Friday, November 14, 2014

SERMON: GOD IS MULTIFACETED... November 14, 2014

      Judges 4:17-21, Zephaniah 1:7, 12-13, Matthew 25:28-30, Psalm 23:1

After some struggling I decided to think with you about an area of Bible fact that I've had in the back of my mind for three decades. How can we best think of the quite terrible images and stories in the Bible which say these  are somehow a part of God's nature? I think this has been often swept under the rug in much Christian teaching in our efforts to defend  God as being  good and only good. (note the darkness of the passages above.) Do we not owe sincere truth seekers and ourselves an explanation of such horrendous descriptions of God throughout the Bible? This goes hand in hand with the very appropriate question ,' If God is all good, all powerful  and all loving why are such horrible and sad things a part of every life and culture? One of my personal awful experiences was the sudden death of my mother when I was 10 years old. I do look at that very differently than I did the first half of my life. So I offer you some things to consider that I have found helpful. None of this is new but not often spoken of.
  1. We can be humble enough to say, 'We can never fully know God.' By any basic definition 'God is all, encompasses all that has been, is and can be.' So by our very situation as being only a part of the whole of all things we cannot ever hope to grasp the total which is God. The Dominican priests have a slogan that says, ' God is in all and all is in God.' This refuses to split reality into what is of God and what isn't or is conveniently passed on to an equal god, called the devil. So when we split our lives up into what is of God and not God we really fail to stay true to the belief that God is actually all of it somehow... good and bad, what we interpret as beautiful and ugly, what comes into our life that saturates us with joy and love and gratitude and that which comes that we must call tragedy and even evil. Taking these as aspects of the nature of God means that we and all else in the universe is contained. Nothing, absolutely nothing spills out , is rejected or is left out of the container which is the ultimate meaning of God. Though somewhat difficult, I think this is a good, sound and solid way to think of God.

  2. Since we are forbidden by our knowing capacities to fully know God we can accept that we have only our own personal experiences of life to base our idea of God on. Some of these are experiences of material reality that come through our senses. We also have images and ideas and dreams that spring up spontaneously in our minds. But none of these images can ever be the actual full reality they point to outside ourselves. Our experiences can only point to the actual realities that stir up and cause our various experiences. So we can be honest to ourselves about what we know and don't know and not claim more. We have only estimates of those realities outside of us. Two can look at the same mountain and feel some confidence they both see the same thing. That is only because we trust we each have basically the same seeing equipment, our eyes and nervous system. But if one of us should look at the mountain through an electron microscope or an infrared lens we will have an entirely different image of the same mountain. And none of these images in our minds can ever be the actual 'real' mountain for the real mountain is simply not ever in our head, only different estimates of it. How much more this is true of things outside the material world such as the idea of God. It is our personal experiences that can point to some aspects of God but never are the ideas and estimates in our head able to be the actual transcendent reality of God. Someone will say, 'Well if we only have experiences that point to God than do we have any right to speak of God at all. To not know the fullness of God must mean that God is not real to us.

  3. My thought here is that even though our experiences are not the totality of God itself, they are extremely important and they are very real, the only real thing we have that connects us to anything else. So it seems it is our human privilege and obligation to seek meaning from the experiences we have. And this humans, since consciousness entered our minds, have done and continue to do. Religions and science come from making meaning of human experiences. Being able to embrace life depends on the human capacity to 'make meaning' from his/her experiences. And to have meaning in life might be viewed as the most basic thing a human needs to keep the zest for living alive. Without it depression and anxiety threaten to overwhelm. Our experiences can lead us to meaning and for many that highest meaning is the idea which includes ALL and is always called God. This view reflects the Oneness that so many Bible passages, including Jesus' prayer for unity, implore as creation's destiny. Our human experiences range from  glorious to horrible. We all say sometimes, 'That's  life.' and that is absolutely and everywhere true. So we may very reasonably say that 'Life's experiences are God'. Life's experiences are to us God and God is life's experiences. This way God is truly All in All and nothing is not of God.  We understand God to be One, All in All.

  4. One more suggestion. We might stop thinking and saying that God does this or that. This creates a confused situation for it implies that God blesses some and curses others. It is hard for humans to escape thinking that God is a great and powerful human-like being out there somewhere. But it seems time for us to work at giving that cherished image up. 

    Isn't it truer to the nature of God to say that ' God is experienced'?  For this is true always. The great importance of finding meaning in the idea of God shows itself when anything suddenly runs against our conscious expectations. Humans everywhere exclaim, “ Oh My God.” They experience God at that moment I believe. Everything we experience is an aspect of God, but not to be thought of God deciding to do to this or that. My mother's death was not a choice God made for me, as I see it, but it was I think indeed an undeniable aspect of God as are all life's startling experiences. The awe I experienced as a young teen when I found arrowheads... objects shaped and last touched by a fellow human thousands of years ago.... was an aspect of God, an experience that pointed to God for me. Falling in love is an aspect of God as is a heart attack or any infirmity. Such formative parts of life do not have to be left as ones with no meaning and no connection to God. St Francis experienced God in the animals and flowers. Pierre Teilhard experienced God in the rocks and fossils. Paul experienced God in his 'thorn in the flesh'  as well as his inner experience of the 'third heaven.'  These are best thought of not as God doing something but as experience which points to aspects of God whose full actuality is forever beyond us? Is this not honest and consistent to our actual experience? God is truly multifaceted, as multifaceted as every inner and outer experience that humans have.
Conclusion: These tools of thought may help us to be in closer harmony with an evolving image of God for the 21st century. 1. God does not consciously do but every human experience is an aspect of God. 2. God is never fully known but is pointed to potentially by every human experience 3. God is in all and all is in God. 4.God is life's experience, all of it. 5. It is human spiritual work to find meaning in our individual and collective experience and to many such meaning points to the idea of God. We cannot impose our meaning on someone else. If many persons' experience points to a similar meaning then this will happen and a new collective harmony forms. We can't manufacture it. 

This can mean that the terrible descriptions of God in the Bible were for these people experiences which pointed to aspects of God. So we do not have to pretend these horrific aspects of God are not a reality or are illusions. The  unspeakable good and bad experiences humans have can be understood as aspects of God. I am  convinced that both humans and God are evolving toward that which is more fully and completely good. But honesty insists that neither human life nor anything in the Bible suggests that such a time has yet arrived. Yet great strides in pockets of human consciousness in recent decades indicate we are due a major shift toward the better. So we can  ask for  and desire to have an attitude that all which happens with us needs not be separated into two piles, but it is all of God. God is in it all and all of it is in God. Let's close with an image of God's goodness that has been a great source of strength and hope for billions and many can gladly claim that its meaning points to an eternal aspect of God. …..

Psalms 23. A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; 2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Amen.

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