Wednesday, July 27, 2016
God. God is. Something in us, in all of us, instinctively knows this, knows this long before we ever mount the steps leading to human speech. This is not belief, this is knowledge. It begins in us at least while we are being born, while we are passing through a physical impasse called the birth canal. All our senses, as yet unexposed to air and light, only felt the nearness of annihilation, as they were pushed and pressed in the contortion that ends fetal life. Then suddenly—they were out!—and not only out, but received, accepted, coddled by human hands, without knowing that they were hands, but knowing for certain that whatever they were, they are. For that newborn, there is God. God is.
Still, long before speech invests the tiny brain, though it is heard all around and gradually distinguished from other sounds in the new, undark and unquiet universe, the senses grapple and touch, not the world, but God. For them, not quite yet an individual, still a body full of sensations, not yet an ‘I’ or ‘me,’ the ‘other’ is truly there, is only there, is all there is, that ‘other’ which later, when we emerge as people, we call ‘God,’ or at least ‘the Other.’ The universe is still, not a place, but a unified experience of one by another, its existence unquestioned, dependence on it self-evident, the source and fountainhead of all we call ‘belief in God’ when we later learn how to convert reality to words.
God. God is. Like the universe itself, here before we come into being, here after our personal being ends, yet somehow not dropping us at the end, because holding us at the beginning. Certainty of the one urges certainty of the other. This is why the human race, by and large and if left to itself, believes in God, and not in God as a mere force or entity or power, but as a person. Moderns who say they believe in God, but not in a personal God, say this for many reasons, none of which are grounded in reality. Perhaps some want to escape the reality of moral choice, that there is a real right and a real wrong, which even a baby knows by what we call instinct. Others find other reasons.
‘God is at least a Person’ is a saying I learned in my Christian training, but I didn’t really have to be taught that from the outside. My teacher was preaching to the choir. Of course God is a person! If you trip and fall, a chair nearby is never going to catch you on its own, but if you’re walking beside another, that person will try hard to catch you, or at least to break your fall. In college, we did a psychological experiment to entrench trust. We would stand up, and then taking no precautions, let ourselves fall straight back to the floor. Behind us, a fellow student was standing to catch us, so we did not hit the floor or hurt ourselves. That was my first encounter with the meaning of faith.
Because faith is trust. Faith is not intellectual assent to an idea. That can be or become very impersonal and, in that way, verge on fantasy, thinking we believe in God, when we only believe in our ideas about God. But God is, and there is only one possible response to God, call it what you will—faith, trust, even knowledge: none of them quite hits the mark. It is in this gray, seemingly rational but actually irrational arena of thought, that atheism arises in some people. No one can be an atheist in the state of nature, that is, as a raw human, as that newborn babe that knows God in a growing sequence of manifestations: hands holding, then breasts feeding, then parents providing and protecting.
I don’t fault most atheists, because if I thought God were what they think He is, I’d be an atheist too. Remember, one of the charges brought against the early Christians by the Roman authorities, was the charge of atheism. From the Roman point of view, they controlled who or what God was or is supposed to be. From the Christian point of view, God was, is, and will be forever uncontrollable, He is the wild in wilderness, untamable except by love, to which He gladly gives Himself to His lovers, uncatchable by any other net, not a thing to be used, but a person to be loved, and He, being a person, being The Person, makes those who love Him into persons too, into real people, into what He is.
God. God is. Can we see yet how He can be One and yet be many? How One yet at least Three? Can we see yet how He can be unchanging, yet how we can see Him change? How we cannot grasp Him, yet He shows Himself to us gradually, from our moment of birth (perhaps even earlier) to our last moment? How what He is quickly becomes who He is, or at least as quickly as we ourselves grow from fetus, to babe, to toddler, to child, to youth, to man or woman, to father or mother, to that one lying near life’s end in peace, safety and love, knowing, as King David does when he sings in psalm 59, ‘The God who loves me is coming’? How what He is, is finally what we become?
God. God is. He is not very far from us, from you or me. He has never been far. Scriptures tell us such things, and if we are devout we believe them. Then, there is that story which is no mere myth, about the Man who says that He and the Father are One, that before Abraham was He is, the Man who asks us, ‘Which is easier, to say to this cripple, Your sins are forgiven, or, Pick up your mat and walk?’ the Man who says, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life,’ and then asks us, you and me, ‘Do you believe this?’ Yes, anyone could have said such things, could have squeezed belief out of us, but that He does not do. No, He descends to each of us, and beckons, ‘Trust me,’ and then raises us.
God. God is. I am saying this just one more time. It really didn’t need to be said, not to me, not to most of us. This has always been a given. It is truth beyond name and number. He is beyond name and number, yet He calls Himself ‘I am,’ He names Himself ‘Yahweh’ in Hebrew, ‘The Being’ in Greek, and He says that He is One, yet He says ‘Let Us make man in Our image,’ and then tells that man, tells us, ‘I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God’ (Epiphanios of Cyprus). Yes, He in truth has become as we are, has become one of us, has appeared as us, and is now with us till the end of time.
at 12:24 PM