Today our pastor (Jeff Byerly) said one of the traits of God's family is that it says "I won't give up on you."
God, though fully Other (not a human being, though once incarnated) manifests all the traits of the perfect parent.
The community of believers has the chance to be the prefect functional family of God. Not that this really happens, or can because we all fail, but through our imperfections, and God's love, his power and love is perfected in our weakness. Our brokenness can be mended, our hurts healed or lessened.
I believe "community" is a work in progress. You can haggle over the part of speech that it is formally, of course. But I think 'COMMUNITY" can take the form of a verb, noun, or adjective in how people that follow Jesus seek to do good to each other. Not giving up on each other plays into this.
I posted this at a friend's blog and I thought I'd like my readers to take a peek too. He posted a great question about suffering. I encourage you to check out his site and his books. Jim is an amazing human being. (Jim Palmer divinenobodies.com)
My response: what a fantastic question.
I doubt the answers are easy... not simple...
In an abstract sense, from my purview of reality, I think it becomes painful to realize we live in a world where great suffering exists. We have a chance to be "the hands and feet of Jesus", but the structures that cause evil do not get fixed. We also participate in our own injustice each time we fail to be kind, or we pass judgment, or we, even in a small way, participate or support unfairness. As we continue in the spiritual stages of development (see E. Liebert's "Changing Life Patterns") slowly we learn to integrate the contradictions and competing truths, not enjoy them, but learn to balance them in tension, so we can live in hope, and do our best in Love.
In a practical sense, I believe, the council of God's Work as narrative, seen in four parts speaks, to this terrible conundrum as well. Within most of the narratives, but in the whole biblical work, the themes surface of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Creation is perfection and goodness and beauty. It tells us how good we are to God, and also how things were once, before they broke. Fall tells us the "why" of all that has and will go wrong in the world, the suffering. It does NOT excuse it, but it helps account for it. Redemption is seen right away in Scripture, in the garden in fact, we don't even need to wait long. God redeem us and loves us, and likes us. He wants to be with us.
Consummation helps us understand that there is hope to come. Redemption does solve all the problems of this world. It may not remove our suffering, and heal every wound we may encounter around each bend. A new physical earth is promised in which wrongs will be righted, all justice will reign. Sometimes this may help us bear the horrors of this world. I think this dependence on God, this faith and giving our heart to a good God in the mist of competing realities can make the difference between hope and despair.
Love to all of you.
(this is still a messy situation. but it does give a little context that can be helpful. I think it's a journey, not a destination)
I've been reading the very academic book by Elizabeth Liebert "Changing Life Patterns: Adult Development in Spiritual Direction".
She speaks of the phase that happens once you realize that two contradictory statements can be true. Or, a statement can be true and not true at the same time. Living with paradoxes sets a person into a "more advantaged" (though not necessarily more holy) spiritual stage, and this can be disorienting for a while. For some, they are filled will doubts and they resist growth, or lapse in some way. Other struggle badly and come out into a new spiritual stage, after a bit. It helps to have a spiritual director or guide at times like these who is there to walk with you.
When one understands the world differently then before a "meta-logic" is needed for understanding contextual situations. old answers, simple ones, don't work any longer. Life is more nuanced and requires understanding of a differently reasoned sort.
Liebert notes 6 stages of spiritual development. Most overestimate their stage. Christians, stack up overwhelmingly in stages 3 and 4, and remain there, rarely making forays beyond in a permanent way.
In reading the writings of John Wesley ("A Plain Account of Christian Perfection") I can see how much his heart, mind, and strength was directed to serving God. For Methodism, he developed methods for this to play out in others, most times in groups.
The desire was to help others love God and be holy.
But what struck me is that many of the methods involved the outward modes to reach what he called "Christian Perfection". (fasting, prayer, bible reading, chastity, church attendance, group attendance, and more) What struck me was how this could degenerate into religion made up of mainly behavior modification, albeit well-intended. At worst, it could be very oppressive, legalistic, and judgmental. In other words, not God-like.
We can still see traces of this in Christianity, and in what atheists rile against.
God isn't trying to modify our behavior. He is trying to love us. No, wait! He DOES love us. Sin bars that. But not behavior (that's not the whole picture). That process means we get cleaned up, but loving him is really the true aim. We think it could be about performing suitably. It's sad to see things misplaced, especially Love and reconciliation.
Christians sometimes tend to push their agendas. People with bad experiences with Christians and church have poisoned views of church, religion, Christians, and God. But really we all long for love, beauty, truth, justice. In our attempts to dialogue, I contend we should builds bridges, and realize our common longings, not pick at other's wounds, or pound them with apologetics.
Here is some interesting dialogue I encountered. Weigh in with your thoughts.
------ from x: lisa—you’re absolutely correct that [certain] reality is in the eye of the beholder. Seeing a perfect rose one day might impress upon me the beauty of the world at large one day and the next depress me because of the shallowness of what is accepted as “beauty”.
I don’t read Craig as being any less insistent upon his version of reality than anyone else, but perhaps I’m wrong. Each of us experiences the world and crafts our own reality from it. The dinner I just ate was “okay” to me but “great” to my husband. These are, I suppose, competing versions of reality and neither of us will be able to change the other’s mind. There may be no “neutral standpoint”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss our experiences and both come away richer for it.
I’m not sure that science produces elitism any more than any other discipline (talk to any theologian, philosopher, or historian—or their armchair varieties). I’m not certain that science & religion are so at odds, I just think they describe vastly different matters. Just as philosophical logic is ill-suited to maths, mathematical logic is ill-suited to philosophy. Religion and science are similarly compatible but separate. I think a scientific approach to the Divine is idiotic—and a religious approach to science is criminal.
