“Is This Just Entertainment?”

The historian Paul Johnson writes in his spiritual memoir about having once called the prime minister’s office and, instead of getting the secretary’s secretary, the prime minister herself answered.  “It happened to me once with a prime minister,” Johnson writes.  “But with God it happens all the time.”

I don’t know if Johnson’s experience is like mine, but from that day on, when I prayed, I almost always received a verbal response, often with quite specific guidance.  At first, it just seemed an oddity that went too much against my agnostic worldview to be taken seriously.  Once my son had classical music playing in his ear all the time.  It turned out to be an ear infection, causing buzzing signals that the brain very skillfully translated into Mozart.  Maybe my prayers were like that.

I would tell Abigail about these odd experiences.  While I am cautious in my beliefs and skeptical by temperament, she is more spiritual and less distrustful.  I had always been skeptical of paranormal reports, near death experiences, and the like, but she was not.  I assumed she put the voice I heard in that category.  I didn’t really know because, usually, she just took in what I told her and didn’t say much.  She explained to me later that she thought I was engaged in a sensitive, fragile communication and did not want to create static.  But, one day, she did speak up.  “Are you going to take the voice seriously, or is this just entertainment?”

She had put her finger on the contradiction I was living.  The voice was too real and spoke with too much authority to ignore.  Yet I could not imagine actually acting on it.  Well, actually I could and did act on it, but without quite taking it seriously.  I would be told to do this or that.  Sometimes the guidance was about some matter facing me that day, and following the guidance usually worked out well; other times I received directives that seemed quite arbitrary but, since they did no harm, I would follow them.  For example, one morning, Abigail and I had just sat down to breakfast when I was told,

Don’t eat.

So I just sat there for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, until I was told I could eat now.  I always did as I was told, but it was still more like a game of Captain-may-I than a life imperative.  I was not ready to answer Abigail’s question.

 

“It will be My voice.”

 

So that is what the new Elijah, the new messenger, is about.  But telling the world that I am the new Elijah?  “Lord, I am back to the laughing stock problem.”

As I tell it to you, it will become clearer what you should write publicly.  There is no point in writing something that will be dismissed.  You will need to continue reading and studying—otherwise, you will not have adequate words and concepts.  There is a reason I chose an educated man for this task.

My message is evolving over time.  You will carry it forward.  Do not credit this to your ego—it will be My voice.  (Just) focus on the task.  The world’s religions have spent themselves.  They need renewal.  There will be many voices for renewal.  Yours will be one of the most important.

“I would feel more comfortable being one of the less important.”

“There is a spiritual reawakening.”

It is your task, as one of My messengers, my Elijahs, to straighten out some of the errors and distortions, and also to broadcast these particular revelations to others.

“Lord, how will I get myself heard?”

You will be heard precisely because there is a spiritual reawakening.  Many are listening, waiting, open to a new word.

“The mind is a little reflection or mirror of God.”

Early man was a whole new phenomenon, not entirely expected.

“How can that be, Lord?  Weren’t human beings part of Your plan from the beginning?”

Remember that I am following a plan, not inventing it.  I don’t know the whole plan Myself.

“So the emergence of human beings was a surprise?”

Yes.  Even though I saw the unfolding of life and understood its trajectory, there is a discontinuity between animal life and human life that’s surprising.  People are not just smarter animals.  It is not just that they have souls—animals have a kind of soul too—it is that they are creative, free, self-reflective, open-ended, have a yearning to go beyond themselves.  They are in fact like little gods, though I do not like the usual use of this notion.  But people are much more of the same substance and kind as God.  That is why I can communicate with them so effectively.  The mind is a little reflection or mirror of God.

“Open your mind.”

The idea that there are many gods still did not sit well.  “Lord, which are You saying, that there are many gods or many descriptions of God?”

 

They are the same.

“Manifestations of God?”

Yes.

“But that means there is only one God.”

No, that is too simple.  Open your mind.  Do not assume your current categories are adequate.  Imagine other possibilities.  Do thought-experiments.  For example, what if a being/beings do not have to be only one or only many?  What other ways are there to think about it?

What other possibilities?  I was steeped in Western philosophy, in which the great metaphysical debates have been conducted in terms of such concepts as the one and the many, universals and particulars, identity and difference, being and becoming.  I constantly pressed God to explain things in terms familiar to me.  Sometimes He did, but often he told me that I had to revise my concepts and loosen my logical constraints.  These were the only concepts I had.  Where does one go to get new concepts?

