves...

a) the Bible is but one way to understand God
b) Baptists are mostly pharisees
c) Evolutionary biology is evidence of man's broken spirit
d) who are you really talking to when you pray?

I guess I should start by saying I think there seem to be three logical things to do with life. If there is no meaning, either be a hedonist or simply commit suicide if life brings no joy - thankfully I enjoy life and am an optimist by nature (though not so much that I don't have reservations about having children). The other is to search for meaning. There are many ways to do this and many things a person could decide to devote themselves to. A family. Community. Art. They are all fleeting, but hold an undeniable truth. I think the most common place most people find meaning (though maybe it's just peace from an existential crisis) is religion. And though many people hate it for the divisiveness it seems to cause, I think there is a lot of value in it even if it turns out not to be true in the sense that people think it is. It may be just be a good way to psychologically and philosophically deal with the problems people face. One doesn't have to believe in the supernatural to enjoy it. I think yoga is a good example. There are many people who have taken the practical aspects away without being full blown yogis. I am not trying to say either is right or wrong, just that religion is still worthy of study even if one does not believe in god. It represents thousands of years of human thinking about how to deal with life's challenges.

So, I started where I am most comfortable, which is my Christian faith. In many ways I didn't really have a choice. It was a way of thinking that was fed to me in my most formative years by those I trusted most: my family. It is an entire way of viewing what happens in the world, an entirely different view of consciousness and reality. Over the past few years I thought my Southern Baptist roots were something I'd come to terms with, but it was really just something I'd silenced. Recently something pushed the un-mute button and those thoughts came back with a searing precision. I realized I needed to deal with it properly... so began my journey anew.

So, when I thought about the things I had been taught, Christianity was fundamentally about worshiping God. But then I realized I had no idea what/who God really was. Is he love? Is he angry? Is he a judge? Is he ambivalent to the day to day things we go through? I knew so many facets of who he was, but I did not necessarily have a picture of a God that the deepest parts of my soul were begging to worship.

So I decided to turn to the one place that claimed to be the source of knowledge about him: the Bible. Though this time I had to shed all of the collective interpretation that I usually let influence my thinking. When I was a child and I had questions (or conclusions that didn't fit in with what I was being taught), I would ask the preacher what they meant. I realized I am capable of finding them out on my own. God even promises this. "All those who seek shall find."

So as I turned to the Bible, I guess I went to the most logical place which was the writings of Solomon. I found Ecclesiastes to be pretty in sync with how I see the world: In the end, everything is ultimately meaningless... but I couldn't buy into the conclusion that since that's true, we should just spend our lives worshiping God.

That was because the God that I understood was not worthy of worship. He was a jumbled mess of ideology and emotions I didn't want to be a part of.

So then, I began by looking at the attributes of God, and the most common is "holy," which is simply translated as "separate." I found that to be particularly telling. There wasn't any weight attached to it, at least initially, it's just that he is something special, something set apart. But what was he? That became something I wanted to discover. What is the nature of God?

I decided for several reasons, that the best way to do this would be to go into the "wilderness" for a while, along the lines of Elijah, Moses, or Jesus. Getting away, fasting some, and focusing on one goal seemed to be a good way to get some clarity. So I began to prepare for that period, I ironically feel as if I might have already grasped the part that I have been looking for. I will try to outline it..

When I think about the Bible I think there are several distinct epochs of time: Creation and the Garden of Eden, The Pre-Noah era, Abraham and the development of Israel leading up to Jesus, and then Post-Pentecost (aka the period of the Holy Spirit [aka the world we live in]). Most evangelicals teach that these are literal periods of time, but when looked at each as a metaphor for how God and Man seek to deal with the complications of free will I found it made much more sense. I also found a peace that I hadn't had before.

Creation and the Garden of Eden
When I think about science and the way the rest of the natural world works, I cannot help but view this as a beautiful example for how life is meant to exist. The creation story loosely fits in with our understanding of how the world came into being: the big bang and progressive evolution to more complex organisms.

In the garden there was this period of perfect symbiotic equilibrium. Essentially what happens naturally. Man was just another species in this perfect microcosm - I think of something like Galapagos. Species just do what they are intended to do. There is no right or wrong. There is just natural instinct. It was a perfect system... but man had a way out, a way to complicate things. The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil".

