My second area of questioning

I’m hoping to edit this posting to make it a bit more like the original book. So here goes!!!

2. The underlying emphasis of humanity being sinful and worthless, both in the Bible and similar in many ways to that which is presented in the past and current church services I attend.

This second fundamental which is basic to what I have been taught by the church and I now seriously question, could lead me into depression if I took it too personally. I believe the dark side of humanity is tragic and so real. Human sinfulness and unworthiness cannot be ignored because it is all too evident everywhere we look. Many good human initiatives fall well short of expectations because of greed, lust for power, unbridled hatred, the dominance of our super-ego and so many other human failings. These failings prompt us to do horrendous things to our Earth home and to each other. Without wishing to absolve personal responsibility, I think these human emotions/attitudes/activities are very often initiated and exacerbated by fear, ignorance, peer pressure or the pressure of institutions and exclusive, elite communities to which we belong. Unfortunately I am sometimes sucked into this way of thinking and acting. When we think about it, we know we could do far better as a human race and we know we could also improve our own personal behaviour. We are not without fault for many of the bad things that happen.

In the secular environment in which I live, I am continuously confronted with stories and news about this negative side of life. I need to remind myself of the following injunction as being an appropriate and wholesome attitude to life, even my life.

‘Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Philippians 4:8.)

I find it very sad that the mantra for the mass media seems to be,

Finally publishers, whatever is false, whatever is criminal, whatever is unjust, whatever is profane, whatever is abusive, whatever is violent, whatever is corrupt, if there is any scandal, if there is anything worthy of punishment, publish these things. They sell!

Not long ago, I decided to reconsider whether I wished to continue the practice of being woken up at 7am with the national news, broadcast on my bedside radio. I was guided by the thought, ‘If there is one, just one good news story in the first three, in any of the next four mornings, I would continue the practice.’ After this four-morning trial, I ceased the practice. It was just too negative. I don’t find it helpful to commence my day with stories about tragic events or about the bad, corrupt, criminal, abusive behaviour of humans. I now call the evening television news, ‘The Police News’. Most times this title is accurate because of what is served up every evening. When reading the newspapers, I often skim over the headlines of the articles. In the first five or so pages of the daily newspaper we get, I would estimate that often, something like 80% of the articles are about this negative side of life and human behaviour. From all this continuous exposure, we could gain the impression that all life is bad, sordid and uninviting. I don’t need the church and my experience in it, to confirm this impression.
I find there are four areas of concern.

A. The earliest Bible stories.
B. Church teachings and the story of the Fall.
C. Current church liturgies.
D. Hymns we are requested to sing.

A. The earliest Bible stories.

There is an emphasis in the earliest, and well-known stories of the Bible of this downside of humanity. This emphasis continues into the New Testament teachings.
The Christian environment in which I have be brought up, has as part of its tradition, the Hebrew biblical pre-history stories in chapters 1-11 of Genesis. In these chapters, humans are portrayed as disobedient and self-indulgent in the Garden of Eden story, and then as murderous in the next story about Cain and Abel. It takes Genesis only about 100 verses, excluding those which list names in genealogies, to arrive at the summation that all of humanity deserve the death penalty because of their wickedness. The story of Noah and the ark tells of this mass execution, yet it has been taught in Sunday School for centuries. WHY?

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, I will blot out man whom I created from the face of the ground, and beasts and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7.)

In these early biblical stories there is no story of human love and compassion. There is not even a hint that humans have the ability or inclination to be concerned about one-another’s well-being. I find this tragic. There is but one comment that any human had a positive side. It is said in Genesis 6:8 that Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord and that he was a righteous man. In the rest of the Bible I can find no collective noun that describes humans as being good in any way. Maybe I have not looked diligently enough. However, the negative side is still prominent in the biblical instruction of the New Testament, with the collective noun ‘sinners’ being used quite often,

But God shows his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners…. (Romans 5:8.)

B. Church teachings and the story of the Fall.

There is an emphasis in church teachings I have received, that humans in general, are to be regarded as totally unworthy. With the continued importance in church teachings given to the ‘Story of the Fall’ (The Garden of Eden story in Genesis 3), I find it little wonder that Augustine in the early 1st Century CE (Common Era), and later that Luther and Calvin in the 16th Century, taught that humans were ‘totally depraved from conception’.

Total depravity is the fallen state of human beings as a result of original sin. The doctrine of ‘total depravity’ asserts that people are, because of this fall, not inclined or even able to love God as they should, but rather are inclined, by nature, to serve their own will and desires. Even religion and philanthropy are wicked to God because they originate from the selfish human desire and are not done to the glory of God. This doctrine obviously continues to emphasise the negative side of humanity. I sometimes feel like calling this doctrine ‘totally depraved’.

C. Current church liturgies.

Liturgies used in church services remind all members of the congregation, every Sunday, that we are sinful and unworthy.

It is my experience that prayers of confession are often quite detailed and encourage church attendees to own the sins mentioned. We are left in little doubt about how bad we are, even though we have the words of God’s forgiveness pronounced immediately following the prayer. I sometimes wonder if these words have the effect intended. In church services which include the Mass, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the liturgy, in which those present and requested to participate, requests the mercy of God up to 8 times.

Again this emphasises human unworthiness, needing God’s mercy. In church services I have attended over 80 or more years, I have never been asked to participate in a prayer which gives thanks for my/our virtue or good behaviour. Do I/we exhibit none of this? I am told to be careful lest I slip into pride. In liturgies of confession I experience very Sunday, I don’t think I am likely to slip into pride and remain there.

D. Hymns we are requested to sing.

Very important for me, is the sentiment and ideas in the lyrics of many of the hymns we are requested to sing in church services. So many refer to human-beings as members of Adam’s fallen race, unworthy and needing God’s forgiveness and mercy. One I remember well from my past church experience, which was sung very often, has the words in each verse,

Before thy throne we sinners bend…. [1]

The whole hymn is a plea for God’s mercy and grace. God is pushed further away, onto God’s throne, separate and distant, and this God is pleaded with for forgiveness and mercy, neither of course, being deserved.

One hymn I have recently learned means a lot to me. The middle verses are,

No need to fear; Love sets no limits;
No need to fear; Love never ends.
Don’t run away shamed and disheartened;
Rest in my love; trust me again.

I came to call sinners, not just the righteous;
I came to bring peace; not to condemn;
Each time you fail to live by my promise,
Why do you think I’d love you the less. [2]

I find the sentiments expressed poignant and personal, powerful and persuasive. I am pleased this hymn is in the hymnbook we use and I am pleased to sing it each time it is chosen. However, it is all about my unworthiness and in spite of this, God’s constant love. This affirmation about God is positive and powerful. The ‘Bad News’ about me is countered by the ‘Good News’ about God. Is there not any ‘Good News’ at all, about me?

I believe that numerous church-goers put considerable and continuing effort into living loving lives as Jesus’ disciples. Do we always fail miserably? Could this human effort and the success of sometimes living a virtuous life, be affirmed and celebrated, at least occasionally? It is my experience that it practically never is; sometimes maybe in the sermon but not in current liturgies and hymns we are asked to sing. I believe recognition of this positive side of humanity should be acknowledged and affirmed in church services.

So what for me now?

I was very pleased the other day to receive an email which commenced with,

There is nothing in nature like the daily acts of kindness that characterise humanity. We are by far and away the most altruistic of all known species.

There was no identifying sender and no attribution to the quote given. However I thought, ‘I’m pleased that someone can say something good about humanity.’
My belief is that humans are basically good but, of course, capable of wrong doing in the extreme. As I have previously asserted, God Within gives us all a positive divine dimension. God Within is exposed in a million places by millions of people in millions of unreported human encounters. These loving encounters are sometimes prompted in rebellion to the behaviour of the powerful, when they behave badly, irresponsibly or corruptly.

Many of the expressions of love and compassion occur quite spontaneously, especially in response to some particular and urgent human need. Recently my wife had a serious fall in a public carpark. When she fell, she chipped a front tooth and hurt one of her knees badly. She was crying and calling out for help. I have never seen her so distressed. Thankfully no bones were broken. Within a few seconds, literally, there were four strangers with us, all wanting to lend assistance. They were able to help and for that, we were very thankful. This example demonstrated to me what just about always happens when someone is in trouble like that. It is ordinary and probably that is why it never gets into the television news. It’s not sensational. Thank goodness it’s ordinary. It happens all the time. Little people keep love alive.

Why do I think that humans are basically good? It is because I believe that God is inherent in all life, within in a way that human-beings can experience, appreciate and respond to. This God dimension, I suggest is not dependent on adherence to any particular set of creeds or beliefs, not especially evident in religious people, not the prior possession of any particular human group or culture, but universally inherent. Human goodness, the God dimension of humanity, is exposed, expressed and seen whenever love and compassion are lived. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that humans are spontaneously good and concerned for one another. I believe it is the millions of little people who produce this evidence. Why are there so many voluntary organisations which depend totally on the good will, unpaid support and effort of ordinary people?

