He can turn the tides and calm the angry sea.
He alone decides who writes a symphony.
He lights evr’y star that makes the darkness bright!
He keeps watch all through each long and lonely night!
He still finds the time to hear a child’s first prayer.
Saint or sinner calls and always finds Him there.
Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live,
He’ll always say, “I forgive.”
Richard Mullan & Al Hibbler (1915-2001), from “He” (1954)
Having faith in God can be a pretty thin gruel. I know that, because for most of my life I have had trouble finding a way to develop much faith in an actual living God that I could feel that I knew personally. I mean, a genuine faith that a God of love was actually, you know, really there. And this was true even after I had that experience of light when I was eight years old. I woke up in the middle of the night with the certainty that there is no God. And then I saw a flash of light out of which a voice said, “You wouldn’t know what it is to have me unless you knew what it is to be without me. I will never leave you again.” I understand now that what I heard that night was my Thomas’s voice. But even after an experience like that, and even though it still feels as if all of it happened just yesterday, I always had trouble really having faith that there was a God behind it all. I think my problem may have been that God seemed to be so distant, and so somehow alienly not human. As presented by Christianity, God so often seemed to be lacking in empathy, too, and unable to understand our world of fallible people. And appallingly, God was sometimes even actively and dispassionately cruel.
My office has a big bow window where I spend most days with my laptop computer. And right outside my window is a bird feeder. We do such active business at our feeder that I don’t know how the local bird population survived before it occurred to us to entertain my daughter’s cats by giving them a bird-watching spot! We get all kinds of birds there, from chickadees to mourning doves, and other kinds of birds that I don’t recognize. And I think that cardinals might be territorial, because we have one pair of fat cardinals which seem to believe that they own our feeder. They are there daily, and when hizonnor is on the feeder, big and bright-red, the smaller birds will give way. The female cardinal seems to be an oddly human-like thinker. I will catch her watching me through the window, head tilted, and she is the only bird who ever does that. When the feeder is empty and needs refilling, The missus might sit on the bracket that holds the feeder suspended, and she stares right at me, as if she is saying that I’ve got to get out there now and fill it. And that fascinates me. Does she perhaps see me as God, somehow? So, is she praying? What does a little bird understand?
I have written here previously about humankind’s historical human-made gods. I majored in early Christian history in college, so I also took courses in comparative religions, and I understand from what I learned in college that there are theories which suggest how essential it was for early human beings to have gods to worship, and to placate. Those earliest gods that the first people created for themselves were awful, and they were deliberately awful, since the first humans needed fierce and powerful gods as their protectors against the even much greater evils that were out there somewhere, arrayed against them and ready to destroy them as such helpless people tried to manage to survive somehow against a howling void. Back then, they understood no more about what was around them than does that female cardinal, sitting on our feeder and staring uncomprehendingly at me through the glass.
And so, in their desperate fear of the unknown, early humans created to defend and provide for their survival some truly awful gods. Even the Old Testament’s Jehovah was a terrible god, sometimes arbitrarily requiring the destruction of whole populations, to the youngest child. I have on occasion mentioned Moloch here, who was worshiped by the Canaanites in the areas that the Israelites conquered as they came back out of Egypt in the thirteenth century BCE. Moloch required the sacrifice of his worshipers’ firstborn infants thrown into the fire in his belly as the extreme price of his reluctant favor. And so, in a sense we can empathize with the modern atheists who want to reject the very idea of having gods. Atheists are factually wrong, but humankind’s long history with gods has been so appalling that we should have little trouble understanding the atheists’ wish to dispense with the very idea of gods. The mistake that atheists make is an understandable one. They ignore the fact that although of course all religions are human-made, it still is possible – and even likely! – for there to be a genuine Creator God.
It is therefore easy to understand that when Jesus came to earth two thousand years ago, He was determined to free us from human-made religions, while at the same time He came to introduced to us the genuine Creator God. He came to bring what was intended to be the next stage of human spiritual evolution. Jesus, our dearly beloved Elder Brother, our Wayshower and our Best Friend whose Name ironically now is attached to the world’s most prominent human-made religion, came to earth determined to help humankind to move past religions altogether. And you can clearly see all of that in the way that Jesus so often talked to and talked about all the clergymen of the human-made religions He encountered.
Jesus was so impatient with those clergymen! He taunted and He insulted them, and they were the only people that He treated that way. For example, we find Jesus saying in the Gospels, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (MK 12:38-40). And, “Woe to you religious lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering” (LK 11:52). (He is referring here to raising people’s vibrations sufficiently that they can enter the kingdom of heaven, which is the upper afterlife levels). Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (MT 23:13). Repeatedly He insulted and reviled what were some of the most respected men of His day and of that place, and they were the only people that He spoke of this way. It is no wonder that the whole religious establishment was soon so eager to be rid of Him!
Jesus could not flat-out tell His followers that He was replacing their false Jehovah with the genuine Creator God. Not without risking quick arrest and potential execution. So instead, He just patiently worked to change the whole image of God in people’s minds. And He changed the ways in which they were to relate to God, gradually and throughout His ministry. He would say things like, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (MT 22:37-40). He simply referred to the truth as a set of new commandments. And to help His listeners to entirely re-envision what used to be a physical and idol-like Jehovah, He said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (JN 4:24).
