Paradox Proposal-the Narrow Gate to Spirit
Jesus was using a metaphor the Judeans would have understood. He also used the metaphor "the eye of the needle" in the same way. There was a gate in the wall of Jerusalem just so narrow; camels had to be unloaded of their baggage to squeeze through and enter the city. So metaphorically, let's unload today's excess baggage and enter the city: The City of God, the world of Spirit.
Jesus often protested the excess legal "-isms" of the Pharisees, which distorted their religion.
Today's excess baggage can be much worse. We are plagued with a quartet of insidious philosophical "-isms" which, taken together, tend to eliminate religion altogether! In the previous article, "Paradigm Pondering-Why They Don't Believe" we unloaded two philosophical paradigms (subconscious, habitual thought patterns that trap the unaware): materialism and positivism.
Now we must unload the third: rationalism, the theory that reason is, in itself, a source of knowledge superior to and independent of sense perception, i.e., you can think your way to truth about religion, about God.
It makes sense to apply logic; to examine evidence, to think and to reason; thus and so is true about the physical world. With observable and repeatable evidence, first we "understand" the physical world and then "believe" what we understand to be true. Perhaps we are too used to this sequence: to understand, then believe.
But in the attempt to understand, then believe in God and a Spiritual world, we try to understand a Person or Persons, not some "thing"! We try to understand unseen Rational Beings. (Person: a rational being: perfectly subsistent, master of its own acts, and incommunicable.
A Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater, ed.) God, angels, demons, your deceased mother-in-law; all fit that definition. But can you understand a person you don't believe in or trust; or perceive to exist?
If we first try to think our way to an understanding of God so that we can believe in Him, (that old, familiar sequence: understand, then believe, that we use for knowledge of the physical world) we probably won't find Anyone. I am routinely perplexed by my own spouse. How will I think my way to an understanding of God, the Infinite One? Logic and reason are necessary, but not sufficient! Just how logical is our reasoning, anyway? "You can think your way to the truth?!"
"You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought? Let us call upon Him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases Him." (Judith 8: 12, 14, 17 NRSV)
Judith not only gives her leadership a tongue lashing, she gives us a hint!
Knowledge, wisdom and understanding come from the "mouth" of God. Saint John calls Jesus "the Word" of God; different terminology, same idea. (Judith preceded Jesus by many a moon, John followed.) But we often take the position "Because I don't understand, I can't believe." That is a classic dilemma! "Been there, done that," says the author. "I tried that for thirty years. It doesn't work!"
Saint Anselm (1033-1109) explains, "Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too, I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand." That is the narrow gate of today's culture; that is the paradox proposal; to believe first, even if bereft of understanding.
To begin to understand beyond written knowledge about God; i.e. to know God, you first must believe (or at least pretend to believe and act like it, in the author's experience; see Paradise Commander chapter VI, wherein the author progressed by pretending faith. That turned out to be sufficient as a starting place.)
Consider this. If you asked for and received the best possible single piece of evidence regarding the existence of a personal, communicating God, what would it be? How about relationship? Would that be sufficient to remove doubt? Surely, an active relationship is the best evidence of all! So go direct.
Obtain the relationship that is offered; not just ideas or concepts about God, but relationship with Him! Study helps, but ultimately, understanding flows from God through relationship, not only or first from our own mental gymnastics! Christian Scripture even tells us how to gain that relationship. We have a road map. "So I say unto you, ask and it will be given you, search, and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." ( Lk 11: 9,10 NRSV)
"Ask and it will be given.." Have you ever? Asked, that is. Belief (faith) cannot be grasped at; true faith- relationship- begins and grows out of a gift asked for. So ask for it!
The (then) agnostic author asked at mid- winter just south of Fairbanks, Alaska, even in unbelief; in the Caribbean, five years later he began to pretend faith, tongue in cheek! Relationship in a flood of confirming miracles followed; immediately! At the beginning, sincere prayer expressing desire for the truth seems to be required and sufficient, even if in pretense steeped in doubt!
It is as Saint Anselm proposed, ".I believe, that I might understand." Knowledge, wisdom and understanding take years of living in relationship with God and other Christian travelers (it's about relationship with them, too!) The gift is promised! Give it a shot! Pray! Ask! A relationship with God can develop over time, if you persevere and if you are vigilant!
And personally, I would recommend that you maintain vigilance and perseverance within the Roman Catholic Church, the only two thousand year old church founded by Christ and His Apostles in the flesh and totally true to their teachings. That is where He sent me!
"To know and not to do, is not yet to know."
Near the end of his life, famous research psychologist Carl Jung, PhD was asked if he believed in God. With a mischievous grin he said, "No!" Pausing for effect he then said, "I don't believe in Him, I know Him." That is relationship!
Lt Col Hughes, USAF (Ret), M.S., M.M., Certificated in Spiritual Direction, is the author of Paradise Commander, available at Amazon.com. "Paradox Proposal-the Narrow Gate to Spirit" follows "Paradigm Pondering-Why They Don't Believe". The way of vigilant perseverance will be explored in the next article, "Obey is a Four Letter Word", coming soon.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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