God Talk – a response

The conversation about the existence of God is ongoing. So often the concept God is used without any clear definition and we are left asking what does the speaker mean by God? We are grateful to Judith for the following comments on Rodney’s recent “Musings”. I am sure many people share her concerns:

Having been brought up in a strict Christian family, regular church goer for over 60 years, I have recently started to ask questions which the Church cannot answer. Consequently, I am at present an agnostic.

Who or what is God? I can see absolutely no evidence of his existence. The horrors and pain I see and hear of makes me ask where could he be! I am told he is love and loves humanity – show me. No, not just an example of the many fine Christian people who struggle to make the world a nicer place. I need to understand how a loving? Immortal? Being can watch the mess of this world and not intervene. Church just tells me to have faith, God is in control and everything will be alright in the end. Sorry, I am not convinced.

I have asked Rodney to respond to her comments:

Dear Judith,

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt reply to my musings on walking the streets of Brisbane city on a Sunday morning. Our website manager invited me to respond further and I am glad to do so. You write of moving into a stage of your faith life where you are starting to ask questions. I trust you will continue to do so.

You seem to be challenging some of my comments but it is not clear which particular ones they were. There does seem to be some connection though with what may have seemed my pleading for the reality of God and the way it may affect the behaviour of people as they live, work, and walk the streets of Brisbane or any other locality. Perhaps your quarrel is with my implication after the visit to the Museum of Brisbane that Godliness is of benefit to society. You will note that I cautioned that to the extent Godliness assumes a theistic entity (more on that later ) this may not necessarily be a good thing.

It is clear that my experience of a life time of Christian faith and practice has been more benign than yours.  Your enquiries seem to hinge on the question of who or what is God. It may be
surprise you to learn that I go a step further than you, moving beyond being “agnostic” to being comfortable with the label of “a-theist” although probably non-theist is a more accurate term.
For me it rides on the validity of the supernatural. From my training as a scientist and my own everyday experiences, anything that smacks of the course of events being influenced by something beyond the laws of nature as we know them, does not have rationality for me.

And yet I claim to be Christian – an a-theist Christian (1)  – a follower of the Jesus Way.

Was the supernatural a reality for Jesus? It would seem that way when he urged us to pray, to “Our Father in heaven”. Or did he proclaim that as just a helpful working image? When it came to demonstrating the reality of the Kingdom of God – it might also be called the Kingdom of Goodness – making the world a better place – he does not seem to have urged us to leave it to God. No, it’s our job “You heal the sick, You comfort the bereaved, You visit the people in prison”

Nevertheless, did Jesus assume the supernatural? We can assume he did. But then at that time in human history everybody accepted the supernatural. It was taken for granted. That is the way it was.

One of our study groups earlier this month was exploring the philosophy of Socrates from a book by Bertrand Russell. We noticed with some surprise that Socrates did not seem unduly perturbed about imbibing the fatal potion of hemlock. The commentary was that this was probably because Socrates truly believed that when his life on this earth passed he would just go on to heaven and there carry on questioning and philosophising with all the others who had predeceased him.

But this is the 21st century with an explosion of knowledge and understanding of what makes the world tick. Despite this, when it comes to human relationships and a desirable society I am prepared to take on board the Jesus Way of unconditional love.

To get back to the existence of God. If it is helpful to create an image of God for some guidance as to how we live life there are some ways in which this can be done with intellectual integrity.

People these days can equate God with Life. The term is in common use. Life (God) has given me another chance. This is what life (God) does to you. Others create
God as the personification of Love. Even the Gospels – especially the book of John, make a big thing about “God is love”. If we are going to use the equating verb “to be” it then follows that “Love is also God” (Some theological schools would challenge this).

Some people look on God as that small, inner individual voice with which we carry on our daily conversations. Cartoonist, Michael Leunig, attributes his prayer-writing to this. Perhaps this can equated to some degree with Sigmund Freud’s concept of the super-ego.

Recently, however, I have found another image which can be helpful. We may all be aware that amazing scientist and thinker, Stephen Hawking died this week. The Courier-Mail made a wide-ranging list of sayings from his wisdom. In contrast to the well-known statement by Albert Einstein about predictability, Hawking claimed that God does indeed play dice with the universe. Things happen by chance and we never know what the eventual outcome will be from that chance happening. God in this sense can be taken to be the sum total and result of all these chance happenings and probabilities, trials, and errors. Stephen Hawking again, “Without imperfection you or I would not exist”.

This can apply to all levels of life and history – from the Big Bang, through the formation of the sun and planets, the evolution of life and human beings, right down to what is going on inside our individual human bodies at the microscopic cellular level and in the nerve pathways in our brains. That is truly awesome! God in this sense is unlimited and uncontrollable. Yet, in a sense, it is possible to pray to this God. Not in the expectation of having some goodies come our way but in the hope that the dice will fall in our favour. That with cancer threatening our survival our immune system will by chance be able to overcome the ravaging rogue cells. That with a cyclone heading our way, the weather patterns will change and it will veer away from the coast line.

But beyond that, as Jesus is quoted as saying, “God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust”.

Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

So Judith, let’s have faith with which we can make the world a better place. If experience and new knowledge suggest that we are on a false track let’s adjust the direction and press along the new road. That to me is what faith is all about – acting on things unseen which seem right to us until we learn to identify and adopt new paths to follow. We may not know which numbers are going to come up on God’s dice but there is a lot we can do to improve the chances if we learn to love God (life) and love our neighbours.

Footnote (1) – Just as a reminder, “theism” imagines God as a being outside of ourselves but standing by and being available to call on if we pray the right formula for long enough and, if in some cases, if we behave ourselves.

Rodney Eivers, 18 March 2018

oOo

 

 

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