Several of the seven celebrities whom we saw on TV in March 2018 at the start of the 800 km pilgrimage walk from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella in Spain said, “I don’t believe in God”.
To be able to say that, they must already have some sort of idea in their minds as to who or what they think God is. I say that I do believe in God – and often see signs and evidence all around and within. But are we talking about the same “thing”? Maybe a lot of people who say they don’t believe in God do actually have the same basic beliefs, more or less, as I do. Is it all to do with the words we use? One of the pilgrims, who had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 12 years, said that it was a strong sense of hope which kept him going throughout the ordeal. One of his fellow pilgrims, a Christian priest, said she believed that this hope was, in fact, God – a suggestion he strongly resisted and denied. Were they talking about the same thing or not? What did “God” mean to each of them? I would say that I don’t believe in the “God” that many Christians, past and present, describe and talk about.
So who is the final arbiter, who decides who is right and wrong?! What grounds are there for our beliefs? Are there many Gods, or Three (Trinity), or just One? Is it only those who believe in the “Christian God” and have “accepted Jesus” who are already, or are going to be, somehow “saved” and “live in heaven” after death, while the rest of us will spend eternity in “hell”? What about good people of other faiths or no religious beliefs? How does scientific evidence fit into our belief systems – are they incompatible?
For me, science and my spiritual beliefs have to concur – I can’t have one without the other. But my knowledge and experience of both is very limited although I am always discovering more. But if scientific facts and evidence don’t fit with my belief system, then there’s something wrong or inadequate or misunderstood in my beliefs. New scientific discoveries don’t destroy or undermine or threaten my belief in God. Scientific evidence challenges, deepens and informs my spiritual understanding and beliefs. Science is a God-given way of understanding both God and Creation more fully and enables me to become more aware, thereby deepening and strengthening my faith. I have never understood why some of my Christian friends actively ignore or refuse to take any interest in the wonders and beauty of nature all around them, as though they are not important or God is somehow not involved or interested in or concerned about the natural world, but only with their inner world and personal life and spirituality.
The Universe is unbelievably and mind-bogglingly wonderful, vast and complex, beyond our comprehension. Thankfully, scientists are exploring ever deeper and further back into creation, into the mind and workings of God, revealing more and more about just how amazing it all is and leaving us standing in awe and wonder, “lost for words”.
Even if scientists could somehow, in the future, find out how and why the “Big Bang” occurred, and where all the matter and energy originated from, I think this will only continue to deepen our understanding and awareness of God in everything. Christians who insist that Creation happened literally as described in the first chapter of Genesis are not only ignoring that there are, in fact, two different and conflicting Creation stories in the Bible, but they have a seriously small and limited view, understanding and experience of just how awesome God actually is, as revealed not only in Holy Scriptures but also in science and the created world. God is within everything and at its core, the substance and energy which sustains creation. Even inanimate, apparently solid objects, such as rocks, are made of atoms which have energy and movement within them. On a basic, sub-atomic level, nothing is ultimately destroyed. Perhaps one reason why some people “don’t believe in God” is because their intellectual image is far too small or perhaps they think “God” means something “out there”, beyond the universe, rather than “in here”, at the very heart of everything. I certainly no longer believe in God if God is “out there” and apart from creation.
I have once again become fascinated by the beauty and evidence of fractals and holons within life and creation which also help me understand more about God. Fractals show us how there is a link between whatever is tiny, minute and finite (even infinitesimal) with what is vast and infinite. There is an extraordinary sense in which the finite is within the infinite and the infinite is within the finite – the whole is within each tiny part and each tiny part is an essential part and image of the whole. And there is no beginning and no end – it is only our small, finite minds that try and put a beginning and and an end to everything because of our limitations.
God is finite, consenting to be contained within human beings, within the tiniest particles, whilst at the same time, God is the whole, infinite, beyond everything, the source of all being. (I think the spiritual or philosophical language for this is transcendence and immanence.) The mathematical truth and existence of fractals and holons helps me understand how God can be both finite and infinite. God holds everything (as shown in the outer triangle of my drawing) and is also in everything. It also gives me a tool to help understand the place of sacred texts, such as the Bible, and what their purpose is and how they contain truth at various different levels (not just factual, literal truth). “We literally see that the part contains the whole or replicates the whole, and yet each part still has a wholeness within itself. Each of us replicates the Whole and yet has a certain wholeness within ourselves–but we are never entirely whole apart from connection with the larger Whole.” (Richard Rohr)
“The world is in truth a holy place” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) – because God is, and always has been, incarnate within the Universe. (That is not to say that God is the Universe. He is both finite and infinite, the love, energy and substance at the very heart of everything in creation. God is all about relationship – relationships at the finite and infinite level.
