Saturday, September 9, 2017

Asking after God

The first thing I believed in was God. I inquired after God, pestering my parents with questions about God - who is He, what is He, why does He exist - before I was old enough for school. My questions were met with good-natured confusion until I was allowed to attend a sort of art class in the basement of a church, I forget the denomination, where I produced the first work of art I can recall, a large, gouache portrait of an angel, wings and all.

I remember the angel but I was never catechized. In time I went to school and life went on.

A person who inquires after God will not be satisfied until they have found Him. There is no substitute for God though we are bound to do any number of things while looking for Him or awaiting answers to our questions about Him. In time, the things we do while waiting to understand God will become a kind of religion that takes the place of understanding, and therefore worshipping God. If we are lucky, and many of us are, I believe, we will not become so attached to these things that we stop searching for God altogether, or are incapable of recognizing Him when he taps us on the shoulder, so to speak, to announce His arrival.

We do however tend to equivocate. We allow ourselves - no, we invite our hearts - to understand only as much as we can while holding onto the things that we allowed as substitutes for God in the first place. We do this two ways. The most popular way is to blame circumstance for having had to accommodate the things that took the place of God. When we do this we say, I believe in God, insofar as....; or, I believe in God, except that....; or, I believe in God, not religion. After these introductory phrases or notions, the person makes a separate belief statement about something important, something that has taken the place of God in the person’s life, perhaps for many years. It could be something that is very like what God wants for us, or it could be something quite different. It is difficult to maintain God and the things we love in place of God. And the line demarcating the two can seem like it is shifting almost every day. It is a wonderful thing to grow tired of the shifting line demarcating the world and God, to weary of patrolling the borders of our consciousness to say what is right and what is wrong, of having to weigh in the balance every fact or item of large or small importance; to reach a point where one says, All is God’s, and be done with the false god of opinion. At such a point, circumstance is rightly seen as having led us to God rather than as an excuse, a reason not to understand Him. Blame and equivocation however feel good. They substantiate the ego, they stoke the fires of resentment and feed a vision of the self that holds itself as the point that distinguishes between truth and error - as history counts in its ledgers so many billion selves. Equivocation leads to equivocation, error fosters error, but we bear onward, each in our own way, toward that which has no substitute and which cannot be contained.

The second way in which we try to understand God while holding on to the things we took on in lieu of understanding God is to forego God altogether while pretending that the substitutes for God are in fact as important (or more important, I suppose is the viewpoint) than God. Most people would call this atheism, but I don’t. I think genuine atheism is really pretty rare, if by atheism we mean not believing in God (and therefore not searching for Him). Denying God acknowledges His being, which is counter to atheism. Further, many people who start off saying that they do not believe in God shortly take to criticizing religion, so that God is really not the issue, but the conflict that is perceived between the values as expressed or rendered by religion versus the things of this world which that person took on in lieu of God.

So, we equivocate. We delay and doubt, we withhold and withdraw, but we do not stop living because it is difficult or seemingly impossible, and we do not stop inquiring after God.