For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at unhappiness in the United States. We started by looking at suicide, at the increasing numbers of Americans who commit suicide. Then we saw how Americans are some of the most unhappy people in the world. We looked at the things they are really trying to find, the things that would really make them happy. But of course they seldom find them. They look in the wrong places.
Then we looked at something that could give people what they really want. It’s found in Christianity but not in the versions of Christianity most Americans are familiar with. It’s found in a version of Christianity that’s actually older than all the different versions of American Christianity, but it’s never been popular here. It asks people to look at things in an entirely different way than American Christianity has traditionally looked at them.
But, I realize people have problems doing that. They have problems looking at Christianity in this way. There are three main reasons for that, three things that block people almost from the very beginning when they try to consider this. Two come from Christianity itself, and the other comes from society. Today I’d like for us to consider those three things, those three major roadblocks to considering this different, but very ancient, interpretation of Christianity.
We’ll talk first about the ones that come from Christianity itself. The first is a very basic belief found, at least officially, in virtually all popular versions of American Christianity, a belief so basic that most people simply take it for granted. That belief is this: God is absolutely powerful and has the power to do, in an instant, anything He wants to do.
That’s part of the very definition of God in most versions of American Christianity. God is the king, the ruler of all, who controls everything.
I was talking with a woman a few weeks ago, and she had a question. “Why do we have to wait until we get to heaven in order to have a good life?” She’s been taught that she’ll have a good life once she gets to heaven, but she can’t understand why God just doesn’t get rid of all bad things now, so that people can have good lives now.
The belief that underlies her question is simple: God is all-powerful and in control of everything. She has been taught that God is so powerful that He can do anything in an instant, accomplish anything He wants to do with just a wave of His hand, in the snap of a finger. And so if God wanted to, He could wipe out all bad things now.
Asking her to believe that God is working on getting rid of bad things but that it will take time to accomplish that is contrary to the belief ingrained in her about God—that God can do anything He wants to do in an instant. The way she has been taught to think of God is that God is all-powerful in the sense that God is in control of everything and can instantly accomplish anything He wants to do.
I’m asking her, though, to think of God as all-powerful in the sense that, although it may take some time, God, in the end, will be able to do what He wants to do.
Her vision of God is as the all-powerful absolute king of the universe. My vision of God is as the one who will in the end come out on top, but He’s going to have to struggle and fight a long time to do so.
We assume her vision of God is the one the Bible presents. After all, haven’t we been told it is? Haven’t we been presented with little cut-out scriptures, pulled from here and there in the Bible, and told that’s what they mean? Haven’t we been told that for so long, and isn’t that so generally accepted, that we can’t even conceive that it might not be true?
We’ve been indoctrinated with this vision of God to the point that we can’t even consider it might not be true.
But yet, it is possible to get another vision of God from the Bible, the vision of God as the one who will in the end come out on top, but only after a long struggle and a long fight. Remember, every Christian belief in an interpretation of something from the Bible, and there’s not just one possible interpretation, there are many.
Her vision of God is an interpretation; so is mine. Which one is correct? Well, obviously I believe mine is; well, maybe not correct, but close, closer than the other. And hers? Well, she’s been told it’s correct, but frankly, her vision of God leads her to a view of God that’s not exactly attractive—a God who could, in an instant, put an end to all suffering and bad things in the world but, for some unexplained reason, doesn’t.
That’s actually one of the main reasons people today give for not believing in God. If there is this all-powerful God who’s in control of everything, why does He allow so much suffering in the world? That very question implies the belief that God could, in an instant, put an end to all the bad things in the world if He wanted to. It’s why this woman wonders why God does not just give us good lives now instead of making us wait until we get to heaven.
Her God is like this: Your house catches on fire. You call the fire department. They show up and just sit outside in front of your house watching it burn. They could put it out, but they don’t. They just sit there and let your house burn to the ground. What would you think of a fire department that did that? Well, that’s how her vision of God says God is like.
My vision of God is like this: Your house catches on fire. You call the fire department. They show up and instantly jump out, start pulling out their hoses and equipment, and they work like mad trying to save your house. A couple of firemen even get injured in the process, but they don’t give up. They keep on, as hard as they can, until they put it out. They end up saving most of your house.
That’s how I really think God is, but looking at God in this way does require us to jettison that view of God we’ve always been taught—that God can do anything He wants to do in an instant.
I realize, of course, that if you’ve had one certain view of God drummed into your head your entire life, and if the only interpretation of the Bible you’ve ever been exposed to is that one, it’s awfully hard to consider another interpretation, even if the interpretation you’ve been exposed to paints a horrible picture of God. So it’s hard to consider something else.
But the fact remains that is it possible to interpret the Bible in such a way to get that vision of God. It’s not the Bible that’s standing in the way; it’s what people have told you certain things in the Bible mean that’s standing in the way.
So that’s one roadblock. Now let’s look at the other one that comes from Christianity itself. This is the belief that God created everything, absolutely everything. This, again, is something American Christians have been told is true to the point that they won’t even consider something else.
According to this idea, at some point, long, long ago, there was only God. Nothing else existed anywhere except God. Then, so the belief goes, God created the spiritual realm and every kind of spiritual being in the spiritual realm. Then God created the material realm—the universe, the world.
