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A Little Statement on Faith

Iceland volcano: thar she blows. (Icelandic Coast Guard/AP)

There was this scholar and atheist guy in Britain, see, who became a Deist in old age and has now died. I’ve never heard of him, but his death made the papers; you can read about him here in the Chicago Tribune.

This is the part that struck me:

The son of a Methodist minister, Flew abandoned belief as a teenager because of the problem of evil.

“It just seemed flatly inconsistent to say that the universe was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. Yet there were evils in abundance which could not be put down to a consequence of human sin,” he was quoted as saying in a 2004 interview with the Sunday Times.

In the last decade of his life, scientific discoveries about the complexity of DNA led him to believe there was an intelligent creator.

Flew’s belief was in deism, involving a remote creator who takes no interest in human affairs.

Flew said he was impressed by the work of Gerald Schroeder, a physicist and Jewish theologian who wrote “The Hidden Face of God,” published in 2001.

“He pointed out the improbable statistics involved and the pure chances that have to occur. It’s simply not on to think this could occur simply by chance,” the Sunday Times quoted Flew as saying.

What does this mean for ordinary people? This fella wasn’t the first to discover that there’s evil in the world, or to blame God for it.

God’s been getting blamed like this for centuries. Hurricane in New Orleans? Bad God—or Bad People, which is more or less the same thing. Nonsense.

Earthquakes in Chile and China? Hundreds of people innocently claimed by… who? what? Must be that nasty God fellow.

Poppycock. A volcano blows in Iceland? (Or right next to our friend Leonardo’s house?) Bad God.

The fact is that the possibility of all these disastrous things is built into this rock we live on. Tectonic plates have to shift, and they don’t do so according to your schedule. Volcanoes blow. Cancers grow.

We’ve all got to die, and that’s the real issue. Why does the one I love have to die?

Because out of death comes life. Take a look in your backyard compost heap; that stuff used to be cucumbers. (But you can use it to grow tomatoes!)

If people didn’t die this rock would be so crowded that it couldn’t support life. So we’d all die. That’s just a built-in fact, Papa-san.

I believe, in Dr. Flew’s words, that “the universe was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being.” That’s exactly what I believe and know, that God is a perfectly good being.

Flew’s mistake is this: God isn’t a Topic to be Thought About, but a Person to be Experienced.

To really get to know God you have to be open to a relationship with God; and Flew never was.

A lot of people aren’t, which pains me to some extent, but it’s a fact, just like gravity. It isn’t worth arguing about, which is why I put atheists on Ignore, no matter how much they rant and rave these days.

Billions of people are open to a relationship with God; that’s why we believe, because we know in our own bodies and souls that God is immediately there.

Always; every time. A Being of incredible gentleness, love and power.

You can’t know that if you deny the possibility of it; the same as you can’t make a friend out of a stranger you don’t want to know or take the time to experience.

You’ve got to talk to that stranger, in other words. Why should she bother with you if you have no interest in her?

God’s the same way. She doesn’t go where she’s not wanted.

The Biblical term for this is that some people are “hard-hearted.” But a number of intellectuals are hard-headed.

Once Dr. Flew discovered — no, became convinced in his mind — that God exists and created this world so enormously full of life, Flew went to the fallback position: God is impersonal, never visits us, and doesn’t care.

God’s a creator only; but wouldn’t that get boring after awhile?

You set up a system, Big Bang or otherwise, a million years ago or 5000, then you sit around doing nothing all day?

Not even “Oprah”? Jeez. What would relieve the tedium?

God isn’t like that — which is why Dr. Flew’s father set his life on a different reality.

The creator of life is himself alive — which means he loves to stand and yak over the back fence.

I bet there’s a whole room in heaven just for gossip; souls sit in the TV lounge watching “Oprah” and saying, “Can you BELIEVE she just said that?”

I doubt it’s a very nice lounge, but the point is that God is alive, and of course takes a real interest in her friends.

She helps us when we need her; she desires nothing more than to be close to us.

When an earthquake ravages Haiti she just hates it; heaven’s in mourning for weeks.

But she doesn’t blame herself for it; earthquakes are part of the deal.

It’s a magnificent rock we’re living on, after all; have you seen a tulip today? My lilacs are almost out, and oh baby, they’re why I live in Indiana. Such a sweet smell, and the lilac bush came free with the house.

The onions are growing, the chives are gigantic, the rosemary’s coming back, the hostas are thriving, the azaleas, the peonies; every farmer for miles around is out right now planting corn. I heard some guy bragging he sowed 500 acres in one day!

