Monday, January 28, 2008

How Can We Know God Without the Bible?

This essay is part of a larger series in a dialogue with evangelical Christians who have asked why I left the evangelical movement:
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Christian wrote: You say that people everywhere have an awareness of a Higher Power or 'God,' and all they need to do is surrender to that God when they feel powerless. How do they even know what God is like, or how do they know they need to surrender to the will of God without a Bible?


Michael's Response:

Does a baby have to read a book or take a class to know how and when to suckle after he is born? How do humans know when to eat, drink or have a bowel movement? How does the heart know how and when to beat? How does the digestive system know what to do with last night's dinner? How do your lungs know when to inhale and exhale? If our physical anatomy has autonomic systems that function without rational, conscious human thought or education - is it so hard to believe that the realm of Spirit is not also autonomic, getting along quite well without our instruction through books and classes? Jesus seemed to think so.

In the Gospel of Mark, 4:26-29, Jesus said the kingdom of God grows like a seed 'all by itself' even when the farmer is sound asleep. The phrase 'all by itself' in Mark's parable is the Greek word automate from which we get our English word automatic. I suspect when Jesus told this story, he was surrounded by Pharisees with Hebrew Bibles tucked under their arms, thinking that knowledge of God and His will couldn't arrive without their objective written texts and eloquent teaching and preaching. This sort of clerical elitism has been the norm since recorded human history – kings, priests and prophets in every civilization and culture have thought they were the sole and objective mediators between heaven and earth for the stupid commoners.

Then along came people like Jeremiah the Hebrew prophet in 600 B.C. He radically challenged the elite Levitical priesthood's role of being the sole conveyors of God's will with their Torah and Temple teachings:

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:33-34

At about the same time in history, Siddhartha Gotama in northern India was preaching that anyone could become enlightened apart from the teachings of the rigid religious Caste system. In other words, male Bhramanic priests were not the only ones with direct access to spiritual awakening. Siddharta himself had been born into the second class Warrior Caste and meditated his way to complete enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

Six hundred years later, going beyond even Jeremiah's revelation, Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught that God was known by and available to all men, women and children, including Gentiles. Jesus was crucified in part because he dared to teach that knowledge of God arrived without a holy book, without a holy city and without a clerical call. In some ways, Jesus was returning to Genesis where an ordinary, non-priestly, non-Jewish shepherd named Abraham had received a direct call from God.

Is it so inconceivable that this God you 'evangelicals' declare Omnipotent (all powerful) and Omnipresent (everywhere present) is actually just that?! Does the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe have to resort to a book to make Himself (Itself) known? I can only conclude with the words of Jesus spoken to the religious teacher Nicodemus, "You are Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this makes more sense than the idea that we have to figure God out by reading a book...