Reportedly, in his last essay, Steve Jobs, before he died, wrote,

There is a big difference between a human being and being human. [3]

He is using the word ‘human’ in a positive sense and I think he is affirming that goodness is the essence of humanity but, of course, human beings do not always let it shine through. He is implying that to be ‘human’ is to be good. I agree.

I am certainly not saying that humans are in no need of forgiveness and reconciliation, both within themselves and between them and others, but I am saying that this is not the whole story.

In my lyrics below, I suggest there is a praiseworthy side of humanity. So much spontaneous love and concern as well as premeditated love and concern is shown by human beings to other human beings with no thought of reward or even recognition. Many may not call their behaviour actions of love and concern, but that’s what they are.

Recently I heard of a neighbour breaking a window of a house which was on fire, to rescue two elderly people trapped inside. After the fire was put out and the two elderly people were safe and well, someone said to the neighbour, who had risked his own life, that he was a hero. His reply was, “Well that’s a bit ridiculous. Anyone else would have done the same.” This sort of comment is made so often by ordinary people.

Little people keep love alive.

This is my experience in life and my beliefs need to reflect it.

From my lyrics No. 9.
Humans Do Amazing Things
Tune Ebenezer
When surrounded with adversity
Humans do amazing things.
When struck down by grim calamity
Humans do amazing things.
Strangers risk their lives to rescue;
Danger ignored; the trapped must be freed;
People are of priceless value;
All to help each one in need.

I was speaking to one of my friends the other day and asked her about what she was doing. She said she was putting a lot of her time into helping refugees, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who had settled in Australia. She said she helped with English language learning classes on a weekly basis and recently had bought and made available, sewing machines to some of the women who wished to learn how to make their own clothes, etc. She said this latest exercise took a lot of time and effort from her, because all sewing machines are different and she had to learn how to use them before she could teach anyone else how to use them. I was surprised because I thought sewing machines were just sewing machines. Even though she sometimes got worn out with the refugees’ many and varied requests for help, she said she loved it all.

I do not believe she told me all this to get praise from me but she told me, just in answer to my questions. She was telling me about her life and activities. However, I felt inspired. What a wonderful way to spend one’s life.

Little people keep love alive.

In different words and from my theological background, I wish to say, “The kingdom of God is alive and well.” Are we all ‘totally depraved from conception’? I think not.

From my lyrics No. 10.

The Beauty Within Us
Tune To God be the Glory

The beauty within us – the impulse to care
Is God’s image planted, of which we are heir;
For friend and for stranger when need is severe
Our heart gives attention; our help is sincere.
When we heed others’ need
And no matter how small,
When we heed others’ need
We respond to God’s call;
With God deep within us, our spirit is bold;
The Christ is then present; his love we unfold.

I believe there is an innate goodness in human-beings. God Within shines so brightly if we decide to let it.

In all this, my panentheism is very evident and the basis of what I believe about human beings. We all have a divine dimension; God Within. We are in God and God is in us.
I have to ‘faithfully reject’ what I understand to be this fundamental of the orthodox Christianity’s emphasis, regarding the sinfulness and unworthiness of humanity. I don’t have to ‘Start all over again’ but I have to reconstruct considerably, this emphasis that I have been taught in the past by the church so that I can accept some balance about how I regard humans and myself and their/my behaviour.
[1] Edward Cooper, Together in Song, Hymn No. 131, every verse.
[2] Deirdre Browne, Together in Song, Hymn No. 693, verses 2& 3.
[3] Steve Jobs, The world’s six best doctors.

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My first area of questioning

I think I have mastered the way to [ost on my blog so I am going at it.
1. The biblical presentation of God, similar in many ways to that which is presented in the past and current church services I attend.
In the ‘clearing out’, ‘faithful rejection’ process, when I am speaking of theism, I am not referring to the idea of a grand old man sitting on a throne above the clouds in the sky. I think most church-goers have dispensed with this centuries-old concept. However the theism, I am speaking of, is born out of this ancient set of ideas.
This theism espouses the idea that God is a separate Being, not inherent in the universe but distinct from it and all that is in it. This theism asserts that this Being created all things, has relationships with human beings and enters into, or intervenes in the world of human affairs to execute God’s will. This theism is what I refer to by the term ‘supernatural theism’. This separate God has been presented to me as having attributes of, and behaving like a super, almighty human being, sometimes violently. This is all consistent with the biblical presentation of God so I also use the term ‘biblical theism’.
I have four main areas of questioning.
A. An anthropomorphic God.
B. A person-ised God, separate from humanity and ‘away’.
C. An ultra-violent and punitive God.
D. An almighty God, always in control of everything at all times and places.

These are certainly not the only emphases in the teachings about God I have received. Other images of God presented to me have been helpful and remain with me. But, concentrating on what I have to ‘clear out’, these four areas have all been significant in my past church instruction that have caused me much questioning.

I believe these four teaching emphases have not been different to those given to many other regular church-goers.
A. An anthropomorphic God.
Even though God has been presented to me in some abstract ways, nearly all throughout the Bible, God is presented anthropomorphically as a super human-being with human attributes. In both the Old Testament and the New, there is a continuous use of anthropomorphisms regarding God.
‘Anthropos’ is the Greek word for ‘man’ or ‘human’. An anthropomorphism, when speaking of God, is a statement that uses words and concepts, emotions and behaviours which are appropriately used when speaking of human-beings and their activities. These anthropomorphisms all seem to be describing God, the essence and nature of God, the activity of God and what prompts God to do what God does.
This presentation of God that I have experienced in the past, is a very major problem to me now. Nearly every time God is spoken of, words used which try to describe the activity of God, the nature of God, the relationship of God to things or humans, etc., are couched in anthropomorphic language and pictures. The Bible is full of it and my past church teachings are full of it. Church dogma and doctrine are also full of it.
I find it all unhelpful. It always makes God far too small for me.
The only verb I can use now, is ‘is’. ‘God is’ is about the only sentence I can use that makes much sense to me but some complain that that is not really saying anything. I can add some abstract concepts like ‘love’, ‘spirit’, etc. But I can’t say “God is loving”. That, for me, is to speak anthropomorphically, pointing to an activity of a human. Loving is what humans do. So when I use “God is”, I can follow it only with a word that does not convey an activity.
From the Bible, God has human physical features. Here are some.
• God has fingers. (Luke 11:20.)
• God has hands. (1 Peter 5:6.)
• God has arms. (Isaiah 40:10.)
• God has ears. (Nehemiah 1:6.)
• God has eyes. (Ezra 5:5.)
• God has feet. (Nahum 1:3.)

From the Bible, God does lots of things that human do. Here are some.

• God creates. (Genesis 1:1.)
• God sits. (Psalm 47:8.)
• God shuts in. (Genesis 7:16.)
• God walks. (Leviticus 26:12.)
• God goes about. (Deuteronomy 23:14.)
• God goes his way. (Genesis 18:33.)
• God calls. (Exodus 24:16.)
• God rests. (Genesis 2:2.)
• God pours out. (Joel 2:29.)
• God fights. (Joshua 10:42.)
• God destroys. (Jeremiah 15:7 8.)
• God kills. (Genesis 38:7.)
• God smites. (Exodus 12:29.)
• God speaks. (Joshua 8:18.)
• God listens. (1 Kings 17:22.)
• God looks. (Isaiah 18:4.)
• God sees. (Matthew 6:6.)
• God smells. (Genesis 8:21.)
• God laughs. (Psalm 2:4.)
• God whistles. (Isaiah 5:26, 7:18.)
• God touches. (Job 19:21.)
• God blesses. (Joshua 17:14.)
• God forgives. (Exodus 34:6-7.)
• God is a man of war. (Exodus 15:3.)

From the Bible, God is stated as experiencing many human feelings and emotions. Here are some.

• God has feelings of jealousy. (Exodus 20:5, Nahum 1:3.)
• God has feelings of hatred. (Amos 5:21.)
• God has feelings of love. (Hosea 3:1.)
• God is weary. (Jeremiah 15:6.)
• God takes delight in. (Deuteronomy 28:63.)
• God pities. (Jonah 4:11.)
• God is sorry about what God has done. (Genesis 6:6-7.)
• God is slow to anger. (Psalm 86:15.)
• God is vengeful. (Nahum 1:2.)
• God changes God’s mind. (Exodus 32:14.)
• God wants to find out. (Genesis 18:20-21.)
• God remembers. (Genesis 9:15.)

