Posts Tagged ‘certainty

30
Jun
21

Maybe God is… *

Maybe God is. 

Period. Full stop.

This might seem like an odd concession to doubt for one who publicly calls himself as a believer. [And yes, I do most definitely call myself a believer.]

Yet despite the strength of that belief (on my best days), I cannot offer you a shred of empirical proof that God in fact exists. 

  • Sure, I can enumerate all the reasons I personally choose to believe.
  • I can also regale you with story after story about the countless times God’s existence and nature have been disclosed to me… either through the created world, or through serendipitous happenings, or through human messengers, or through small, unseen nudges to my spirit. 
  • I can tell you about the hundreds of times I have turned to this God and asked for wisdom, comfort, patience, or peace in solitary moments of prayer… and received them.
  • I can readily recount for you all the ways that belief – and faith – in God has made a qualitative difference in my life.

But I cannot finally, conclusively, irrevocably, and beyond all doubt prove to you that God exists.

For some, that inability to provide objective evidence is all the encouragement they need to be prompted to stand up and declare, “You SEE! I told you: God is a myth and a fairy tale, meant for the unscientific and weak-minded! We live in a world of scientifically provable FACT, not fantasy.”

Emboldened, they continue, “And besides… disputes about who God is and what God wants have led us to some of the bloodiest conflicts ever seen in human history! As for me and my house, we will serve EMPIRICISM!”

And you know what? It is hard to argue with any of those statements. 

I am also aware that the case against faith in God sometimes runs deeper and more personally than that. I have talked to many people who carry life-long scars from their encounters with “true believers.” And as a result, they have rejected faith completely. 

Taking all of that into account… minimizing NONE of it, I will still dare to ask; what if there IS a God?

  • What if there really is a God who is so vast and deep and wide that ANY attempt to confine this God to a doctrine, a description, a definition, or a denomination is automatically futile and pitiful? 
  • What if this God INTENDED that all reason-based paths into a relationship run smack-dab into a brick wall? What if this God set it up so that an abandonment of empiricism is really what it takes to forge a connection?
  • What if a kiloton of EVIDENCE weighs less on this God’s scale than a thimbleful of FAITH?
  • What if the whole idea is that this God is meant to be most accessible to the simple, the child-like, the vulnerable, the weak, the defenseless, and the frail among us rather than to the strong, smart, powerful, and secure?

What if there really is a God and what if that God really is like that?

Man… wouldn’t that be AWESOME?!!

Abundant blessings;

  • I would be remiss if I did not credit my mentor, counselor, and friend Warren Molton as the inspiration for this blog series. Several years ago, Warren published a book of poetry titled, If God Is… A Poetic Search for God Within. Each of his poems in this book poses an “if/then” duality, inviting the reader to contemplate the many faces of God. 

My aim is not to duplicate Warren’s work, but to engage my own musings on the nature of The Irreducible Source of All That Is.

15
Jan
21

Certain Uncertainty

I may have said this before, but I just LOVE Google!

Questions which, in bygone days, might have floated off into the ether unanswered, can now be resolved in the blink of an eye, thanks to Google.

Just yesterday, for example, I idly wondered what the shape and size of the 970-telephone area code is. I wanted to know what other towns besides Fort Collins it includes, what its total area is, what other area codes are nearby… you know – important, life-changing questions like that.

Being decidedly OLD, I can vividly remember the work it once took to answer even a question as simple as that. I would have started by pulling down the big white page version of the phone book and then thumbed through the front of it looking for an area code map. Failing that, I might have taken a trip to the local public library and posed my question to the research librarian. 

Today? I just hit the button and say, “OK, Google; show me a map of the 970-area code,” and BINGO! There it is, before you can say “Jack Robinson.”

And guess what, kids? You can do the same thing with ANY question at all! Curious about how many ounces are in a pint? Ask Google! Want to know the racial make-up of your county? Ask Google! What if you HAD to know George Brett’s batting average in his rookie year? In less time than it takes you to ask the question, you can have the answer, thanks to Google.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a question that could not be answered in the twinkling of an eye by the miracle of the Google Machine.

Welcome, my friends, to the age of CERTAINTY where NOTHING is unknowable.

As accurate as that description might be, I have to wonder if that is entirely good news. I mean, is certaintyreally the end-all, be-all we make it out to be? Does the elimination of all mystery and uncertainty really mean our lives are quantitatively BETTER? 

In asking these questions I am not advocating a return to a stone age understanding of the world… the one where people cower in fear in the belief that the moon swallows the sun every time a solar eclipse happens. 

