Why I Don’t Trust a God That Looks Like You

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“When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable–but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

-Dr. Richard Dawkins

My brother is the pastor of a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He’s a good pastor to a faithful church, and he mentioned something in a sermon a few weeks back that struck me.  He briefly tackled the oft-heard complaint that begins with, “I simply cannot believe in a god who would…” and you can fill in the blank.

“Not save my children.”

“Allow hunger and genocide.”

“Kill my goldfish.”

“Permit reality television.”

I’ve certainly played those games before.  What my brother so correctly pointed out was to ask what kind of god we could believe in.  It’s a meaningful exercise.  If I were to dream up a god, to start fresh and invent one of my own fancy, what sort of attributes would he have?  Would he be loving?  Would he be kind?  Would he be a he?  What kind of powers does god have?

If we let this thought experiment play out I think we will find that “god” ends up being a sort of thing that we would wish ourselves to be.  He’s not so much a god, but a superlative human, capable of not falling into the temptations we fall into or battling the same vices.  The problem with this god, though, is that he still looks a lot like us.  

Maybe he looks like a very good us, but he’s altogether humanly in nature.  He’s only as powerful as our minds can imagine him to be, and the most imaginative of us already comes with preset limits. JB Phillips, in his great book Your God is Too Small, says the following:

“Man may be made in the image of God; but it is not sufficient to
conceive God as nothing more than an infinitely magnified man. There are, for
example, those who are considerably worried by the thought of God
simultaneously hearing and answering the prayers and aspirations of people
all over the world. That may be because their mental picture is of a harassed
telephone operator answering callers at a switchboard of superhuman size. It
is really better to say frankly, “I can’t imagine how it can be done” (which is the
literal truth), than to confuse the mind with the picture of an enlarged man
performing the impossible.”

Throw the old ideas of turning god into a superhuman away.  A god that looks like we would prefer to look and acts like we would prefer to act is a god utterly confined to our own thoughts and aspirations.  He’s a rouse, a people pleaser, and he’ll tell you anything you want to hear because you didn’t invent him to tell the truths that you don’t like. Get rid of him, put him away, because I don’t want anything to do with him.

This brings us back to the quote by the esteemed Richard Dawkins, all the way at the top. He said this at the end of a relatively informal debate between he and the evolutionary evangelical, Francis Collins.   What I find so striking about this quote is how much of it I agree with while I still see a great many missed points. Richard Dawkins, like many of us, can’t believe in a god that looks like the god of the scriptures because the god of the scriptures already fails to fit what he has predetermined to be “a whole lot bigger and more incomprehensible”  than what’s already out there.  I might suggest that the idea of an all powerful diviner of the universe becoming a human man while simultaneously sustaining the cosmos and saving humanity is already bigger and more incomprehensible than any of the gods I’ve invented in my mind.

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A Dialogue

Here’s a small excerpt for a play I was asked to write after graduating from A&M.  Anita and Tom are mother and son, and though Tom is the mayor of the small town of Rockwood, his elderly mother is in every way more capable than he is.  After some rough events that set up the action of the play they have a little chat about the nature of society.

22

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Tom:  You had a good idea tonight, and believe me, I’m thankful that you were able to make heads or tails of this situation.  Gosh, when it rains it pours, you know?  Give me a simple domestic inquiry, or a community service project, or even some kind of county fair.  I’d be happy to my civic duty.  But a murder? Followed by a disappearance?  With no known culprit?  How am I supposed to answer that?  Where is the silver lining?  I just wanted a week or two to pass after Ed’s death, just time for things to get a little easy around here, and then maybe take a vacation.  Can you imagine if I took a vacation now? They’d be angry.

Anita: Wouldn’t it be their right?

Tom:  I suppose so.  Free country and all.  I just want things to balance out, that’s all.

Anita: They are balancing, dear.

Tom:  What is that supposed to mean?  Like this is supposed to be some kind of normal?  Everyone on edge? Everyone uneasy?

