Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making Sense of Life Without Religion

Paul Tillich (well known 20th century theologian) once said: Most religious people are practical atheists for most of their lives. What Tillich meant was that even though there are quite a number of people who profess to believe that there is a God who created the universe and even a God who cares about the universe and is involved in it, most of such "religious" people make sense of their lives and make decisions in their lives without being influenced at all by this belief.

There was a movement in the 1960's called "the Death of God" movement, which was a group of theologians who were constructing a new type of religious belief based on the experience of modernity, the experience as they said in which "human beings were gaining mastery over natural forces that everyone had assumed were only subject to divine control." The experience of discoveries that helped control or obliterate diseases, the creation of machines, and even the beginning of the exploration of space caused many people to have a tremendous confidence in modern science as the means of resolving the great problems of human life and society.

Of course, there remained that nasty reality called "death."

Still, theologians, interpreting some comments in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters written towards the end of his life, began to speak of living in the world as if there was no God as being the only way to live in faith.

But, Bonhoeffer had a deep trust in the reality and presence and goodness of God. What he was getting at was the "way in which God was in the world." That was the new aspect of Bonhoeffer's thought. Bonhoeffer experienced God as "burdened by life," and not distant from human life. It was for Bonhoeffer as if God was hidden in the depths of human suffering, but, still, God was at the root and at the heart of life.

If God was revealed in the execution of Jesus, then God's presence is in the dark hiddeness of human suffering.

Well, as you might glean from this post, I am not one who makes sense of life without religion. I am most of the time one who makes sense of life with the assumption of the reality of God. But, nonetheless, my understanding of the reality of God is and remains deeply influenced by my experience of human life. And, I believe that God is hidden in this world, and only experienced in places in which common wisdom would not expect God to be present.

I am also, as Tillich says, a practical atheist on many days as well, if he means by that that I live and experience a number of things as if I am separated from the reality of God. But, I lean very strongly towards Bonhoeffer's way and the way of the mystics: faith is a strange combination of the experience of God's presence and the experience of God's absence; but, even in the absence, you are somehow touched by the presence.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The End of the Week and a time to stop

Sunday evening is the end of the week for me. Sunday evening is the time of rest for me. I am very grateful for Sunday afternoon, about 3:30 p.m. when I get home. Though I wasn't particularly happy with my sermon today, nonetheless, the week is done for me. Tommorrow will come and it will start all over for me, but, for now, I am enjoying the "sabbath."

Of course, Sunday is traditionally the first day of the week, but for me, Sunday is the last day of the week. I like everything about Sunday. From a time to worship, to a time to do what is important, not simply what is most pressing. And, then to the time when it all slows down when I get home.

We need times to stop, to really stop. At least, when we are in those periods of our lives when work and home have many demands. But, when our lives seem to have less pressure, we still carry a certain amount of pressure just to live and face the challenges of living well. And, those of us who may not have as many things pressing upon us, still have that burden of living and caring for others in their living. And, we all need times to stop, to be still and know that the Lord is God.

"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up. My eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with things too great or marvelous for me. But, I have calmed and quieted my soul. Like a child that is quieted at its mother's breast, like a child that is quieted, is my soul."