My question more has to do, I suppose, with how we think about FAITH in an age of certainty. Here in GoogleWorld 2021, does faith become more like a passive placeholder, as we wait for greater certainty? That is, do we say, “Well, until the science comes along to either prove or disprove this proposition, I will just have to have faith”?

If that is how we see faith, I can’t help but be a little sad. I have always been encouraged to see faith as something ACTIVE rather than PASSIVE… as an intentional choice we make about the metanarrative we live out of. 

I have lived a lot of years and learned a lot of things during that time. A lot of uncertainty has been vanquished with the help of education, connections, and the miracle of Google. And yet somehow, at the very same time, the scope of what I do NOT know about the universe seems to be expanding at an even greater pace. 

How is that possible?

But ultimately, it is FAITH that assures me that it is OK to just stand here in awe… drinking in the sheer wonder of the world around me, trusting that the Unseen Hand behind it all loves each of us completely and unconditionally.

And that brings me peace.

[Incidentally, in case you wondered, George Brett’s batting average in 1974 – his first full season in the bigs – was .282. Not bad for a kid.]

Abundant blessings;

21
Jan
20

Soul Winter

Dead leaves 2Yep.

Just poked my head out the window and confirmed something I’ve suspected for about a month now.

IT’S WINTER! (Unless, of course, you happen to live in the southern hemisphere).

And by the looks of things, it plans to continue being winter for quite a bit longer.

And so far here in my part of the country, it’s not that cute, cuddly, Currier-and-Ives kind of winter that looks like a beautiful snow globe someone has shaken up.

No. It is more that kind of slice-through-your-bones, punch-you-in-the-face, steal-all-your-joy-and-your-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-too kind of winter.

Winter is that time of year when you would swear that a massive crop-dusting plane flew over the whole country and dumped a load of DDT on everything.

In the winter, all plant life is dead. And brown. And gross. Take a look at these… I shot these pictures in our neighborhood while I was out walking the dog this morning. Note the remarkable lack of life in evidence here. Dead leaves 1

As winter trudges slowly by, it is sometimes tempting to look around at the deadness of the world and conclude that this condition will never, ever end. I have to admit… from the vantage point of January 21, 2020, warm weather and green grass seem like an impossible pipe dream somewhere out there on the eternal horizon.

Experience, however, tells us a different story. Experience keeps us from looking at the dead leaves and plunging into deep despair. Today we look at all this brown grass and detritus around but we don’t abandon hope. Even though our spirits might flag at this depressing sight, we grab ourselves by the lapels (or collar. Or bootstraps) and remind ourselves that this dreary, weary season will surely pass.

We have seen it happen before. And because we have seen it before, we are confident we will see it again.

This confidence goes by another name. It is also called FAITH.

In the case of the seasons, our faith has its roots firmly in our experience.

But what happens if we don’t have an experience like the certainty of spring to base our hope on?  What if we look around and see gloom and doom and have strong reasons to wonder if things will EVER be different?

That is precisely when a different kind of faith is called for. That is when we each need to reach a little deeper into our knapsack and search around a bit.

As a Christ-follower, I have the story of Easter to latch onto… the story that provides a graphic illustration of the truth that says, “Even when things look their bleakest, there is still hope. With God, the worst thing is never the last thing.”

As one who strives (and struggles) to live by his guidance, I can also consider myself an inheritor of the promise that Jesus gave the members of his inner circle on the night he was arrested. He told them, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

In the valleys we each face from time to time, we may lack the kind of hopeful certainty that we get when we watch winter inevitably give way to spring. But God is here to remind us that God’s promise of new life on the other side of something that looks like death is just as sure… just as reliable… just as much of a “lock” as the green crocus buds that will be showing up here in a couple of months.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with your own version of a “winter of the soul,” take heart…

God’s spring is just around the corner.

27
Aug
18

That Safe Place

Rosie in The PoseMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our 10-month old, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

To say that Rosie is energetic is to say Kansas is flat or the sun is hot. In other words, it is to VASTLY understate the reality of the situation.

One of the biggest challenges Joan and I face each day is figuring out where to put things in order to keep them safe from Rosie’s eager, inquisitive reach.

There was – for example – the night we went to the baseball game with friends. The idea was to have them come back to our place after the game for some of Joan’s yummy peach cobbler. The cobbler was baked ahead of time and had been shoved all the way to the rear of the kitchen counter… presumably safely out of Rosie’s reach.

Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to the kitchen that night and found the pan of cobbler on the kitchen floor, big chunks of it missing in action. Beside it, of course, the innocent, angelic face of sweet Rosie… cobbler crumbs stuck to her beard.

This incident happened over a month ago. Since then, Rosie has grown a few more inches and has an even longer reach. It seems now that only the highest shelves in the closet are now safe from her exploring paws.