All these are but a minute sample of that which is encountered all throughout the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. Together, with numerous others, they create the constant image of God as a super-human Being.
Most of these texts are poetry or poetic and none, I believe, should be taken literally. However, although it can be difficult to speak of God in ways other than with anthropomorphisms, these are used constantly in the Bible without much effort, it would seem, to move beyond them. In many cases, I believe it was thought unnecessary to try. God was a supreme super-human and spoken of as such.
I should not be too critical of the authors; after all, most of them did their work about 2000 years ago or more. Nevertheless their writings are all there, and we, regular church-goers, are encouraged to read and study them.
God ‘lives’ and ‘acts’. These are both anthropomorphisms. That’s what humans do. God is referred to as the ‘living’ God and God is always doing things. The Bible teaches that God is deeply involved in human history, performing God’s actions. It seems to me that the whole of the story of the Bible is built on the idea that God acts in the human arena. This is all anthropomorphic talk.
I have grown up in a church environment in which people have attached the personal pronoun ‘He’, to God. ‘Father’ is constantly used when referring to God. Although the suitability of these words is hotly debated now, linking God only to the masculine gender, in my experience, their use has not been debated regarding their anthropomorphic overtones. Some clergy, who have a bit more courage than others, sometimes refer to God as ‘Mother’ and use the pronoun ‘She’, and these have been seen by many regular church-goers as adequate but maybe a bit questionable. However, the word ‘It’, used when speaking of God, has been seen as derogatory, somewhat insulting to God and thus unacceptable. ‘It’ would take away the personhood of God and this seems to be offensive. The anthropomorphic personhood of God still persists universally.
For the Bible, this anthropomorphic talk begins in Genesis chapter 1. Here, God is the only actor, the only doer. God ‘speaks’, ‘makes’ things, and then ‘observes’ what God has done. That’s what humans do. God even ‘rests’ when it is stated that all God’s work is finished. That also is what humans often do. The whole concept of a God who ‘creates’ is built on this anthropomorphic way of thinking.
This approach to God is constantly presented in church services I attend, particularly regarding God the Creator. Also, in church services, God is asked to ‘hear’ our prayers and ‘answer’ us. This God is thanked for what God ‘does’. All anthropomorphisms.
With anthropomorphic language everywhere in the Bible and in church services I attend, one might reasonably ask, “Could there be another way of speaking about God?” I believe there can be and there actually is. This anthropomorphic way of speaking is no doubt helpful in our early religious learning but for me, it should be left in Sunday School. My concept of God is no longer chained to anthropomorphic pictures. This is why I cannot speak of God as a person. To person-ise God is to think of God in categories which are inadequate and unhelpful for me now.
So what for me now?
I begin by saying that my present beliefs are panentheistic – my response to the Mystery.
I understand panentheism as the belief that God is ‘in’ everything and everything is ‘in’ God. For me, panentheism is the belief that the ‘divine’ pervades and impregnates every part of the cosmos but is not limited by it. In panentheism, God is viewed as the soul of the cosmos, the universal spirit/energy present everywhere at every time, the divine dimension of all that is, the divine fabric in which everything, including the cosmos, is clothed.
While pantheism asserts that ‘Everything is God” and ‘God is everything’, and thus limited to ‘everything’, panentheism claims that ‘God is inherent in everything’, but not limited to ‘everything’. Pantheism restricts God to all that exists whereas for panentheism, God is without limitation in time, space and all other categories.
Pantheism and panentheism should never be understood as being the same. I deal with this in more detail a little later.
Having panentheistic beliefs sets a completely new path for me, from which to view reality, the cosmos, humanity and the meaning of everything religious, including Jesus and his Cross. It supersedes any anthropomorphic image of God I have had previously. It replaces what I understand to be, the misleading idea about the separation of God from humanity – God, a separate and distinct Being. If God is ‘in’ everything and everything is ‘in’ God, there is no separation. It also precludes any violence in God. God being in absolute control becomes irrelevant. These have to do with anthropomorphic images of God.
This is so, so different to what I have believed previously, however, I still have strong connections with the Bible, with church teachings and with some of what I experience in the current church services I attend.
I replace the anthropomorphic images of God with more complicated, mystical images of ‘spirit’ and ‘energy’. These are somewhat abstract, and thus maybe more difficult to embrace. I am reminded of the teaching in a gospel conversation that Jesus has with the woman of Samaria.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24.)
Certainly not the easiest to comprehend. In this quotation, God is not ‘a spirit’, but ‘spirit’. For me, the two are different and this quote points beyond the dominant biblical images of God. However the quote includes,
…those who worship him… (John 4:24.)
This falls back into anthropomorphic talk which, for me, is a pity. God again becomes a ‘him’
To try to appreciate what I mean when talking of ‘spirit’, I go to such concepts as the spirit of Christmas; abstract but very real and experienced. We speak quite easily about the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of good-will, or the spirit of generosity, etc. I believe we can think about ‘spirit’ in the God-context, in the same way. What can be more ‘Holy’ than the spirit of reconciliation, the spirit of generosity, the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of inclusiveness? We don’t person-ise the spirit of Christmas, of generosity, of goodwill, of goodness, but we know the emotions and feelings we have when we are involved in such. We do not thank Christmas, generosity, goodwill or goodness, but we still have a very personal experience of them. To thank them, we would have to make them into Beings or persons or individual entities. We can’t do that. It would be absurd. They are not entities. They are abstract concepts but very real and experienced. I’m not sure that such concepts can be understood, but they are practised and certainly experienced and the results are wholesome. When confronted by a ‘grump’ during the Christmas period, we might say, “Get into the spirit of Christmas and stop being grumpy.” We understand what we are saying but we are not talking about a person or entity, when using the phrase ‘the spirit of Christmas’. So too with God. I can experience the God/Spirit without an outside, separate Being called God.
I do not find the word ‘energy’ in my biblical concordance, so I’m not sure that this concept is present in the biblical way of thinking. Energy is not a first century concept but it is central to modern thinking, particularly with the explosion of scientific information and the current way of understanding the cosmos. Good energy is one of the experiences, emotions we might have when encompassed by, or involved in the ‘spirit’ of Christmas, generosity, goodwill, goodness, and so on.
I also find it significant that God is referred to as love, in 1 John 4:16a, and not a loving person. This is mystically abstract.
B. A person-ised God, separate from humanity and ‘away’.
With this constant use of anthropomorphic language when speaking of God in the Bible and in current church services I attend, God is person-ised; spoken of as a person. In the teachings I have received from the church there are three persons in the Godhead.
This teaching is contained in the idea of the Trinity. There is God the Father, the first person, worshipped as the almighty Creator and in control of everything at all times and places. There is God the Son, the second person, worshipped as God revealed in human flesh. There is God the Holy Spirit, the third person, worshipped as God who gives gifts to humans, and who can dwell with and in us. Three persons in the one Trinity. This, in a nutshell, is what I have been taught by the church. This orthodox Trinity is built on the person-ising of God. I often hear the phrase, ‘God in three persons’.
For me, the orthodox Trinity seems to emphasize the separateness, distinctiveness of God and this begins biblically, in the Genesis stories. God, the Creator, is distinct from the creation. God is separate. This separation continues biblically because God ‘sent’ the Son, Jesus, to Earth. God, the Holy Spirit, has to ‘come and abide’. If there is no separation, such language is inappropriate. I no longer believe God is separate and distinct from human beings or the cosmos. God is not ‘away’.
It was suggested to me that God had to be a community of persons if God is love. It is not possible to conceive of love unless it is given and received. Hence there needed to be more than one person in the Godhead. Love is a shared experience. If God is Love, God needs to give as well as receive love. All very anthropomorphic. That’s what humans do!
God, thought of as a person, can help when trying to answer such questions as, “Who can I praise and adore? To whom do I pray? To whom can I give thanks? To whom do I confess my sins? Who forgives me?” These can all be answered fairly easily if God is thought of as a person. If God is not thought of as a person these questions can pose difficulties. I have been taught that I can have a personal relationship with God, but if God is not a person, how can this happen? As a follower of Jesus I am told to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, but if God is not a person, how can I do this? Not unreasonable questions.
Persons, by definition, are separate, distinct from one another. They can have relationships with one another but they are separate, individual and distinct. God and human beings can have relationships, very close relationships, but they are separate and distinct. This is what I was taught.
The biblical narrative also localises this person-ised God; living somewhere. Another anthropomorphism. Early in the biblical story there is the mountain of the Lord, Mt. Sinai/Mt Horeb, see Exodus 3:1, Exodus 19:17-18 and many other references. This is where Moses was given the Law, and where he, his brother Aaron and sometimes others were summoned to go to meet with God. Later in the biblical story, the tabernacle/tent, see Deuteronomy 31:14-15 and many other references, was where God had an earthy abode. Later again in the church teachings I received, I was introduced to the Holy of Holies, see Hebrews 9:3, in the temple in Jerusalem where God could be approached once a year by the high priest.
I think it is interesting that we still call churches, ‘Houses of God’.
Marcus Borg says that,
Supernatural theism images God as a person-like being. To be sure, God is an exceedingly superlative personlike being, is indeed the Supreme Being. A long time ago, this personlike being created the world as something apart from God. Thus God and the world are sharply distinguished: God is ‘up in Heaven’, ‘out there’, beyond the universe. [1]
In the early creeds of the church, which were given to me to memorise, God is person-ised, localised in Heaven, away and separate. Every Sunday I am reminded of this separation each time I am asked to say the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father which art in Heaven…. Thy will be done one Earth as it is in Heaven.
I am constantly reminded in church services I attend, that God lives in Heaven. I believe that these ideas are not taken too literally by many church-goers, however, I believe this localising of God leads to the concepts of separation and transcendence; that of God being holy and separated from sinful human beings but having special local places on Earth where this God could be approached.
I am also confronted with this separation in many of the hymns I am requested to sing in present and past church services I have attended.
Matthew Fox, discusses the subject.
Experiencing the diaphanous and transcendent God: – ‘C.G.Jung has written that there are two ways to lose your soul. One of these is to worship a god outside you.’ If he is correct, then a lot of churchgoers in the West have been losing their souls for generations to the extent that they have attended religious events where prayer is addressed to a god outside. The idea that God is ‘out there’ is probably the ultimate dualism, divorcing as it does God and humanity and reducing religion to a childish state of pleasing or pleading with a God ‘out there’. All theism sets up a model paradigm of people here and God out there. All theisms are about subject/object relationships to God. [2]
So what for me now?
Referring to some of my past church teachings, I think the writer of the Psalms may have been at least moving slightly outside the idea of God being localised, when stating a conviction about the omni-presence of God – God being everywhere.
Wither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to Heaven, Thou art there! If I make my bed is Sheol, Thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10.)
The psalmist speaks of God as present everywhere in the world in which we live. With this, God is being de-localised and thus de-person-ised to some extent.
The sayings Gospel of Thomas, an early written gospel not found in the Canon of Scripture – the Bible as we now have it – has Jesus saying,
Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there. (Saying 77.)
This saying of Jesus goes a bit further and in a slightly different direction than the Psalm, but I suggest it is along much the same lines.
I ‘faithfully affirm’ all this but wish to go a lot, lot further. I do not believe that God is present everywhere in the world as a separate, distinct Being, as the above quotes suggests, in a side-by-side association.
I believe God is ‘in’ the world/universe, inherent, united to it; ‘in’ it as its divine dimension. This is pointed to in the New Testament.
One God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all… (Ephesians 4:6.)
This suggests to me that God is more than omni-present. God is omni-inherent. The first suggests a side-by-side association whereas the second points towards the unity embraced by panentheism.
But even more please.
For me, it is not only that God is ‘in’ the cosmos, but also that the cosmos is ‘in’ God. So I go further with panentheism, believing that I am ‘in’ God. You are ‘in’ God. Everybody and everything is ‘in’ God. I find biblical statements to this effect.
In him we live and move and have our being; (Acts 17:28.)
This quotation is stated by some commentators as being a quotation from Greek poetry, probably from a stoic philosopher, but the writer of the book of Acts uses it to affirm the theological emphasis that human life and experience is ‘in’ God.
I express this emphasis in many of my lyrics, an example of which I quote. There is not the traditional side-by side association – God being with us or near us – but an ‘in-ness’, a unity emphasised.
From my lyrics No. 2.
In God We Live and Move and Be
Tune Ballerma

