The Journey series
It’s a short but very big question. I asked God, “How can I say anything worthwhile about this? So much has been said already.” He answered, “Say less. Give them a mustard seed.”
After many hours of meditation I understood that many people do not accept God because He is just too big. Much of God is beyond human intellect and what we can comprehend fills volumes. Compounding this problem are reams of misconceptions which, instead of being weeded out, form a basis for rejecting Him.
At times that despair lurks at my shoulder, I often console myself with my Computer Assembly Language instructor’s sage words, “It may be complicated but eventually everything gets reduced to a switch that is either on or off.” Where is that prime switch that answers whether God is or isn’t?
To answer our question, we must first define what we mean by God. I will use this definition taken from the Nicene Creed; “Creator of all things, visible and invisible.” With this definition we can conclude that God is not to be found among any of these things because a thing must be before it can do. We can’t, therefore, expect to observe God empirically by looking among these things. We can, however, concede by the same logic that some entity must exist outside of all these things to initiate their creation. To discuss that entity we can continue to use the definition; Creator of all things, visible and invisible; or we can assign a name; God. Our question can now be rephrased, “Does a Creator of all things, visible and invisible exist?”
Scientists have been observing things for a very long while and have concluded that things change form over time but never, in totality, do they increase or decrease. There is never more or less matter or energy. There must be something outside our universe that created all that is and continues to be. To admit that our universe is, and everything in it is as it is, implies that God exists. To deny that God exists while accepting that the universe is as it is amounts to a mere refusal to accept the name He has been given.
This week’s mustard seed, then, is God is the name given to the Creator of all things visible and invisible. Next week we’ll examine why we claim a single entity caused all things to be.
It’s Wednesday afternoon. This week I’ve done a lot of praying and contemplating but haven’t yet written anything. I’m not sure whether I’ve been listening for inspiration, procrastinating, or hiding in fear.
My intention this week was to begin a series of posts about God’s existence. Is He? What difference does it make? What is His nature? What is our nature? And how should one’s understanding of God affect what they do? I can’t claim divine intervention for certain, but last night, Thursday’s deadline fast approaching, my plan turned itself on its head. Instead of thinking about what to write I became obsessed with why I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do.
That reminded me of a topic I abandoned a few weeks ago. How free is our will? My plan back then was to contrast free will with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. His theory divides man’s needs into tiers of urgency. Lower levels must be satisfied before higher ones will be sought.
I considered my lack of progress in light of Maslow. I wasn’t busy fulfilling any lower tiers; I wasn’t really doing anything. Why? I wanted to. Was I afraid of slipping down the pyramid? Would I lose esteem if people didn’t like my post or didn’t agree with it? Was I afraid to put my beliefs in black and white? Am I not as sure of my beliefs as I like to think? Maybe I was just being lazy. I recalled what Paul wrote to the Romans, “… for I do not do what I want … it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
I turned off the TV and began wondering why temptations so often supersede good intentions. There must be a difference between need and desire. Even in food and drink, need exists only to some threshold beyond which more is desire. How firm are those boundaries? Are the higher tiers ever truly needs? According to Maslow’s own research, very few people ever reach the higher levels throughout their whole lives. How can these be needs if people survive without meeting them? Thinking back a few minutes, I wondered what to make of sleep, rest, and relaxation. The scale is clearly analog. Does sloth belong to the same scale? What about Sabbath? Where is God in this triangle? I thought, This is a very secular pyramid. Bang!
Once one knows God, there are no adequate explanations which do not include Him. I heard Maslow; what does God have to say?
Matthew 6:25-34 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."
Just as my wandering thoughts flipped my topic on its head last night, the Scriptures upend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Instead of being enslaved by our baser needs, unable to reach what lies beyond, Scripture tells us to begin with God and leave the basics to His providence. Everyone reaches the top because that’s where they begin.