So we’re left with experiences. My experience of the Church of my parents is one of oppression, violence, and hatred. I’ve met wonderful people whose experience of that same religion is uplifting, peaceful, and holy. I’m baffled by that, but I respect it. My experience of atheism has been a community of disaffected ex-religionists who, in community, find solace, comfort, and safety away from the violence that religion has done to us.
Personally, I think it’s irresponsible of AA to preach God as a way to get over addiction. That’s not getting over addiction, that’s replacing a physically damaging addiction with a mentally damaging one.
I agree that there probably isn’t an “absolute truth” or definite answer to life, the universe, and everything (unless it’s 42), but I also think that you can touch truth, beauty, and perfection to know it exists. Sometimes, knowing that Justice is out there is the only thing that gives me hope. But I don’t pray to her, or worship her. I find it difficult to believe that any god needs my worship and adoration, or cares enough about my puny human problems to intercede & change the universe so that I’m happy. I think meditation/prayer are useful tools for me to get a grip on my own psyche and that ritual serves a need for routine. Just about every other aspect of religion (besides community) seems inherently dangerous, disingenuous, and, for want of a better word, evil.
26Craig // Nov 2, 2008 at 8:51 pm
x, it’s actually “47″.
But other than that, I agree completely.
27lisa // Nov 3, 2008 at 6:29 am
I just loved your post x. I totally agree with your “touch truth” sentence.
I’m surprised that you say that your atheist friends are made up of people who are just people who been hurt by religion. I should say I’m not surprised, too. I’ve been hurt by Christians too, and churches. Not good ones, though. Problem ones. It is a broken world. Free choice = potential problems, but also opportunity to do good freely as well. It so sad when people fail the God they supposedly love. It does much damage, I agree very much.
I guess to me it just seems like an emotional reason to not believe in God, not a very logical one, though the logical reason I guess get thought of later. I thought your group would be more thoughtful, coming from a more neutral spot. That’s so sad to hear, and my heart goes out to you and your friends. That totally sucks. If I had the chance I would love to speak to those who hurt you and tell them a few things.
I’m so sorry those things happened. They did the opposite of Love. In a community of love, those things are fought against. I experience the best and closest, most beautiful friendship you could imagine. My family was screwed up, but now I get to experience true Love, and I can tell you it’s very life changing. It’s not based on a rejection of another group for bonding and solace though. I truly hope you can find healing for the evils done against you.
Have you forgiven them?
28 x // Nov 3, 2008 at 3:20 pm
I guess I wouldn’t say that my atheist group is “just” people hurt by religion but that, having been hurt by religion, these people left it. My husband, as I often say, is the most a-theistic person I know, having been raised in an environment that never mentioned God. He’s also one of the most well-adjusted when it comes to religion. But he has no need of the atheist community like I do.
The apology on behalf religionists who cause injury is something that I come across rather frequently and I respect the place from which it comes, but I have to say that I find it rather disingenuous, since I would bet money that the people who apologize participate in the same hurtful actions that those who should apologize do. And as a sister once told me, an apology means nothing if there is intent to do it again.
Forgiveness is a very religious concept; one of many I’m trying to get out of my psyche. I can say that they acted in the way that they thought was right and that, when they stand before their God in the Court of their Heaven, they will have nothing to answer for. This does not make my wounds any shallower, but it helps me in my daily interactions with those who caused them.
Religion as a thing of beauty can exist only in the mind of one of its adherents. As soon as it enters two minds, its beauty is destroyed and it seeks only to cause pain. Jesus once said that he is there, wherever two or more are gathered. I think the real Truth of religion is that the Divine is only there in the silence of our hearts—in Beauty, in Love, and in Truth. But never collectively.
29lisa // Nov 3, 2008 at 6:57 pm
Well, x, you bring up an interesting point, and I also think a contradiction.
You said, “I think the real Truth of religion is that the Divine is only there in the silence of our hearts—in Beauty, in Love, and in Truth. But never collectively.” You also spoke of Justice in a similar way earlier. I think you are speaking of ideals. Yes? I think that you understand these to be something that you consider to be real, not fictitious. Yes? Things to give hope, to aspire to, and these things actually point “off the map.” Really they are not just found within. For instance, if you extinguished human life and creation, in an instance, Beauty and Truth and Justice and Love would not cease to be real.
Many people consider this to be spiritual language for that reason. If these things are beyond us, and infinite, perfection, and not fictitious, what are we really speaking of?
To know of these things and then to box them down as only infinite, and not powerful enough to be both infinite and also personal, smacks as ironical.
Beside that, I think people do share these ideals between others, not just in the silence of their hearts, but also within them as well. Part of loving someone can involve a deep shared love for these things and increased intimacy that grows between the two. My experience reflects the unity of community toward the divine, I believe, enacting the Trinity, in fact, if done properly.
To forgive really only means to cancel a debt. I’m not sure I understand why you think it is religious. Do you think people should not forgive each other? people should not apologize or offer others forgiveness for wrongs? Maybe you could unpack that for me, I guess I don’t understand your take on that one. I think, “Why carry a grudge? It’s like carrying around poison, no? Forgiving never validates an offense, but it does release the victim from more pain.”
There is a lot of hurt out there. christians and church has done a bunch of it, too I've heard the pain first hand. What are ways we can reach people with God's love, in ways that really matter?