In God we live and move and be,
In God we have our place;
If we accept this for ourselves
Then love shines from our face.

In God we live and move and be,
In God have harmony;
We praise and celebrate with joy
This mystic unity.

The author of John’s Gospel has Jesus saying to Phillip,
Have I been so long with you and yet you do not know me, Phillip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father?” Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? (John 14:9-10.)
‘I am in the Father and the Father in me’ is for me, a statement of unity, in-dwelling, not a side-by-side relationship. The Father is not ‘with’ Jesus but ‘in’ Jesus.
The author of the epistles of John goes even further, stating,
God is love; and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16b.)
For me, this quote is saying much the same thing about humanity, whereas the previous quote from the gospel speaks only of Jesus. I suggest that the two above quotations are by no means unique in the New Testament. For me, they address my problem of the God/Humanity separation. Many times this ‘in-ness’ is mentioned by the writers of the New Testament.
When discussing matters with the Pharisees, Jesus says,
The kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21.)
There are many times when the New Testament writers speak of God being ‘in’ all, us being ‘in’ Christ and Christ being ‘in’ us; etc.
For ‘in’ him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28.)
So we, though many, are one body ‘in’ Christ. (Romans 12:5.)
Therefore if anyone is ‘in’ Christ .. (2 Corinthians 5:17.)
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives ‘in’ me. (Galatians 2:20.)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one ‘in’ Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28.)
And that Christ may dwell ‘in’ your hearts… (Ephesians 3:17.)
One God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and ‘in’ all. (Ephesians 4:6.)
He is before all things, and ‘in’ him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17.)