Anita:  It’s as normal as anything else that has come to pass. As normal as joy, as normal as elation, maybe even more so.  Decades of peace don’t warrant any comfort to the notion that things will always be the way they are.  It’s the way of the world.

Tom: Are you teaching me a lesson, now?

Anita: Why? Are you worried you’ll learn something?  Thomas, how many generations have passed where people gather, pat themselves on the back, and say, ‘This is the best it will ever be?’  A generation rises, maybe here, maybe a thousand years ago, maybe 3000 before that. Someone builds something great, they reckon it to be one of the most fantastic achievements of mankind, a crowning glory of civilization, and people travel from all around to see it. That lasts less time than you think, complacency often follows soon after wonder, and disregard soon after complacency.  That generation will pass, it will go on forgotten, and one day a graduate student at a university who is exploring some distant land to get an abroad credit will stub his toe on some rock that soon catches his interest. He will start dusting off that rock with a fine whisker brush and special little tools and unearth the treasure that captured the heart of a generation that we had previously only guessed existed because of a coin some boy found in a riverbed.  Now we’ll have some great sculpture, or tablet, or artifact of this lost generation uncovered, it’ll get a special article in a magazine, and might go on to achieve it’s greatest glory yet.

Tom:  What is that, mother?

Anita:  It will be immortalized in gift shop snow globes and post cards worldwide.

Tom:  I don’t have any place for your old ramblings if they aren’t relevant to the time at hand.

Anita:  Oh, but they are, Thomas.  They are more relevant than you or even I dare dream.

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Introductions

Everyone knows the despicable situation when you’ve had repeated and meaningful interaction with a specific person, knowing their circles, hobbies, hometown, and quirks, but forgetting one crucial aspect:

Their name.

It is far too late to ask.  You know they know your name, they proceed to rub it in your face every time you greet each other.  I ran into this problem somewhat in my high school days (being class president means you can only afford to have an affluent inner group of friends) and even more so during my tenure at A&M.  There were a lot of greetings, a lot of smiles, one Dale, and a host of “buddies.”

This post is not about semi friends or even my inflated sense of importance, it’s just a more interesting way to start a post on a rarely-used blog that has a lot of nameless pals. Thank you, nameless pals.  Keep greeting me and perhaps one day I will write to you more regularly.  I may even learn your names and speak to you directly. Until then, lets learn some more about what’s going on.

Christina and I are still married, and happily so.  We have one child, Casper, and a new house set up in Spring Texas.  Casper is 8 months old and a joy.

This house, though, is significantly older than Casper. This house is significantly older than me, in fact. When I was born, this house was 15 years old and could almost drive without a permit.  All of the sudden, he had this young yuppie moving into him with his multiethnic family (“the 70’s were different times,” the house protests) and waltzing through his rooms like he invented the 3/4 time signature.  Like a more seasoned employee looking down upon his younger and less experienced counterpart, the house postured itself against me and my family from the moment it saw us examining the flames along the side of the mailbox.

It was awkward.

Given that my job as a younger person is be hellishly abandoned and optimistic in the face of the daunting odds, I decided to ignore the critiques and start working to mend the pains that had grown on the older home.  The doors leading into the dining room had neither doorknobs nor an ability to stay closed, so I installed some handles and ball-catches. Both our bedroom faucet and an outside spigot were leaking water, a sign of forgetfulness on the part of the house.  I tightened the washers and mitigated the water damage. The house seemed begrudgingly thankful, but wasn’t about to overflow with any sort of exhortation.

Christina and I will keep trying.

You see, this house isn’t even aware of the opinions it has formed as it has grown up.  He’s forgotten the things he swore to remember and remembered some things he vowed to forget.  As his backyard became a tangled mess, he forgot about the early days of landscaping, planning, and blossoming.  The weeds grew easier than the flowers.

This house didn’t want to end up unkept, but nobody kept up with him.

Christina and I hope to fix that. Our plan is to fill the house up with new memories, hopefully enough to soften the older ones. He has a boy that I’m going to need him to help me raise, and hopefully more to come.  He has a family that wants him, if he’ll take us.

