Yesterday's post was very hard to write. I've been going over these thoughts and feelings for months, but it's hard to come right out and say publicly, "I've been praying all this time and I still don't really know who God is." I was afraid my Catholic friends would judge me.
Instead, I have had quite a few people contact me saying, "Me too! I feel just the same!" There is nothing that could be more comforting to me than that. Having a relationship with an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful being who doesn't talk back is really, really hard.
This post is to summarize those things I do know about God. Some of them are things I know by instinct; others I have to remind myself over and over again, because there's a part of me that can't quite wrap my head around them. I find myself just defaulting to Jerk-God because the real God is just too puzzling to understand.
What do I know about God?
First, I know his definition. He is the creator of all things. That is what most people mean when they say "God." I tend to explain by saying that all things we know of in this world have a temporal beginning and a cause. But we know, because the universe is here at all, that something had to come behind all these causes -- something different, something that didn't have a temporal beginning or a cause. Atheists or agnostics will sometimes agree with me this far, but say this mysterious something isn't a person.
It seems clear enough to me -- though I know there are counterarguments -- that God IS a person with intelligence, because the universe is so very rational. And I don't just mean, "Oh, how convenient that I have bacteria perfectly adapted to my gut to digest beans for me" (which, don't get me wrong, could be a proof of God too), but the unchanging laws of physics and thermodynamics. The universe is a place that makes sense.
And when I look at the created world, really look at it, I feel like the person who made all these things is someone I would very much like. I mean, think about it. He could have created us like the plants, just needing some sunshine but never having to eat. But he made us able to bite into a juicy steak or crunchy apple. We could have reproduced by budding, but he gave us sex, pregnancy, birth -- things so weird and wonderful I sometimes imagine the trouble I would have explaining them to aliens. He didn't paint everything with a broad brush; every detail of creation is worked out perfectly, so that no microscope can see the infinitesimally small but absolutely organized structure of everything.
This comforts me more than anything. I know that Jerk-God could never create this wonder. Jerk-God would have had the world be so much less fun. Real God gave us a place we could really delight in, because he wanted us to be happy.
Someone who would go to the trouble of all that creating wasn't going to be happy just setting us on our way and letting us go. He wanted to have an actual relationship with us. Now I think we all know that it's impossible to have a real relationship that's forced in any way. God made us able to say no to him, and of course our first parents did. But he didn't want us all to suffer for their bad choice -- he felt we should all get a chance to know him too -- so he came himself to die on a cross so we could all be with him. He knew perfectly well that we were having a really hard time understanding him, considering he's invisible and inaudible and all, so he actually became a person so that we wouldn't have that problem so much.
This God is someone who is awfully eager to get to know us. And, like I said in the previous post, he didn't die on a cross just so he could have something to hang over our heads every time he needed emotional blackmail. He really did do it just because he loved us, because it was something that we needed, and because he wanted us to know just how bad he wanted to be close to us.
I was struggling internally a few weeks ago with all this when Marko started singing to himself. He sang a song from Mr. Rogers: "It's you I like, the way you are right now, way down deep inside you." I couldn't help but think, "If Mr. Rogers can love me just the way I am, what kind of person is God if he can't manage the same?"
It's hard to believe in this. It is so, so hard to believe that at the same moment a person could know everything about you, and I mean everything ... and at the same time love you. It's hard to believe that there could be a person who couldn't deceive or be deceived, who is pure unchanging truth ... and at the same time love you.
We tend to pick one or the other, love OR truth. Either God lies and says everything I do is a-okay and I never do anything wrong, in which case he can love me, or he sees the reality of what I am and the people I've hurt and the lies I've told, in which case he can't possibly love me. I think this is one of the mysteries of God that we'll never fully understand, how he can see us and our faults and still smile at us, the way I smile at my boys, and say, "I love you just the way you are, not later when you've earned it, but right now."
All of my spiritual life since boarding school has been a process of trying to be worthy, to be good enough. I feel that God has made a terrible mistake by loving me, and the only way to make it right is to try to be good enough so it won't be such a mistake. The whole thing has been one long, miserable self-improvement project, which I mainly avoid because it's so unpleasant. I don't dare pray without a resolution, because wouldn't that be implying that I thought I was perfect, and isn't that pride?
But God isn't like that. He hasn't asked me to run my life like a self-improvement project. He's asked me to draw close to him, and that's what I'm going to do. Sure, there are commandments. But I'm already trying to follow those. I follow them because I see the point in them, and because when I don't understand, I assume God knows something I don't and there really is a point to them. I don't think a single commandment is arbitrary. But I'm trying to separate out the self-improvement and the spiritual. I want to be a better person because everyone wants to be a better person, this is a good thing to do. But God isn't my personal trainer. Sometimes he might want to talk about other stuff besides how awful I am.
In fact, I think that, if he's anything like all the other people who love me, he doesn't like hearing about how awful I am. Think how you feel, if a person you love starts bashing themselves. You want to run in and yell, "Don't talk that way about the person I love!" Why wouldn't God be the same?
To understand God, I have to redefine my terms.
God loves me.
Old definition: God tolerates me and gives me things for no apparent reason, considering how much I suck.
New definition: God actually likes me, enjoys being with me, and sees all the good in me.
God wants me to be happy.
definition: I'd better do what God wants, even if it makes me
miserable, because if I don't things are going to be even worse.
definition: God wants me to be happy, and if I'm not, it isn't his
doing. He hates seeing me suffer, and though he can't always rush in to
fix everything, he really does care about my struggles.
God doesn't want me to sin.
Old definition: God is so allergic to sin that if I do anything the slightest bit wrong he runs away like I'm on fire.
New definition: God realizes that when I sin, it's as if I actually am
on fire. I'm hurting myself. Of course he doesn't want me to do
that. He hangs around as close as I will let him, in the hopes of
showing me the way back.
If God is like this, I really do want to know him. Not because I feel guilty that he loves me so much and I've loved him so little in return. God can handle that. He wouldn't have created mankind if he couldn't take a little rejection, and anyway I actually do love God at least to some extent, so it's not like he's actually getting rejected by me. The reason I want to get to know God is because he seems like the sort of person I would like to know.
I don't have all the answers. I don't have even half of the answers. But here are a few answers that seem clear to me so far. It's enough for a start.