God continued,

Similarly, what other ways are there to think about infinity, omniscience, and so forth.  And, most fundamentally, what other ways are there of thinking about being, nothingness, existence, the power of existence, the act of existence, the force of creation?  I will guide you, but you have to make the breakthrough.  I can’t put new concepts into your head.

“Once again, why not?”

The human being is a …

I seemed to get a partial answer that was making sense in terms of what it is to understand a concept, but it was immediately erased, as if someone pushed the erase button on a tape recorder.

The answer is very complex and you don’t have time for Me to go into it all.  You need to get back to work now.

Lunch break was over.  The vague sense I had afterwards is that a concept is not a distinct entity, like a momentary thought or idea, that you might just zap into somebody’s head, but more like a pattern of mental behavior that has to be lived through, like knowing a melody.

“With life, spirit comes into play.”

For millions of years, before there was life, there was just God and a barren universe.

“You felt all alone?”

Yes, I wanted more. In retrospect, the inanimate years feel very lonely.  The emergence of life is a delight.  With life, spirit comes into play.  Wonderful to see amoeba, moss, and so forth.  The frogs (and other creatures), each with a soul and personality, each in a sense in tune with God.  I can play with the animals, “walk among them.”  I love their myriad formsI am not alone anymore.

The creatures that began to stir on the earth are amazing, more amazing than anything that had yet occurred in creation.  They move on their own, they have “internal principles of motion” as Aristotle said, have dramatic lives—even the worms and fishes.

There is birth, growth, death, mating, offspring, colonies and flocks, emergent social orders—ideality as well.  There is telos and purpose, success and failure, standards of perfection and imperfection.

And, over time, further developments in the species, a most amazing, creative ramifying of the evolutionary ladder.  New species emerge that could not have been imagined before.  Your paleontology tells the story:  the first horses could easily fit into the palm of a hand, and so forth.  Can you imagine the spectacle?

“Yes, I think I can.”

“The whole now needs to be told.”

“Lord, what exactly is my assignment?”

The world needs to understand My story, or at least to understand it better.  I have given parts of the story to different people at different times.  The whole now needs to be told.  Your effort will be part of telling that whole story.

“Do You want people to piece the whole together out of the parts?”

What I most want is for people to listen to Me.

“And to listen to what You have told various people over the ages?”

Yes, that is part of listening to Me.

“What exactly do You want me to write?”

God: An Autobiography.  My story is the history of Me—how I came to be.

“You would give up nothing.”

The great mystics longed for union with God.  I did not.  It sounded scary to me.  I would have to give up my individual self, of which I was fond, and lose myself in the ocean of divine being.  Why would I want to do that?

In his spiritual memoir, Sabbatical Journey, Henri J. M. Nouwen talks about his friends, the Flying Rodleighs.  The editor explains:  “Much of Henri’s attraction to the trapeze performance had to do with the special relationship between the flyer and the catcher.  The daredevil flyer swinging high above the crowd lets go of the trapeze to simply stretch out his arms and wait to feel the strong hands of the catcher pluck him out of the air.  ‘The flyer must never catch the catcher,’ Rodleigh had told him.  ‘He must wait in absolute trust.’  For Nouwen, this was the life of true faith.”

If the Flying Rodleighs were the model of true faith, I fell short.  “Lord, I can’t be like the trapeze artist and throw myself totally into Your hands, into You.”

You do not understand.  You would give up nothing and gain everything.  Nothing will ever destroy Jerry Martin, the person you are.  I will save and keep you next to Me forever.

“But does that mean my individual personality?”

It means your Soul—which has a kind of personality, though it is not identical to the personality you have in this life.  But it is not as if souls were all the same, like hydrogen atoms.  You have your own “character” and “fate” and these will endure.  In fact, union with Me will fulfill them.

So my “Soul” would last but the rest of me would be swallowed up in the divine vastness?  Thanks but no thanks.

Thinking about Infinity

The radical thinking God asked for has really been beyond my intellectual reach.  I tried to think about infinity, for example.  It is certainly a daunting concept.  Every philosopher is aware of such puzzles as Zeno’s paradoxes and Immanuel Kant’s antinomies.

