“Do you think I could come to the ancient Jews in the same way I came to the seventh century Chinese? to Americans today?”

I had been told that culture is a factor in divine revelations.

“Lord, why is culture so important?”

That’s like saying, why language?  If I am going to communicate with people, they need a language.  For the same reason, they need a culture.

“They need a culture, but why such a variety of cultures?”

There are many ways of realizing (actualizing) the human story.  Culture enables lives of different (types of) significance (meaning).

“But why, in terms of Your story?”

I need to come to people in all their particularity, not to mankind-as-such.  The Chinese is one way of being.  The primitive is one way of being.  I come to each in its own terms.  Each enables Me to show a different side of Myself.

Do you think I could come to the ancient Jews in the same way I came to the seventh century Chinese? to Americans today? to you?

“I want you to enter My heart”

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.”

I will.

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.

“God is, in some sense, all. And all is very multiplex indeed.”

I had been told that God comes different ways to different cultures.

“So any single conception of God will grasp only one of Your aspects?”

Yes, you see the problem.  My nature is quite variegated.  People see one aspect and not another. 

“Lord, are there multiple levels of Being or something along those lines?”

Yes, but don’t interrupt.  The story is much more complex.  God is not mind or matter, or even mind and matter.  God is, in some sense, all.  And all is very multiplex indeed.  Even physics has not been able to produce a universe of “atoms in the void.”  There are forces, elements, patterns – you need to know more to go on – that go beyond them.  Then add the kind of stuff the morphic fields’ guy talks about …

Rupert Sheldrake, author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, performs scientifically controlled experiments to test different explanations of the uncanny ability of some animals to know what is happening far away.  He found, for example, that even if the owner came home at randomized times, the dog was always waiting expectantly about a half hour in advance.  He found that the dog responded as soon as the owner formed the intention to return home.

Sheldrake compares the results of these experiments to studies of how birds and other animals can find their way home.  Since standard explanations fail, he advances the idea that these communications travel by way of morphic fields, using an analogy with gravitational and magnetic fields to explain the “action at a distance” that is a feature of these situations.

… and those who talk about organized information and the like – primitive though they may be – and you begin to get an inkling.

I found that organized information and complexity are increasingly important concepts, particularly in biology, but also in cosmology and the social sciences.  Traditional science is reductionist, always trying to explain the whole from the action of the parts.  It is also deterministic, seeing one state of affairs as fully predictable from the previous state.  It was widely assumed that this model, which has been particularly successful in chemistry and mechanics, could be used to explain all natural phenomena.

The new theories of organization, information, and complexity challenge this assumption.  The whole—whether a cell, an organism, an ecology, or a universe—has some qualities that the parts do not have and cannot explain.  New phenomena, such as life and consciousness, are emergent properties that cannot be understood in terms of inorganic elements.  In some cases, such as why the organs of the body have the size and location that they have, the whole can explain the parts better than the other way around.  The self-organization of complex systems, their creative responses to their environment, and their emergent qualities are neither fully predictable nor fully explainable by their constituent elements or prior states.  I had been told that God is all, and that all is very multiplex indeed.  These concepts could provide the basis for understanding this multiplexity.

“You will never learn from fencing.”

Giving up my career and risking my reputation in order to tell God’s story involved what sometimes seemed like an intolerable sacrifice.  But, of course, it paled in comparison to the suffering human beings have experienced over the centuries.  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 relapsing into fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.”  Just listen.  You will never learn from fencing.

 

“It’s a mistake to try to control God . . .”

My first impressions of the ancient Egyptians were formed in Sunday School, put to music by gospels such as “Go Down Moses,” and brought to the silver screen by Cecil B. DeMille.  It was not a pretty picture—false gods, harsh rulers, fake magicians, and slave-drivers wielding the lash.  Egypt was on the wrong side of everything.

But now I was told that God was sending divine messages to every culture.  So I had to look at the land of the pharaohs through different eyes, Egyptian eyes.

Written in hieroglyphs that were already old when Sumerian cuneiform was young, the Pyramid texts date back almost five thousand years.  Chiseled into the walls of the dark corridors beneath these monumental tombs, these texts provide the deceased Pharaoh with the keys to a successful afterlife:  how to overcome each obstacle on the way to the divine realm and what words to speak to the guardians who block the way.  One strategy was to enter the cyclical course of the cosmos and accompany the sun god in the barque that transverses the sky each day.  The deceased king went so far, according to one inscription, as to kick the sun god overboard to make room for himself in the divine barque.

The complex mythology of the Egyptians far surpassed the simple piety of preliterate polytheism.  But, however complex, these greedy efforts to compel or trick the divine powers seem spiritually retrograde compared to the sensitive cave paintings and the humble peasant honoring a stream with a pile of stones.

“Isn’t that right, Lord?”

Yes, it is a fundamental mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around.  Do not exaggerate it.  It is no different from (no worse than) trying to bribe the king’s mistress or learn the password that goes you through the palace gates, but it is not high spirituality, and in fact is not really a kind of spirituality at all.

