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Reflection April 17, 2016
Can We Really Understand God? Part 2
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Last week I wrote about how we might come to understand God. This week I’d like to continue that reflection. Part of the great problem with understanding God is that we normally perceive understanding as something that takes place only within our minds. But we’ll probably never accomplish any true understanding of God if we stick to our minds alone.
Too often I believe we try to use our minds, the functioning part of our brains, to grasp the idea of God. But God is much more than an idea or a concept. God is the deep reality underlying everything there is and everything there will be. God is much too large to be grasped with the human mind. More is required.
I worry about our children and our children’s children who believe God and the idea of God can be reduced to a scientific exploration. In essence, this is what happened to the idea of God in the 18th Century Age of Enlightenment. Reason - the use of our human brains - was brought to bear upon every philosophical and theological issue.
In the Age of Enlightenment, religious beliefs were reduced to ridicule. Faith was seen as profoundly misguided and anti-scientific. Scientific approaches replaced what were considered “out-dated” religious approaches to reality.
In a true sense, fundamentalism can be seen as the on-going reaction to the unsettling ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. Fundamentalism - in any religion - is the belief that science has little or no place in religious dialogue.
If the Bible supposedly shows that the earth is about 7,000 years old (it doesn‘t), then, by God, that’s how old it must be! Even though science, with a high degree of certitude, reveals our earth to be 4.5 billion years old, science must be wrong!
It’s easy understanding the appeal of fundamentalism and biblical literalism. And there was certainly much “over-reaching” in the ideas generated by the Age of Enlightenment. Science has its rightful place but faith also has an important place in our world and in human life.
Here are some thoughts from Professor Marcus Borg’s The God We Never Knew: “In our time, most of us in the Western world have become ‘cultural despisers of religion’ whether we know it or not. What belonged only to the educated elites two hundred years ago has become the wide-spread modern worldview - the taken-for-granted assumptions of our culture about what is real and what life is about.
“Some of us resist the impact of the modern worldview by becoming fundamentalists, insisting on the truthfulness of pre-modern Christian ways of seeing things in spite of their conflicts with modern (scientific-based) knowledge.”
But we cannot help our young cling to a belief in God and a belief in the Bible if we fail to appreciate our modern worldview. We must take science seriously. My beloved Beth and I are very much enjoying the 2014 mini-series, Cosmos, which gives a very up-to-date understanding of the universe in which we find ourselves. The problem, though, is that Cosmos, leaves little room for any belief in God or in a Creator.
Let me state something clearly here: we cannot come to know God with our minds alone! But, fortunately, there are other ways of knowing, other ways of seeking understanding, that are not solely based on our minds and intellectual reason.
Here is an important point from the philosophy professor Jacob Needleman’s What is God?: “There’s a knowledge in the mind … but there’s also a knowledge in the heart and in the body. And for all the important questions of life, these three sources of knowledge have to come together.
“When you love someone or something you can understand things about them that you cannot understand or even perceive with the mind alone (this is knowledge from the heart) … And there is knowledge in the body also. When you learn to play a musical instrument or ride a bicycle or draw a picture … it’s essential that the body learns and knows … And human beings are gifted with the possibility, and maybe the necessity, the duty of bringing these (three) sources of knowing together.”
In my forty plus years of full-time ministry, I’ve come to appreciate that we cannot come to God with our minds alone - our hearts and our bodies are essential components for any attempt to touch God. Our hearts, our bodies, and our minds underlie any desire to dip our feet into the vast ocean of the Almighty.
We will NEVER be capable of helping our young come to God through the faulty tenets of fundamentalism and literalism with its disdain of science. The only path to serious faith lies in bringing our minds, our hearts, and our bodies into the most engaging question there is: who is God and how might we encounter the Almighty? Again from Needleman: “It is only in and through people, inwardly developed men and women, that God can act … on earth. Bluntly speaking, the (best) proof for the existence of God is the existence of people who are inhabited by and who manifest God.” May it be so for us!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor