Who or what is God? A Supreme Being perhaps. Maybe a made-up concept. Or maybe something else?
I used to believe God was the ultimate SuperHero (aka Ruler of Creation). Being baptized was my ticket to everlasting life in a place called Heaven. Say prayers and get an answer. Trouble was, that didn’t seem to work. As a kid I often prayed my dad would stop drinking, yelling and hitting us. He didn’t stop. That’s when my doubt began to sprout.
Later I gave my life to Jesus at men’s Christian stadium events, and joined a church with home fellowship gatherings. While the people were sincere and kind, I felt like an imposter wearing someone else’s shoes.
What kept getting in the way for me was the supposed fact that there is only one way to salvation (through allegiance to Jesus) and all non-believers are doomed. Christianity isn’t the only purveyor of that belief either. How could only one be right? What kind of God would be simultaneously capable of creating all of creation (including love and forgiveness), and then be so petty, requiring allegiance to one way with failure punishable by damnation?
That seems more like crap — made up to scare people onto your religious team — than truth.
So if that contest is nonsensical, then what? Are all religions just myths? The theory goes that superstitious insecure humans thought up these urban legends as a distraction from the bleak reality of existence. And yet, what about all the lives of saints, mystics and spiritual masters? It seems mighty glib to dismiss them.
Looking for insight myself, I read widely — Christian apologists, Buddhists, Hindus, mystics, and recovering addicts, among others. At first, I read each through a filter of doubt. Then I realized how counterproductive that was. Picking apart beliefs creates disillusionment and doubt. I was giving myself anxiety instead of the clarity I desired.
One day a piece of serendipity arrived in my mailbox. It was an oversized postcard with large print on the front side asking the question, “Why are you always so quick to disagree?” Wow. Ever since then, my filter has been, “What about this might be truth?” Now I’m searching for gold instead of obsessing about mud and gravel. The God question changed from “is He or isn’t He?” to “what did the Spiritual Masters teach?” Let’s start with Jesus.
The earliest accounts of his teachings weren’t even written until more than 100 years after his death. Then the books of the Bible were chosen by the Roman government more than 300 years later. Those same officials banned teachings that didn’t fit their doctrine.
Remember the telephone game you played as a kid? One child whispers something to another, who whispers it to the next. The last kid recites what they heard and everyone laughs because it’s so different than the original message. It seems to me that our current version of the Bible is the product of an extra long telephone game.
Here’s how it happened. Jesus taught his followers in person. Most of them didn’t know how to read or write, so they passed his teachings on verbally. Five full generations of that went by before his teachings were written in Aramaic. Subsequent copies were transcribed by hand. When those scrolls travelled to new lands, multilingual scholars translated as best they could and wrote new texts. From Aramaic, to Latin, Spanish, Italian, Olde English, etc..
One simple example is The Lord’s Prayer. Most of us know it begins with “Our Father.” That’s after the telephone game. According to Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz, the original Aramaic word that Jesus likely started the prayer with was “Abwoon.” The English translation is “Birther/Father/Mother of the Cosmos.” That’s way different than “Our Father.” Check out www.abwoon.org for the rest of the prayer. It’s amazing. The lesson for me is: getting closer to the source makes a big difference.
So, if we can alter our understanding of one prayer that much by accessing source material, what about seeking source-level access to God? (There’s a word for that by the way: mysticism.) If that word gets in the way because of history, choose a different label. It’s just a word. For some it inspires awe and reverie, for others scorn and derision. It’s. Just. A. Word. Maybe try a different one. Perhaps Life, Om, Atman, SuperMind, or the Force. Use whatever works.
The same holds true for finding your connection. Find ways that work. Prayer works for me. Not the kind I used to do where I was asking for material things, transformations to other people, or outcomes to situations. No luck with those yet. What does work are prayers for changes within me, like inspiration for writing, kind words, or a loving attitude toward others. Getting answers to those prayers has cultivated a growing faith in me — a faith in a Divine Something that connects us all and calls us each to be loving now.
We’re all in this thing together.