Saturday, 15 October 2011

Talking with God

The biggest connection we can have with God is surely through prayer. Yet, I have always found praying extremely difficult. either I am repeating a text in the hope of God hearing it but not sure what it is supposed to accomplish or I have tried to talk to God but because my attention span is limited, my thoughts tend to wander and I end up thinking about taking the garbage out. Not exactly something I need to bother God with, really. And anyway, isn’t it pretty annoying for God to have people constantly asking for stuff? How can he listen to all of them? And some of the prayers at least must contradict the prayer of another person (my housemate suggested jokingly to pray for Wales winning against France in the Rugby World Cup for example) so why even bother? What can I ask of God and how do I build a relationship with him, how can I connect? And let’s not forget, I am just a measly little human, how can I even think of changing God’s mind? And is asking God for things what it’s all about and isn’t there something deeper?

Some of these questions I can already answer; using common sense. I’m sure praying about a team winning a sports match or winning the lottery isn’t going to make God change his mind but it can help me feel like I’ve done something. In the end I have asked and now it is up to him to decide whether to interfere and if yes, in what way. As usual, I will use different texts to explore praying and different ways of doing it.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Two or three

The new testament tells us the most astonishing story of God being born as Man and coming to Earth. And not only does he condescend to our rather low level of existence (as it must seem from his point of view), he also let’s himself be tortured and killed, and all in the name of saving us. This must be the ultimate proof of God’s love for mankind. Only a God who really wants to help would do that. And in the form of Jesus he tells us quite a bit about his love. We’ll get into the nature of his love later on, at the moment we will focus on his assurances that he does:
Matthew 7:7
“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”
So, while the initiative is our responsibility, God will always be there for us. All we have to do is ask.
Matthew 18: 20
“For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”
This Bible verse is very clear. Whenever there are people together, talking about or to God, they will not be alone. A bridge between Heaven and Earth opens and God attends to us. And he explains how he does it at the same time: He will work through the other people (which is why he needs at least one more person there). So there won’t be lightening and thunder to help us but someone else, of our own kind. While this seems a bit of a letdown, it also means, that God has probably helped us many times already without us even noticing. A very comforting thought.
Matthew 28: 20
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
All of this really leaves no room for interpretation; God is there, he hears and listens and he helps us through the work of others. We just need to ask.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Hands off my people!

In the Old Testament God is described rather hands on. He talks directly to selected people (some very worthy, others less so); he punishes persons and peoples, he rewards them, too and he performs a large number of miracles. All the stories focus on how much God loves his people and how much he wants them to succeed. He protects, rewards and punishes. The God of the Old Testament is most certainly interested. I will not describe the many ways in which God interfered in our world that are described in the Old Testament; you can read those stories for yourselves, instead I will focus on a few quotes.

Exodus 34: 6, 7

“God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands…”

God is not only interested, he also loves us, all of us at the same time (thousands must have felt as billions feel today) and on top of that he is faithful to us. He does not abandon us, he is there, always.

Isaiah 40: 28, 29

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the Earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

God is all powerful, we cannot even begin to understand his strength and abilities and how much he knows and understands us. But inspite of all these differences, he is there for us when we need him the most and supports us and gives us strength.

Psalm 116: 1, 2

“I love the Lord for he hears my voice/he heard my cry for mercy./ Because he turned his ear to me,/ I will call on him as long as I live.”

This is a description of someone’s (presumably David’s) experience with God and it’s very powerful. God is being thanked and his love and care proclaimed to others and the whole psalm is very beautifully written (like almost all of them). So this person was in distress and God listened. Note, we don’t know how exactly this person was helped but we know the manner in which he (I say he because I doubt a woman would have been writing about upholding the Lord in the courts as it says later on) was helped: The Lord listened. The Lord heard his cry for mercy and helped him. He was there. And a lot of the time it may be all that is necessary; being there.

Overlapping Earth and Heaven

While being given a scientific mind I nevertheless enjoy the much more vague discipline of philosophy very much. For those of you who do likewise I can only suggest to read the introduction to Christianity “Simply Christian” by Tom Wright; who manages to explain the different ideas of believing in God in a way that suits amateurs like me very well.

He distinguishes between the two spheres Heaven and Earth; Heaven being where God resides and Earth being the world we can see and touch around us. There are three theories describing the relationship between those two spheres:

Pantheism: The two spheres are in fact one and God is everything and everything is God. The difficulty with this theory is that if God is everything, how can we be sure what is good and what is evil? If God is both, why would we strive towards only one? It wouldn’t matter what we do and this goes against that knowledge of right and wrong that all humans have.

Deism/ Epicurean: The two spheres are completely separate and do not overlap. God made the universe but now is a distant observer at best. While this makes sense, it does seem kind of pointless to go to all of the trouble of making such a marvellous and intricate thing, including a sentient species in whom there is a knowledge of what is good and bad and then not interacting with it. At all. It would mean that we are just a cosmic joke.