Here is a quote from Cicero which might make this clearer:
"virtue. . . is nothing else than [rational] nature perfected and developed to its highest point."

"Aristotle's teleology (telos = aim, purpose, goal, end). Aristotle believed and everyone and everything had a purpose. Everything has an "entelechy." The word literally means "having a telos inside." For example, he thought that rocks always fall to the ground because their entelechy compelled them to fall to the center of the earth. The human entelechy is rational activity in pursuit of the good.

Man could obtain sentience, which would "make him like God". I like how the bible uses nakedness as the characteristic man first notices about himself after obtaining knowledge. I feel like this is shame and guilt. A dog has none - it has simply instinct (or at least they don't carry it with them for more than a few moments). We were free to be creative in our own pursuits and free to pervert the natural order of things. We were free to chose evil. God didn't create it, it is simply what man has brought into existence after obtaining free will.

The Age of Noah
In this period there is no law, no prophets, there is no Bible: just a species of conscious beings left to their own devices - and they make a mess of it. They fall into evil with the exception of one man and his family - Noah. What I find most unique is that Noah found God without any of the modern accoutrement of any religion. It seems it was just a desire to follow, and a sincere search... anyway, God tries again and cleans the slate. It ends with a promise to not do this again.

Abraham, Israel and Jesus
This part begins with a promise to one man. His offspring become a nation. God reveals himself through prophets and eventually offers ultimate redemption through Jesus, which was the purpose of the whole thing. God wanted to offer us a way to restore what was broken. He also offered the other tree from the Garden of Eden: "the tree of life."

When I think about Israel, I think about the law and the commandments. I always viewed them as a measuring stick. Something to be graded against. But interestingly the New Testament says the law is not there for that purpose. It was simply there to show us that we needed God. That we couldn't do it without him.

Jesus even says that the law can be summed up in one sentence: love God and love your neighbor. It says it more explicitly in 1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

This way of living seemed very natural to me, but I still did not know how to love God, particularly if it was not by trying to follow commandments.

Life after the Holy SpiritWell when I think about what God is, I think about that little voice inside me. Most people would call it a conscience. I feel bad when I violate it and I feel good when I do what it tells me. The problem is I can't follow it consistently. No matter what my intentions are I fail to live up to my own desires. I think that is the purpose of God. That is what happened in the Garden of Eden. Man existed in a state where he just enjoyed life and enjoyed the presence of God. I think that's what the Holy Spirit is about. It's about god in us. That's what Jesus name, Emmanuel means "God with us".

So to sum it all up, God created a perfect system. I think nature, and natural selection are a reflection of this. The Garden of Eden is a metaphor for this as well. We are meant to exist in symbiosis and and commune with the spirit of God. However, we chose sentience ("The tree was... desirable for gaining wisdom"). Afterwards God left man to his own devices and he made a mess of it. We kill each others, we lie, we cheat. We aren't totally depraved, but after hundreds and thousands of generations we can pervert our natures. Evolutionary biology points to this fact. It's the result of our own choices after time. We have both the benefits of altruism (which allowed us to rise above other species and work together) but also the "negative" aspects such as greed which allow us to overcome others within our species. There is no real way to expunge this duality from ourselves. I think the Calvinistic idea that we are totally depraved is wrong, but I do think that we need a little "extra." I think that's what the holy spirit is. It is the spirit of inside us. It is the thing that gives us the courage and the power to do what we innately know is right. The power to rise above our own selfishness.

I will close by sharing one last bit of science. My friend said "deep down inside, people know who they are talking to when they pray." It's a bit of an open ended statement, but I think is is getting at the heart of faith. He offered some evidence from modern neuroscience that I found particularly telling. He said brain scans had been done to see what parts of the brain was active when people thought about what they should do, and then other parts were active when they thought about what their friends or family members would do. Interestingly the same parts that lit up when they thought about what they should do were the same parts that lit up when they prayed.

One could say that's evidence that everyone who prays is just crazy and Schizophrenic. I would offer that as another metaphor showing that we each have a little piece of God inside of us all...

We just have to listen...