The Scriptures for this week are 1 Samuel 16: 1 – 13, Ephesians 5: 8 – 14, and John 9: 1 – 41
Last summer, one of my organic chemistry students and I had a conversation about belief in God. This student was of the opinion that as we became more and more intellectually capable, our ability and need for a god became less and less.
When mankind knew little about the world around us, man-made gods were needed to explain what was happening in the world. Mankind prayed to the god of rain when we wanted it to rain and prayed to the god of fertility when we wanted the plants to grow (or when we wanted to have children). There was a god for the wind and a god for other parts of weather; there was clearly a god when there was a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or some other similar disaster. As mankind became more aware of its surroundings and what caused the rain to fail and the wind to blow and crops to grow, the need for such man-made gods disappeared.
But even as our understanding of the world around us has improved, there is still no reasonable explanation for good or evil or the “why” questions of life. Why was mankind created? Why is there good or evil in this world?
Now, one way to answer this question is to say that good and evil are part of mankind, buried somewhere in the genetic code. I hope that is not the case because it generates, as it has in the past, societies that will seek to rid themselves of the less desirable members. If good and evil are ways of thought, then each person must have a belief system.
Somewhere along the line, as mankind has developed, so too has the question of God began to develop. This God of being is not unique to western cultures or cultures that developed in the Middle East.
When I wrote “Knowing God” a couple of years ago, I suggested that the similarities between megalithic cultures in England, the medicine wheels on high plains of the United States and Canada, and the stone circles in Peru showed that there was a common God. And when we look at the various cultures and each culture’s creation story, we again see a degree of similarity. How could there not be a single God? Each of the creation stories is not a factual story, subject to the rigors of scientific investigation but rather a story of explanation, telling its listeners why we are here and what our purpose in life is or should be.
It is interesting to note that many who proclaim themselves as atheists proclaim that the only thing that they believe in is logic and rational thought. But all they have done is trade one belief system for another, scientism. I have written about scientism before (see “Looking for the Evidence”, “No, I can’t and neither should you”, and “Which Way Will You Go?”; you might also check out the February, 2005 issue of Connections; in this issue, Barbara Wendland highlighted the work of Huston Smith, noted philosopher and Methodist), so there is no reason to go into this discussion at this time.
But what seems to be happening today is that society is being forced to decide whether the stories that are the cornerstones of many cultures are in fact truth or myth. We seem to be living in a world where the stories must be accepted as either complete truths or complete myths. I am going to phrase the following comments in terms of Christianity but I believe that the same can be said for Islam or Judaism as well.
There are those who would have us accept the Genesis story as truth and not subject to any type of verification or validation. There are those who would argue that it is mythical and those who believe it are mislead or confused. Can it be that both sides are wrong? Can it be that the stories we learned as children are stories that have been told throughout the ages to explain who we are and why we are here. Is it possible that the protagonists in this battle are both blind to the real story? Like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading, they are blind to the world around them.
Jesus gives sight to a blind man and tells him to go to the authorities so that he may be judged clean. But the authorities do not believe that he was ever blind and are unwilling to accept his statement of how he came to see. They proclaim that Jesus is evil because he healed the blind man on the Sabbath. The authorities, who proclaimed their authority because they followed the words of Moses, are unwilling to accept that Jesus could in fact cure blindness. They could not see what others could see was because they were locked into a world limited by laws and rules. The same is true today. Christian fundamentalists locked themselves into a world limited by their literal interpretation of the Bible and they failed to see what Jesus often said, that He was the embodiment of the Law and the Spirit of the Law. Those who proclaim a world of rational thought guided by logic are limited in the ability to see beyond the boundaries of the physical world.
Our society is faced with a great number of challenges at this moment. We are in the midst of a great political battle that threatens to out do the Presidential election of 1828 (John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson) in terms of venom, vitriol and just plain mud-slinging. I personally feel that our educational system is being tested as well. Despite the proclamation that no child will be left behind, we are quickly becoming a society where the true meaning of education is lost in a maze of tests and our children are lost in the maze. We are a society that should be coming together, yet is increasingly divided by race, creed, economic status, and lifestyle.
Instead of offering hope and promise for the coming days, our churches are becoming part of the battleground for the fights and disputes of society. We seek a messiah. We want to be like Samuel and look into the eyes of the sons of Jesse and hope that we will find the truly anointed one. But like Samuel, we will be sorely disappointed.
If we are to live in a society where it is either faith or logic but not both, we will never find our political messiah or our spiritual Messiah. Bound by the restriction of fundamentalists laws, we will be like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who saw the miracles but did not see the Messiah. Limited to a physical world by those who believe in logic and rational thought, we will never believe that miracles do occur.
Those who live in a world of laws will always limit what others can do; those who live in a world of rational thought will never understand that good comes from within the soul, not the body. We are challenged to see the person through their soul, not through some embodiment of religious or scientific law
Samuel will find the answer to his political dilemma in the person of David. We will find our answer to our spiritual dilemma in the One and True Messiah, Jesus Christ. For Samuel to see David as the new king of Israel, he had to go beyond the physical world and see where the Holy Spirit shined. We will have to go beyond the limits of this world and see each person, not as a line on some budgetary worksheet.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul points out that each individual lives in a world of darkness. It is only when we accept Christ as our Savior that our lives become illuminated and we see what is good and right and true.
As I have written before, there is a singular moment in time where our understanding of the physical world expands. Suddenly the problems that have perplexed and confused us become clear and easy to understand. We wonder why we struggled so hard. There is or can be a similar moment in time when we have a sense that our lives do have a purpose and that we are not chasing some unclear or uncertain goal. Just as John Wesley became aware of the Holy Spirit that night in the chapel on Aldersgate Street, so too does our life change when we encounter and accept the Holy Spirit. Like the blind man at the well, our hearts and mind open and we see.
We can be like those who hold on tightly to the physical and spiritual laws of their world. But those who do never see beyond the walls of their self-imposed prisons and they can never encounter the Holy Spirit. But those who are willing to go beyond the limitations are likely to encounter Jesus Christ and feel the power of the Holy Spirit. It comes down to what you wish to do at this particular moment in time.
During this season of Lent, we are called to repent of our old ways and seek the new. Perhaps this is the day that you announce to the world, just as John Newton wrote in his signature hymn, at this particular moment in time I once was blind but now I see.