Judaeo-Christian/ Muslim: At this point I just have to say, I really don’t like the word Judaeo-Christian. Most of the time it is used, one really should add “Muslim” as well, yet somehow we tend to ignore this whole other, really popular, religion when talking of our background. But, back to business. While there are two separate spheres, there are also overlaps. For example, God spoke to Abraham, Jacob saw a ladder between Earth and Heaven, God guided Israel as a fire column etc. etc. The largest overlap, from a Christian point of view being, of course, that God himself became human in Jesus Christ. This allows for God to take an interest; to perform miracles and to try and save us from ourselves. It says that God has remained in a close relationship with the world, and therefore us.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Seeking the Truth

First let’s see what Augustine has to say. He lived in Roman North Africa during the 4th century and still is one of the most read theologians and philosophers. I haven’t read his works in full, in fact I have only read an introduction (see the list on the upper left) but even with my rather restricted knowledge I can tell he is one of the most intelligent and inspired men to ever have walked the Earth. I like most his scientific mind and logical approach to a problem.

So here is what I found out. He says that God is with everyone seeking truth and that while our minds may not be able to grasp that truth, the simple fact that God is there right beside us while we are seeking suffices for our happiness. Reading between the lines; I understand that as long as we are earnestly and honestly trying God is there to support us and help us along. This, of course, implies that God is in fact interested and wants to help us if only we were able to understand him. It makes sense to me. We cannot possibly grasp how God thinks or who he is so as long as we try he supports us. And, Augustine says, he communicates with us through prayer but not prayer as many people understand it. So simple petitions probably don’t make much of an impact, true prayer is when we are able to conform our will to his. In other words; God is there for us to help us “see reason” whenever we are not working towards his will.

All of this points to a loving God who is well aware of the shortcomings of his creation but seeks to help the best we let him.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Is God interested in me?

Something I have been struggling with a lot is the concept of a God actually interested in us mere humans. So I am dedicating the following week to this very important topic. Everything else follows from this because a God who is just observing and not interfering or loving would never have sent his son to us, never mind coming back from the dead or any of the other miracles described in the bible.
So what do I believe? It's all very confusing in my mind because one the one hand I cannot imagine that someone might be interested in every human there is but on the other hand I have had that conviction before and I wish very much that it was true.
Why God probably doesn't care: Well, the universe is pretty large. There are an unknown but unimaginably large number of galaxies, stars, planets and who knows what else out there and we are just one species of an equally unknown number on one measly little planet. So are we really that important to God? Does he really love us individually, care for us as a father would or isn't he more of an interested observer, possibly laughing at our foibles?
Why he probably does: God is not someone we could possibly understand. His nature is so different from anything we know that it is very much possible for him to love every living creature equally and still be able to be interested in our everyday problems. He created us; he understands us much better than we ever could. Also, and I say this after being very sceptic about it in hindsight, I actually felt loved by God for most of my life. I use to be absolutely secure in his love and care and it was great comfort to me. I once experienced the Holy Spirit and it made me feel very safe.
And yet I doubt. and the thing is, I know exactly why I am doubting. I am a quite reasonable creature and after studying the abundance of life on our planet I really can't argue that the human species is any more or less special than any other species on the planet. And if my species is not special, why would I be?

Starting off

I am a scientist at heart, which means I like structure and working with a method. I will tell your about the books I have read and what struck me when reading the Bible as well as anything I learned from attending services and from discussions with others. But this post is about the starting point; what do I believe in right now, what are my main questions about Christianity, what do I struggle with and so on.
What I know: I know there is a God. I have never doubted the existence of a higher entity, who was the beginning and who now watches the universe. This entity is all powerful and encompasses everything. I know Jesus existed; I remember reading a Roman document about His crucification in RE at one point but I never doubted that He existed, simply because of the impact His life and teachings had on the world. I agree with His teachings. He was inspired. They make sense. They are so simple and yet apply to everything: Love and honour God. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. (I'm paraphrasing. He said it nicer.) Can it get any simpler? It's brilliant. Also, I believe that he died for His beliefs and because of narrow-minded, power-hungry people. I have felt the Holy Spirit at certain times in my life but only when I was ready for it.
What I struggle with: God created the universe, yes, but who is to say, he actually cares about us like a father? Does he really listen to my prayers, when I am so unimportant in the big picture? Sometimes I can feel His love and I know that God is great and I cannot understand the extend of His love. But there are times when I doubt, when I know that I am no more important than anyone else.
Was Jesus really God's son? He most certainly was inspired by God but actually His son, that I find difficult to believe. It goes with the question whether God loves us personally; if he does, I can believe that He sent His son to die for us, but if he is distant, he probably didn't. Did Jesus really die and come back to life? Over the years I have meandered through different ideas about how it might have come about; all to avoid the big challenge of accepting the amazing miracle if he really was raised from the dead. There is something within me that does not want to believe it because it is just so irrational. So, definitely something I need to work on.
Does the Bible tell the literal truth? Let me tell you from the start that I know evolution to be a fact and that I am in no doubt about it. I read Genesis more as a poem about God's greatness explained to someone living a few thousand years ago. If I accept that though, what else is open to interpretation? Is the big flood a fact or a metaphor? Did Moses really divide the sea? Did Jesus really heal people by laying his hand on them? I will need to work through the bible and make sense of all the miraculous events described in it. As a scientist I know that will take it with a pinch of salt but does that make me less of a Christian? I need to find out.
What are your thoughts on this?