The Greek philosopher Zeno argued that, if the tortoise has a head start, Achilles can never overtake him.  Once he catches up with the tortoise’s previous position, the tortoise will have moved forward.  Achilles will now have to reach the tortoise’s new position but, by the time he does so, the tortoise will have moved forward again, even if only a little way, and Achilles will have to catch up to that position, by which time the tortoise will have inched forward yet again, and so on.  Since there are an infinite number of points between the tortoise and the goal post, and an infinite number of points can never be transversed in finite time, Achilles can never catch the tortoise.  Of course, in real life, he could.  That’s why it is a paradox.

Kant’s antinomies are more metaphysical than mathematical but also have to do with infinity.  For example, either the world had a beginning or it did not (these alternatives are the antinomies or contradictories).  If it did, one wonders what happened before that?  And if it did not, there would have to be an infinite number of moments in the past, and is that really conceivable?

There were world-class physicists at a conference I attended.  One reported that mathematicians had now proved you can have an infinite space within a sphere—within a ball, in effect.  He said it made no sense to him but, since mathematicians had proved it, he had to accept it.  A great deal of contemporary science doesn’t “make sense.”  While I was balking at giving up my categories for understanding the nature of God, I saw what scientists have to believe when they do quantum mechanics.  They have to believe that some subatomic particles do not actually have a location prior to being observed.  They have to believe that a certain change in one particle is always followed by the opposite change in another particle even though there is no contact between them and no way for the second particle to “know” which way the first particle changed.  If tough-minded physicists could be that flexible, surely I could too.

I did try to think about infinity.  One of the basic paradoxes in the philosophical tradition concerns whether it makes sense to have an actual or completed infinity.  No matter how large the number, you can always add “plus one.”  So it seems that the number series simply goes on forever and can never be completed.  If so, infinity is more a process term than the description of an actuality.  It expresses the possibility of a larger number, not the actuality of an infinite quantity.  But that seems to mean that no thing or being could actually be infinite.  The number series can always go on, but each number is the end point of a finite series of numbers.  That means that God could not actually be infinite.

I wondered if that was adequate.  I tried to think of a completed infinite.  In our home, we have two mirrors that face each other.  Each one mirrors the other, and mirrors the other mirroring the other, and so on, with the result that one sees an infinite series of mirrorings in each mirror.  And they all exist fully and in the present, not just as a series running into the future.  Maybe, I thought, this was an actual or complete infinite.  But, no, the mirror images get smaller and smaller but at some point they are presumably too small to be mirrored, so there are a finite number of reflected images after all.  Moreover, although the images seem to us to all exist at the present moment, in fact light takes time to go back and forth, and that means there is really a series of images.  Even if the series could go on forever, it would never be completed.

Perhaps I was on the wrong track.  What is meant when people say that God is infinite?  Do they mean some kind of actual or completed infinite?  Or is it another way to say that nothing is missing.  That is a less puzzling idea.  In a perfect painting, nothing is missing.  There is nothing to be added.  Perhaps that is a thought in the right direction.

Then I remembered:  I had already asked God, Are You infinite?  The answer was “I am boundless.”  It is not clear what “boundless” means.  Literally, it would mean “without bounds or limits.”  But the next two answers may be relevant here.  I had asked about omniscience, in effect, infinite knowledge, and was told, “I know everything that is important.”  And I had asked about omnipotence—infinite power—and was told, “I can do everything I want (care) to do.”  That sounds more like the perfect painting.

It will guide you to righteousness.

 

Step through the door love has opened?  The woman I loved was both very spiritual and very Jewish.  Does it mean that I should convert to Judaism—something I had zero interest in doing?  I asked, warily, “Lord, should I become Jewish?”

You already are Jewish.

Already Jewish?  I am not at all Jewish.  The little Texas town where I was born didn’t have any Jews.

“Lord, what do You mean?”

Think about it.

Even more warily, I asked, “Does it mean I have to be circumcised?”

No.

“Does it mean that my religious orientation is more Jewish than Christian or any other faith?”  Certainly the God who spoke to me seemed a lot like the God of the Old Testament.

No.

“Does it mean that I understand, using a phrase of Abigail’s, the Jewish essence?”

It means you are open to the Jewish spirit.  It lives in you, and you sometimes listen to it.  It is a source of great guidance, inspiration to you.  The center of your being is grounded in it.  It pleases me greatly that you honor the Hebrew scriptures.  They are My word—and they contain the record of many of My dealings with men (people).  Continue to study the Torah.

The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is also called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses.

It will guide you to righteousness.  Do not falter or be deterred or distracted.  My word is with you.  Make the most of it.

“I will try, Lord.”