Gradually there has been another way of understanding being recognised. It actually has a long history among mystics, who sometimes suffered for appearing to be out of step with accepted religious truths. This emphasis on the unity of all life, religious and secular, deeply embedded in all of us everywhere, has a growing appeal for me in these turbulent days when the world is facing huge challenges. Pope Francis seems to agree, though he finds it hard to gain clerical support. He is busy trying to relate the Gospel to situations that are clearly evil: Child abuse, (especially by priests), Financial corruption by Church institutions, Refugee questions ignored, and so on. Saving souls for another life after death does not seem to get a mention.
Another question is closely linked with this in my thinking. What has happened to my old vision of a loving Person who ordains most if not all of what happens in the everyday life of our world? Our church has a devoted Prayer Group who keep in close touch and are aware of those in our congregation who are struggling with health or other problems (not usually including financial ones, though this may well come up away from the group). When the Prayer Group reports at the mid-week gathering on Wednesdays a candle is lit for each needy person or issue and God is appealed to. It is assumed that this Person, whom we name God, has all power to decide what the outcome will be in each case, and we should accept this as for our good. Sometimes this is too incredible for me to believe, especially when young children are prayed for. Yes, I am a member of the Prayer Group. Otherwise I would not always know who might need help.
This is a long-standing difficulty. For years I have had to listen to this all-powerful Person being reminded of all the matters needing urgent attention. Indeed I have done the same, both publicly and privately, as I give expression to my deep concerns. It seems instinctive. Yet I have long since been forced to modify what I mean by this, and also to be much slower to use the word God when secular society has almost ceased to respect it at all. It is linked to so much folk lore and obsolete understanding. So I am glad to hear other ways of acknowledging the Power that is there, all around us, and so magnificently portrayed in the life of Jesus and his gospel of Love. I find nothing to admire in legalistic theories of salvation gained by formal belief. The test is whether our life learns to express what Jesus lived to demonstrate. His life still has the power to inspire love.
There is still the problem of finding another word for God. Every Sunday we hear it. It has been a lifetime since we learnt it. So we must accompany the word with other inspired phrases that add to the depth of meaning. I love Paul Tillich’s phrase. God is “the Ground of our Being”. There is so much in that. His other writings are in tune with this but I hardly know them. Sally McFague has other suggestions in her book “Models of God” – Lover, Friend, and others I forget.
Where does the Bible fit into all this? When its texts are used as proofs and guarantees of what has been revealed by God through Jesus and other less inspired voices, acceptance is by no means automatic. Other voices are demanding to be heard. Other loyalties give some evidence that they too have the power to inspire devotion and creative action. Attempts to dismiss them, or suppress them by violence and condemnation – this has given power to repeated wars, some still raging. Our world still suffers as a result. We must engage in the fight against all such violence.
The Bible still inspires us, as the record of a journey with many seekers listening to a challenging and reassuring voice that cannot be denied. The journey continues. The words that speak of our personal survival in some celestial form of existence are losing their power to convince us in the way that they once did. But there is a more important promise, on which my faith is founded: whatever we do that reflects the love that Jesus portrayed has a life that continues to bear fruit, even after death. This is what we should celebrate when we meet with fellow seekers.
Arthur Palmer23 Jan. 2018