I had now accepted the assignment, but God wanted more.
You need purification. Transformation is a good word. It is obedience, which at its fullest is transformation.
“What does that involve, Lord?”
Putting Me first rather than last. Living every moment, making every decision, in response to My call.
“How do I go about doing that?”
You know this—start every day with prayer and let prayer guide you through the day.
There is another way to listen to God. One day, when I was fatigued from travel, I was told to take a day to rest.
“But I have so much work to do, Lord.”
Always listen to your body—it is also My voice.
I have not found it easy to live my life fully in tandem with God. Every day there are items on my personal radar, and I usually attend to them first, and fit God in when I have a chance.
One morning Abigail called breakfast and I held off, due to one of God’s seemingly arbitrary commands. “Is my husband becoming a holy man?” she asked with more exasperation than reverence. “I already am,” I said, in the sense of having a divine call, “just a very bad one.”
“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.
“Yes, I always think of You ‘pushing’ me, rather than my being ‘drawn’ to You. I respond to orders rather than seeking union.”
That is good. The shallow seeking of union with Me is a delusion. The goal is to be “in tune” with Me. The work will flow from that. This is not just a matter of doing your duty. It is coming into alignment with Me—like two singers doing a harmony.
When philosopher Jerry L. Martin heard God speaking to Him, people said – Really? A real Voice?
What did it sound like?
God: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher – is the true story of a philosopher’s conversations with God. Dr. Jerry L. Martin was a lifelong agnostic. But one day he had occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered – in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions. And God had a lot to tell him. Dr. Martin served as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Colorado philosophy department.
Later I was told more about God at the Beginning.
Before I was a Person, I was around “for a long time.” First there was Nothingness, not just empty space—there was no space and time either. Out of Nothingness I erupted, “created” Myself. At that point, I was just pure energy, pure creative force, pure Being, Being itself. Space and time were created as a result of my Being. They were the frames of My existence. The physical universe spun out of Me by My overflowing. I am the to-be of all things. I was not yet a Person. I was not yet self-aware. I was amorphous energy flowing out radically in all directions. (Before Creation) I am pure spirit, sufficient unto Myself, and have no “body.” And I did not exist in a world with physical bodies. I felt I was lacking something—grounding, facticity, the blunt materiality, the standing-against, the hard edge to push oneself against, the resistance and friction that physical objects have. So, out of my Being, a world was spun.
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?”
“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?
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.
I hope you are enjoying my new series of videos. As I have met readers of God: An Autobiography, I have found them to be fascinating people, each with his or her own spiritual story. Our lives are more amazing than we realize! I hope you find these stories as interesting and inspiring as I do.
My Reader Series continues with my interview with Ajit Dass. Ajit is a dear reader in India, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when he was in the U.S. Trained at a top institute of technology, he is also very spiritual, and a close reader of the God book. I found speaking with him fascinating.
My Reader Series continues with my interview with Jonathan Weidenbaum. Jon is a brilliant philosopher and an engaging teacher of philosophy who also travels the world visiting it’s holy places both east and west. He wrote a penetrating review of God an Autobiography for the online academic journal – Reading Religion.
My Reader Series continues with my interview with Rosemarie Proctor. Rosemarie has lived a life of love, loss, of spiritual denial and of spiritual discovery.
My Reader Series continues with my interview with Joel Weiner. Joel is a life long businessman who was called into the leadership of his local Jewish congregation and found himself not only responsible for finances but for giving some sense of direction for the spiritual quest of the congregation.
My Reader Series continues with my interview with Ray Silverman. Ray is a professor of Religion and English at Bryn Athyn College. He and his wife Star are the authors of an outstanding book of ethical reflections based on the Ten Commandments.
Readers of God An Autobiography are fascinating people. Take Matt Cardin for example . . . Matt is a writer of eerie fiction the kind that explores the twilight zones of life. He had never posted an interview on amazon until he read God an Autobiography. . .
My readers are amazing people. . . Mark Groleau is a theologian, community activist and honest seeker. To him, living more as Jesus did is more important than fixed doctrines. Shortly after God an Autobiography came out Mark interviewed me for his Wikigod podcast. Here the tables are turned. . . in this searching discussion I ask Mark where his life and spiritual journey are taking him today.
A friend writes on his late wife’s birthday: “Her favorite poem was W. H. Auden’ stop all the clocks poem. I am sure you know it. She told me she would read it the day I died. She never got the chance.”
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Read further Daybook entries – Click Here
If God were made-to-order, like something you can buy on the Internet, what kind of God would we pick?
In our modern society, everything is available at our fingertips, so we would probably want a God that makes everything comfortable for us — a convenient God, one who gets us a better job, helps us find a parking place and, when we hurt ourselves, kisses it and makes it better.
A convenient God is a wish-fulfillment God.
That sounds nice, but is that the kind of God we encounter in our lives? Unfortunately, no. While we live in a convenient world, the God who shares our journey is an inconvenient God. We are thrown into rough situations, and our God makes demands on us, such as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. And the correct response is an inconvenient prayer: “Thy will,” not my will, “be done.”
Therefore, instead of creating a fantasy vision of what a perfect world would be, suppose we start with the real world and ask, in light of its rocky paths, what kind of God is present here? And what divine purpose is served by throwing us into such a world?
Real life is filled with drama.
It has ups and downs, loves and losses, triumphs and failures, days we rise to our best and times we fall to our worst. Our lives are like obstacle courses or quests where pits must be avoided and dragons slain.
What could possibly be the purpose of such lives? Any good parent knows. Any good coach knows. Readers of quest tales know. We do not grow from luxury. A convenient God would, like an overprotective parent, save us from learning life’s lessons.
