Sunday, December 17, 2006

Personal revelation

I like days when I learn something. Today I learned something by googling “personal revelation”. I expected to see a list of sites dominated by evangelicals warning how straying from the Bible turns everyone into Jim Jones and David Koresh, as I’ve heard on Christian radio and occasionally in person for years. Maybe there would be a few New Age sites trying to justify whatever wacko revelations someone has had there.

That’s not the list that came up. First off in the real list was a very serious Mormon teaching about obtaining personal revelation. It quotes Joseph Smith as writing, “No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has a testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy.” Hmmm, that’s like what Paul wrote in Romans 8:9, a statement that so many Christians ignore in favor of statements that make salvation less demanding.

It’s too bad Joseph Smith was nuts. I’m sure Paul was nuts, too, though that’s harder to document. If it’s not apparent from men like that, the article on personal revelation in Wikipedia gives more examples, at least some of whom anyone would think are nuts. Many religions started this way, if not all of them.

I would shrug my shoulders at all this except for my own spiritual experiences. They’re nuts, too, of course. Most people would say so. I’ve written about those experiences before here, about my road-to-Damascus experience almost 18 years ago and lesser appreciations of the presence of God ever since, in recent years continuously. They’re surely nuts. Certain neuroscientists even speculate what sort of disturbance in the brain causes one to experience God, whether that’s a projection, a misinterpretation of oneself, or a signal that there’s something important going on when our ordinary sensations show nothing of importance. Yes, get back to me on that when you have any physiological data at all to go with speculation that invalidates such a large chunk of human history, something more than a patient who experiences God after a seizure.

I have plenty of reasons never to have said anything about experiencing God. Yet I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, and maybe it was inevitable that eventually I would just give up and write openly about His constant presence as I have lately. I don’t know how many times God interrupted something I was writing, as I was writing, and said something, before I said, “Fine, I’ll put down that You just now corrected what I just wrote. Does that make You happy?” As a matter of fact it did.

I’ve longed to do well describing an experience even as simple as that, where the presence of God asserts itself after being quiet for a couple of pages of words I’ve written, to say these last words I wrote are wrong. I can describe the sensation of hearing God’s words, knowing that’s His voice, not mine. I can try to explain that it’s not just words, but feeling His presence, both tactilely and as something filling up part of my personal space. Where it really gets hard is that I know this presence. We’ve been round and round for 18 years, working out that He’s God, and I’m not, at least in the simplest way of seeing that. I think that’s the truly deficient part of describing this. I know this is God. No one else does.

I can imagine the circumstances that allowed other people in history to pass their own revelations on to others. Arabs needed a leader when Mohammed had his experiences of Gabriel teaching him the Quran. Jews and Christians have had their needs, too. So have others. So the hopper of religious beliefs is so full, it’s hard to believe I couldn’t find something in there that works for me. Yet I couldn’t. I am still a liberal Christian, but those Bible-believing Christians who deny that I am a Christian do have a point.

Some would say that's why I created my own God. If atheists are right about everything, then I suppose that’s what I did, but I certainly didn’t set out to do that. I surely would have had certain features of God be different if it were my choice and definitely have Him or Her just tell me one straight story that covers everything instead of all these bits and pieces I get from living in the Spirit and having the Spirit live in me. People fight so strenuously over whose truth is correct, from atheism to a just-so story like evangelical Christianity to something with a lot unknown, yet human beings are in no position to know the ultimate truth about anything, unless some spirit that knows tells us. Right now, God tells me something He has told me before, that no one knows the ultimate truth, even Him, unless there’s some Most High God He doesn’t know who hasn’t told Him. So why are people so arrogant about what they think?

I know, it is human nature to be arrogant in spite of our ignorance. So that includes me, right? I agree with that. God doesn’t. He’s right here. Ask Him if you don’t believe me.

I’ve been trying to pass this off to Him for years, telling anyone I speak to about this that the main reason I share any of this is to encourage others to seek God directly. I don’t want anyone to waste time having to learn that all religions are indeed false, and only God matters. I know people have to waste some time learning that, but I would like to make it less.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have any success in that. So I have another reason why I write about this. I’m compelled to. Something in me has to be expressed, or it just sits in me as a lump. Is it like delivering a baby? Is it like eliminating waste? If describing the presence of God is not as involuntary as those processes, it is almost as compelling.

Almost as compelling might be the part where I say anyone can experience God like this. I’m sure part of that is my egalitarian liberalism. Part of it is because I’m not about to have followers, so the only way anyone can experience what I have, or even part of it, is to approach God. Maybe the biggest part goes back to God being God, not me. He’s the one who is trustworthy, not me. So explore God yourself.

That’s what I’ve always said. Yet my appreciation that this is a lie has grown. I don’t want to claim a special relationship with God, because I know how crazy that is as much as anyone does. People who insult me by saying that I’m just talking about an imaginary friend named God have no idea how well I know that perspective that this is all nuts or that during the entire 18 years that I’ve watched the presence of God evolve around me and in me, first with a bang, then in subtle ways, I’ve known how nuts it is. I’ve been professionally trained to know it’s nuts. Yet I watch and fight with the experience until the experience shows me that it’s just not natural. It’s not me. It’s God, whoever and whatever God is. This is God, the same God everyone has ever experienced, only I experience Him with the benefit of what I know, and we evolve together. God does change. He and She both say so.

I don’t suppose everyone can experience that, despite that sometimes my words say they can. Even people who hear from God, it’s more from them than from God. I don’t know what that means. God tries to tell me, and quite frankly, I’m not going to repeat what God says on this point. It’s been said by others in other ways. It’s not important for people to understand better, except people could back off from making so much of their lives about following religion or resisting religion. It’s God that matters, not religion. I don’t know how to tell people that more than I have.

It’s not a revelation. It’s a relationship with God. It’s not an idea. It’s a way to live. It’ a way to live that even after thousands of years of hearing about it people don’t understand. People want rules they can follow. People want to be in charge of their lives, to be free apart from whatever rules they have to keep out of trouble. Yet we are connected to things larger than us by biology, culture and Spirit. We cannot be free of that. The conflicts between our desires and reality will be worked out eventually. My confidence in that is both through reason and revelation. It’s a powerful thing when those agree.


The Lizard Queen said...

I recently read Under the Banner of Heaven, which goes into the history of the Mormon faith. It's quite fascinating, though it made me wonder even more how people can buy into Mormonism...

DavidD said...

It was so thoroughly ridiculed in the 19th century, and Joseph Smith was so clearly nuts in some sense of the word, yet now it's respectable. That Gov. Romney could be President is like a Scientologist becoming President in a hundred years. I suppose it could happen.

Then again if you decide that no religious fantasies are real, as opposed to all but one religion being fantasy, then it can be less peculiar. That's not how atheists see it, but then atheism is it's own fantasy of what lies beyond the knowable. One can accept that human nature is to cling to fantasy, theist or atheist, and that it's a biased process to judge how bizarre the fantasy, no matter who is doing it.

For me, it's been a real issue to decide if I accept what God tells me over what's been published by evangelicals and New Age writers as direct quotes, as opposed to all these being equally suspect or equally reliable. I decided to believe what God tells me. He hasn't told me anything novel. Nothing I hear is as inventive as Joseph Smith was. Mostly I know God has limits and changes, unlike a traditional God. I suppose He could talk me into something previously unknown, but He doesn't. He says He has gotten some real things through about Him in past centuries, but there is so much fanatsy and metaphor that it's not like all religions are true. They're all false, and it's the falseness that makes them oppressive, including Mormonism, not the parts that really come from God and the Spirit.