Spirituality · Uncategorized

What difference does it make?

Some time back, someone whom I love and respect whose spiritual views are very different from mine asked me what difference my faith made to me. I gave her an inadequate and inarticulate answer about hope. Once in a while that conversation comes to mind and irritates me. I’m not promising a magical answer here, either, but I want to address a few things that I failed to convey then.

A lot of people claim that God makes their life better without qualifying the statement. Others seem to work really hard to qualify it, pointing to his supernatural influence as the thing that got them a new job, perhaps, or a clean bill of health after an illness. I am not here to disagree with them; I’m not in their shoes. Usually, though, that’s not how I feel about my interactions with the divine.

So, how does my faith enrich my life?

  • The most important thing I can say is that it doesn’t fix my life in the short term. I can’t objectively judge what God has effected in my life because his hand is not always visible to me. So maybe he has made my life easier and better in ways I’m not aware of, but I still struggle to not let depression get the better of me, to motivate myself to do the stuff of daily living, to build relationships and show love. Bad things happen and will continue to happen. But you know that desperate feeling that life is not as it should be? That restless, almost angry stirring that says you should be feeling another way that you try really hard to suppress with worldly distractions? I still have that feeling a lot and still occasionally try to buy or exercise or plan or volunteer my way out of it. But I know that it won’t work. And this is where I find comfort: I believe that I DO know where that feeling comes from and what will ultimately fix it. I will continue to experience it here, but I don’t seek its resolution in the same unhealthy ways I might if I didn’t believe the way I do. I’m also not destroyed when I recognize the futility of those efforts because I already knew they were futile, but I believe that the thing I’m missing IS obtainable after death. Waiting still stinks, though. 🙂
  • This seems off-subject, but to relate the meaning that faith holds for me, I need to address two things about Christianity which often concern people: the biblical assertion that Christ is the only way and the related concept of Hell. I understand why these topics upset people – they absolutely ARE upsetting. My view of faith is dependent on God’s goodness and I don’t believe these apparent hang-ups are obstacles to that goodness. These views likely won’t sway people who don’t already have Christian sympathies and they aren’t unique or revolutionary, but maybe they will be another perspective for someone struggling to reconcile these facets of the religion with their faith. To be clear, though, I may be way off-base. I am not the one who defines goodness, so while I seek truth and have feelings on the matter, I’m no authority.
    • Many of my more conservative friends will passionately disagree with me, but while I believe Christ is the only way, I don’t believe that looks the same to all people. I think it entirely probable that acknowledgment and acceptance of Christ can even happen when the person doesn’t know him by that name. This is not a post-modern or universalist assertion. But I think Christ affects us all individually, quite outside of human religious constructs. I think it is presumptuous to assume that Christ couldn’t reveal himself in a completely different way to someone whose life experience and soul is different from mine. Bottom line: I don’t know, but I do trust God’s goodness.
    • Hell is one of those things that is still largely mysterious to me. I haven’t read anything in the Bible that gives me a solid grasp. What I do believe is that God created humanity and the world we live in. I believe that he cares about that creation and hates what hurts it. I trust that if my soul is so polluted that it would threaten the goodness of his creation, he won’t allow me to continue beyond this life. I also believe that separation from God would be unbearably painful.

Thank you for letting me define the fruits of my faith in a small way. Feel free to weigh in, disagree, agree, whatever floats your boat – as long as you keep it kind. Happy Tuesday!

Prophets Project · Spirituality

Prophets Project – Isaiah 37-48

On this New Years Day, as I consider plans for the year ahead and make decisions for myself and my family, I find myself reflecting on and in awe of God’s… bigness. And littleness. This post, then, is an attempt to put those reflections into words. It wanders a bit. I’d apologize, but that’s just the way I roll. 🙂

I wonder at the long-range plan of God. It seems incredible to me that while he understands and manipulates the long-term, he also reveals himself to individuals in very immediate ways.  Hezekiah’s deliverance from Assyria and his miraculous healing (Isaiah 37:6-7  and 38: 1-6) remind me of God’s personal interest, his willingness to show himself to us. Maybe these particular acts had more impact later, as a part of the prophet’s story, but they certainly were meaningful for Hezekiah, too.

