To see that of God in everyone
The expression ‘to see that of God in everyone’ is the most famous and most profound Quaker statement and aspiration. It is at once simple and complex, easy and hard. It may be difficult to see that of God in some people – Hitler, Stalin, a rival political party, a driver who has just jumped the lights and so on. At home the challenge can be more acute, a grandparent who is fractious, a sulking teenager, an alcoholic partner, a treacherous friend...
Jesus Christ deserves a paragraph to himself. For me he is the human being who best reflected in his life and teachings the most accurate picture of God. I do not believe he was God. He may well have been. It is not a matter of fact but of belief. I believe he was the special one, the anointed one (Christ), the Son of God. The post crucifixion followers may have overstated his claim, if he did in fact claim that he was God. I believe that Jesus was fully human, that he had a sense of humour and fun and sarcasm. Even the slightly sanitized Gospels bear this out. I believe he was probably celibate but it does not worry me either way. I believe he had doubts and made mistakes. I think it is unlikely that he sinned. Being human he could have sinned and may have sinned but I think it highly unlikely from what we know.
Jesus Christ deserves a second paragraph because I have totally failed to say what he does stand for and the relationship we can have with him. Because there is that of God in him so much more than any other human being, God shines through him and we can try and make out the outlines of God and move towards God. It is a God who is merciful and kind, the God of the prodigal son and the healed lepers. I don’t feel comfortable with Christ’s description of the God of hell which is a carry over from his Jewish upbringing. Hell is a wonderful symbol of how we can really mess up our lives on this earth and to the extent there is a life hereafter we may end up living in the straight jacket of our own making. This indeed can be loosely described as hell, but not literally. I believe over the past two thousand years through science we have been in a better position to say what God is NOT. God continues to reveal himself to every human being and in am improved way to the entire human race.
Jesus may have been restricted by the times he lived in and by his upbringing, as all humans are, but his reflection of God has never been equaled or bettered. He suggested that we should pardon our enemies and offer the other cheek, that we should enter the kingdom of God like children; that we should pray at the back of the Church; that we should engage with the foreigner; we should aspire to the joy that purity alone brings and above we should be of service to all men.
God reveals himself most fully in Jesus. God is also revealed in all other human beings, in some more perfectly than others. I see God in Buddha and Mohammed, in Darwin and the Aborigines. I do not believe in the concept of ‘being saved’ or the need to convert others to a particular religion. The only message of Religion should be to remind us that we are each a child of God. Our ability to find God is matched by our ability to loose him in the day to day tasks and preoccupations. The task of religion is not to form cliques of competing sects but to encourage people to find the keys that best open up for that individual the joy and love of God for them.
We have no particular need for priests or other vested interests to sell their ‘special’ or ‘unique’ way. Every human being is called to travel towards God and every one of us will die and revert to God irrespective or religion or lack of it. I have great empathy with humanists who despair of the competing religions who squabble among each other.
God is indescribable. We try through religion to paint a picture of him but often confect a distortion, and with every brush stroke we show less and confuse more. In those precious moments when we commune with the God within, all words and images fail, love and joy take over. Full stop. Very little more can or should be said.
Can we explain evil? Well I cannot. I have never used prayer to try and change outcomes, just to accept life and improve the world where I can. Prayer is losing ourselves and losing our demands. There is no need to tell God anything – he must already know it. There is no need to ask him to do a favour – he is infinitely merciful. When a child is killed or tsunami drowns thousands, I have no answer, no clever words, and no cooling balm. I am not convinced it is God’s will. How can we claim there is a god when there is so much evil? Very difficult.
However how can we explain love and joy without God – very difficult too?. God is the only explanation for me and for millions of others.
My human experience has shown that there is far more good than evil; that evil is the exception, not the rule. Most human beings are good and try to be good. Most of the time I try to be good. So while God seems to be absent in time of pain and suffering he is fully there in times of happiness and contentment.
Theology is a very inexact science, but so then so are economics and psychology or indeed any reflection on the human condition.
Anyone who says he has it all sussed is either mad or lying. If he asks for money he is lying, if not, he is mad. Some things are simple after all.