Lisa and I went on a much-needed vacation last week. We haven’t been on vacation since Lisa went back to university seven years ago. We left in a snow storm. I had to use the snowblower to get ourselves out of our driveway to get to the airport. We went to Mexico. Stunning! I was sad coming back to winter. We’re already talking about our next vacation.
I thought of you guys every day. Not because I felt obligated to, but because you are my friends, and I always wonder how my friends are doing.
Today I want to write about an aspect of my own personal spiritual or theological journey. I want to explain how I’ve come to a place where I’m reluctant to use the word “God”, or even express “belief” in this “God”. I prefer to say, “That Which We Call God” to speak about the Divine. I want to describe the process of how I’ve come to a place where many people assume I’m an atheist, even though I wouldn’t use that label to describe myself. I couldn’t go from firm believer to where I am now overnight. It took several stages and years. It took my idea of “God” gradually allowing me to go until I got to where I am today.
I want to sketch with words my journey to where I am now where I am in complete theological peace devoid of the anguish I experienced for decades.
Please understand that this is my journey. This is my story. I do not expect anyone to believe it or apply it or adopt it. This is my personal journey that I’m sharing, hoping that maybe someone might benefit from it, get clarity from it, or even comfort from it.
These are the stages of belief in “God” I went through:
God is Jealous: This was my first presentation of God. He was jealous and would have no other gods before him. He demanded my complete and undying loyalty. I had to think about him 24/7, and if I didn’t, I would be a disappointment to him. He required my all, everything of me and about me and anything that was mine… it was his. I could not think outside the parameters that had been set by him and his bible because it meant certain spiritual death. I was to read only the bible and tested theology and nothing else. It was complete 100% domination and slavery. At times it was pleasant, but at other times it was miserable. My life wasn’t mine, but his.
God as Open: Then I came to a stage where God was open to other ideas. He admitted that he revealed himself to others, to people of other cultures and even religions. He invited me to read about similarities to him, to Jesus, and to the bible in other religions, spiritualities and philosophies. Oh, God was still jealous because it was him he wanted me to see in all these other religious and spiritual expressions, not someone else or another god. This was God inviting me to recognize traces of him and his work throughout the world and down through time. This was a season of intense exposure and learning and integrating of other expressions and ideas.
God as Gracious: This was a period when, now influenced by recognizing God throughout the world and throughout time, I started to realize that God was gracious. God was a god of love, not malice. It was through my reading of Paul and Pauline theologians. The letters of Romans and Galatians, etc., were incredibly influential during this period. Barth’s famous commentary on “Romans” rocked my world. I started to wonder if I was a universalist. Barth was and still is accused of that, but he tried to avoid using that word to express his belief that God really does love the whole world, and that somehow through the work of Christ the whole world was reconciled to God. I came to understand that God was so gracious that he would even allow me to question, doubt, and change my beliefs.
God as Releasing: There is a cheesy saying I saw on a poster of a butterfly being released from someone’s hand: “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” I started to believe this about God. If God would allow me to question my beliefs, then he must be willing to allow me to question my beliefs about him as well. I somehow absolutely knew this to be true. I no longer believed God was an insecure lover, but one very secure in himself and could handle my questions, even me questioning him! I came to understand that the ideas in my mind about God were not actually God, and I knew God already knew that. So I was allowed to question the ideas I had in my mind and even reject them as not God, fully confident that God not only permitted it but encouraged it. He knew that when I finally hit rock bottom, whatever remained of him that was true, I would be faithful to this. God was so gracious he let me go.
God as Not-God or All: On a night in May, 2009, I had a dream of a waterfall. The dream was a picture of reality, including “God” and All-That-Is. I understood that above the rim of the falls I cannot see. This compares to God. God is invisible. An infinite source. Never-ending supply. But we cannot see it. We can only guess what God is from what comes over the falls. This is the Incarnation, or the manifestation of the Mystery. Christians would call this Christ. It is a picture of what may be over the rim of the falls. Then when the water hits the ground and spreads, this is the Spirit, the application of the Mystery, the assimilation of the Mystery, into the affairs of the world and humanity. The Spirit is about love, justice, joy, and peace. When I awoke from this dream I suddenly knew that the All really is All. I saw that we are all one, connected at a deep level, unified and not separate. Separation and division is only an illusion that impresses our eyes and minds. I suddenly realized that the only thing that seems to separate us is language. Thoughts. Words. Ideas. Beliefs. That’s all. We all feel the rain as it falls on us, but we all have different experiences of this rain, thoughts about it, words for it. Same with reality, the universe, the mystery, or God. It’s just words. Believer or atheist or anyone else. We are the same. God as Not-God or as All. It is the same. I saw this as clearly as anything I’ve ever seen, although it is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to articulate. But this has given me a peace that passes understanding.
If I were pressed to make a statement, I would probably still consider myself a Christian, but an unusual one. My new theological framework is strangely trinitarian (above the rim, the falls, the spreading water). But it is so open to be all-inclusive, all-consuming, like a unifying theory that applies to everyone from atheist to believer in any religious or spiritual tradition, that most Christians wouldn’t accept me as a part of the club. You see, most believers in most religions are exclusive. This theory is universally inclusive. That creates political problems for most believers. Not for me, but for them.
It was the God in my mind that eventually and gradually let me go. It took, as I said, so many stages and so many decades for my idea of “God” to get to a place where I rest in Reality, what is True. I went from believing in a jealous God to a completely open idea of What-Is that is joyfully all-inclusive.
All-inclusive! Just like the resort we went to in Mexico!
I hope this helps.
Love you guys!