Good things are difficult, and in the words of Don Chaffer, sometimes you gotta just work the earth until the love comes down.

With this much earth to work, we’re planning for a lot of love. Maybe this old house will help us.

A Bolg for the Interwebs (sic)

It’s been awhile, blogfriends.  What with work and church and impending fatherhood I just found myself too busy to……

You don’t believe that, do you? That I’ve been too busy to write? I mean, I know I majored in theatre arts, but my literary acting skills are just as poor as my physical acting skills (I prefer directing- https://christinandale.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/life-is-a-circus/)

The thing is, and I’ve noticed this all the more while working in a real work environment, that we’ve made busyness into a bit of a status symbol.  Like keys on your keychain, the more things you have to do earns you a certain respect, a certain charm, a certain I don’t know what. Busyness, like my grandmother’s stationary workout bike, helps to maintain the illusion that a lot of “going” must surely mean you’re going SOMEWHERE.

Problem is, busyness does not often pan out the way you want it to.  I’m generally perfectly available for things I find enjoyable, but just busy enough to avoid things I don’t like.

Taking a long vacation abroad? I’ve earned it.  Keeping food on the table and wild animals away from the homestead has tuckered me out.

Taking a Saturday morning to help my parents move?  They probably should’ve been considerate and asked me sooner.  Strenuous spontaneity is risky this time of year, and besides my pregnant wife needs me home.

The best of it is that busyness tends to fill in all the ambiguous gaps that would otherwise just make us look lazy.  The word “busy” can even be usefully applied to non strenuous tasks: I was busy watching TV. I was busy eating dinner. I was busy sleeping.  Building a reputation as a hard worker has never been so easy!

Here’s the thing, my generation, we aren’t THAT busy (excepting a few). The people whose schedules truly are the most packed often manage their time that much more efficiently, and usually never cop out behind a faux shield of busyness.  I remember a brief stint of a few weeks where I managed every day in 30 minute increments, and the results were alarming (and convicting).  I think George Whitfield, or John Wesley, or one of those crazies, managed their days in even shorter 5 minute bursts.  This was before cars, cell phones, computers, or television (though some of those are very much double edged swords).  Do you realize how much unclassified time slips through the cracks, only to be posthumously labeled as “busy”?  I’ll be busy calculating that for the next…4 hours.

Anyway, I’ll have a baby in the next few weeks, and I’ll probably retract all of this.  Instead of saying I’m busy  I’ll just say I spend every waking minute changing diapers or something.

 

 

A New World

Our child is roughly the size of an avocado.

That is, of course, merely a guess.  We don’t know for sure.  Still, I doubt if our lives have ever been so dictated by someone whose mass is lesser than or equal to an avocado; we certainly have had a year’s worth of changes in only a few short weeks.  But I’m ahead of myself!

We bought our first apartment on July 25th, 2010, about 2 weeks before we were married. I was working at a hotel in College Station at the time, attending to a vast swamp of lowest-level managerial duties, and was working until midnight on the day we were first allowed to enter our apartment.  Christina and I, in our young romance, decided that we wouldn’t enter the apartment unless we were together.

Upon the midnight close of my shift and the whim of our will, I picked up some Taco Bell, thankfully open for 24 hours, and Christina and headed to the apartment.  We sat on our new floor and ate to our fill, greatly pleased at the level of adulthood that seemed to be filling our minds (despite the woefully un-adult meal and hour).

It was less than one year later (and one large surprise later), that my wife and found ourselves sitting on the same floor, amidst an array of boxes, packing tape, and Rosa’s Cafe.  Not much on the outside had changed, but the biggest changes of all were occurring.  Christina had a baby brewing, which in turn changed our plans of going overseas, which made me enter the job search, which then led to a job and an apartment in Houston, with leases ending and beginning.  Given that the majority of this took place within two weeks, we were swamped.

