Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Notes on a Personal God

I have been reading an amazing book, called Finding Faith, A Self-Discovery Guide For Your Spiritual Quest by Brian D McLaren. It is an reasoned discussion of how to find faith. He looks at Faith, Knowledge and Doubt, and discusses atheism, theism, and good faith and bad faith. It is ideal for those looking for answers to spiritual questions as well as those who think they have already found their answers but want a reasoned faith or to be able to reason it to others. As a sample, here is his explanation of a personal God, hope you find it helpful:

Many people resist the idea of a personal God, and with good reason. When they think of a person, they think of rather quaint but silly images – such as God as a Santa-esque old man with a long white beard ... or as an immature tyrant prone to throwing temper tantrums ... or as a forgetful manager who needs constant reminders (via prayer) lest he forget important details in his universe ... or as an absentminded professor who naively started this experiment called the universe which since has gone more than slightly out of control.

Our problem in this regard is probably a matter of words – perhaps confusing “personal” with “human”. To illustrate, think of the following items: gravity, helium, water, coal, a fern, a frog, a parrot, a golden retriever, a chimpanzee, a human being. The first three bring us from energy to matter, from gas to solid, and from invisible to visible. When we get to the fern, we move from nonliving to living. From fern to frog, we cross the boundary to animate. I don't know any frogs very well, but with my limited exposure, they seem to have a little, but not much, in the way of personality. Parrots have more, and golden retrievers and chimpanzees more still ... and human beings, more still. Now, with each step up the ladder, we didn't lose the qualities of the previous steps; rather, we added more capabilities, more depth ... while we subtracted previous limitations, going from energy to matter to form to solidity to plant life to animal life to warm-blooded life to mammalian life to primate life to human life.

Let's imagine we inserted a million rungs in our ladder after human beings, each rung suggesting more developed, less limited beings, with personalities as far beyond our own as ours are beyond a bullfrog's – not less developed with each ascending rung, but more. And we could insert another million, and another, and we'd be getting some idea of the way in which we can speak of God being personal.

So, we're not saying that God is personal to the same small degree and with the same limitations we are. Rather, we're saying that God is personal not in a way less than us, but more. And we're saying that the fact that we share this quality called personality means that there is a bridge, a connecting point, a common language, a medium of communication. It means that both we and God come equipped with a telephone or modem so we can interface. Obviously, one party's potentials dwarf the other party's, but nevertheless, connectivity is possible. That's a pretty wonderful thought.

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