“It is a mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around.”

My first impressions of the ancient Egyptians were formed in Sunday School, put to music by gospels such as “Go Down Moses,” and brought to the silver screen by Cecil B. DeMille.  It was not a pretty picture—false gods, harsh rulers, fake magicians, and slave-drivers wielding the lash.  Egypt was on the wrong side of everything.

But now I was told that God was sending divine messages to every culture.  So I had to look at the land of the pharaohs through different eyes, Egyptian eyes.

Written in hieroglyphs that were already old when Sumerian cuneiform was young, the Pyramid texts date back almost five thousand years.  Chiseled into the walls of the dark corridors beneath these monumental tombs, these texts provide the deceased Pharaoh with the keys to a successful afterlife:  how to overcome each obstacle on the way to the divine realm and what words to speak to the guardians who block the way.  One strategy was to enter the cyclical course of the cosmos and accompany the sun god in the barque that transverses the sky each day.  The deceased king went so far, according to one inscription, as to kick the sun god overboard to make room for himself in the divine barque.

The complex mythology of the Egyptians far surpassed the simple piety of preliterate polytheism.  But, however complex, these greedy efforts to compel or trick the divine powers seem spiritually retrograde compared to the sensitive cave paintings and the humble peasant honoring a stream with a pile of stones.

“Isn’t that right, Lord?”

Yes, it is a fundamental mistake of man to try to control God rather than the other way around.  Do not exaggerate it.  It is no different from (no worse than) trying to bribe the king’s mistress or learn the password that goes you through the palace gates, but it is not high spirituality, and in fact is not really a kind of spirituality at all.

“He tried to impose a spiritual vision.”

Akhenaten may have been the first monotheist.  We have his own words, carved in stone.  The young pharaoh reports having been divinely guided to the exact place the Creator had manifested himself at the beginning of the world.  It was a plain near the Nile, bounded by hills except on the east, a great amphitheatre facing the morning sun.

Akhenaten’s vision was not of many gods, but of one god—a god, with no female consort, who created himself anew each day.  He was called the Aten, or Father Aten, and symbolized by the solar disk.  “Thou didst fashion the earth according to thy desire when thou wast alone … thou appointest every man to his place and satisfiest his needs.  Everyone receives his sustenance and his days are numbered.”

The Aten is the source of life itself.  “Thou it is who causest women to conceive and makest seed into man, who gives life to the child in the womb of its mother, who comfortest him so that he cries not therein, nurse that thou art, even in the womb, who givest breath to quicken all that he hath made.”  The god created the great life-giving Nile for Egypt, but he is a universal god who has placed “a Nile in heaven,” the source of rain, as a “gift to foreigners and to beasts of their lands.”

The Aten was symbolized by a figure of the sun with rays reaching out in all directions.  At the end of each ray is an open hand reaching out in loving kindness, as if to touch with life, and to give and to receive gifts.  “Thou art remote yet thy rays are upon the earth,” writes Akhenaten.  “Thou are in the sight of men, yet thy ways are not known.”  The Aten can also be very near, at least to his spokesperson.  “Thou art in my heart.”

It was a breathtaking vision and it shook Egypt from its moorings.  The other gods, he proclaimed, were not gods but idols.  Upon his orders, their images were destroyed.  In their place was put the austere hieroglyph for the Aten, increasingly understood not as the sun or even the sun-god, but as a distant and unrecognizable divinity.

This was gross impiety to most Egyptians, an insult to the gods.  Akhenaten’s “monotheistic zeal offended their reverence for the phenomena [through which the gods made themselves present] and the tolerant wisdom with which they had done justice to the many-sidedness of reality,” explains Henri Frankfort.

The result was perhaps predictable.  Upon the pharaoh’s death, priests and people alike turned against this strange and remote monotheism.  The old statues, temples, and forms of worship were restored.  Ahkenaten’s vision was a stunning venture in spiritual understanding but, in the end, came to nothing.

“Lord, what is the meaning of Akhenaten?”

Akhenaten was an extraordinary recipient of My inspiration (and of My) presence.  He was, as all are, bound by his culture and the symbols he had available.  But he got the main message—that, in a sense, I am One, that I am not to be equated with the sun or any other natural phenomena, that other gods are lesser or “mere” manifestations of Me or, in a sense, non-existent compared to Me.  The problem he ran into is that he was alone in his receptivity.  Others were not prepared, were not open.  The most spiritual Egyptians of his era were attuned to the old religion and could not jump the traces.  It would have seemed impious to them.

“What was the difference between them and the people of Israel?”

The people of Israel were a people.  They—the mass of them—had an intuitive understanding of a Covenant.  Remember that the mass of ancient Jews were not faithful, or (they were) faithful only periodically.  But they all lived under the Covenant and understood that they so lived.  Akhenaten tried to impose a spiritual vision from above, through imperial authority and example.  Even his wife did not understand the vision; she followed it out of her great love for her husband.