And then I read Isaiah 40:22, which paints a picture of humanity as insects beneath an all-powerful God. Our individuality is almost… demeaned in this verse. Sort of the same way I feel when we read about God dealing with “nations” as though all the people in them are the same. It feels like God has a corporate mentality now instead of small and family-owned. Now, that might not be quite fair; I think the Bible is clear that we are God’s beloved creation and the drivel I read into things sometimes would probably be better left unsaid. It does seem, though, like we walk a bit of a tightrope in the ego department. Take Isaiah 45:9-10. We’re reminded of our place. Who are we to assume we understand what God is doing? Creation does not equal Creator.

While I was struggling to reconcile what seem like two separate sides of God’s character (the intimate and the CEO), I realized that they aren’t separate at all. I mean, to be able to act in the best interest of both future generations and the current population all at once speaks simply to his love and crazy awesome power. Chapter 48:3-5 brought this home for me. Reading this book, I frequently wonder what the people of Isaiah’s time made of his prophecies; maybe I even harbor the occasional suspicion that they had more to do with future events and people than with Isaiah’s own; and then I get this awesome reminder that those people, too, had seen old prophecies come to fruition. God does things for us here and now, but those same things might be carefully planned to impact the future, as well. The scope and magnitude of God’s action… breathtaking. Trying to imagine the ripple effect of the actions of earth’s millions of people over thousands of years never fails to astound me and, quite frankly, make me sweat. When I consider the potential outcomes of even a small personal decision, I might feel quite paralyzed.

How must the view be from the top?

Happy New Year, all! And one parting holiday/food/theology thought: How can one deny the existence of God when faced with the miracle of whipped cream? 🙂

 

Spirituality

That Which is Good

Ever since I was old enough to have questions about God and religion, I’ve had people telling me that some things I just have to “take on faith.” That there are some mysteries to which we don’t have the answers, and that’s okay. I agree. I do not, however, think that we should accept things, believe things, without a reason. And most of us don’t; even if that reason is simply, “I feel in my soul that this is right.” I would also challenge those who think that faith is blind trust or obedience. I think most people would agree that you shouldn’t give yourself wholly to something without first knowing that it is right and good. The Bible even instructs us:

  • 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

I believe in God. I guess to be totally frank, I need to work through these questions to be sure that Christianity is, well, good. I’m tempted to delete that and reword it in a more abstract way, but I won’t. 🙂 I am not going to apologize for that. I don’t think it is wrong to take a good hard look at what you believe and and why you believe it. And there are some tough things in the Bible! While I know not everyone is driven to that kind of searching, I find that I am. I want to know my God as fully as possible and this is one of the ways I’m going about it. Enjoy!!! ….Or don’t…. 🙂 But thanks for reading, regardless.

Spirituality

All or Nothing?

Yesterday, I told you that I have a hard time with black and white. Continuing in that vein, I’d really appreciate some perspective on a passage from Acts. I’ve included the scripture selection at the bottom of this post for reference.

First, a little background. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I started attending a Bible study that is reading through and discussing the book of Acts. Since I was a late-starter, I decided to catch up and read the first five chapters. Acts begins with Luke recounting the ascension of Jesus. He proceeds to give us the history of the early Christian church. After Jesus ascended, his disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to teach and preach, performing good works and miracles. The number of followers increased rapidly and Luke tells us that Christ’s followers lived communally in that no ones’ possessions were their own. They divided all that they had amongst each other according to need and lived simply.

Acts 5:1-11 introduces us to Ananias and Sapphira. The couple sold a possession, but instead of dedicating all of the proceeds to the cause, they reserved some of it for themselves. Peter confronted them, saying that they lied not “…to men but to God.” When confronted, Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead.

So, what are we to take from this? Is “all or nothing” the moral of this story? I feel like there are a few things left unsaid here. Notably, what was their ultimate fate? Would it have been better for Ananias to give nothing? I wonder – can any of us truly say that we give our all – no holds barred – to anything? I don’t want to read something that isn’t there – the Bible never says that God struck them down or in any way directly caused their deaths, but I feel like that’s the implication. What do you think? I’m really very interested to hear some opinions or educated commentary. Thanks!!

Acts 5: 1-11

Lying to the Holy Spirit

 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.”
9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. 

Spirituality

Christianity and Selflessness – A Contradiction?

Today I want to put two verses out there that seem contradictory to me. I would love it if someone could direct me to scripture that ties these things together or even give me a different perspective when it comes to interpreting these verses. I am NOT looking for scripture that is in direct opposition.

