Thursday, October 6, 2011


Hi.  I had forgotten how inquisitive you are and I admire that.  I know we both have personal  limits of energy and time  for this kind of  enjoyable exchange.  So I'm feeling a need to put some boundaries on myself here. Without  some boundaries the kind of  process we have started  could be an endless one.

I have been 'thinking out loud' with you and I would trust  this sharing is considered confidential. Sharing the depths are so easily misunderstood even to the one shared with not to mention third unintended parties. So I would ask that of you with regards to what we have discussed ? I will comment on just a few of your requests:

Some key influences on my life, thinking and belief  include: 1)a strong sincere involvement with the Bible which I was taught is the only way that we seriously can find the voice of God for our lives. 2)a time of discovering that the scriptures themselves do not claim to be the only primary source of God’s encounter with persons. Also a time of facing the facts about what is now known about the history of the Bible: how, who, and why certain books are included in it and more of the nature of the documents themselves 3)* I did have  experiences 20 years ago that were so overwhelming in their impact that it took years for me to fully  regain my equilibrium. I got a good  and healthy dose of psychology during  that time which was a significant help in making sense of the experience. The experience itself was not totally unlike some described in the Bible of encounters with the Divine.
Saul's Conversion
But even those biblical descriptions of encounters with God would today be considered also as psychological experiences and even would likely be viewed as having neurotic if not more serious types of symptoms.( For example Paul’s conversion occurring at a full blown crisis in his personal life or Moses'  desert experience of the 'burning bush.' ). In my psychological studies I did  not sell my birthright or throw out the baby with the bath water. A woman recently asked as we discussed the need to reexamine cherished beliefs, ‘Am I to give up what I’ve been taught all my life?" Good question and my answer is that a Christian will likely  never need to give up any belief that would make them less Christlike. The experiences I had  left no doubt in my mind that it was an encounter with what what has always in all cultures been called God. I could not describe it without using the words 'miracle'  and 'ecstasy.' I do not mean 'miracle' in the sense of 'a violation of natural order' but  of being aware of  previously unknown realities and ecstasies that makes nature a numinous experience. An experience leaving one with the same quality of astonishment that the Biblical miracle stories communicate. I find meaning in theologian Paul Tillich's definitions of 'miracle and ecstasy.' He said,' Miracle is the ecstasy of the outer world  and Ecstasy is the miracle of the inner world.'   I found numerous  concepts  of depth  psychology  helpful in understanding such experiences but I do not refer to them as "just psychological."  The word psychology means the "study of the soul" so religion and psychology are not mutually exclusive.  In those encounters and their aftermath much of what I now believe was either formed or reinforced. I, like you, finally knew whom and what  I believed. And it was by an  authority that is beyond that of any written word. It might be appropriately called, 'Living Word of God.'

I am as suspicious of such stories of  direct experience of the Sacred as anyone  and sadly I think the airwaves and churches are full of attempts to misguide people into false or grandiose expectations of  direct experiences of God. But I am also very slow if ever  to rule out the authenticity of one's personal story. You have probably noticed that the Biblical stories of  this type indicate that the person affected this way was not in anyway wanting or seeking such experience. Which was the case with me. I am in no way implying that my experience was in any way  parallel with those described in the Bible which gave rise to the Hebrew and Christian religions. It was just helpful to my healing to know that humans have many times before felt like God was immanently present in some overwhelming  way. My statements explaining my beliefs are in language that is affected by the three formations that I listed above.

Yes, I do believe that the cultural stories handed down that became the Old Testament show us much more about how the people who formed the stories experienced God than they are of the ways you and I should take as  how we presently think and imagine God to be. I know that much of  historic Christianity has made them to be more than that but I do not think there is an intellectually honest reason for doing that and I think it can shipwreck the views of God that  we can perceive in Jesus'  words and actions. This was their story after all, not ours.
Moses Parting The Red Sea
We should not just 'assume' that it is also ours in any direct way. Obviously this is so important because how we think and feel about God and God's nature effects every thought we have, word we say and every action we take. This carrying of our inner meaning of God is what I keep referring to as the 'image of God.' This is perhaps a psychological concept but is also a spiritual concept and one with most important consequences. That is not to say that the Hebrew concepts of God are not important. They remain alive in some people and they are certainly  useful as "examples for our learning" (in some case to see how God is not) but not as the foundation  of our thought of the nature of God. This is what the incarnation of God becoming man is about and why it is such a radical breakthrough. To think that it is just a continuation of something rather than a New Beginning, from the Christian perspective, in how to view and experience God seems to me a serious departure from the meaning of the gospel of Jesus as I understand it from scripture and experience.

When God is viewed as ‘for us and against others’ as so many of the OT stories present, that is a most dangerous kind of religion whether it be Judaism, Muslim, Christianity, or other. God being very willing to kill innocents for the benefit of Hebrews is perhaps the most chilling of the images of God in the OT and I suspect was  psychologically alive in the  recent American decision to bomb Iraq with very insufficient evidence that the people we would be killing, much of it  ‘collateral’, anyone who  had done anything to harm us. Our country sadly has often used OT images of God to give ourselves permission to act aggressively  against other people. These images need to be seen for their powerful and destructive potentials and  to be resisted strongly. Jesus gives no such easy way to harm others for our own supposed well being. In fact, likely only the straightforward teachings of Jesus, in a dominant Christian culture, can possibly prevent these destructive God images from being lived out at horrible cost to humankind.
'God Approved' Violence In The Old Testament
History is full of examples of it and we are threatened today with even more catastrophic harm to humanity. There are parts of the OT that do point to a God of All people but a bigger part of it taken literally gives one a strong basis and inclination for seeing people who are different as not being in the care of and on the side of God just as much as we are. This inclines one to feel quite superior to people who believe differently about God and life. This is why I said that I reject those images of God for they are not mine. But more important they are not the image of the God that I believe Jesus brought to his friends and those who heard his message. If Jesus were asking me to contain such images along with what he was revealing, I suppose I would try to but I’m glad he has not.  I doubt  he would be described by many  as their God Image today if he had not represented in word and action the kind of God Image he did. In all humility I do not think I need to prove my sincerity or willingness to take the difficult way when it seems to be the right way. Another way of saying it is that I would never have been drawn to Jesus in the first place were it not for how he communicated the character of  God to be. It took me a along time and I think even required a life threatening experience to release me from  contrary images of God including many of those in the OT. I should add that my present images of God include  concepts  that are not directly spoken of or interpreted in Historic Christianity as necessarily a part of the Christ Image. But it has been the following of the image of the Story of Jesus that has led me eventually to the ways I imagine God today.

OK, I’ve more than taken luxury with our limited time and energy. If you have any questions or needs that are affecting your every day life that my experience can speak to I would try, but I do not get that impression and am glad for it. I never purposely  look for problems. There seems to always be far more in our own back yards than any of us can deal with.

God bless you in every way. Thanks for your interest in me. Jim H.

*Regarding the personal experiences the reader may want to read blog " Dream: Help Of A Woman."

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