So what do Christians mean by The Incarnation, a concept that is particularly used at Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus? I think it shows how God, willingly and lovingly, becomes finite and limited. In Jesus, we see the fullness (and fulfilment) of the Way, the Truth and Life revealed. Jesus showed how, and what it means, to be fully integrated (see my concept of four overlapping circles: God is at the Core of Each One of Us) and filled with God, with Love, within his whole being and life. (God and Love are synonymous according to St. John in his first letter in the Bible, chapter 4.) In Jesus, God revealed how the creative energy and direction of growth is Love, which has to be non-violent. The creative Word, God himself, showed in Jesus how he not only inhabits, but becomes human flesh. Jesus showed us how God is within each person, respecting and treating all as equal and able to make us all whole. As Richard Rohr suggests, “Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection, as we think. Divine perfection is, in fact, the ability to recognise, forgive and include imperfection – just as God does with all of us!” Christians do not have a monopoly over God!
I don’t yet really understand where imperfection and evil, or what we sometimes call “sin”, come from or how they “fit in”. But in Jesus, God showed us how he is actively involved in suffering and how to cope with, and even submit to, suffering and imperfection. God is still at the centre, at the core (just as he always has been), of his creation, even within the tiniest particle, and so suffers with Creation, including each one of us. Transformation, change, growth and death are usually painful, costly and difficult. Jesus showed us how to accept suffering and how to experience transformation, how to go on loving and forgiving and being non-violent in the face of evil, how to include imperfection. We are free to accept or reject this way.
I cannot agree with the many Christians, including some of my friends, who believe that unless you “accept Jesus into your heart”, you cannot be “saved”, but will spend eternity in “hell” (or perhaps in “purgatory”), so condemning all but the tiniest fraction of humanity to eternal death. Many Christians use a statement made by Jesus (in John 14:6), that “No-one comes to the Father except through me” to support their belief that Jesus is the only way to come to God and be saved. However, I think it is significant that he actually uses the word “Father”, not “God”. This suggests to me that Jesus did not say that accepting him is the only way to know and experience God, but that the only way to know and understand how one can have an intimate experience of God as Father, in the way that Jesus obviously did, is through Jesus – he is the Way to this profoundly intimate and personal union with God as Father.
“Salvation is not a divine transaction that takes place because you are morally perfect, but much more is an organic unfolding, a becoming who you already are, an inborn sympathy with and capacity for the very One who created you. Each being is both a part that is like the Whole and yet also contributes to the Whole, just as Paul teaches in his analogy of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-30). …. Sadly, the world we live in today has very little sense of this wonderful wholeness, and therefore of holiness and non-violence.” (Richard Rohr)
Death, of some sort or other, is necessary for any transformation. Death is a necessary step to release energy and new life. Death is never the ultimate end or total destruction. There is still more work, more creating, more life, after death – the process is on-going and eternal. This is true for every human being, whatever their beliefs – no-one can be excluded. God will somehow make every one of us whole and keep us in unity and eternity within his Creation.
I am “lost in wonder, love and praise”.
“Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and sinless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.”
(From the Hymn “Love divine, all loves excelling” by Charles Wesley)
PRAYER OF FINAL SURRENDER from The Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“When my hour comes, O God,
grant that I may recognize you
under the species of each alien or hostile force
that seems bent upon
destroying or uprooting me.
When the signs of age begin to mark my body
(and still more when they touch my mind);
when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off
strikes from without or is born within me;
when the painful moment comes
in which I suddenly awaken
to the fact that I am ill or growing old;
and above all at that last moment
when I feel I am losing hold of myself
and am absolutely passive within the hands
of the great unknown forces that have formed me;
in all those dark moments, O God,
grant that I may understand that it is you
(provided only my faith is strong enough)
who are painfully parting the fibres of my being
in order to penetrate to the very marrow
of my substance and bear me away within yourself.
Teach me to know my death
as an act of communion with you.”