The purpose of our lives is not just ease or pure pleasure or wish fulfillment. As I was told in prayer, “The purpose of life is not to sit in the lap of luxury.” Why not? Wouldn’t that be a great life, one a loving God would want to give us?
Well, ask yourself, would you want your child, at a young age, to win a billion-dollar lottery, to be able to buy whatever and whomever the darling desires, to live in a protective bubble that would keep disease and hurt out? Would that even be a life?
I was told, “Immersion in the world — with its causal networks, its guilty resistance — is necessary for growth. One needs a hard reality to work against. Otherwise, nothing would be serious.”
We grow from adversity, from challenges. Sometimes we learn more from failing than from succeeding. My colleague, the economist Kenneth Boulding, used to say, “Nothing succeeds like failure.” It is failure, he would say, that tells us where the edge of the cliff is.
As a drama, life has a meaning, shaped by how we cope with the ups and downs, how we deal with our own mistakes and the cruelties inflicted on us, and yet remain open to love and hope.
When my wife and I got married, we included the 23rd Psalm in the ceremony. While it is usually reserved for funerals, we knew that all of life is a Valley of the Shadow of Death. But throughout it all, God stands with us — whatever we face.
Why is there suffering? I was told in prayer, “Suffering is the law of growth.” We grow only through suffering. Even to love is to suffer.
We talk about a perfect God and expect him to be writing the perfect script, as if everything were programmed from the beginning. My sense is that God doesn’t lay out the story in advance, and have us walk through it like automatons.
We write our own script with God as co-author.
We create our own dramas, with God as partner — when we are paying attention. In prayer, I was told that the world is like an improvisational theater in which God is the director of players who aren’t listening.
A “perfect” world may not even be desirable. Imagine a world without suffering, where no matter what we did, everything turned up roses. It would be a world in which actions had no consequences. It would not be a real world at all, but a hologram world, and we would be hologram people.
Real life is lived in an inconvenient world in partnership with an inconvenient God. It is a tough life in which God is not overprotective, but is always on our side. When we are in harmony with the divine and enjoying life’s bounty, God rejoices. When we are errant or in pain, God suffers.
Maybe the real world — inhabited by the flawed people that we are — is not convenient for God either. God is part of our drama and we are part of God’s. We are in this together.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece
that was first published by Tulsa World in 2016.
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 his brain skillfully translated into Mozart. Maybe my prayers were like that.
I would tell Abigail about these odd experiences. While I always disdained paranormal reports, near death experiences, and the like, she did not. I assumed she put the voice 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 communication and did not want to create static.
Then, 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 benign and authoritative to ignore. Yet I could not imagine acting on it. Well, actually I could and did act on it, but without 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 pretty well. Other times I received arbitrary directives which, since harmless, I followed. For example, one morning, Abigail and I had just sat down to breakfast when I was told,
So I just sat there for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.
You can 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.
On a visit to Boulder, where I used to teach, I told a former colleague about my experiences. I was afraid he would think, “poor Jerry, he has gone daft.” But he listened with interest, and recommended that I read American philosopher William James’s classic essay, “The Will to Believe.” An influential British scientist had declared, as a principle of the ethics of belief, “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for every one, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” The scientist had religion in his crosshairs.
James responded that there are some beliefs that, if you accept them, will shape your whole life. And shape it in a different way if you do not. You cannot remain neutral; yet evidence is inconclusive either way. You just have to decide which belief you would rather live with.
My situation seemed to be exactly what James was describing. Facing a similar choice between belief and unbelief, the seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal, had seen it as a wager. If I believe in God and am wrong, well, I’m dead anyway, so I haven’t lost much. But if I don’t believe in God, and there is one … well, you might say, there’s hell to pay.
I faced my own wager. Either I follow the voice or I don’t. If I follow the voice and it is not divine, what is the worst that can happen? Well, I would be a fool, maybe a laughingstock, and would say goodbye to an excellent career. But, if I decide not to follow the voice and it is divine, then I would have missed my purpose in this life. What if Moses had done that? Or George Fox, the founder of the Quakers? The Old Testament is full of people called by God, who at first demur and only reluctantly heed the call. Even Moses worries (“suppose they do not believe me”) and feels inadequate to the task (“I have never been eloquent … I am slow of speech and slow of tongue”).
I am not comparing myself to these great religious leaders, but all of us in our lives face moments when we have to decide whether to respond to a certain call—be it the call of duty or service or simply, as Joseph Campbell puts it, to “follow your bliss”—rather than continue a more conventional or comfortable course. If I had to live with one worst-case scenario or the other, I could live with being a fool, if that’s what it came to, but I could not live with having refused God’s call.
Making a decision to believe is not quite the same as accepting that belief in your bones. It is more like the first step toward believing. My philosophy still had no place for God—especially for a God who talks to me. Outside the Bible, who talks to God?
Another notable book by William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, helped answer this question. The founder of pragmatism, the only distinctively American school of philosophy, James also taught physiology and psychology. He was a man of science but, for him, empiricism did not mean restricting our understanding to what science registers. He looked without prejudice at all kinds of human experience. He talks about famous people such as George Fox as well as ordinary people who have received answers to prayer or psychic intuitions or visitations from recently-departed family members.
Many people have had moments of divine or non-natural awareness, probably more than feel comfortable talking about them publicly. Duke English professor Reynolds Price writes about his own battle with cancer. During the course of his treatment, he had an encounter with Jesus in a vision or, as it seemed to him, in another dimension. After he published his story, he received letters from many people with similar experiences—experiences that they had never told anyone. My experience was not as out-of-line as I had thought.
I decided to follow the voice and see where it would lead me.