We were having a lively family dinner when my grandson’s girlfriend asked me: “Papa, do you believe in God?” I responded immediately: “Which God did you mean?” Forks stopped in midair and the room became silent and nobody spoke. Finally, my wife laughingly hit my arm and said: “Now you’ve got some explaining to do.” The explanation took the next two hours and covered three basic ways we look at God:
The Creator. How did this universe come about?
The Helper. When we pray, does God make changes in the universe?
The Redeemer. Is there somebody to grab us when we die?
The Creator God: Do I believe that the two mythical stories of Genesis were historical? No, of course not. The Hebrew authors of the Jewish Bible struggled with this puzzle of creation just like all of us, and they came up with two entirely different “Gods” to explain it. The first one in Gen. 1:1(Elohim) has a powerful Oz-like appearance; a thunderbolt type of God who creates it all in six days and rests in his synagogue on the sabbath. The second God (Yahweh) in Gen. 2:3, plays around in his garden-paradise with his two human creations until they disobey him and then he throws them out.
These are two beautiful Hebrew myths. Now, if I could understand quantum physics like some of my scientific friends I could believe that this world never had a beginning; it just always was. But I’m stuck with my Aristotelian logic: I must believe in an “uncaused cause.” I call it God.
The Helper God: Do I believe in a God who continually helps his friends? This is difficult. The suffering Syrians are praying and their God is our God. My grandson jumped in: “But aren’t they radical Muslims? Didn’t the Christian Crusaders try to eliminate them?”
Let me explain. The suffering Syrians are not radical Muslims – anymore than the thousands of Muslim men, women and children were radicals in the year 1095 when Pope Urban II declared war on them because they were living in what he considered his Holy Land. Today, a small number of Muslims become radical and start a jihad against Christians; in 1095, a small number of Christians became radical and started a Crusade against Muslims. Both were wrong and neither have the help of the God I believe in.
I believe in a God who lets us help ourselves and those around us. Helping means understanding and listening and caring. Helping means finding the log in my own eye before trying to remove the speck in yours. Helping means digging deep to find the root cause of why 74 percent of our 966 Bibb county jail cells are filled with young sons of single teen-age mothers.
The Redeemer God: Do I believe in a God who will be waiting for me on the other side when I die? My wife and I talk about this often as I’m sure old folk have been doing since the beginning of time. The answer is: we don’t know. Nobody knows. Everybody wants it and splendid myths have been written to describe it and we all know how comforting it is to dwell on those myths.
Every religion I know spells out a scenario for their followers to believe; a scenario that fits their culture and traditions. The ancient Egyptians put toys in the caskets.
The early Christians thought the Redeemer was returning from heaven in their life time, descending from the clouds as Paul wrote (1Thess. 4:16.). When this never happened, the myths of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory took shape and continued until Luther destroyed Purgatory and most of us destroyed Hell. Heaven remains, and heaven only knows what that is.
Bill Cummings Ph.D., is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.