Saturday, July 25, 2009

There is no way....

How do I know that my “faith” is the right path to God?
Let me be clear on this. I DON'T KNOW!

I started my journey as a child. My first conscious understanding of God came from my parents. They tried to live a “godly life” and teach us to live such a life. Mother spoke of God and Jesus off and on, in a generally positive way. By the time I was in second grade, I somehow ended up in a Baptist church, heard some stories about Jesus and immediately took to this gentle teacher. From that point on, my focus was on emulating Jesus. But I had very little to do with churches until I converted to Roman Catholicism when I was seventeen years old. It is then, also, that I learned the hard way about the divisions in Christianity. My mother and father were very disappointed in my conversion. My aunt also sent me tons of anti-Catholic literature from the famous Bob Jones University.

That did not stop me. Catholicism taught me much about a formalized spiritual life. Out of high school I entered my first year in a Roman Catholic seminary. I was on my way to being a priest. Ironically, it is in the seminary that I met with my first serious “faith” challenge. It changed my life drastically.

There is a classic Biblical work by the Episcopalian scholar, Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament. Dr. Anderson's approach was a truly scientific and literary analysis of the Old Testament texts. He taught that the Old Testament literature was that of a simple desert people who interpreted everything in the light of their relationship with God. The histories were exaggerated renditions of the events designed to highlight God and Israel. The stories were usually not true, per se, but were meant to teach us life lessons. The miracles were not miracles but natural events interpreted as miracles. The so-called prophesies were contemporary politicized rantings of mystics that spoke of God's judgment of regimes that had polluted the traditions of the nation of Israel. These “prophesies” were in fact, interpretations of past events and their final outcome from the perspective of this deity that had adopted Israel as His people.

By the end of the year, I had concluded that if the Old Testament is not the true word of God, then the foundations from which Jesus conducted his ministry were equally false, and Jesus could not possibly be who everyone had taught me he was. I left the seminary, and after a few years, left Christianity altogether.

Eventually, after a major encounter with God I described in an earlier post (May 27, 2009), I would wonder back in to Christianity in the form of fundamental Bible-believing evangelical churches. Of course, I personally had to renounce Dr. Anderson's work as errant. After nearly twenty years of study as an evangelical Christian, I found it very hollow and actually a distraction from true relationship with God. I set out in a major review and reform of my spiritual life. Today, I view Dr. Anderson's work as a truly accurate and scholarly work. I have a very high regard for it.

I want to be clear about my views of Christianity. I harbor no ill feelings toward Christianity. It is after all, a major part of my understanding of God. It is not my intent to be critical of any religion. However, I admit, in order to come to the place I am now, I had to be very critical of the doctrines espoused by the majority of Christianity. Let that be part of my path. I do not expect anyone else to take that path.

Dennis DeYoung, a devout Roman Catholic and the lead scream of the rock band Styx, wrote a song, allegedly for his son Matthew, called “Show Me the Way.” It is a profound piece outlining the struggle with faith. I love the traditional Judeo-Christian metaphors he employs in the work. I share that with you here:

SHOW ME THE WAY (by Dennis DeYoung)

Every night I say a prayer in the hope that there's a heaven
And every day I'm more confused as the saints turn into sinners
All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside so afraid that I've lost my faith

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way

And as I slowly drift to sleep, for a moment dreams are sacred
I close my eyes and know theres peace in a world so filled with hatred
That I wake up each morning and turn on the news to find we've so far to go
And I keep on hoping for a sign, so afraid that I just won't know

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the mountain
And take my confusion away

And if I see a light, should I believe
Tell me how will I know

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way, show me the way
Give me the strength and the courage
To believe that Ill get there someday
Show me the way

Every night I say a prayer
In the hope that theres a heaven..
(CopyRight by Dennis DeYoung/Styx 1990)

I have studied the major religions of this world and have found they all have some very common experience on the mystical levels. It is in those common experiences I, too, find common ground. And it is in that common ground of experiencing God, that I have concluded what I now understand as truth in part. ( I cannot know total truth at this point). God is not concerned about the path we follow to connect to Him. Each of us come from entirely different places, entirely different understanding. But what we hold in common is that we seek Him in earnest, we thirst to be in Him and with Him, and He honors that and sends his messengers (angels) to encourage us and to guide us. He rejoices when we arrive, and He rejoices at every turn in the path that brings us closer. He even walks with us! Even when we don't think He is there, He is. And he brings us home to Him with fanfare and rejoicing.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is no way to peace. Peace IS the way.” Let me hijack this famous statement and change it to suit my purpose:

There is no way to God. God IS the way.

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