Thinking back on that moment (and similar moments with Rosie since then), I was reminded of some of my early adventures in faith. The common link between the two – I realized – is the central question: “Where is the safest place to put it?” Today the “it” is Joan’s peach cobbler. Back then the “it” was my faith.

In my earliest years, I placed my faith in my mom and dad. They were the walking, talking, living, breathing, definition of Ultimate Reality. Their word was Law, their wisdom was unfathomable, and their protection was ironclad.

Right up until, of course, it wasn’t.

Every child at some point experiences a rude awakening to the finite flawedness of mom and dad, and I was no exception. Whether it was that first argument of theirs I happened to overhear, or (in my childlike opinion) an entirely unjustified punishment, or something else, I’m not sure. But I know that at some point the pedestal cracked. I still loved them, of course, but no longer placed 100% of my faith in them.

When I started school, I discovered that my earliest teachers were unlimited fountains of knowledge… book knowledge, life knowledge, cultural knowledge and – in the case of my second-grade teacher Mrs. Forrer – baseball knowledge. And so I changed gears and said, “HERE is where I can put my faith! In my teachers!”

And I did. Right up to the point where I discovered that THEY were limited, too. Mrs. Olds chose to believe Andy when he said that started the fight and then Mr. Garrison could not adequately explain to me why there was such a thing as poverty.

As I grew, I kept trying. I am sure this list is incomplete, but a few of the other places I have put my faith over the years include:

  • My car(s)
  • The government (at every level – local, state, and national)
  • My own intelligence
  • My friends
  • Human nature
  • My race
  • My gender
  • My socio-economic group
  • My religious affiliation

In each case, I was certain my faith had been placed securely. Just as certain, in fact, as we were about where we placed the peach cobbler that night.

And every time that certainty came crashing to the ground… just like that pan of peach cobbler.

Has that happened to you? Are you still searching for that “next safe place” to put your faith after the last one disappointed you? Or have you given up the search entirely, convinced that no place… no person… no group will ever be capable of securely holding the precious gift of your faith?

If that describes you, listen to these words from Psalm 46. They are some of the truest words you will ever hear:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

  • Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7, NRSV

 

Abundant blessings;

15
Aug
17

Certainty, Wisdom, and the Fugue

Three tinhornsMy wife and I had some fun over the weekend. We were part of a local musical revue that featured songs and dances from several well-known Broadway shows.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when I got to sing the Fugue for Three Tinhorns from “Guys and Dolls” with two other men.

Even if the name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, you have probably heard it before. It is the song that features an amateur horse race bettor singing, “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and here’s a guy that says if the weather’s clear…” The other two guys join in, fugue-style – singing the virtues of THEIR picks in the upcoming race; horses named Valentine and Epitaph.

The concluding line of the song is when the three point to their tip sheets and sing in harmony, “I’ve got the horse… right… here!!”

It was fun and (I thought) went rather well.

Thinking back on that show and our song, I suddenly realized our frivolous moment onstage might have actually concealed a deeper message.

That message is about CERTAINTY and the ways we arrive at it.

In the song, each of the bettors believes they have a foolproof source of information. For the first guy, the race day weather is the key. The second bettor’s friend is the jockey’s brother so he feels secure with his “inside” information. The third guy relies strictly on the odds displayed in the tip sheet.

The point is, each bettor believes his horse is THE horse.

In fact, they are each certain of it.

Thinking about the song in those terms brought to mind a phrase I read recently in the book, A Failure of Nerve. This book, written by Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant Edwin Friedman, includes insightful prescriptions for those who lead during turbulent times.

Friedman says, “An anxious system demands certainty.” Naturally, that anxious system looks to its leader(s) to provide them with the sought-after certainty.

More often than not, leaders are very willing to provide certainty to the anxious system. That certainty usually comes in the form of strong declarations of righteous, unshakable principles. It comes in the form of definitive lines drawn to help us understand who is on the “good side” and who is on the “bad side” of the issue. It comes in the form of vague, but bold-sounding statements of steps that will be taken, “… going forward.”

Sound familiar?

The problem, according to Friedman, is that certainty is almost always the antithesis of wisdom. When we allow anxiety to drive us toward sure and certain answers, we find that we must also silence the voices that challenge our certainty.

The tinhorns in Fugue sought certainty about an uncertain horseracing event in the future. But by definition, the future cannot be certain until it gets here. And when it gets here it is no longer the future!

Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve wisdom. According to Friedman, our comfort with ambiguity is, “… critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” (A Failure of Nerve, New York: Seabury, 1997).

