In his recent Soft Edges post, Guardians – Someone to watch over me, my long-time friend and mentor Jim Taylor discusses the recent heart attack he suffered while cross-country skiing. Thanks to his own awareness, the help of a passerby, and prompt medical attention, he survived. In talking about the experience he says, in part –
“Several people have suggested that Someone was watching over me. I’m tempted to make that claim myself. Perhaps everyone yearns for that mother/father figure who makes sure no harm befalls us.”
The language of traditional Christianity is rich with images of a caring, parental God (and yes, of an angry, wrathful god). Either way, it’s a very “human” image.
Sometimes we talk about the actual “hand” or “voice” of God; sometimes we refer to “guardian angels” or some other “messenger.” Even when we talk about God as “Spirit” or “Light” we seldom manage to avoid inserting human emotional adjectives like “welcoming”, or “embracing.” This isn’t unique to Christianity of course. Pretty much all religions and “spiritual” movements include similar images.
As human beings we have a need to imagine a “human” God that we can relate to.
We could even think of Jesus, who former United Church of Canada moderator Bill Phipps once called “all of God that we can understand”, as the human “face” of God.
One thing that all of these images have in common is the assumption that God does (or at least could) intervene directly in human affairs. After all, what’s the point of having someone to watch over us if all they ever do is … well… watch?
Jim goes on to say –
“But then I start wondering. Why wasn’t Someone watching over Tiffany and Josie, over…. Why did they die in agony, and I get favoured?”
Literalists, when the question Jim asks comes up, are forced to resort to describing God in terms that sound (to everyone but them) more like a capricious and petulant child than the Creator of All Things.
Atheists, who also try to define God as nothing more than a human being “writ large”, are forced to dismiss any indication of Purpose in the observable interconnectedness of all things.
Literalists depend on God’s intervention for “proof” that God exists. Atheists depend on the lack of objective evidence for such intervention for “proof” that there’s no God at all.
I have another answer.
It’s one that has sustained me through the years as I dealt with the sudden death of one wife and the loss of another to divorce; held my father’s hand as he slipped away on a Christmas Day; waited anxiously while my daughter underwent emergency surgery for a perforated appendix; survived cancer; consulted with ER doctors about my mother’s life-threatening heart issues; and as I continue to deal with her progressing dementia.
God has never, in these crises or any other, set aside the laws of the universe for me.
I’ve never looked for God in parlour tricks like parting the Red Sea or raining manna from heaven. Nor in healing the sick or curing the lame for that matter.
I’ve never needed God to work miracles to provide “evidence” for my faith. The simple fact that we – that any of Creation – exist, is evidence enough.
God isn’t found in our ability to observe “Him” moving mountains, but in our finding God’s Presence in our ability to move them.
More importantly, accepting that God acts in Creation through us reminds us that it’s up to us to be mindful of our health; to cherish our relationships; to seek justice, resist evil; and indeed, to change the world.
I don’t make any pretence to know the mechanics of what, if anything, happens to people who believe that God has “answered their prayer.” Nor do I dismiss their belief.
What I do know is that when prayers go unanswered; when war and famine and disease go unaddressed; when injustice goes unchallenged; when we pass by the hat in front of the beggar on the street and toss in no coin; it is we, and not God, who have failed to answer them.
Because it is we, and not God, who are human.
“Perhaps the real test of faith,” Jim concludes, ”will be whether [we] can continue to believe that Someone watches over [us], even when things don’t turn out so well.”
And, I would add, what we do about it..
- How biblical literalism took root (kiwianglo.wordpress.com)