Yes. According to some theologians, God’s love is little more than a metaphor or an abstraction. Philosopher Jerry L. Martin explains that those views are mistaken and that God really does love us in a full and personal way.
It is not only we who suffer. I sensed that God does too.
“Can You tell me about Your pain, Lord?”
It was as if I heard a deep moan of anguish, loneliness, despair, misery, hopelessness.
“Are those things you feel, Lord?”
“Are they caused by humankind?”
“Is it difficult to love us if we cause you such pain?”
No, not for Me. Even when human beings most disappoint, they are infinitely love-worthy.
It all seemed intolerably bizarre. I thought I should talk it over with the wisest people I knew. One, a distinguished medical ethicist, responded, “First of all, this is not weird.” Nothing he could have said would have been a greater relief to me! Another, a well-known author, said, first, “That’s great—now you know there is a God,” and then added, “You have had a Kierkegaard moment,” recalling that philosopher’s question, “If you encountered Jesus on the streets of Copenhagen, would you follow him?” A prominent lay theologian said he was “touched” by my story and suggested some reading while I waited for my “big” assignment.
While there were also cautionary responses, no one seemed to think I was crazy or a fool to take the voice seriously.
Still, I was not prepared for the next experience.
I want you to enter My heart.
“Enter God’s heart? This is weird, Lord, and scary, like out-of-body travel.”
I will protect you.
For moral support I asked, “Lord, first give me Your love.”
Let Abigail love you. You will feel My love through her.
“Then strengthen me, be with me, for this.”
He took my hand, as it were, and led me into the “heart of God.” I had expected it to be an overpowering, perhaps terrifying experience. But it was more like the eye of a hurricane. I was at the center of something vast and powerful, but here it was quiet, calm, and peaceful. I surveyed the things I feared—the end of my career, loss of reputation, financial insecurity, and a book that went nowhere. In that calm that is God, each concern disappeared.
“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.
“The story of your interactions with various peoples?”
That but not only that. Tell it from My point of view, not the history of people’s experience of God.
“Lord, the total story of Your interaction with people would be too vast.”
No, all history is selective. Use a different word—like episodes—if you like. But it is history in the sense of being chronological, developmental, and dramatic in some sense. There is a subjective point of view (Myself), intentions and concerns for the future, regrets about the past, and so forth.
“What are the materials for this history? The great religious texts?”
Yes, of course. That is one side of the human-divine (interaction), like hearing one end of a telephone conversation. So that is one starting point. But there are others as well, and I have been leading you to them—the physical record, the geological record, the biological development, the stars and galaxies, time and creation, and so on.
And I will tell you many things Myself—that is the “new revelation” aspect. Nothing overly dramatic there—I reveal Myself all the time.
“So I should read the scriptures of the major religions?”
Yes, I want you to read the early spiritual history of mankind. I will lead you to which readings. I would like you to pray as you read them and take notes as directed.
I grew up at a time when “man” and “mankind” referred to both men and women, and God spoke to me in my own vernacular.
“Lord, You said I was to tell Your story ‘from the inside out.’ But reading the scriptures is ‘from the outside in.’”
Yes, tell My story as I tell it to you. The only purpose for reading is to give you reference points for understanding My story.
“Lord, if I am going to ‘get into Your head,’ it would be helpful to know what You are up to, what Your ultimate goal is.”
No, your job is not to “get into My head.” Remember, I am telling you what is “in My head.” You are not trying to empathize with a fictional or historical character. You have the living Person right here, and I will tell you.
“But, as I prepare for the work …”
You are making this falsely complicated because you are not trusting Me. You think you will have to do this on your own by deciphering the cultural forms and so forth. But it is exquisitely simple. You ask Me what you are to read or to study. And then You ask Me what I was up to in relation to what you are reading or studying. And you don’t need to worry about the total compass or overall story, because I will lead you item by item.
“Lord, how should I approach the ancient scriptures?”
Get into the frame of mind for reading the (particular) work. That frame of mind is reverential, quiet, respectful, open-hearted. It does not consist of analyzing metaphors and stories of gods. Just take in what comes to you.
Abigail’s train was late. I had been waiting at Union Station for over an hour and stood to stretch my legs. Some now-forgotten images passed before my eyes, and then,
I want you to be My new Elijah.
“Your new Elijah?” I did not know whether to feel flattered, or overwhelmed, or just crazy. I protested, “Lord, I am not worthy.”
I will decide who is worthy.
I didn’t know what a new Elijah was supposed to be but I knew I did not want the job. “Lord, I don’t have faith enough.”
You have more faith than you know.
“Who is Elijah?”
He is the prophet.
“What is he to me?”
He is you.
I didn’t think that meant that I was literally a reappearance of Elijah, but still I objected, “No, Lord, this is just crazy.”
He is you.
I remembered Abraham Lincoln’s story about the man who was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing,” the man said, “I would rather have walked.” And I had seen the war movies, “You will have the honor of leading the assault.” Some honors aren’t worth it.