I hate when Christina makes a mess while she cooks

Thanks to a motley crew of our friends Ping, Enoch, Stephen, Zac, Jackie, Jon Eichler, Chris Marek, and Josh and Joanna, we managed to pack and move in a matter of 4 days.  For the record, the threshold for random items that you want to keep gets dramatically lower when you’re moving.  I never thought i’d say goodbye to my suede jacket from the 70’s (complete with fringe), but it wasn’t worth the effort of packing.

No, man, it's not "subtly dignified."

Then, before we knew it, we had our stuff transferred Southeast on Highway 6, met up with 249, and hoisted up three flights of stairs, with only one scratch in the drywall to show for it. We made the transition from this-

The Man Throne

-to this-

Apartment 1037 welcomes you.

Compare with Kitchen above. Status: Improvement.

All for an avocado.  However, that avocado will now live within 30 minutes of his entire extended family, 15 of his church, and will have a flat screen TV (thanks again to Josh and Joanna).  Ok, maybe that last one wasn’t so much for him.  Still, it is to our great joy that the Lord had provided a job (I’m now an employee of Stagelight Houston), an apartment, and an incredible group of friends and family.  Also, a futon.  That’ll be for the baby.

Baby room. I figure we just tape him into that thing, then we have no need for a crib. Right, parents?

The Outside World

Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business– namely his own character and conduct.

-George MacDonald

I’m in my last semester of undergraduate education, and come May 13th I’ll have a Theatre Arts diploma that wouldn’t even make good use as a paperweight;  at least I can turn it over and color on it with crayons that I assume they’ll give me .  What have I learned in light of my education?

I’ve learned that Truth, in the most precious sense of the word, is a valuable and scarce commodity.  It is so illusive, some very thoughtful men have thrown their hands up in despair and decided that it does not even exist, much like that perfect sandwich you remember so well but can never seem to find again. It is spoken about in philosophy classrooms and muttered in whispers everywhere else.  Professors assume it in their speech, and they cast out their nets looking for fish.

Strangely enough, I’m older now than I was 4 years ago.  One thing I think I see a little clearer is something George MacDonald saw back in 1892 when he wrote Hope of the Gospel.  What do you learn about in school? The answer is probably “things.”  More specifically “other things.”  As much as students cram silly things into their heads, I don’t know how much they learn that will really aid in their life.  I don’t know how much Truth they will walk away with, because from freshmen convocation to senior commencement they are told to look focus on the issues everywhere in the world, but never on the issues in themselves.

Why does racism exist?

A class I am in now would say that it’s taught, it’s indoctrinated in us from our youth.  We live in a culture of white privilege, I’ve learned, and it must be one of those things that is so obvious that nobody seemed to notice.  I suppose.

Why does the stock market look the way it does?

I would venture that it has to do with lending, spending, and lack of mending. One answer is printing money, some would argue.

Why does the media contain bias?  Fill in the blank.

Maybe in the end the world looks the way it does because it’s run by people, and we try to fix systems rather than hearts. I’m not talking about making people feel lovey dovey all the time, far from it (Christina and I saw a church billboard that read, “Jesus: God’s Valentine to Us,”  possibly the worst thing ever constructed out of overly large plastic letters).  I’m talking about looking honestly at ourselves and recognizing that perhaps Trouble doesn’t meet us everywhere we go because he’s a nuisance, but because we beckoned him.  He doesn’t follow us, He is brought about through us.

Why does racism exist?

Because, given the opportunity, humans love to exploit power.

Why does the stock market look the way it does?

Because we are exceptionally greedy and spend money we hope to have one day.

Why does the media contain bias?

Because it has people in it.

I’m not a preacher, you’ve got the wrong Googer for that.  I’ve just see so much complaining.  Complaining from professors, complaining from students, complaining from my cat.  I think discontentment may be the price we pay for the goals we pursue, I don’t know. But when we focus on the “system” rather than setting an example to the people in it, I don’t think we’re going to change very much.

To lighten the mood, here’s a funny picture-

Thank you, Jonathan Eichler.