People have been told that’s what the Bible says, and they’ve been presented with a few little verses, cut out from various places in the Bible, and told that’s what these verses mean. So, voila, the Bible says God made everything. Or so we’re told the Bible says.
And so if there is a Satan, if there is a power of evil in the world, then God must have made it. Then Christians are put in the position of having to explain why God made evil. They’ve gone through a lot of gymnastics in an attempt to do that. They’ve tried to explain how and why there’s evil in a world they say God created good, if God created absolutely everything, including everything in the spiritual realm, but they’ve never been able to do that. This belief that God created everything, including everything in the spiritual realm, backs Christianity into a corner they really can’t get out of. They just come up with statements that don’t really clear up anything and expect people to accept them, and of course, some do accept them, but increasingly, people don’t.
But again, the view that God made everything, including everything in the spiritual realm, is just an interpretation, and it’s not the only interpretation possible. It’s possible to interpret the Bible to mean that God made the material realm—the universe and the world—but that God did not necessarily make the spiritual realm and everything in the spiritual realm.
This, of course, goes against American Christianity’s vision of God, God as the one who made absolutely everything. People have been so indoctrinated with that idea that they won’t even let themselves consider that it might not be true, and they won’t even let themselves consider that maybe the Bible might not actually say that.
So people then ask, “If God didn’t make it, where did it come from?” That’s something Christianity doesn’t deal with. After all, even if you have the standard view of God as the one who made everything, where did God come from? Those versions of Christianity don’t deal with that question; they just say God has always been there. So it’s no more of a stretch to say that the spiritual realm and other spiritual beings have always been there, too. Same thing.
So we have two possible views of God. One is that God has always been there and once was all alone but then made everything else. The other is that God and the spiritual realm and other spiritual beings have always been there and God at some point made the material universe. This one makes it possible to deal with the problem of evil, the existence of evil and bad things in the world, without making God into the creator of evil.
It is possible to interpret the Bible in such a way to get this. It’s an interpretation, but so is the other view of God.
Really, what it boils down to is this—people in American Christianity don’t realize that Christian beliefs come from interpreting the Bible. They’ve been led to believe that Christian beliefs are lined out in the Bible. When they’re presented with something from the Bible, they’re told “this is what this means,” and so they never even consider that what they have been presented is actually an interpretation.
So far we’ve seen two beliefs from American Christianity that act as roadblocks to people—the belief that God created everything, including everything in the spiritual realm, and the belief that God can accomplish, in an instant, anything He wants to do.
Now we’re ready to consider the last roadblock belief—the one that comes from society.
We live in a scientific age. Science rules. Even among Christians, science rules. Christians have been more than willing to modify their beliefs to keep their beliefs in line with science. In fact, that characterized Christianity in the 20th century—modifying one belief after another so that Christian beliefs line up with science. Some Christian groups have been slower than others to do this, but even the ones that claim they haven’t done it have in fact done it.
So, science rules today. But yet Christianity requires a belief in the spiritual, a belief that there is a spiritual realm, that the material world is not all there is. In the face of that, science says there is no spiritual realm, that the material world is all there is. According to science, if you can’t detect and measure it using physical means, then it doesn’t exist. And so, since you can’t detect and measure the spiritual using physical means, the spiritual doesn’t exist. Science says the material world is all there is, and that the spiritual doesn’t exist; therefore, God doesn’t exist, or if God does exist, then God is some sort of abstract concept, something like “the organizing principle of the universe.”
And then here I come, talking about God and the spiritual realm. But what’s worse, I’m talking about a spiritual realm filled with various spiritual beings, various spiritual powers. It’s like I’m going back hundreds of years, back to the days of superstition, asking people to believe in various spiritual powers doing things here in the world.
Now, granted, the mainline denominations in American Christianity have pretty much eliminated the spiritual from their beliefs. They don’t really believe in any kind of spiritual realm or spiritual power anymore. At best, they see God as some kind of abstract concept. Surveys indicate that about 30% of Christians in mainline denominations don’t even believe in God at all. So mainline Christianity in the United States has “scientificized” itself to the point where, if there’s a belief in God at all, it’s God as an abstract concept, like “the organizing principle of the universe,” “the source,” or “the ground of existence,” or something like that. But, those mainline denominations are becoming increasingly insignificant as far as Christianity is concerned, anyway.
Christianity does require a belief in the spiritual. The entire premise of Christianity is that there is more to things than the material world, more to things than we can see. That’s basically the entire premise of any religion. Religion is an attempt to go behind the material to something beyond. Religion carries with it the starting premise that there is more to things than we can see, that there’s something beyond the material world. That’s what religion concerns itself with—what lies beyond the material world.
So, there’s no way, really, to have Christianity without a belief in the spiritual. Christianity does necessarily include the belief that there’s more to things than we can see, that something more lies beyond the material world.
That’s what’s so hard to get people to consider today, since so many people have a scientific mindset. People have been taught by science that what they see is all there is, that the way things appear is really the way they really are. Christianity, on the other hand, says there is more to things that what we can see, and that they way things appear may not be the way they really are.
So that’s the final roadblock belief.
Today we’ve considered three beliefs, beliefs that I call “roadblock beliefs,” that stand in the way of people considering this version of Christianity. If you can get beyond those roadblocks, you can consider a completely different way of looking at Christianity.