These texts invite me to embrace a different approach when asking the question, “How can I understand my experience of God?” I quote the above texts as examples of what I think is an emerging theme in the New Testament.
It’s also important to note that we would have this theme embraced a lot more if we had a different Canon of the New testament; one which included some of the early Christian books and writings which were available but not included in what we now have. One such book, The Gospel of Truth, has this ‘in-ness’ as a major theme of that Gospel. It states, as a teaching of Jesus,
And the Father is within them and they are in the Father. They are full and undivided from the one who is truly good. (Gospel of Truth 6:6-7.)
Mystical and like some of the sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel, but I find it helpful.
The Gospel of Mary, another Gospel originally excluded from the New Testament, also has this ‘in-ness’ as one of its main themes. I discuss these ancient documents, together with others, a bit later.
It is interesting to me that the concept of God’s ‘in-ness’ in us and our ‘in-ness’ in God does not surface in the Old Testament, not remotely. Early in the Bible story, even to say the name of God was strictly forbidden. The Jeremiah passage below moves towards in-ness, but there is still the side-by-side relationship and no unity: not for me anyway. The law or covenant is given an ‘in-ness’ but not the Lord.
But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall each teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, “Know the lord.”, for they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34.)
As always, analogies are deficient in some aspect of their use, but I go there to hopefully add a bit of meaning. When I swim in the ocean I am totally surrounded by it; I am buoyed up by it; it is beneath me and above me. My movement is in the ocean. The ocean is far bigger than that which is close to me. My experience of the ocean is very limited but that doesn’t mean the ocean is limited to my experience of it. Most of the ocean is distant from me but that does not mean the ocean is distant. It is totally present. While I am in the ocean, many other things are also in the ocean; ships, other people, fish, etc., etc. Their ‘in-ness’ doesn’t alter nor lessen my ‘in-ness’ and mine doesn’t diminish theirs.
So I am ‘in’ God but God is not limited to that experience. The limitation of this analogy is obvious, in that it does not address God’s ‘in-ness’ in me. The ocean is not ‘in’ me. There is also present the side-by side association.
Quoting again from Matthew Fox,
What is the solution to the killing of God and the losing of human soul? It is our moving from theism to panentheism. Now panentheism is not pantheism. Pantheism, which is a declared heresy because it robs God of transcendence, states that everything is God and God is everything. [3]
Fox continues,
Panentheism, on the other hand, is altogether orthodox and very fit for orthopraxis as well, for it slips in the little Greek word ‘en’ and thus means, ‘God is in everything and everything is in God.’ This experience of the presence of God in our depth and Dabhar (the creative energy ‘Word’ of God) in all the blessings and suffering of life is a mystical understanding of God. [4]
God Beyond, God Within and God Between.
God, for me, is the spirit dimension, inherent in everything and everyone, including me and you. It is a way of understanding which goes in the opposite direction to the ‘away’ God who is separate and distinct. To try to unpack this belief, I speak of ‘God Beyond’, ‘God Within’, and ‘God Between’.
When I speak of ‘God Beyond’, ‘God Within’ and ‘God Between’ I am not talking about the nature, the substance or the essence of a Being I might call God. I am trying to indicate how I ‘experience’ and how I respond to the Mystery, the Divine, the Sacred, the More – God. The experiences I include are experiences of the world beyond me, the internal experiences of personal decision making, self-examination and self-talk, as well as the experiences I have with other people. So the phrases ‘God beyond me’, ‘God within me’ and ‘God between me and others’ make sense to me.
I need to emphasise that, for me, these are not three Gods. I have little connection with the orthodox Trinity because, for me, God Beyond is not God the Father; God Within in not the Holy Spirit and God Between is not Jesus. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I have been taught, are all persons in the orthodox Trinity whereas for me, God Beyond, God Within and God Between are phrases by which I point to the different ways I ‘experience’ God. Even though God is de-person-ised, my experience of God is still very personal.
If what follows makes me an atheist or heretic, so be it. Strictly speaking I would class myself an a-theist, i.e. one who is not a theist. However, I believe in God; the ultimate Mystery. I am a panentheist, so in one sense of that word, I suppose I am some sort of theist.
What follows includes statements of my beliefs, as clear as I can make them, but which may not be easily understood. My beliefs are all so filled with Mystery that I am not sure I understand them myself. Maybe that is because I don’t always understand all my experiences but I still have them.
I don’t think I am very different to some other church-goers when I say that my beliefs begin and end in Mystery, with a capital M. Mystery is everywhere; in the minute, micro cosmos to the gigantic, limitless cosmos; in my very complex personal life and all my relationships with that which is outside me. What wonders have we yet to discover about the atom and molecules on which all our physical cosmos is partly built? What secrets are hidden in the millions of out-there galaxies which may never be understood? How can I understand myself and my behaviour? What is time? What prompts me to forgive? Why do I relish eating a banana every morning but my eldest daughter hates them? Why is there gravity? Why am I here? Who or what is God? Mystery everywhere. I am bewildered. Are there no answers? Is there no certainty to which I can cling?
I have to try to respond to this all-pervading Mystery as best I can with beliefs that help me to make some sense of it all and help me to live life abundantly. So I try to limit my comments to my personal experience of life. I ask “Where and how does God fit into my life?”, or as importantly with my present beliefs, I ask “Where and how do I fit into God?”
If I build my beliefs on my experience of life, I realise my experiences are extremely limited. It is our brain and mind that interprets all our experiences and it does so in the context of our personal history, our prejudices, our environment, our reading and thinking, our knowledge and intellect, our world view as well as our specific predispositions at the time of our experience. All this is very subjective but that is the only way I think we can approach this subject. To speak of a revelation or some objective knowledge we may think we have been given, is still to understand this in the way our brain and mind filters, appraises and interprets it. It can be no other way.
Because I take ‘living and moving and having my being in God’, very seriously, then I am never separate from God, and because I take God being ‘over all and through all and in all’, very seriously, then God is never separate from me. All my human experience is ‘in’ God and God is ‘in’ it all. I am never separate from God and God is never separate from me.
When standing in awe of nature and looking at the stars of the universe, I experience God’s awesomeness. When receiving forgiveness and love from others, I experience God’s loving. When feeling I need to visit someone, in knowing that I need to apologise, in setting the priorities of my life, I experience God’s challenging. When visiting people in nursing homes I am confronted with the God’s vulnerability. In my fearful reactions to the stormy fury of nature and the speed of comets and meteorites, I experience God’s power. In my peaceful reactions to the growth of trees and the twinkling of the sun on the surface of rippling water, I experience God’s quietness. In acknowledging the never ceasing movement of unnumbered electrons around an immeasurable number of nuclei of atoms, I am present to God’s energy. When I am with people who are sick or suffering, I am confronted with God’s pain. When trying to lift heavy weights, when walking slowly up a steep hill and when trying to swim against the tide, I am present to God’s force on our planet Earth. In the evil deeds humans do to each other, I become aware of God’s sadness. When I act in a hurtful, irresponsible way, my experience is that I am the cause of God’s sadness. In contemplation of the magic of my computer, I experience God’s minuteness and intricacy. When looking at a sunset, I am bewildered by God’s beauty. When enjoying other people’s company I experience the joy of God’s company.
Most of this is very anthropomorphic talk and I suppose I am speaking of God as a human with human emotions; etc. I am trying to express how I accept the experiences I have in life, as experiences of God’s ‘in-ness’. My experiences however, are anthropomorphic. They must be because I am human.
For me, God is known, identified in all these experiences and more, and they are all my experiences. These experiences and the recognition of them are my interactions with the Mystery, so when I have these and all other experiences I am experiencing God. God is ‘in’ them all.
Because of the immense amount of baggage that comes with the word ‘God’, I am somewhat reluctant to use it at all, however with the prepositions ‘Beyond’, ‘Within’ and ‘Between’ following it, I think it is nearly permissible.
God beyond.
To unpack my beliefs in more detail, I begin with God Beyond. For me, God is ‘in’ all. God Beyond is the divine dimension of all that is, including all that which is ‘beyond’, outside me. God Beyond is that which is not restricted to me but not distant from me. So the phrase ‘God Beyond’ is appropriate for me because nearly everything is beyond me. Other people, trees, ants, rocks, moon, stars, galaxies, most atoms, molecules, microbes and bacteria are outside, beyond me. Life is not limited to my life. There is much more. Existence is not limited to my existence. There is much, much more. I, others, and everything else have limitations but, for me, God Beyond has none. I experience God Beyond when I experience that inherent everlasting life-spirit-force, that fundamental fabric, that Ground of Being of everything that is, that happens, has happened and will happen. My experience of God Beyond includes all my observations and all my encounters, because God is the divine dimension of all I observe and encounter. When I walk around my suburb I see numerous examples of it. One is when I see a bird or birds in flight. Another is very common, when weeds, grass or even flowers push up into light and air from beneath concrete footpaths. They are probably looking for cracks through which they can emerge. That’s just what they do.
My experience of God Beyond, is that this life-force-energy-spirit is inherent. Bees swarming, rocks enduring, stars exploding, atoms in continuous internal energetic motion, animals, bugs and insects surviving and multiplying, clouds coming and going, the cosmos expanding at an ever increasing rate, all happening, all enduring, all living, all evolving, all moving, all in God and God in it all.
Not necessarily good or bad. Moral categories are irrelevant for a great deal of what I experience in God Beyond. It’s just how things are! Everything has evolved the way it has. It is all ‘in’ God and God is ‘in’ all; God Beyond.
So much of what I experience in God Beyond has nothing to do with morality. It is rather senseless to say, “The Moon loves the Earth.” That is a nonsensical statement. Love has nothing to do with it. The moon and the Earth are what they are and that’s it. They have evolved that way. Apparently they are both essential for each other’s existence and their continued survival as they are. They have a gravitational relationship, not a love relationship.
It’s like saying, “Orange likes going quickly.” That also is an absurd sentence. It is combining separate and different categories of thinking/speaking. Orange has nothing to do with likes or dislikes. It also doesn’t move. We just don’t talk that way. So it is, for me, with a lot of God Beyond. Much of what is beyond me, just is, and has nothing to do with morality, what is good or bad, loving or not. Morality, for me, has to do with God Within and God Between. Morality comes into play when humanity is involved. More of that a little later.
I experience God Beyond is that Mystery which keeps everything together. I experience being connected to everything, to everything which is other than me, beyond me. Amongst other things, evolution teaches me this. When referring to God’s dear Son, a New Testament writer states,
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17.)
Giving this verse a free and expansive interpretation, God Beyond is my experience of this; being connected and holding together. Everything in the cosmos is interdependent. Everything is connected and holds together because God is ‘in’ all and all is ‘in’ God; God Beyond.
Why do I feel guilty when there is so much inequality in the world? Why do I feel happy, even tearful, when I hear of someone, a complete stranger, being revived and has ‘come back to life’ after an accident? Because I am connected to all. Why do I shrink from pictures on the TV of millions of refugees trying to survive, none of whom I know? Why am I delighted when I see dogs happily playing together? Because I am connected to all. Why do I feel angry when I know some rich companies rip the system off by paying no tax? Why do I sit in awe of a sunset? Why do I get motivated when I know I can do something to make the world a better place? Because I am connected; because I am part of the whole; because I am in the thick of it all. God is ‘in’ me and God is ‘in’ all, holding everything together, me included.
The other day I had read to me a newspaper story of how some people smugglers, in order to escape being prosecuted, pushed people, even babies, off their boat into the Mediterranean Sea, to drown. As the story continued the person reading to me was in tears. Why? Because she was connected. We all are connected in God Beyond.
My wife and I enjoy watching Australian Rules football on TV. We are both somewhat addicted. When the team we support wins a match we happily exclaim, “We won!” Strictly speaking, we probably had nothing to do with it. But we still say “We”. Why? Because we are connected. For me, it can be no other way. Being human is being connected to all other humans in God; God Beyond.
The above may be regarded as trivial examples and maybe they are but I think they point to something far deeper; that we really are connected to all the universe. I am in the universe and the universe is in me. Psychological explanations can and are given for the feelings we have and I don’t wish to ignore these but I am still comfortable with bringing God Beyond into the picture.
I can ignore and not care about that which is beyond me, but I believe that is to deny my human-ness.
My belief is that God Beyond is the Mystery in which all things hold together. God Beyond is in all and I am there, experiencing it. I experience God Beyond as Source of the glue, the energy that keeps neutrons, electrons, positrons, protons, etc. together in the atom; as the Source of the glue, the energy that keeps atoms together in molecules, molecules in compounds, compounds in materials, materials in structures, structures in planetary, solar and galaxy systems, etc., etc. All together. This is my experience of the world, the cosmos; God Beyond. For me, God Beyond can never be thought of as a person. That is far too limiting, far too parochial, far too anthropomorphic.
A person-ised God who is separate from humanity and ‘away’, makes no sense to me.
A major statement of my belief now is, ‘My experience of God Beyond is of a totally limitless inherent Mystery in all.’
From my lyrics No. 3.
God Beyond
Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos

Time and space are both a mystery;
God is beyond.
Limitless yet with a history;
God is beyond.
When we think of human millions,
Study galaxies in billions,
When we ponder stars in trillions,
God is beyond.