Dr. Flew decided in his mind that Dr. Schroeder, the physicist and theologian, was right; there’s a vast Intelligence in this Design.

But Flew was too pissed off about earthquakes or somethin’: “Evils in abundance which could not be put down to a consequence of human sin.”

Yup, we die, buddy, and you just did. Welcome to the compost heap, which you will enrich.

Let me close with a little story about evils in abundance that have nothing to do with me. In my house we call ’em bugs.

I hate the little things, because I’m afraid of them. I kill every one I come across inside the house. Outside, I just scream and run.

No joke, I have a phobia. No matter how foolish this is, I’m convinced they’re all out to kill me.

I could spend my time railing against God, denouncing him for having created them, or I could calm down and try a little theological reasoning. God made our minds and that’s not to be disrespected.

“Why bugs, God? I know they do a lot of good, bees pollinate half the things we eat, but have you been stung by a bee lately? Those suckers hurt!”

I’m much calmer outdoors. Indoors if I see a bug, I’m Rambo, a killing machine. So I try to do my theological thinking outdoors by the lilac bush.

Bugs are part of the scheme somehow; they have to exist, even the freakin’ Japanese beetles (we call ’em ladybugs) that invade every house in Indiana all winter long, when “I thought winter was supposed to kill ’em! Why am I freezing my ass off if not to kill the damn bugs! Do you know what winter is like in Indiana, have you ever been here?”

God just laughs and ignores my buzzing. Some clerk in heaven jots down the code for “Anxiety attack with paranoid tendencies.”

Why are there bugs, bacteria and viruses, including the ones that cause AIDS and malaria? Didn’t God make a massive mistake?

No. We’ve got to have something that kills us, or every square inch of my yard would be full of screaming people trying to tear down my house.

If I think bugs are bad, try the humans.

They sin; that’s the Biblical term. They kill the people who are closest to God and claim they’ve done a good thing.

Reason is great, but there are some things we just can’t understand. Our brains aren’t big enough; we’re not God. So when we encounter a Topic to be Thought About that we can’t comprehend, we do well to use the rest of our human instrument, our bodies and souls, not just our cognitive organ. We may find information the brain can’t conquer.

That’s how it is for people of faith; what the brain can’t figure out, the “heart” comes to know. The heart’s learning is every bit as valid as the mind’s. People of faith respond to this extra information that comes from somewhere besides our headspace.

When we are open to this other source of learning, and don’t let the brain be a dictator but a tool, the outpouring of information is astonishing and lifelong.

I’m not just talking about mystical experience here; 99% of it’s down-to-earth and even common. That’s why we go to church, to be with people who go through the same thing. God is superlative, overwhelming, awesome, gorgeous. And more loving than anyone can imagine.

It’s personal, this love; it’s yours and mine and his and hers and everyone’s, if we’re open to it.

A lot of people aren’t, but a lot of people are. That’s our experience, our knowledge. A person can’t see what he never looked for, and Dr. Flew never looked.

All you have to do is look; you don’t have to be a smartypants to look. The parents of retarded children find God in them 80 times a day.

Flew never looked. It must have been hard on him, having that big brain and all, and never learning that the mind can be deceptive and tyrannical. You have to use the rest of your body to keep learning. Do that and God’s outpouring turns into a flood.

It is right for Christians to respect the experience of God that Hindus, Muslims, Bahai’s or Jews undergo, just as it is also right for Christians to say that Jesus is the penultimate of all; that’s our experience. Christians need deep respect and humility in meeting persons of other faiths. Dr. Schroeder, the Jewish physicist and theologian whom Flew found so convincing, had reasons outside his brain for publishing his findings. God will show himself to anyone if you ask.

As a Christian I believe that the overwhelming love embedded in the story and person of Jesus is God’s deepest, purest revelation of himself. Jesus is the transcendent figure of human history. But it doesn’t bother me a bit if other people find other paths to the Divine. We all look like bugs walking on this earth.

The one thing I must protest about is Flew’s assertion of a “a remote creator who takes no interest in human affairs.” That’s a damnable lie. Flew thought he was too good to look for God among the rocks, stars, tulips, lilacs and chives; the face of a child, the arms of a lover, the eyes of a dog.

Love is all around us; all we have to do is look for it. As Jesus said, “God is love.”++

Two little Valentines: San Francisco wedding, 2004. (Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle)