Saturday, December 6, 2008

The gift of God’s Grace

Many people have been told about “the path” to God, usually by their pastor, and do not recognize any other interpretation. They have been told to do things in a certain way, to think things in a certain way, and not question why. If they do question, the answer is because the Bible says to do it that way. They are never told that everyone “interprets” the Bible in some form – that there is no such thing as a “literal” interpretation. These people often do not know how to follow the Spirit, but only follow what they interpret to be or have been told is the letter of the law as written in the Bible.

Even within the same path or denomination, people interpret the Bible’s religious teachings differently. Every faith system is reflective of the culture and the level of knowledge available to those who shaped it. Many Christians follow different paths to the same God because their life experiences have been different. God made us all uniquely different. But all people of faith have the same goal of reunion with God.

Who is right? How can one Christian denomination be more correct than another? How can one Christian hear God’s message differently from another? Does God condemn you because you have chosen the “wrong” path to Him? Or is it religion, and not God, that is so exclusive? God and religion are not the same. Religion is the human attempt to place the mystery of God into meaningful words and rational concepts. Therefore, by definition, religion is a human creation, all creedal statements are human creations, and at any time when a person articulates a system of beliefs that person will always be bound by the prejudices and limitations of the world that produced him or her. The creeds do not capture the truth of God. At their very best they can only point beyond themselves to an experience of God.

Jesus was Spiritual. The religious leaders of His day put forth the letter of their own faith, but often condemned other teachings, spiritual teachings, including the teachings of Jesus. The Spiritual person understands this fact. The religious person is often so blinded by what they have been taught by their religious leaders that they cannot see God’s Truth. They are truly unable to acknowledge the many paths to God. The religious person may have read or heard that all things are in God but does not truly understand it; whereas, the Spiritual person has actually experienced God, felt enveloped by His presence, felt His touch, and has a deeper understanding. The truly Spiritual person can see that only God is Truth, and that religion is Man’s attempt at finding God’s Truth. Spiritual persons can see God’s Light in all believers and realize that it is not their place to condemn different interpretations. The religious only see their own narrow interpretations and therefore condemn others.

"People often take the truths of a tradition on faith, accepting the testimony of others, but find that the inner kernel of the religion, its luminous essence, remains elusive." - Karen Armstrong, author of The History of God.

Many devoutly religious people seek to discredit other paths to God, thinking that their way is the only way. This kind of thinking has caused many wars and countless deaths throughout history. People have been persecuted because of religion. The Christians persecuted the Pagans and the Muslims. Christians persecuted Jews. The Jews and Muslims persecuted the Christians. The Chinese government persecuted the Buddhists in Tibet and Christians living in China. Christians persecuted other Christian denominations.

God’s Grace is greater than man can fathom and is universally available to all. All humans have the ability to receive God’s gift of Grace. All humans have God’s voice in their hearts. Some hear Him clearly. Many, although they may try, do not hear Him at all. This does not mean that I have a complete understanding of God; no one can. The more one learns, the more there is to learn. No one has all the answers – no one. Therefore, even if I think you are wrong, I do not condemn you for what you believe – just as God does not condemn you for the path you choose to Him. That is not how God works. God is not exclusive.

I was raised in the Methodist denomination which follows Arminian principles. We Arminians are the ones who argue against the notion that God so strongly imposes His will on people that people cannot decide whether or not to follow Him. Methodists think God so values all people that He vested us with the power to choose Him. Or not. It’s called Free Will. Contrary to Calvinists, who believe in predestination, we believe that God wants all people to be saved:

(2 Pet. 3:9*) The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

(1 Tim. 2:4) (God) desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Currently, I am a member of a moderate-leaning Southern Baptist church which has a few fundamentalists, many moderates, and a few progressive Christians. I am one of the progressive members, a Spiritual person, who understands God’s truth through Jesus, whom I believe to be the Word of God, metaphorically.* Jesus so fully understood the meaning of God that he broke the barrier between God and mankind, teaching us to recognize that we are all a part of God.

Although I find God through my Christian faith, through Jesus, my deepest understanding of God resides in the depths of my heart. I have always heard and listened to the small, quiet voice deep within me – God’s voice. I not only see God working in my life, most of the time I can feel His presence. He is always with me.

God’s Grace is a gift that no human can take from another human. No one has the right to point a finger and say “you are not saved” if that person does not interpret Christ’s teachings in the same way. Just because someone does not believe the same, does not interpret the Bible in the same way, does not interpret Jesus’ teachings the same, does not see the world the same, does not mean that person is not following a path directly to God. Every person’s life experiences are very different; so they do not hear exactly what you hear, do not see exactly what you see, do not feel things exactly the way you feel things, and do not think exactly the way you think. God made each person’s brain and soul unique which, in turn, creates as many paths to God as there are souls.

Many Christians whose understanding of God is incomplete, narrow, and limiting, may think that someone is condemned (to Hell) for their beliefs or for not being a member of a particular denomination. But I believe that even if someone’s understanding of God is “wrong” they are not condemned. I believe all people who follow the Great Commandment, the universal law of love, as taught by Jesus, will join with God in the hereafter, if they choose to do so. God does not condemn us for misunderstanding – for getting it “wrong.”

This is the gift of God’s Grace.

* metaphorically means conceived as representing another; a symbol