In nonillions*, yet are living;
God is beyond;
Tiny cells are unforgiving;
God is beyond;
Genes bequeath to us our hist’ry,
Germs attack and give no mercy,
Microscopic – all is mystery;
God is beyond.

*A nonillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
There are at least 5 nonillion bacteria on the earth’s crust!

God Within.
I have the human experience of God Within, the experience of God within me. This is where I experience that God is love, all-encompassing and all-challenging, costly, surrounding, accepting love.
As soon as I think of God Within I am into the realms of human relationships and ethics. If I ‘live and move and have my being’ in God and God lives and moves and has being in me, this announces God Within. There is a divine dimension to all humanity, my and your humanity included. This is universal and not the possession of just a few.
In a way, God Within is a paradox to what has gone before about God Beyond, yet for me, it is not inconsistent with it. This paradox, even maybe a contradiction exists, in that while I have no control whatsoever over God Beyond, I certainly do have some control over God Within or at least my response to God Within. I have little control/influence over my immediate environment, less over the environment further away from me and minuscule, if any control over the larger environment. I liken this to the life of a house fly and the control/influence it has on the whole Earth. Not a great deal, I suspect. The same can be said of my life and the control/influence I have beyond my immediate environment even though I am connected to all of it. Such is my experience of total lack of control/influence regarding God Beyond.
However, because of my ability to participate in decision making and thus have some control over my behaviour, I do have at least some control over my response to God Within. My experience of God Within does not obliterate my free will. I can, through my behaviour return to the universe the benevolence the universe has shown me or I can refuse to do so. In other words, if I decide to, I can do or not do unto others what is good and appropriate. I can nurture life just as my life has been nurtured or refuse to do so. I can, as part of an interdependent system, contribute or refuse to contribute. I can act responsibly with regard to all else or I can manipulate, abuse and destroy because it suits me or amuses me.
Even though God Within is within, maybe supported in the New Testament by
All that came to be was alive with his life. (John 1:3)
God Beyond intrudes in my life as God Within. I don’t mean that the intrusion is from outside. I mean intrusion in terms of making a presence, which is already present, felt. Because I can involve myself in decision making, I can co-operate with this intrusion/influence or work against it. I can uncover it, let it be exposed or I can keep it suppressed, hidden and even inoperative. This is my experience. God Within is expressed in many different ways in my living experiences.
• When I pray, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me praying.
• When I am thankful, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me being thankful.
• When I love others, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me loving.
• When I do bad things, hurting others, I take responsibility for these and God Within is my experience of God in me being sad and wanting me to change, wanting me to listen to God Within and take heed.
With some ‘faithful reappraisal’, the Jesus Christ phenomenon gives me a picture of continuous human cooperation with God Within. Jesus is the story of what God Within is all about, what God Within looks like when continuously exposed, uncovered from within humanity, by conscious human decision.
God Within has free reign in Jesus. This is why Jesus is still so central to my beliefs. When I think of God Within I immediately think of what Jesus said and did, of how he lived, loved and died and how he continues to be alive for me and many others.
From my lyrics No. 4.
My God is in Jesus
Tune Kremser

My God is in Jesus; the gospel is telling
The story of one who was servant of all,
Whose love and compassion, so rich and so compelling.
Restores the broken-hearted, supports those who fall.

My God is in Jesus, who shares all our living;
From inside our being we know he is kind.
Compassion displayed in the power of his giving;
My God is in Jesus. Real love is defined.

I think this might be what some of the passages in John’s gospel are about. The gospel writer relates Jesus having a conversation with his disciples. As I have said previously, the writer has Jesus saying,
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me. (John 14:11a.)
This, I think, is the gospel writer saying for Jesus what I am trying to say for me and all humanity. The Father is ‘in’ us or God is ‘in’ us; God Within.
This ‘in-ness’ makes the experience of God, for me, very personal. God doesn’t have to be a ‘person’ for my experience to be personal.
I quote from Gretta Vosper.
Sit for just a moment. When you think about it, you may find that you haven’t been thinking about god theistically – as a distinct, other being separate and definable – for a while. You may think of god as a remote being for some of the time, but you also may have often thought of god as a feeling that makes you want to be the best person you can be.
You get that feeling when you plunk a quarter into a stranger’s parking meter. You get that feeling when you talk to your kids about trying to make this world a better place, and they tell you some pretty good ideas they’ve come up with, all on their own.
You get that feeling when you stop and talk to that other person who has been sitting all alone the whole time you have been visiting your mum in rehab. All he does is smile at you and nod but that feeling is almost tangible. You get that feeling when you pick up the package you were expecting, and in it you find that perfect gift you ordered for your child, your lover or yourself.
I invite you to think of that feeling as god. [5]

From my lyrics No. 5.
Love and…..
Tune Gloria/Iris

When we strive to be much better
Do not think that it is odd
To believe this urgent feeling
And its forcefulness is God.
Love ….. ….. ….. and challenge
Can be life reforming;
Love ….. ….. ….. and challenge
Are so life transforming.

When we share a tragic moment
Do not think that it is odd
To believe this tender feeling
And its sentiment is God.
Love ….. ….. ….. and kindness
Are, in life, enfolding;
Love ….. ….. ….. and kindness
Are, for us, upholding.

Jesus is the historical person around whom many faith statements have been uttered and thankfully many have been preserved in the four biblical gospels; there for all of us to read.
Some of these memories were embellished and some were eventually set in concrete, in church dogma and doctrine. This complex of the historical person together with the faith statements about him has evolved into what many regular church-goers understand as Jesus Christ. The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith are so entwined now that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. As Greg Jenks states
No critical research will ever succeed in capturing the historical Jesus. [6]
That no longer concerns me very much. Together they form the complex that calls me to follow. I try to. I have more to say about this in a later section about Jesus.
When the gospel writer has Jesus saying,
He who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9b.)
I believe he is saying that Jesus’ life is to be seen as the picture of a continuous and total co-operation with God Within. Jesus totally exposes, uncovers God Within, so we are able to see the Father when looking at him. This belief about Jesus makes him very available. As the Second Person of the orthodox Trinity, who is seated at God’s right hand making continuous intercession for humanity, even metaphorically, is quite unhelpful to me now. It emphasizes separation, the away-ness of God.
This is why I dislike the lyrics of traditional Christmas carols so much. They speak of this separated God making a fleeting visit to Earth from who knows where, in the human form of Jesus. I wish to speak of the welling up from within humanity of God Within. In Melbourne, Australia, at one of the meetings at which I led a discussion on my hymn lyrics, someone said that it was sad that I could not enjoy the poetry and imagery of the meeting of the realms, a coming together of God and humanity, which they said is championed by the Christmas carols. I replied that even though the poetry was great, I couldn’t enjoy the traditional lyrics because, for me, most of them tell of a fundamentally non-existent movement. The movement is not a ‘meeting’ but an ‘exposure’: not a ‘coming together’ but a ‘coming out’
From my lyrics No. 6.
God Lives Within Humanity
Tune In Dulci Jubilo

