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.
I am happy to announce a 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. I have started to interview them online. The series is called, “What’s Your Spiritual Autobiography?” 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 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.
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.