Within and Without


Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday, Trinity Sunday, 30 May 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Proverbs 8: 1 – 4, 22 – 31; Romans 5: 1 – 5; and John 16: 12 – 15. 

I was asked the other day to address the spiritual and mental aspect of what I believe. And I cannot think of a better Sunday in which to do this. As it turns out, this was a very difficult piece to envision, let alone write. It should be viewed as the beginning of the discussion and not just a commentary on the way things are.

It isn’t that it is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday when the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are brought together. Nor is it that this is also Peace with Justice Sunday in the United Methodist Church.

It is a combination of things that make it appropriate and necessary to speak about what we are thinking when we speak of religion, Jesus Christ, or Christianity.

But to do so, you have to first ask yourself what do you believe? You may say that you don’t need to believe in Christ to do good or to seek justice or peace. And that’s fine with me as long as you codify what it is you believe. There are those who say that they have no need for Christ or God in their lives. But that begs the question of how do you know what good is or what evil is? Where do you get your sense of justice?

What drives a person to do good, to seek justice, or to work for peace? Is this something within our genes or do we have something that cannot be quantified, something that we might call the soul?

When we began to evolve as conscious, sentient beings we began to seek reasons for what occurred in our lives. From this came our concept of gods; there were gods for the rain and the sun, gods to bring health and gods that would bring death, and gods for fertility, good crops, and just about everything imaginable. We attribute much of what we observed in our natural word as the work of gods. And as we began to discover the physical reasons of things, the need for such gods began to decline. But this development never reached into the area of right and wrong, good and evil. And our ancestors began to understand that there might be something that couldn’t be quantified using these ideas. And from that, comes the idea of a Supreme Being.

Now, this is a very difficult idea for many to even formulate in their minds. One of the leading arguments against God is that He cannot be quantified, that His existence cannot be proved. But then again, neither can good or evil. For many people, this inability to identify God or explain the nature of good and evil in physical terms is the reason that they feel they have no reason for the church today.

The church today must deal with this, if for no other reason that if it cannot justify the existence of God, of the nature of good and evil, then it has no business being open. But by the same token, this attempt at justification is as much a personal search as it is a corporate search.

At some point, each person must look at what they believe and ask where those beliefs came from. “Oh, this is what I have been taught” might be one response and that’s a good reply. But where is the justification that what you are taught is correct? Where is the internal mechanism that tells you to accept that what you are taught is the right response? If we had the time and if this were the place, we might begin to look at Carl Jung and the collective unconscious belief in a god/supreme being.

Now, I know that this is perhaps far too simplistic an approach for this topic. There are people who have no concept of good and evil even though they have been taught right from wrong. We call these individuals sociopaths or psychopaths. Sometime people never hear the message because it doesn’t exist in the subconscious or unconscious mind. That is why psychology exists.

What makes people bad and do evil things even when they have been taught that the things they do are not acceptable to society? What makes a good Christian do a horrible heinous act against another human being?

That is why so many people have a difficult time with accepting God as a presence in their lives. They see the acts of violence and the acts of inhumanity and wonder how God can allow that to happen. They see a mother or father abuse their children just as they were abused as children and wonder when the cycle of violence will stop. And quite frankly, I don’t have those answers. I don’t think anyone does.

You could say that it was genetic, that we are born with the ideas of good and evil incorporated in our genes (and I know that some people believe this). But if that were the case, then what we do and what we say for the entire span of lifetime is decided for us before we even begin to live our lives and nothing we can do can change the outcome. If that is the case, then there is no need for Christ in our lives and we need not have a God or gods.

But if this idea of good and bad is ethereal in nature, if it exists as an idea that must be taught and reinforced repeatedly, then we have a choice to accept the idea or not.

Sometimes there will be a conflict between what you are taught and what you see in this world. You learned in high school that “all men were created equal” but you go out into a world where they are not created equal. And again, one problem that the church has today is that many preachers and denominations make religious pronouncements that run counter to what transpires in the world. They also teach you their beliefs and that their explanation is the only answer.

So what do you do? If you have no faith system to fall back on, you are in trouble. Similarly, if there is a conflict between what you have been taught and what you think, you are in trouble.

The problem is that many faith systems don’t allow for such conflict. You either believe as you were taught or you don’t; and if you don’t, you will lead a condemned life.

But such ideas are man-made and someone else’s interpretation of what was written and translated over the years of the church. The burden of the proof falls on each individual, not someone else. You have to be open to hear the ideas, you have to be ready for the insight that comes from a study and an appreciation of the ideas.

In the Gospel reading for today, John records Jesus as speaking of the time when the Spirit will come and bring the Truth of the message. I have always said and I believe that the acceptance of the Holy Spirit, our own private Pentecost, is a mind-changing thing, the beginning of a new consciousness.

Now, the cynic or the critic will say that these words in the Gospel are someone’s interpretation. And they may be. But the words that Jesus speaks in John are part of a heritage found in the reading from Proverbs today.

The words of Proverbs are part of the wisdom literature in the Bible. The author of Proverbs speaks of wisdom being in existence long before the real world began and being a part of the creation process. Again, this speaks to me of the new consciousness that comes when one first accepts Jesus Christ and then allows the Holy Spirit to transform your life.

It is not an easy thing to do. We are so caught up in the language and thoughts of today that we cannot accept this notion of change. And many times, people do not accept the change (“this is the way it has always been and this is the way it will always be”).

Paul speaks of justification through faith. But it is faith that is born in us through the Holy Spirit. It is a difficult thing to accept because it takes time and, in a culture where we want instant faith, it is not something easily accepted today.

That’s why I asked the question about what you believe? Where inside you does a sense of good and evil lie? Where inside you is what you believe?

As the writer of Proverbs pointed out, it was there inside you from the day you began. And it lies there within you waiting to be released. But there needs to be something that will release and awaken that nature of your life. It will come from hearing the words of Christ. For some, this is a new message, different from what they have heard in the past. For others, it is a message that has been heard from childhood but heard today with new hears and a new desire to hear.

The challenge today is two-fold. First, we must, no matter upon what basis we believe, seek justice and work for justice. But we must also take the life within us and let the Holy Spirit empowered that life and make the life on the outside that others will see and will know why you seek peace and work for justice.

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