As I see it, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and all forms of hate have their roots in the desire for certainty AT ALL COSTS. We look around us and see a dynamic, uncertain, and changing world… and it seems threatening. The dynamism of that world leads some of us to rush out and erect walls of protection against a world that looks less and less like the one we grew up in. It also makes us hostile to the forces of change.

The good news is yes, there is a timeless truth. Yes, there is omniscience and ultimate wisdom. But it does not reside with you or me or anyone equipped only with this puny three pounds of gray matter we have inside our skulls. It resides only with the One who created us and placed us here in love.

Psalm 111:10 reminds us that: “Fear [meaning awe, or respect] of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.” Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord… do not rely on your own insight,” and a little later that, “… wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11).

I believe God calls us to be wise rather than certain. I further believe that the first step on the path to wisdom is HUMILITY… in other words, knowing that we do not know.

May your path lead you to wisdom today.

15
Apr
14

When you don’t know… lean

“I don’t know.”

Frankly, I hate that answer. I hate hearing it. I hate giving it. I try to do everything in my power to avoid it.

Because it is an answer that is not an answer. And depending on who just said it, “I don’t know” hints that there might actually not BE an answer to your question.

And really… what with Google and Facebook and science and wild imaginations of really bright people what are the odds that there is a question in existence that doesn’t have SOME KIND of answer?

I am a pastor. I am a father. I am a husband. In each one of those roles I frequently experience the demand to be both a provider and a seeker of answers to a whole host of questions.

Right now though, “I don’t know” is all I’ve got. And oddly enough I am pretty OK with that.

Today’s question is “WHY?”… always one of the toughest of the five standard queries of journalism. It is being asked in connection with the horrible events over the weekend here in Overland Park, Kansas in which a raging anti-Semite shot and killed three people… two United Methodists and a Roman Catholic.

Today is also the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing that took three innocent lives.

The “WHYs” are multiple. “Why did they do it?” “Why those people?” “Why then?” “Why didn’t anyone stop them?” “Why violence?” “Why killing?” And I know that there are a lot of people who also ask, “Why did God allow something like this to happen?”

Let me get back to you on that last one. As far as the other ones go though, all I’ve got for you is, “I don’t know.”

I don’t want to appear to diminish the need for finding those answers. Those answers might go a long way toward helping prevent future tragedies like these from happening. But for right now, I am not sure answers are the things that will do us the most good.

In fact it might even be better to avoid answers right now.

You see, Frazier Glenn Miller (or Cross as he also called himself), the alleged shooter in Overland Park, HAD lots of answers. He KNEW with utter certainty what was wrong in the world. He had NO DOUBT whatsoever about the solutions. According to interviews I have read with people who knew him, there was never any room in his vocabulary for “I don’t know.”

I believe our wiring as human beings leads us to abhor vacuums in our storehouse of knowledge and to seek answers to life’s persistent questions. This wiring is the reason we know there are microbes that both help us and harm us and planets that orbit the sun. That wiring is why we can now drive cars, fly airplanes, communicate across time and space, repair damaged hearts and brains, build skyscrapers and highways, and perform many other amazing feats.

No question… the drive to quench our “thirst for knowledge” has improved the quality of human life in countless ways.

But today I want to counsel us to be OK with “I don’t know.”

Because see, when we don’t know (and when we are willing to SAY we don’t know) we feel needy. We feel powerless. We feel vulnerable and dependent. And we yearn for nothing so much as a pillar on which to lean and from which to draw strength and support.

Something like a loving God perhaps?

Earlier I said that one of the “whys” in tragedies like the two today is, “Why did God allow this to happen?” I do not for one moment believe that God either allowed these events to happen or caused them. I believe that God’s heart is broken when innocent life is taken and needless suffering of people is caused.

However, one of God’s most precious and most dangerous gifts to humanity has been the gift of free will. With that gift we freely pursue paths of knowledge and joy. With it we also pursue paths of hatred and destruction. It is up to us.

I believe that when tragedy strikes us because of the existence of evil and hatred, God is there, waiting to enfold us in loving arms, to provide comfort and assurance in the middle of the storms. As the Wise One tells us: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10, NRSV. I reject as forcefully as I possibly can any idea that suggests God caused these tragedies in order that people might turn to him.

The thing I DO know with absolute certainty at a time like this is that God’s power to redeem is unlimited. God can and HAS – throughout the ages – taken the broken pieces of a fallen and sin-soaked world and used those same exact pieces to create something new… something beautiful… something life-giving and rich out of them. It is, in a nutshell, the story of Easter.

God’s done it before. God will do it today. God will do it again and again and again. Blessed be the name of God. AMEN.




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