11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection February 7, 2016
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously wrote: “There is a vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God.” Do we not all experience this “God-shaped” vacuum, this “God-shaped” heart-hole, from time to time?
Finding God in our bruised and battered world is a prodigious task. Many religious zealots continue using God as a weapon against others. We surely know about the millions of lives sacrificed on the altars of religious intolerance. We clearly see the demonic-side of religious bigotry and religious-hatred poisoning our world.
Many believe the world would be a better place if everyone was a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew or a Buddhist or an agnostic or an atheist. Many Christians believe the world would be better if everyone was a Baptist or a Catholic or a Methodist or a “Bible-believer” or a “Spirit-filled” believer. But such beliefs easily serve as the breeding ground for religious intolerance and religious hatred.
As the Baptist minister Oliver Thomas writes in 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You: “If humans are to live together with their deepest differences, tolerance will not be optional; it will be required. Just look around the world today, and you can’t help but note that most of our bloodiest conflicts have something to do with religion. (and) While we shouldn’t necessarily expect people to respect beliefs or practices with which they disagree (I don’t respect, for example, the belief that women are somehow religiously inferior to men), we must respect the right of people to choose their beliefs. Tolerance is the ticket - the only ticket, if we’re to survive as a species.”
Religions are, typically, ethical ways of approaching life. The great religions have each produced a correspondent morality. The original moral visions continue to sustain healthy hopes and expansive dreams. Religious images continue to nourish our deepest human aspirations.
I certainly don’t believe the future would be a better place without religion - without faith. We need religions to prosper. But religions can only prosper in an atmosphere of healthy human values and healthy theology/spirituality. All of us who are deeply committed to our faith would do well to spend less energy defending the past and more energy rescuing the present.
It’s puzzling how we Christians seem so incapable of serious dialogue about the differences separating us. Many of us claim to be the “true” Christian - the “real” Christian. There is an on-going epidemic of arrogance among Christian believers.
If YOU do not believe as I believe - then to hell with YOU! We do not need to dialogue with you because we are, obviously, the true believers - the true church - the real faithful disciples of Jesus!
When one adds to this toxic mix, the incomprehensible battle over the age of the universe and the age of the earth, then dialogue seems impossible. See how many ways we can hate each other in the name of Christ! To claim a believer must choose between faith and science is beyond absurd.
It’s important for us to explore the past, studying the wisdom of our 2,000 year Christian heritage. The disciples who have traveled the Way of Jesus these past 2,000 years have graced us with a colossal legacy of truth. “Knowledge of self without knowledge of God leads to despair,” for instance, is as true today as when Bernard of Clairvaux said it in the 12th Century.
We, humans, have an obvious need to experience transcendence in our lives. Perhaps that’s the fatal attraction of drugs, as William James suggested so long ago. If our religions don’t help us feel at one with life, perhaps the need for transcendence may be so compelling that we become easy prey to the sway of alcohol and drugs.
As our Creator, God is the One who fashioned our brains as they are. God is the One who has “wired” us with a longing for transcendence, a hunger for God, a “God-shaped hole” in our heart. The creature needs to know the Creator. We - who are made - keep searching for our Maker. But we all discover the truth of Isaiah 45:15: “Truly you are a God who hides yourself.”
Why does God hide from us? God’s silence during the Nazi holocaust still unnerves us. God’s hiding in the face of Cambodia’s “killing fields” as well as the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides is hard to comprehend. There must be some good reason why God remains hidden. But it’s hard coming to a sensible answer. “We shall always be groping as fallible humanity seeks to understand an infallible God.” (Thomas)
Yet even though God “hides” from us, we have some clear idea about what God calls us to be and to do. By immersing ourselves in the Gospels of Jesus, we become familiar with the dream God has for all of us in and through Jesus Christ. In Jesus, all are made to feel welcome. In Jesus, all are loved. In Jesus, everyone’s dignity remains intact and vividly apparent. This is a dream worth dreaming. This is a dream worth working to make real!