My older daughter’s birthday falls on the first day of spring quite often. This year, the coming of spring (birds singing and plants greening and blooming) and some messages I encountered generated the following thoughts to share with others. Remember that my blog is to encourage thought and consideration in one’s life.
Each spring we can hear talk of how nature returns to life and… in all its splendor, nature glorifies God. We are told so often to glorify God. What does it mean to glorify God? In churches, mosques, temples and even wherever two or more are gathered, we can hear words similar to “glory to God”.
Plants and animals give glory to God with the way they live. It is the only way they have to give glory to God. It is the natural way to do it. If Kroger or Whole Foods were advertising it, they would place it in the “Organic” section and call it “GMO Free”.
Humans claim to glorify God with words. Is that really possible? We gather in our places of worship periodically, sing songs, say prayers, hold discussions, stand in circles, and construct various other methods that we say give glory to God. Uniforms may be worn, faces may be covered, a woman may wear a skirt, a man may wear a beard, incense may be burned, and on and on go the variations in religious requirements.
I sometimes wonder how God understands what we do and say. I am certain that God does understand what we do and say. I just wonder if God takes it in the same way people intend it to be taken. When the preacher, priest, rabbi, or imam stands in front of a group and proclaims “All glory to God!” or some similar statement, does God puff up and feel satisfied that those people are doing the proper thing? Does God just see it as meaningless drivel because we have done all of it before, then failed to back it up with our actions during the rest of the week? It recalls for me the scene in the movie “Godfather” where the people “pay their respects” to Vito Corleone by bowing and kissing his ring. Did those people really care for Corleone or were they behaving out of fear and obligation? Does God keep a ledger to see whether some follower of a religious group faces a certain direction while praying at five specific times each day and whether that person washes his feet as directed by his holy book or leader? Does God get offended? Embarrassed? Angry? Happy? Satisfied? Does God snicker at me when I stub my toe?
We so frequently humanize God. In our efforts to “put God to use” in our lives, there is a tendency for humans to explain God in terms of human behavior. We have God get angry. We say God is saddened by some slight that a person does “to God”. When a church is collecting money, I have heard many times the words “God loves a joyous giver!” If one believes the words of Jesus, we understand that God also loves the grumpy miser.
I feel (and I certainly hope!) God’s personality is far beyond typical human understanding. In attempts to understand God, our religions over time have explained the world and God in terms of our understanding of animals and humans. We have assigned God all of our emotions and frailties. Listen to what is so frequently taught by various religious institutions and organizations. I cannot think of any human emotion or frailty that God shares with us. I believe God completely understands or comprehends everything about everything. When somebody questions typical orthodox explanations for apparent inconsistencies in behaviors attributed to God, it is common to hear the response “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, or some other excuse to retain the status quo of the orthodoxy. After many years of studying people, religions, and particularly a study of the Bible, I believe that we over explain God. It seems common to try to make God understandable by unnecessarily trying to explain God in terms of human thinking and behavior. I believe God is much simpler to understand than we wish to believe. Maybe the explanation for God is so simple we don’t want to believe it.
So much of what has been written to promote religious groups seems to be written to support the religious group whether it is a Christian church, Muslim sect, Hindu sect, or whatever other religious grouping one may consider. These groups invariably focus upon a particular leader or leaders so that they effectively lose sight of God. I read recently of a church in Charlotte, North Carolina where they teach people, including children in Sunday School, to repeat praise of the pastor in a manner that sounds as if they are pledging allegiance to the man. The church seems to equate the man with God. (Or, maybe they equate God with the Man?) Terrorism is promoted across the world by so called religious leaders who actually have political motives. I feel there is no way God wants terrorism or a blind allegiance to any person.
Consider the idea that Jesus points the way to God better than anyone else has ever done. When studied seriously and when God is truly being sought, the Bible provides teachings for us to develop our relationships with God, nature, our families, friends, and all of the rest of the world. If you are familiar with me, you know that I intend to begin and handle my relationships with what is known as the greatest commandment from Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40). I use that teaching of Jesus to decipher any other teaching inside or outside of the Bible so I can attempt to use it effectively. If other teachings are not considered in light of this basic teaching of Jesus, I feel it is too easy to use them in a harmful way. In those cases, it is not to the glory of God.
