Searching for Faith

Allen Browne

(Photo: Unsplash)

If you’re searching for faith, where do you look? Would you find God out there somewhere? Or should you look within to find the energy that permeates all things?

In the West, we tend to think of God as existing beyond ourselves. “The truth is out there,” Moulder tells Scully as they search for life. Monty Python was less convinced: “Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’cause theres bugger all down here on Earth.” The first cosmonaut said, “I looked and looked and looked, but I didn’t see God.”

In the East, people tend to look within, to reconnect themselves with the lifeforce that pervades all things. Meditation stills my life, harmonizing the lines of energy that flow within me, bringing me into oneness with “the everything.” For some faiths, enlightenment is the awareness that “the everything” is “the nothing,” for the meaning was in the search not the destination.

In the globalized world, the distance between East and West is shrinking. We’re not giving up on spirituality, but we are moving beyond traditional faiths. We search for a faith of our own because we don’t trust our religious leaders. Religion has been used to control our behaviours, imposing ethical and religious obligations we don’t want.

Even before Moses, religions required people to bring their animals to sacrifice to appease the anger of the gods. It was tough trying to keep competing gods happy, but monotheistic faiths have obligations too. The obligation in Islam is to live in submission to whatever God wills. The obligation in Judaism is to obey the Law God gave his people. The obligation in Christianity is to live to honour God.

Where would you find God?

Since the spiritual realm isn’t visible, where do you look? Many religions have images to stand in for the gods. Some have priests to mediate the faith. Others have sharmans to repel bad spirits and attract good ones.

Most faiths provide some instruction to help seekers connect with the divine. For Aboriginal faiths, the dreamtime stories tell how the ancestors recognized the spirits in all things and how the world came to be the way it is. For Buddhists, Siddhartha Gautama revealed the path of enlightenment. For Muslims, Mohammed was the prophet who delivered the revelation of God. For Judaism, Moses and the prophets spoke on behalf of God. For Christians, God is visible in the person of Jesus. Many of us look for God’s likeness in others.

Our understanding of God matters because we become like the God we worship.

How do you find God?

The great faiths tell stories about how God is found. In Judaism, for example, the story begins with humans communing with God as naturally as friends on an evening stroll. And it isn’t God who hides; it’s the humans who feel uncovered in his presence (Genesis 3:8).

Later, the same fear overcame Israel when they heard God speaking at Sinai: They trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:18-19).

The prophets of Israel affirmed this picture of God as more willing to be found than we are to find him. I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations …” (Isaiah 65:1-2).

Christianity accepts God’s revelation of himself to the Jewish people, and goes on to describe the ultimate revelation of God in one Jewish person. The Christian letter to the Hebrews opens like this: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:1-3).

What if God is not as we expect?

Do you realize how strange it is to say that Jesus of Nazareth is the exact representation of God’s being? Christians are saying that we don’t find God with a telescope or a microscope, not by looking out there or within the self. We find God in a backwater village of Galilee, a region of Israel lost to the nation 700 years earlier.

If that’s right, we discover that God was not aligned with the religious leaders who tried to make the Galilean villagers behave; he was more concerned about their suffering. God was not even aligned with the religious leaders at the Jerusalem temple, for his presence threatened their power. God was sitting at table with those the religious leaders rejected as “sinners.” God was in touch with those who were isolated as “unclean” because of weeping sores or skin conditions.

Finding God in the person who was rejected and killed by the religious and political leaders is unexpected. We expect God to be powerful, not revealed in weakness. We expected God to be a roaring lion pouncing on evil in his enemies. We never imagined God as a gentle lamb absorbing evil from his enemies.

The problem with this Christian view of God is our vulnerability when we join him. It’s easier to condemn people than to take the way of the cross. But what if we did? Would evil eventually disappear if we followed the Lamb?

Finding God leads us beyond anything we’d imagined. As Star Trek fans used to say, It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.

More than out there or in the self, we need to see God in each other.

Related posts

Related podcasts

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia
View all posts by Allen Browne

Used with permission of the author, Allen Browne.

Related Blogs