I did feel the honor. God was about to put His seal on this role for me, a role more suitable for a real Elijah. I felt a swell of pride, as I was being told this, and immediately the line went dead. Ego had broken the connection.
Abigail’s train had still not arrived. I paced back and forth, no longer seeing the other people in the station. What to think? What to feel? Finally, I forced a deep breath and, with irritation mitigated by resignation, asked, “Lord, what exactly do You want of me?”
I want you to describe the inner life of God, what it is like to be God.
The inner life of God? What it is like to be God? I didn’t know what this could possibly mean, but I forged on. “Lord, why is that important for us to know?”
Mankind sees God only from the outside and that leads to distortions in its view of God, as it would of anyone—too distant, awesome, oppressive, Other. Even mystics are very one-sided. They experience oneness but that is not the same as empathizing with My subjective experiences.
Okay, I could see that, if God is too distant, it would be hard to relate to Him, but there was a problem. “Lord, we think of God as being so infinite and ethereal that ‘subjective experience’ doesn’t even make sense.”
Exactly—that’s one of the distortions. Although I am much more than a Person, I am a Person, a soul, like you. You—people—cannot relate properly, constructively, to Me unless you understand that. (Take) love, for example. My love comes across as impersonal, generic, oceanic wallowing, but (in fact) it is quite specific, concrete, with feeling, with response to the particulars of your being, of your life.
I want you to tell My story.
Any person who believes in God has to confront the problem of human suffering. Why does God permit it?
“Lord, does suffering have any purpose or meaning?”
Of course, suffering is what makes life serious. Imagine a world in which actions never resulted in suffering. Imagine a world without the pain of regret, without feeling bad about doing something wrong (or) shameful.
“But disease serves no moral purpose.”
Now you are fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.” Just listen. You will never learn from fencing.
Disease, disaster, aging, death are essential aspects of suffering. “We” live in a physically vulnerable world. That is the essential condition that makes life serious.
“All that’s rather abstract, Lord. What exactly does disease do for us?” I thought of Job’s boils.
Suffering is the test of your humanity. There is no greater test than pain—how one copes with it. It is easy to be nice, faithful, and such, when things are great, but very hard under adversity.
“But, Lord, that just seems perverse—or cruel.”
No, that’s not so. Think about your own times of physical suffering—in the hospital, for example—the shots, the clumsy aide, the itch, the nurse about urinating, those were full of growth.
Those examples brought back memories. A couple of years before these prayers began, I suffered a mild heart attack and was rushed to the intensive care unit. They took blood tests, day and night. There are a limited number of places from which blood can be drawn, and the same spot cannot be used again right away. The wrists are ideal, but mine are sensitive and a needle there smarts. One does not have much power as a patient, but safeguarding my wrists became my prime imperative. One after another blood drawer would come, and I would plead, argue, wheedle, and insist they find some other place to puncture me. Each resisted, then managed to find a spot.
I was transferred to another hospital for the surgical procedure. I was met by a technician who said his name and stuck out his hand—while looking the other way and standing on my oxygen tube. When it was time to go into the operating room, he snatched away my blanket with so violent a jerk it would have ripped out the intravenous insertion if I had not by now been on high alert.
Once in the operating room, I was placed on a slab with my arms flat at my side. Medical equipment loomed above, posing an impressive threat. “Don’t move!” I was told. My nose chose that moment to itch. The itch grew intense, then more intense, dreadfully intense, until nothing existed but me and that itch. Then I understood. I can’t fight it. I just have to live with it, until the procedure is over. I don’t know if the itch went away or what—I forgot all about it.
The procedure went smoothly. I watched the monitor as the surgeon snaked a catheter through an incision in my groin up to a major coronary artery where a stent had to be placed.
Opening an artery is a very serious matter. Bleeding can be life-threatening. The patient has to lie flat and immobile for twenty-four hours. Nurses at my first hospital had been angels in white, but here I was attended by Nurse Ratched’s less charming twin. She seemed to resent patients needing her help. Finding it difficult to manage the bedpan flat on my back, I asked for assistance. She acted as if it were a dirty-minded request and responded by threatening me, “If you can’t manage the bedpan, we will catheterize you!” Finally, I did manage, and it was time to close up the artery. Another patient had told me the closing could be dangerous as well as painful.
“Who is to perform this delicate operation?”
Nurse Ratched gave me the grim news: young Mr. Sizzorhands, the technician whose previous efforts to hurt me had been foiled, would now have another shot. I asked for someone else. “He is the only technician available.”
“I am not going to let that guy lay another hand on me.”
She made it a battle of wills. We went back and forth. Finally I said, “Let me speak to the doctor.”
She said she would see what she could do and, after a time, she returned with a young Asian-American attendant. He had magical hands. I didn’t feel a thing.