How does a human glorify God so that it functions in that person’s relationship with God? Just as the plants and animals do it. We are to heed God’s call to be who we were created to be. We are to react to God’s call on a daily basis in all that we do. We are separated from the rest of nature by the fact that we are given free will and a greater capacity to think. Heeding the call to be who we are created to be may sound difficult. I feel one must be patient in the process and follow the teachings of Jesus that are based upon the greatest commandment. We stumble. We make mistakes. We fail miserably at times. God understands and expects only that we return to relationship with God and work to improve the next time.
There is a tendency for religions to teach that we must feel moved by a spirit or feeling of some kind or that once a person expresses a belief in the religion, that person will automatically be gifted with the truth or that some religious leader will be able to provide the truth. It has frequently seemed to me that typical religion frowns upon thinking. Yet, in reading the Bible, I believe that God has expected humans to think in order to be in the relationships that God has made available for us to share and develop. Otherwise, the relationships can be hit or miss repetitions of “falling in love” in which we react with our emotions and desires. Such situations do not leave much for a person when emotions are depleted or desires change. This includes situations in which a person becomes disappointed by their religious group or organization or by some religious personality. To avoid such problems, I suggest you turn to the greatest commandment in your relationships so your first reference will be Jesus and God rather than yourself or some other person or a group.
One of the earliest stories in the Bible can help illustrate my thoughts.
There are two stories about creation at the beginning of the Bible. Bible historians tend to believe that the stories were developed and written at different times. From studying these stories (for me, study incorporates prayer and meditation), the creation stories explain the earliest understanding and representation among the Jews of the relationship of God with the world, the relationship of God with humans, and of humans with the world and with each other. The stories indicate that everything begins with God. As I read the creation stories, Adam and Eve failed in their relationship with God by not practicing life in a manner that caused them to relate to God first in their dealings. They failed to practice the teaching of the greatest commandment.
Genesis 3:8 mentions God walking through the garden in the cool of the day. The humans were said to be hiding from God. How did Adam and Eve come to this situation? Reading from the second creation story in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, one will read that Adam and Eve were acting with their emotions and desires. The serpent appealed to those emotions and desires. Had Adam and Eve thought about what they were doing, they would have been able to first consider the greatest commandment: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Instead, Adam and Eve, our biblical examples for the basic relationship between God and humans, did what humans tend to do. They reacted with emotions and personal desires. Adam and Eve thought of self first without considering anything or anybody else. What would feel good at that time for them personally? What would give them the edge over others? In modernizing the story, we could have them being tempted with a larger home, a higher paying position, or greater prestige. For a minister, priest, or imam, it may mean making decisions based upon acquiring a larger following, more money, a more prestigious appointment (bishop), or maybe all of these things. The same idea applies to even the small daily activities in our lives. Getting upset by traffic because it is not working the way I want it to work, frustrations at work, and disappointments in my family can have the same origin and development.
A friend, Bill Cross, shared a book, The Will Of God, by Leslie Weatherhead, with me when my son was murdered in 2012. Weatherhead was the pastor of the largest church in England during World War II. He dealt with the grief of thousands and wrote the book to help people understand how losses could occur in our lives with a good and gracious God. How could God carry on if God has the same emotional reactions as humans? Weatherhead explained that no matter what happens, God maintains the same relationship to us. If the relationship changes, it is because the person changes it. As taught to us in the greatest commandment lesson, we can likewise maintain or adjust our relationships with ourselves and with others in the world.
Unlike people, God is consistent. The excuse that we can explain God in human terms because that is all we know is not acceptable to me. I feel we can understand that God is beyond us. God does not play games with us. God does not react with emotions. Any distance or misunderstanding that is created is due to human failure and mistakes. God is consistent and reliable. God forgives and accepts each of us. Always. What we do may not always be acceptable, but when we return to God and the greatest commandment, we can improve the relationships in our lives.
What does it mean to glorify God? Develop your relationship with God. Use that to understand yourself. Ask questions. Spend some time with God. Be yourself and develop your relationships with people and with nature. As a Cole Porter song says: “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it”. Glorify God naturally in the way you live each day. Have it in mind with as many actions as possible during each day. Words and and a little bit of time on Sunday glorify relatively nothing. The contents of your heart are displayed in the common, day to day actions of life.