Last week I wrote about the need to assess truth, beauty, and goodness in context to understand them properly. This week I place rights in context with obligations, responsibilities and limitations. To understand them properly we must know what rights are, where they come from, and why we have them.
The constitution of the USA lists 3 unalienable rights for all men; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These fundamental rights form the base for all other laws. The founding fathers understood that, all men being equal, no man can justly restrict another except by that to which he also defers. That which restricts must be greater than that which it restricts. They recognized that these rights are granted by God and the State must acknowledge them.
Even when understood as unalienable, it’s not possible for these rights to be absolute. There are occasions when the rights of one impinge on those of another. We have a right to the necessities of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness but not at the expense of the same rights for other people. To resolve the inevitable conflicts, men develop a social contract. To protect our own rights, we agree to respect the rights of others. These agreements form our moral and legal codes. Moral codes are protected by association; we interact with those who share similar beliefs and resolve conflicts by debate. Legal codes are protected by tribunal; we assign officials to define regulations and mediate disputes. The rights of those with whom we associate and those who live where we live become obligations, responsibilities and limitations for us.
Most of us are fairly adept at recognizing this in the local and immediate but somewhat myopic. Those in affluent areas have trouble seeing as far as the poorer neighbourhoods in town. Those in poorer neighbourhoods are often so focused on the injustice they perceive in their rich neighbours that they fail to turn their eyes to those living in impoverished countries or refugee camps. This short-sightedness lies partly in our pursuit of happiness. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge the iniquity of our own relative advantage. Another aspect of our hesitation is despair. We feel incapable of affecting change. “The problem is too big for me.” “If I don’t do it, someone else will.”
Recognizing the problem is already the first step on the journey to solving it. I suggest a good second step is to begin paying more attention to our obligations, responsibilities and limitations. This is not a new concept; it was done very well 3300 years ago. What many people object to as 'a bunch of thou shalt nots’ is actually God’s precise statement of our rights in terms of our obligations, responsibilities and limitations. Without placing our rights in this context, we have little hope of understanding them clearly.
Last week I claimed that, since all men are equal, it is not just to restrict others except by that to which we defer. That is a rather large mouthful to throw out casually; it deserves greater consideration. Clearly, our physical and mental attributes vary greatly. By what measure are we equal? What has it to do with justice?
Spontaneous mutation and survival of the fittest does not allow for equality. There is stronger and weaker. The fate of the weak is annihilation and the fate of the strong is to fight. There is no dignity in random generation. It is argued that cooperation within our species is primarily an evolutionary development that enables us to compete more effectively. Equality in this scenario runs counter to the professed nature of creation and can’t be more than an illusion which quickly dissolves in the face of threat.
Our equality can only be understood in the context of intelligent creation. An all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent creator can’t create anything other than what is best for His creation at the time of its creation. If He could have created a better me or a better you, He would have. We are all equal in dignity because our creator, in His infinite wisdom, decided that each of us, exactly as made, is better suited for their role in His entire creation than anything else he might have created.
In the accompanying image, Lady Justice is blindfolded and holds a scale. She is blind to the individual’s attributes and circumstances. Size, colour, gender, affluence and other incidentals hold no weight in her decision. The rights of one are weighed against the rights of the other to find balance. This image only makes sense if one accepts that what is being weighed is outside the dominion of the individuals being tried.
The atheist seeks justice in communal will. Precise boundaries of the community are difficult to establish and unequal distribution of means, particularly those of communication, confounds discernment of its will. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Consensus can never be more stable than the community; there is no guarantee of conformity or continuity. Truth varies by association. There is no ultimate authority. Lady Justice needs a separate set of scales for each community and she must ensure it's the latest model.
The monotheist finds justice in the will of the Creator. Justice is discerned from the nature of the created. Because the Creator is all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent, it is right for things to be as they are created. Justice is found in balancing overlapping natures of things created. Truth resides in the one Creator; He is the ultimate authority. There is one set of scales for all.
Peter T Elliott