My body was recovering nicely, but the whole experience—starting with “indigestion” in the night (I didn’t know that was a heart symptom), calling the office the next morning to find out what nearby doctor was covered by my health plan, driving myself (fool that I was) to the doctor’s office, filling out forms and waiting for some time before going up and telling the receptionist, “I may be having a heart attack,” the quick examination and discovery that I was at that very moment in the throes of an incipient attack, an emergency medical team rushing to my side trying to head it off, being shoveled into an ambulance, the sirens, intensive care, the surgery, the whole ordeal—left me feeling fragile, as if I were made of spun glass. A sharp tap and I would shatter.
They (these moments) were not empty suffering; they even had to do with leading you to Me.
“How so, Lord?”
They focused your attention on your mortality, which (led) you to open your heart fully to Abigail because you realized how precious this love was. And it led to your prayer to serve God.
One day I learned more about God’s story when I asked simply, “Where should I begin today, Lord?”
Ask yourself what I am looking for.
Well, yes, but what is that love?
“Interaction, communication, understanding?”
Yes! I long to be recognized, to be understood, and then to be taken in.
I wondered why a great being like God would need to be loved by mere mortals. “Why does that matter to You, Lord? You’ve got it all, just being God.”
That is silly. This is what I am. I am like a function looking for a variable. I am only half the equation.
I looked for a humbler analogy. “Like cement looking for bricks to hold together?”
“Is that connection only what You need or is it also what the world needs?”
Both, obviously. In your analogy, the world is like the bricks that need to be held together.
“But, Lord, I sense that Your yearning is not just a factual incompleteness, like needing a pair of gloves.”
Yes, it is a deep internal dynamic that drives Me forward to do the things I do. I unfurl the world and call forth life and send signals to people. Listen, and feel.
“The feeling that comes to me is Your desire to call into being a corresponding being. It seems a lot like the dialectic of self and other in Hegel. Subjectivity desires to objectify itself, as it does in artifacts, and to subjectivize the surrounding world, as it does in interpretation, and, even higher, to encounter another subjectivity.”
I am a Person, searching for …
“That’s what I wonder, Lord. I can’t quite imagine what You are searching for. Just interaction? That seems too limited and, in a sense, too easy.”
It is not just looking for company. Perhaps speaking of loneliness is misleading. Why does a human being look for love? It is not just for company. That is companionship, not love. You want to pour yourself, your concern, your destiny into another person. And you want them to respond in kind, to understand and recognize and sympathize with and care about you, (and) to share your life story, so that I becomes we. And the result is not just good feelings or good times; it is ontological, it is virtually molecular. You know that, because you have experienced it. Imagine how puny your love is (not to belittle it, but just for comparison) compared to Mine. What is barely ontological or molecular in your case is fully so in Mine. The constitution of the universe is altered by My love and My being loved. You can’t just say “God so loved the world …” Love is a two-way street. Anything unilateral is merely an effort at love, not its fulfillment, not its achievement.
You could tell My story, one version of it at least, through the history of love. What has love meant and been over time? From Abraham’s love for his wife and his son and his God, through the Ramayana and the compassionate Buddha and Jesus and Plato’s philosophy as eros toward wisdom, to Christian chivalry and Buber’s I-Thou—these are stages that reflect My development and My interaction with human beings.
I had received visions of the explosive expansions of time and space, and of divine energy rushing up through all levels of reality. Were these intimations of Creation? I was told,
The work I want you to begin involves reading and writing about My nature. Start with the Creation. I have given you some clues already. Follow up on them.
One day, in quiet reflection, I was taken deep into the Self, taken back, it seemed, to the Beginning. Here is how I described it right afterwards:
“There was a sense of things shattering, like crockery breaking, or like the shell of an egg breaking. (I think of Kabbalah and its image of Creation as divine vessels breaking.) Then there is a river, or milk, flowing out from amidst the shards. The river is clouded in mist and flows a long way down canyons of shards or rocks. Until it settles in a pool below. Tranquil waters. This is when Life begins. Cool, calm but rippling waters.”
All this was taking place on a flight to California to visit my ninety-year-old father. Sitting beside me was a nine-year-old girl, traveling alone. She kept looking at me, wondering what I was up to. Ignoring her was unkind, so I stopped praying and chatted with her.
After that, I returned to my own meditations and received a stream of visual images, a vision: the sun cracking up, solar flares that zoomed out into the reaches of space. I then saw, through the mist, an ethereal caravan of camels and their riders, coming up a valley, their long line stretching behind, down a winding road into the distance. I followed the road back to the source. I came upon vast winds, like a monsoon, then a world exploding—and then the vision abruptly stopped. The caravan seemed to represent the long course of human history, traced backward, all the way to the beginning, and then nothing.
I had received hints about the moment of Creation. Then, one day, He told me more. This is where God’s story really begins.
“Lord, I know I should try to live each day in response to Your purposes.”
That is right. Not just to do it mechanically, like a soldier following orders, but to do it as an organic flow, wishing to be in touch with Me and to live in accord with My will, My love.