The genuine Creator God never judges us, no matter what we do, which was gigantic news! As Jesus said, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). And then, of course, Jesus promptly added that, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (JN 12:47). And of course, we already know that what Jesus had come to save the world from was ignorance. That was what His three years spent in teaching us was all about! Jesus minimized the very concept of “sin” as an issue. He tied that outmoded religious concept of sin back to the human-made religions that He had come to us to abolish. And instead of ever saying anything religious, in order to help His followers understand the extraordinary importance of the Creator God, He said that, “all sins will be forgiven the sons and daughters of men, and whatever blasphemies they commit; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (MK 3:28-29).
And Jesus tells us that our relationship with the genuine Creator God which is Spirit is meant to be a profoundly personal one! Which of course it now very easily can be, without religions and their attendant clergy in the way. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men, to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (MT 6:1-6).
Perhaps I have put so much effort into my study of Jesus for so many years, even long before I ever met Thomas, and then amazingly I even met Jesus in person. And I have put so much effort into my study of the greater realty as well, precisely because the very notion of God always seemed to be so unreal to me. For so many years, I can remember thinking that since Jesus, who always had seemed so real that I had memorized many of His words, since Jesus really knew God, He even could stay up and talk with God all night! So then at least I could latch my own puny faith on to Jesus’s great faith, and I could sort of be His tagalong. I realize now that I just deeply envied Jesus’s deep and intimate faith in God. There was a certainty about the way that Jesus talked about God, and a sweet love in the way that Jesus spoke with His Father that I could not even imagine feeling.
The problem with religions is that while once, long ago, they served a purpose for humankind, now they have long since become nothing more than obstacles to what should be our own spiritual progress. Our religions once were humankind’s attempt to help us make sense of the howling dark that we could no more ever hope to understand than can the birds ever possibly understand the reality around them! But now, every religion only steeps us in negative emotions, in guilt and fear and shame. Religions just weigh us down spiritually. And Christianity, especially, with its fear-based doctrines acts as an active barrier that keeps most people from ever knowing and understanding what Jesus came to teach. And thereby, Christianity acts as a barrier between Christians and the most effective set of spiritual teachings we ever have been given. So, what to do now?
What my Thomas eventually did to help me was to prompt me to give the rest of my life to God. It was nothing that I ever had planned to do! Just, one day in April of 2009, when I happened to arrive a little early at the Unity Church that I was then attending, and I was sitting and reflecting in the pews, I just said, “Thank You for giving me work to do. Thank You for showing me how to do it.” A simple gratitude affirmation. And of course this was still six years before I ever even met my Thomas! But I said it, then I stopped and thought, Wow. Did I hear what I just said? I did. And did I mean that? Wow, I guess I really did. It seemed to be only fair, after all that God had done for me.
Then Thomas, still trying to be of help, prompted me to stop going to church with my husband. I was at that point going to Saturday five o’clock Mass with him to keep him company, and then we would go out to dinner. Then on Sunday, I would go to my own preferred church as well. How much church is just too much church? But there was a life-size, full-color plaster Jesus bleeding on a cross above the altar in that Catholic church. And within weeks, as I recall it, what was apparently still Thomas had arranged an amicable conversation with Edward that ended our old longstanding 5:00 Mass routine. I really couldn’t take that bleeding Jesus on the cross anymore, and my kindly husband understood. Then soon thereafter, I was writing The Fun of Dying. And within a year I had stopped going to my Unity Church as well. My reasons were complex, but in retrospect, they seemed to center around the fact that sometime around that time, just as an exercise, it had occurred to me to experiment with opening my mind to God and inviting God to come in for a visit. Just come on it and have a chat and share a cup of tea. This is something that I didn’t talk about with anyone at the time, and not for a long time afterward.
But with Thomas and sometimes Jesus there to facilitate our relationship, and as my memories of those terrible Christian fears and guilts and shames at their worst very slowly began to fade, at long last, over months and then years I gradually began to warm to God. It wasn’t so much that my faith deepened, but with Christianity the religion no longer in my life at all, I came to realize that God had always been right there. God had been within me all along! It was only then that I really began with a kind of feverish glee to put together all of what I had been learning over decades about Jesus, the afterlife, and the greater reality. And of course, it all fit together perfectly.
And slowly, and then more quickly after I eventually met my Thomas in 2015, I began to see that God is the very deepest and the best part of me. God loves me more than I can love myself, but I had been so devoutly religious all my life that all the self-revulsion and the profound lack of self-worth that Christianity had instilled in me had kept me from ever finding God where God has always lived, right here within me, all along. Does that make sense? I began to pray The Lord’s Prayer repeatedly, and even aloud and fiercely sometimes, listening to and then loving all the words. To this day, I own and I love my God’s Prayer. When I first truly understood that I am sinless and completely beloved, some terrible resistance to God broke within me, finally.
And that was just a dozen years ago. I have lived my whole life with Christianity between me and God. I was always just an intellectual Christian, without even knowing what that was. And it was only when I left Christianity that I could come to know and love the true God, Who is Spirit, Who is Love, and Who dwells within us, all of which was what Jesus came to teach us long ago! And so now I have become a crusader against the religion that I had always loved. Now I crusade for God! Although of course, I still think that having faith feels pale and unsatisfactory. But now I no longer need to have faith. Because now I know my dearly beloved eternal God as all the best of who I already am.
He can touch a tree and turn the leaves to gold.
He knows every lie that you and I have told.
Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live,
He’ll always say, “I forgive.”
Richard Mullan & Al Hibbler (1915-2001), from “He” (1954)