God lives within humanity;
What joy at Bethlehem we see;
Quietly born amongst the hay;
We recall good news today.
Jesus, Mary’s little child,
So precious and so undefiled;
Jesus’ special day;
God amongst the hay.
For me, there is another aspect of God Within that has little to do with ethics or behaviour but has to do with connectedness, as I have mentioned. I experience God Within as the Source of the glue that keeps me together. God Within is the personal, individual aspect of God Beyond, keeping me connected within and connected to all else. Scientists may call this glue gravity, magnetism, forces of attraction, evolution, etc. For me, it is God Beyond, inherent in everything and concerning me, this is God Within. Even though there are many different aspects that go to make up me, I am a ‘connected’ individual. God Within keeps me together. If God is ‘in’ all and thus ‘in’ me, and if I have my being ‘in’ God then my connectedness is ‘in’ God; God Within.
A major statement of my belief now is, ‘My experience of God Within is of a totally personally present and continuously inherent Mystery in me.’
God Between.
I have the human experience of God Between, the experience of God Between me and others.
God Between also has something to do with the statement, ‘A group is more than the sum of the individuals who comprise it.’ Something more is present than just the sum of all the individuals.
When God Within is uncovered, expressed by one person and interacts with another person, then a relationship of love, concern, compassion is created. Love is given and received. There is more at play than just the existence of the two separate individuals. There is a connection, an interplay, a movement back and forth. There is an action, a reaction, a re-reaction, a re-re-reaction and so on. Something is going on between these two people. When this occurs, it is what I mean by a human experience of God Between.
God is the human experience inherent ‘in’ this movement back and forth, because this movement is ‘in’ God.
Here I am speaking of my experience of life. I am not trying to define God or make a statement about the essence or nature of God.
So in the wider community, when justice is done, when reconciliation is achieved, when good laws are passed, when diplomacy triumphs over hostility, when the hungry are fed, when the handicapped are noticed, when corruption is replaced with honesty, etc., I believe God Between is evident and experienced. When joy is shared, when affirmation is voiced and heard, when forgiveness is given and accepted, when lovers are both fulfilled, when encouragement is volunteered and received, … then something significant happens between people. When this happens between people, it is, for me, an expression of the human experience of God Between.
Whenever I visit anyone who is sick and in hospital, I just about always become extremely frustrated at not being able to find a convenient parking spot. So many cars! However, on some patient reflection, I realise this situation is brought about by so many people who must be visiting sick friends or relatives. This is evidence of God Within, uncovered by those who are doing the visiting and I hope that both patients and visitors are experiencing God Between as the visit continues, when a love, concern, compassion is given and received.
In some ways the relationship between God Within and God Between is, for me, akin to the relationship between the traditional Second and Third persons of the orthodox Trinity. John’s gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of this Trinity, would bring to mind all that Jesus, the Second Person of this Trinity, said.
But when the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26.)
In somewhat like manner, God Between is that which is experienced when God Within is remembered and expressed between people.
This, for me, is what remembering Jesus points to. When remembering Jesus I believe we are remembering that clear and unambiguous expression of God Within. If we allow this memory to have influence in relationships, we then can experience God Between. In my belief, this is the God dimension of the relationship.
A major statement of my belief now is, ‘My experience of God Between is of a totally and continuously involved inherent Mystery between people.’

From my lyrics No. 7.
God Between
Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos

In community with others
God is between.
Prizing them like sisters, brothers,
God is between.
God involved in human action,
Spark of life in each reaction,
Core of every interaction
God is between.

When we learn to live together
God is between;
Harmonizing with each other,
God is between.
When corruption is deemed loathsome,
When our diff’rences are welcome,
When community is wholesome
God is between.

My beliefs in or about God have to do with a God-dynamic. By that I mean God Beyond, God Within and God Between is my experience of continuous movement in my life. God Beyond, inherent in all being, gluing together, encompassing; God Within, inherent in me prompting, influencing, guiding, sustaining; God Between, inherent in relationships, initiating, responding, connecting. All are dynamic, on the move. This is the way I experience God. Experience is always on the move. My experience of God is always on the move.
This is very anthropomorphic talk. As such, it demonstrates the inadequacy of language and maybe my inadequacy in using it. I suppose it could suggest that I am excusing my anthropomorphic talk while still criticising the anthropomorphic image of God presented in the Bible and in current church services I attend. I defend what I am saying because I submit that I am not trying to define God, but I am talking about my experiences of God and they must be anthropomorphic because I am human. Maybe the biblical writers were also trying to communicate their human experiences of God and not define God. Not sure? Like Dr Val Webb’s book title ‘Like Catching Water in a Net’ or like trying to be noisy by clapping with one hand, whenever we talk of God, we may be talking nonsense. But we continue to talk.
With beliefs that I now have, God is so much ‘in’ everything, every time and every place that intervention is something that just doesn’t fit in the picture. Intervention presupposes separateness, as in the whole biblical story. ‘Inherent’ is the word that makes more sense to me. God is totally inherent so to talk of intervention makes no sense to me at all.
These beliefs engender in me a reverence for all life, a wonderment at the cosmos, a positive attitude to my fellow humans, a challenge to love and live life the way it was meant to be loved and lived, like Jesus, and importantly, it compels a ‘faithful replacement’ of the away, distinct, separate, outside God, with the experience of God as ever present, surrounding, inherent, indwelling and involved. This means I have made a ‘faithful rejection’ of many of my previous belief emphases and a joyful acceptance of new belief emphases. I wish in no way to suggest that others need to have the same beliefs as me. All I am saying is, “This works for me at present.” So my present Trinitarian faith statement goes something like this:-
I experience God Beyond as a totally limitless inherent Mystery in all.

I experience God Within as a totally personally present and continuously inherent Mystery in me.

I experience God Between as a totally and continuously involved inherent Mystery between people.

If these comments/ideas/beliefs are more acceptable to you when you omit the word God, that’s fine. I would still want to hold onto the three ideas of Mystery as being Beyond, Within and Between as what I experience and what I think permeates all my existence. We might substitute the words ‘goodness’, ‘love’ or ‘creativity’ for God. You may wish to substitute other words.

From my lyrics No. 8.
God Beyond, Between, Within
Tune O Store Gud

God is beyond, within, between – not absent;
Not far away, not on some lofty throne;
God is beyond, within, between so constant;
No gulf to bridge to some angelic zone.
This is Good News; we know that we belong;
For God is love; for God is love.
This is Good News, we sing the Jesus song;
For God is love. Yes! God is love.

In this part of my journey I think I have had to ‘Start all over again’. Sad in a way, but for me, necessary.
The away, anthropomorphic, theistic, almighty, Creator/God has been replaced with an awesome inherent presence, a divine dimension to and in everything; God Beyond. The godliness within every person that which prompts love and compassion of humanity for humanity, is the God dimension of every human being; God Within. Jesus is the total expression of cooperation with, and the uncovering of God Within. The godliness being active in human relationships giving my relationships with others an added sacredness, is the God dimension in human love relationships; God Between. I now have a set of beliefs that I can joyfully embrace, that make sense to me and challenge me to live abundantly.
C. An ultra-violent and punitive God.
This anthropomorphic, separate, distinct and person-ised God is presented to me in the Bible as extremely violent in many of its stories. This violent God is very active in stories in the first biblical books, Genesis and Exodus. The well-known and remembered stories of Noah and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Exodus, all portray God as powerful, in an unforgiving ultra-violent and punitive manner. The way I understand Fall/Redemption theology is linked closely with this violent image of a punitive God. According to this theology, God punishes human sin by means of the violent death of God’s Son. A blood sacrifice seems essential. I deal in some detail with this a bit later, with the Fall/Redemption fundamental.
The fear of punishment in hell by the punitive God, is, I believe, not totally absent today for many regular church-goers. In a very recent TV program, highlighting the message of Christmas, I heard an 8 to 10 year old choir boy, from an unidentified Church in Australia, say that we should be joyful at Christmas because Jesus has saved us from God’s punishment and saved us all from going to hell. Parts of the church continue to teach these sorts of things. Shame!
Later when questioning the reverence and authority given to the Bible, I deal in detail with the whole matter of the violent image of God as presented, analysing some examples from the Old Testament.
So what for me now?
This causes a further exercise of serious ‘clearing out’, ‘faithful rejection’. What I have been taught about the violence of God is quite abhorrent. This presents a huge problem for me in my journey with Jesus.
I must say, however, that this violent image of God is absent from my present experience of church. In church services I attend each Sunday, I am always pronounced ‘forgiven’ after the prayer of confession. This is stated as the Good News from God who loves me and all others. The hymn I quote, ‘Come as you are’, as well as many other hymns I sing in church services proclaim this love. These lines from this hymn affirm this beautifully.
Each time you fail to live by my promise,
Why do you think I’d love you the less. [7]

