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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

whose god?

The web site identifies twenty-two religions with at least half a million adherents. There are thousands of smaller religions throughout the world. Furthermore, many of the major religions are split into several factions. Christianity alone has hundreds of denominations.

To an outsider, the choices must be bewildering -- all the more so because many believers have simply followed in their parents' footsteps, or accepted the common beliefs of their communities. Is that any way to pick a religion? Is there an objective way to determine, from all the options, which one is the correct God? If not, is it perhaps better just to vote for none of the above?

That certainly seems like the rational way to approach the situation. Yet, that line of thinking suffers from a serious flaw. It assumes that God is a commodity, that we can evaluate God like we evaluate a new refrigerator. The truth is, we can't know God rationally, we can only know God relationally -- and that changes the equation significantly.

Understanding faith as a relationship changes the parameters. To draw one analogy: Out of the billions of people on the earth, which one would make the right spouse? If there were only one correct answer to that question, most of us would end up alone. Or: Who is the best friend? It depends on who you ask.

The analogy breaks down in the fact that we are not actually choosing among several competing gods. (If we were, we'd probably have a reality TV show about it... brings a whole new meaning to American Idol.)

But faith as relationship does suggest another analogy, one that might be more appropriate, and that is how people relate to us. My wife has one idea of what type of person I am; my two year old son has a different idea. Their perceptions of me are quite different, but that doesn't mean either one is wrong.

I'll take this analogy further. Many of the people who know me in real life think I'm shy. I'm not, but their perception is based on something very real. I often have trouble finding the words to say what I want to say. My brain simply does not supply the words when I need them. My thoughts more closely resemble abstract art. In order to communicate, I have to describe the picture that is in my head. I hesitate, I stutter, I fumble for the right words. In large groups, I usually don't have time to translate before the conversation has moved on to other subjects. Likely I have a mild form of Asperger Syndrome. It takes tremendous effort for me to interact with other people, although it does eventually get easier as I get to know people better.

If you only know me through this blog, you'd never know any of that. You can't see me struggling to find the right words; you only see the finished product. You probably have a much different image of me than my coworkers do.

There's more. Back in my sports-crazed small town hometown, I'm remembered mostly for having been on the track team. "Do you still run?" is the first question they ask when I go back. People from my church see me as one of the songleaders for the Saturday night worship. Some of them have commented that they are too shy to stand up in front of the crowd. Those who know of me only through my travel writing have a different picture entirely. And yet, none of these images is wrong -- just incomplete.

Our images of God are similarly incomplete, it seems to me. I'm nowhere nearly as complex as God, so I can only imagine how limited is my mental picture of God. (Yes, it's an abstract picture, in case you're wondering.) I'm sure other people see other sides of God, and as a result have different ideas about what God is like. Are we all wrong? Yes, in a sense, but we are also in some sense right as far as we understand God, even if we don't see eye to eye.

But, some may object, we can't all be right because we contradict each other. Perhaps, but then again, some of the contradictions may simply be a result of limited perspective. Again, using my own life as an analogy, it may seem like a contradiction that some people know me as someone who struggles to put together complete sentences, and others know me as a published author. Some think of me as an athlete, yet I don't pay attention to sports (except college basketball and the Olympics). Some people think I'm shy, while others see me performing in public. Do they all know the same person? Yes -- and no. I'm a multifaceted person, and most people will only see part of me. How much less do we see of God's multifaceted personality.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

That's what it really boils down to. Our knowledge is limited. Our intellect won't lead us to God, but perhaps love will.



At 3/15/2006 12:53 PM, Blogger HeyJules said...

Great post! I remember last year trying to find a church - no, make that a religious denomination - to belong to after 25 years away. I did internet searches and narrowed down my selection with "definitely NOT's" and "strong possibility's." But in the end, it was the Holy Spirit that said, "This is where you belong" and that is where I've stayed.

It's okay to do your research and approach the subject intellectually, but if you don't remember to ask God to help you with this decision, how can you ever expect to get it right?

At 3/15/2006 1:20 PM, Blogger Jacob said...

Well said.

At 9/06/2006 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I would suggest you consider the words of Jesus. Didn't he say he would found "my" meaning his Church? What church? certainly not the 30,000+ Christian traditions (denominations) founded by men. And upon what or who did he found "his" church? Christ indeed came to give us knowledge. Knowledge of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Knowledge of the Father, and Son and the Holy Spirit. Knowledge of salvation. The real question is how can we know that Truth? In a relationship with Christ, well yes, but everyone who calls himself a Christian says they have a personal relationship with Christ. How can we know Truth is the question. Can my truth be different from your truth and if it is can there actually be Truth?
Christ is the Truth. Christ never changes. Truth never changes.
May the Peace of Christ be with you always.


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