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The word God carries many diverse connotations. It’s kind of a nebulous term. I have learned that when I use the term I end up confusing some people and thus it’s easy to misunderstand my point. You see, some people have a narrow and very particular idea about God while others have a wider, less determinant idea. Thus the term God isn’t helpful to everyone. I have found that using the term “Ultimate Reality” or talking about “Truth” are other ways to get at the ideas and theology that are behind the word God. Of course, some of my more religious followers mistakenly assume that I am conveying some diminished form of the Gospel simply because I opt for inclusivity rather than exclusivity. I simply prefer not to put up barriers for anyone. None of us ever start with the bar that high.
Our world loves reality whereas it may not love God. However, I think most of us are confused about what REALITY is. For example, we have reality TV. While the characters in these shows may not be scripting everything, clearly these shows are totally staged. Thus they are not really REAL, but contrived reality. Furthermore, watching a TV show is anything but real. Most people have a spectator mentality, and I think this is a key consideration in why we are confused about reality.
Reality cannot be fully known from afar. It must be experienced up close and personal. This is not to say we cannot learn from vicarious experience, only that learning and knowing are not the same. Gaining knowledge is absolutely valuable, but it is not the same as experiential knowledge. Sometimes vicarious knowledge is all we can ever have, as in men who will never know (experientially) what it is like to be pregnant. A couvade syndrome (sympathetic pregnancy) is as close as men can get. We can only get knowledge of our sun from a distance. Our best experience is 93,000,000 miles away; if we get too close, it’s all over. I think this why so many are confused about Ultimate Reality, because our default mode is to spectate and live vicariously. We learn about stuff, but we don’t get all in. We hedge our bets. We play it safe.
Talking about God is like this. Theology is like this. Churches, pastors and parishioners often are only spectators. Bible study and theology are great tools to help us get a glimpse at God, but they are not God. For example, a map of the beach is great, but it is not the same has having one’s feet in the sand. We learn ABOUT God, rather than EXPERIENCE God.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon learning for experience, nor vice-versa.We need sacred text to inform our experience, and we must have experience to inform our grasp of the text. What is amazing is that science is figuring this out. The quantum physics department is now beginning to talk to the biophysics department, and non empirical realities like consciousness are starting to be understood in new ways. Ultimate reality is no longer matter and motion, instead ultimate reality is an interconnected relationship between the cosmos and non-physical reality or consciousness. Science is saying what religion has been teaching, there is both word and flesh (John 1:1-7).
However, much of religious practice ends up as a spectator approach to Ultimate Reality. We wind everything up into a tidy little salvation narrative. We then assign a bunch of duties and requirements, or a particular yoga practice, or establish five pillars or ten rules and then if we keep our head down and suspend our unbelief long enough, then we’ll get a prize at the end. It is also exclusive to, and competitive with other perspectives. This means that each sees their perspective as having THE secret sauce.This is the message religion is giving the modern world. Is it any wonder the world looks on and says, “I don’t see God in there.”
Now I’m going to switch gears. There is one place where the entire world never lacks confusion about reality. There is one place where learned knowledge and experiential knowledge converge: PAIN
Pain is an entry point for the world to apprehend a bit of Ultimate Reality. Pain is a doorway through which we all pass. There is so much diversity of pain too. There is physical pain, chronic or acute, emotional pain, social pain, economic pain, and spiritual pain. It also comes in various levels. Some pain we get over quickly, others never. Protracted pain is called suffering. Pain is something we feel sympathetically for others via our Vegus Nerve. We are wired to connect to each other through this. We watch another get hurt and we experience sympathetic pain. Ultimate reality can be seen through this portal.
Pain illuminates my point here. When it comes to pain, none of us are spectators only. We all possess experiential knowledge. Though our toe may not hurt right now, nearly all of us know what it feels like to stub our toe. This should illicit from each of us a tremendous amount of compassion for others. Sadly our modern life anesthetizes us to this. We are taught that we are born this way, that we are disconnected and distinct from others and from all aspects of the world. We are taught otherness. Pain is a shared experience and as such it has a greater purpose of bringing us together.
Let’s go one step deeper now. People often doubt the existence of God precisely because there is so much pain and suffering in the world. This is a valid question about how pain can exist if God is both loving and powerful. Hopefully now you can see why I started by talking about how we are confused spectators. I think the reason I am so compelled to the messianic story is that this is not a story of a spectator God. This is not Ultimate Reality that knows us from long distance. This God-story is acquainted with our pain and grief and suffering (Isaiah 53:3-4). A God who has experiential knowledge of pain, most certainly has compassion for ours (Hebrews 4:15). This God’s pain story is a shared experience with ours and it has a purpose of bringing us together. God is quantumly entangled with us.
You could say this Painful Reality. As such it immediately cancels out any notion that pain is ever senseless. The worst thing that could ever happen to humanity, happened to God. That is Painful Ultimate Reality. This makes pain meaningful. Even beautiful. It’s not supposed to be enjoyable, but it does build us and helps us grow up. Pain is the very love of God coming to us in and as our pain. It is His/Her pain. Pain experientially connects us to Ultimate Reality. And no one is left out. All humanity is given this. It is a solidarity that is apprehended like no other means, and pain is only temporary. When pain is gone, what is left in its place is a new kind of transformed humanity, because we are all shaped by our pain. If we ignore our pain, we risk not learning from it. Those who have been through pain are responsible to reach out to those in pain.
Scars are beautiful because they are not contrived reality. Scars tell us we didn’t settle for the sidelines or a couvade syndrome pregnancy. Scars help us see God and others because they are the point where reality and ideas converge. It is the juncture between material and spiritual, nonphysical and physical, word and flesh, body and spirit. Both are ultimately and painfully REAL.