One of the things that confuses me a little about Christianity is the emphasis on selflessness. Of course I understand the concept, but it sometimes seems that we are exhorted to be selfless so that we may reap some ultimate reward. Isn’t that a contradiction? Isn’t that selflessness for selfish reasons?

It could be argued that even Jesus’ sacrifice (which I really feel is beyond words or explanation), could not be called selfless. Yes, the Bible speaks to His agony and sacrifice for the sake of others, BUT He knew the outcome before he died and while it meant salvation for people, it also was a way for God to save the creation he loves. Make sense? Just following a train of thought. Luke 6:35 is a prime example of incentive for selfless acts:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…”

Now, I feel that grace deserves a place in this conversation as well, because Luke 6:35 also seems to indicate that we can “get” something out of our actions. What is the “reward” to which he refers? I always have subscribed to the teaching that regardless of WHAT we do, on our own we can never earn our way to salvation. How, though, can I reconcile that with James 2:14 and 2:17?

“What good is it my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Somehow I think I’m missing the point here… would appreciate some help squaring these apparent contradictions.  Thanks!!

 

Spirituality

Maintaining Focus

When I started this blog, I had two fears:

  1. That others would judge me (pride is a bit of a problem for me 🙂 )
  2. That readers would misunderstand me

While I can’t do much about fear number one, except learn to get over it, I feel like I need to make a statement about my mission, if you will. My purpose with this blog is to grow closer to God. If God can use me or these entries in any other way, fantastic. I continually pray for guidance before I write, but I’m afraid it may seem sometimes like I’m trying either to sow seeds of doubt or to convert people and that is NOT my intention. I just find that searching for answers to the questions I have is a way for me to strengthen my line of communication with the divine. I believe that I won’t ever have the answers to some questions. Indeed, I can’t imagine anyone satisfactorily answering my most fundamental question. I am okay with not understanding the true nature of God or even of people, but I don’t think that means I shouldn’t try.

So, if you feel like I’m missing the point with some of these posts, feel free to let me know! I won’t be offended. Or, if I am, I probably won’t let on! 🙂 Truly, I welcome everyone to challenge my viewpoints if you feel compelled to do so.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments and support! Tomorrow, a post on selflessness and its apparent contradictions within Christianity.

 

Spirituality

Way Over My Head – Please lend me some perspective!

Yesterday, I told you that I would refer to good and evil in the simplest terms. Today, not so much, but I’ll still do my best to be clear. My question is this: What do we mean when we call God “good?” And is it really possible to be objective?

One of the people whom I love and respect most in this world (you know who you are!) forced me to consider a truly frightening question a few years ago and it’s bothered me ever since. We were having a conversation about the existence of God, Heaven and Hell. I can’t quote her exactly, but the gist was this:

         Even if Heaven does exist, I’m not sure it’s a place I want to go. I can’t imagine a               parent who, having the power to stop it, would allow a beloved child to suffer for              eternity in Hell, just for refusing to acknowledge him.

Well, to be honest, I can’t quite reconcile that, either. I know the free-will argument; that God allows His children to make a choice, that He doesn’t force our commitment. But drawing the only parallel I can, which is the earthly parent/child relationship, it just doesn’t make sense to me.  I can understand it a little better from the standpoint that we all have God within us and to actively choose to Deny that is to submit to a self-imposed suffering.

The other problem I have with the free will argument is that God created all things, including our concept of good and evil. So, can there be any objectivity about the goodness of God? If He had created a world where the rules were different, where stealing and lying were considered “right” we would, presumably, still follow Him.  I’m not stating this very well. I know it sounds blasphemous, but it really is an honest question. Let me put it another way.

If God created this world and everything in it, including our concepts of good and evil, does it actually matter if He is “good” or not? Should we accept him simply by virtue of His being The Creator? I know that scripture says that God is love and reveals a number of other attributes of God, but again, He could have created the world to understand love in a completely different way.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I know this is one of those irritating questions that might simply be something I have to take on faith, but I really do feel compelled to ask it. Let me close by saying that regardless of my questions, when I look at the world around me – the human capacity for thought and feeling,the incredible variety and color, the beauty of nature, our bodies, the incomprehensible enormity of time and space – I feel God and I feel that God is good, as I understand goodness. I’m incredibly grateful for the life I’ve been given. Thanks again,