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people assume that the role of religion is to help one find God. But is that
what it actually does?
Not really. That is what religion tries to do, or believes it is doing, but it is only showing you what little piece of God they've foundsort of like a divine fossil. The real God, the one that loves, accepts, and forgives unconditionally, is found in you. He/she is that quiet voice you hear whispering "I love you" at the precise moment you feel a warm breeze caress your hair. It's that part of you that cries at sad movies and sings along with the car radio and likes ice cream cones and sometimes doesn't mind getting mud all over itself. It's that which knows your every thought, your every worry, your every concern. It's as much a part of you as your arm or your right ear or your third bicuspid molar. And you find this God withinresiding in the deepest part of your beinglying there where she has always been, waiting for you to but call her name. He is intuition, gut feeling, that which "seems" right.
Religions of all brandsand especially Christianitytell us the one thing we must never do is base truth on our "feelings." The Bible even tells us that " there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to death." That is religion talking. Religion tells you not to "feel," not to go by instinct, not to let your emotions do your thinking for they can't be trusted. They tell you that's because you're a born sinner, and as such your sin "nature" will manufacture feelings about God specifically designed to lead you astray. That's why you must submit everything to the ultimate prism of truth: the Bible (or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, or whatever book you want to insert here.) If it's not in the "Word," it isn't true. Even if every fiber of your being knows God would never send dear old Aunt Ednathe tarot card queento hell, the Bible will set you straight. Even if you could never imagine how God could condone the slaughter of women and children, you have the Bible to tell you not only that He would, by why it was necessary. You see, you don't have to think about what you believeonly believe. And, especially, believe what they want you to believe, because God will only forgive those who have the "right" book and the "correct" beliefs.
Nobody understood this better than Jesus. That's why he saved his harshest criticism for the Pharisees, men who had a "form of godliness but denied the power thereof." It was through their laws and endless litany of petty rules that they were able to ignoreeven suppresstheir "feelings" and so choose to subjugate them to the opinions of mere men. Even if the laws themselves were for the most part useful, they caused those who followed them to lose sight of the source they were intended to illuminate and even came to eventually obstruct their view of God entirely. Jesus' words were harsh and, on the surface, even cruel, but they were necessary for their own good if they were ever to someday break out of their prisons of certainty. We must do the same or, like them, we will always remain "the blind leading the blind", safe and snug in the warm confines of our tightly wound dogmas but of little use to either ourselves or others.
Prodigal Son II (The Sequel)
Since I always enjoy parables, I thought the best way to better illustrate this point is with one. Actually, mine is not a new, original parable, but one I stole from Jesus (I don't think he'll mind). It's a take off on the prodigal son story, with a few of my own embellishments. I hope you enjoy it.
One day a man's youngest son came to him seeking wisdom, for he was greatly vexed in heart and mind.
"Father," he said, "I have lived in your house all my life. It has been a good home, full of love and wisdom, and I have never suffered want while under your roof. But I look from my window and see the lights of the great cities, and I read of the larger world that exists outside our gates, and I wonder about it. I wish to know about it, Father," he exclaimed. "Is it wrong to want to see what lies beyond the doors of our home in the greater kingdom?"
Instead of being angry or upset, as the boy thought he surely would be, his Father only smiled and put his arms around him. "My son, I have waited many years for you to finally build up the courage to ask such a question. In fact, it has been my goal all along that you should see it. I have held nothing from you. You have only withheld it from yourself because you were not yet ready to perceive it all."
"Then is it acceptable if I take my inheritance and see for myself? I will not squander it, as some suggest I am capable of doing, on fulfilling the desires of the flesh. I wish only to understand," the son said.
"Of course you may take your leave. You were never my prisoner, my son. You see, the cities you wonder about, the adventures you ponder, they are all a part of my kingdom as well. So yes, go and see for yourself. Examine the wonders of my kingdom, for they are as many and varied as the stars in the heavens. Seek them out for the wisdom and knowledge they hold. Call upon me whenever you wish. I will be here."
With that the young man struck out towards the lights of the great cities, content in the fact his Father loved him and would never forsake him. Once he was out of sight of their home, the older brotherwho had watched him leave from his bedroom windowwent to his Father.
"Father, how could you let my brother leave the safety of our home? There are wild beasts and robbers out there waiting for those such as him," he exclaimed. "Surely they will tear him to pieces!"
His Father smiled. "True, there are dangers without, just as there are dangers within, but I have prepared my son for the journey. I cannot keep him here for he does not truly belong to me. He is ready to find his own path, just as you will be one day once you vanquish the fear of 'what lies beyond' as your brother has."
"Never will I leave our home!" the eldest brother protested. "To do so would be foolishness and death!"
"Not true, my child. To stay when you no longer are able to learn would be foolishness," he gently corrected, "and to stay purely because you are too afraid to leave is death of the soul. Your brother has chosen the wiser path, though not necessarily the easier one. It is a path he must walk alone."
"But what if he is overtaken by the beasts of the fieldthe lions and the she bears? What of my brother then?"
"Indeed, what then?" the Father replied. "He will still be my son and I his Father. Nothing will have changed. Each man must ask himself whether the risks are worth it, and only each man can answer that question for himself."
"But why?" the eldest son asked. "Why take such a chance? What could he possibly gain in doing so that he doesn't already have here, in our home?"
"Knowing," the Father answered simply. "That is the only reason I brought him forth. It is the only reason I have brought any of my children forth. It is the only reason for being. One day, my son, you shall understand."
Life is a search for meaning. It's the only thing it's good for! We are all prodigals searching for the truthwhether we know it or not. We are even if we don't care that we are.
But more important is the fact that every prodigal has a kind and loving Father to which they may return when they're ready. The prodigal in Jesus' story came home to his Father with his tail tucked between his legs, ready for and expecting to be punished. I'm afraid all too many of us approach God exactly that same way. We feel unworthy, lowly, dirty. We would happily settle for the most menial job and eat scraps from the table if the Father would only take us back.
But no. He clothes our nakedness and puts rings on our fingers, and kills the fatted calf to celebrate. His son was once dead but now is alive! He rejoices that we have returned home. No questions askedno accusations madeno repayment of squandered inheritance required. Just simple forgiveness and exuberant love.
Here is really what God is like. Forget His jealousy (for whom is there to be jealous if?) Forget His righteous anger (for what can we do that would truly injure Him?) Forget His eternal punishment (for what would it benefit Him to torture or destroy that which He loves?) Leave the angry God and seek out the God of love. He invites us to. He wants nothing more.
God is love. Love is God. To know love is to know God. To know God is to love others as the God they are. If you get nothing else from this site, I hope you get at least that. Hold on to it. Embrace it. Live it. It will change your life forever.
Now, go and seek your own vision of God. He is waiting to meet you and introduce himslefas he has already done within the confines of your heart.
Listen. Do you hear Him?
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