The church services I attend do not contain any emphasis on punishment from God, and there is no hint that God is violent. Bible passages read, seldom if ever, make reference to the violence of this God. Even though most of the hymns I am requested to sing reflect on my unworthiness, they do not continue with God’s harsh judgement and punishment. ‘God is love’, is the controlling, significant theme of my past church Christian education. This, for me, more than counter-balances much of what the Bible teaches. I can quite confidently say, “God is love and Love is God.”
D. An almighty God always in control of everything at all times and places.
For me, this concept announces biblical theism and supernatural theism. The God of the biblical witness, and as presented in many current church liturgies, is almighty. Biblically, this idea of God’s powerful, controlling activity spills over into the concept that this God either initiates/causes all that happens, or at least allows all that happens, to happen. This is what I have been taught.
Early in the biblical stories, it is this God who, in the Exodus story is stronger than the gods of the Egyptians, freeing God’s chosen people from slavery. This God wins wars to reward Israel’s faithfulness in worship and also punishes Israel with military defeat, if it has been unfaithful or idolatrous. God does it all. This emphasis in the teachings of Deuteronomy leads the writers to make the following statement.
And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you; and you shall be plucked off the land which you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 28:63.)
God is in total control. God causes both the good and the bad to occur. For me, this concept of God is morally bankrupt, unbelievable and somewhat absurd. I believe this is not the God about which Jesus teaches.
Biblically speaking, this God is determinative, even in personal relationships to the extent of preventing or activating pregnancies; see the story in Genesis 18:9-14 & 21:1-2. I think we know a little better these days! This particular power of this God is most notably present in the Virgin Mary story.
Providence, the foreseeing care and guardianship of God over God’s creatures, plays no part in my understanding of reality. With the away, separate God, this ‘providence’, for me, requires powerful and continual intervention. It can also lead to ideas of favouritism. If this is the case, unanswerable questions like, “Why here and not there?” and, “Why then and not now?” arise. These questions arise only if the process of intervention of a God is operative. I pursue further, the repercussions of this concept of God’s intervention, in the later section of my book, ‘Prayer and Praying’.
These questions escalate into theological contradictions and unsolvable moral dilemmas for me. However, I think there are many people in our churches today who attribute to a providential, powerful God, the good things that happen and they give thanks to God for them. It seems though, that many of these people are reluctant to also blame this same God when bad things happen. I quote from Gretta Vosper again.
Following any natural disaster, newspapers are filled with stories and pictures of people thanking God for their survival. The feeling is natural but the attribution is problematic. It is as though they are utterly oblivious to the loss or death of their neighbours, of children and the elderly – who have succumbed to the conditions…. We must listen to the words we so commonly use, and hear within them the silent implication that if God chose to save us from the flood, God must have also chosen not to save the person who drowned next door. [8]
If church-goers pause to reflect on these issues, I believe they will be confronted by this dilemma that Vosper raises.
Expanding into the wider experience of humanity, one of the ever-present questions which plague us is the origin of evil and suffering. Questions arise like, “Where does evil come from?” and “Why is there so much pain and suffering?”
It seems to me that one way the Bible tries to address this problem is with the book of Job. From a supernatural theistic God standpoint, the so-called friends of Job have their answer and it is that God punishes wrong doing. Job’s three friends argue that Job must have done something really bad to warrant such punishment from God. Job denies this and is left with the burning questions; “Why am I suffering? Is this punishment, and if so, for what?” Job is not perfect but all his belongings are destroyed, members of his extended family are all killed and eventually he is personally struck down with serious illnesses. It is all too much for Job, so he complains bitterly and demands answers from God. Following the traditional theological themes, Job’s friends think they have the answer and try to convince Job to repent.
I believe the problem for Job and his friends is not suffering or the origin of it. It is their theistic God. They look in the wrong place for an answer to their questions about the origin and cause of suffering. Their theistic, anthropomorphic God makes everything happen or allows things to happen, and they explain what is happening to Job, built upon this theology. God causes or allows Job to suffer and there must be some good reason behind it. They try to persuade Job to understand his predicament, the way they do.
Of course, any question about the actual existence of this outside, all-controlling God is totally foreign to Job and his friends’ approach. Such a question would not enter their heads. If it did, it would be counter to their whole view of God, reality and life. I believe they have an ‘unquestioning obedience’ to biblical theism and the separate, distinct and almighty God who is in control of everything at all times and places.
If the commonly thought issue that the book of Job tries to address is the question, “Where does evil and suffering come from?”, it gives no satisfactory answer to me. Not sure that it does for anyone else, either. As an aside, I would also contend that the saying, “Have the patience of Job”, is a misnomer because Job is sometimes anything but patient.
In his book, ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’, Rabbi Harold Kushner discusses the question as to why is it that good people suffer and bad people often seem to escape it. My understanding of his book is that he eventually confronts the dilemma of ‘Is God all powerful or all loving?’ I believe he feels he cannot hold these two concepts of God together at the same time. He comes down on the side of, ‘God is all loving’. This, of course, brings into serious question God’s almightiness. Kushner suggests that the question of ‘Why is this happening to me?’ is not a question but a cry of pain. He afterwards suggests that the question really is ‘Now that this has happened, what will I do about it?’
So what for me now?
If I have rejected the idea of God’s intervention, then I have to find some other reason or reasons why things happen, bad things.
The process of ‘Cause and effect’, makes a lot of sense to me and is consistent with my experience of life. So I too, look for causes, just like Job and his friends. If I reject the idea of God being in control of everything at all times and places, what for me, are the causes of things happening, particularly those things that cause human suffering and pain?
I believe the question of suffering can be answered from a non-theistic standpoint, with a large dose of common sense. Gretta Vosper helps me here.
It is crucial that we peel away the interventionist deity concept from our belief system and face reality. We are the origin of blessing and curse in our world, not some otherworldly deity – not in Christianity, not in Judaism, not in Hinduism, not in Islam, not anywhere. [9]
I find some of this statement difficult. It is in its somewhat universal implication.
We are the origin of blessing and curse in our world.
I think we humans are certainly involved in much of the pain and suffering experienced, but not all.
For me, pain and suffering are most likely caused by any one or more of the following,
1. The fearful, stupid or ignorant, ill-conceived or irresponsible and even the corrupt behaviour of humans.
2. The amoral workings of the forces of evolution and the universe.
3. Bad fortune.

These three causes seem to me to point towards the origins/causes of evil and suffering. Sometimes various combinations of the above are the cause. Possibly an over simplification, but I find them a good starting point.
1. The fearful, stupid or ignorant, ill-conceived or irresponsible and even the corrupt behaviour of humans.
This first cause of things happening, is the most important for me. I believe that human beings cause many things to happen or prevent them happening, both good and bad. When we talk of, ‘making the world a better place’, I believe we can actually do this. Peace comes about because humans make it happen, and wars are human initiatives and engaged in by humans. Loving deeds of compassion are done and murders are committed by humans. Inequities in our communities are often the direct result of human greed. We know that some bush fires are the result of the deliberate actions of arsonists yet we have armies of volunteer fire-fighters. Ignorance and lack of appropriate training can cause unnecessary accidents when big or small machines are operated illegally or unsafely. Car and truck crashes are often caused by drivers who have consumed alcohol or drugs before or during a journey. With investigations of presumed accidents, we often hear the phrase, ‘human error’. All this comes back to human behaviour, human involvement. One could go on and on regarding the fearful, stupid, ignorant, ill-conceived, irresponsible or corrupt activity of humans that cause the pain and suffering of other human beings.
2. The amoral workings of the forces of evolution and the universe.
Secondly, the amoral forces of evolution and the cosmos are obviously operative.
I do not believe I earned the good and/or bad genes I inherited from my parents. I had nothing to do with it. They are the result of an amoral evolutionary process. It just happened.
The happenings in nature caused by gravitational forces, shifts of the Earth’s tectonic plates, changing seasons, etc., obviously affect our human experience. Earthquakes occur. For us humans, they can produce very bad results. Gentle summer breezes and cyclones cause both pleasure and suffering for humans. Refreshing rains as well as draughts and floods cause both good and bad results for humans. Gravity is absolutely necessary for life as we know it, but it too can cause disaster. Forces of evolution and of nature and the cosmos are in place and for me, that’s just it. Sometimes these forces produce results, both good and bad, without any involvement of humanity. But they are all amoral. They just are.
3. Bad fortune.
Apparently one of the reasons why the Book of Ecclesiastes was nearly left out of the Old Testament was because of its perceived negative view of life. Another reason may have been that the book gives voice to the possibility of ‘chance’ having influence.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11.)
My Bible concordance records the word ‘chance’ only five times in the whole Bible. Four are inconsequential like in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Now by chance a priest was going down by that road…. (Luke 10:31.)
The fifth speaks of the Ark of the Covenant going in a certain direction but that reference is somewhat nonsensical for me.
The inclusion of ‘chance’ in biblical themes/emphases is not welcome. It calls into question the concept of God being in control of everything at all times and places. In my experience, ‘chance’ is also not welcome in much theological discussion in the church today.
For me, chance, luck, good or bad fortune are sensible components of how to think about life. Chance/luck is operative everywhere. Lotteries is an obvious example that comes to mind. There are millions of other examples that could be quoted. Sometimes on the TV news, we hear of accidents involving a miraculous escape from injury. Usually luck plays a part. So often we hear of a person’s house being burnt down in a bushfire or utterly destroyed by a cyclone or tornado and the house next door is left undamaged. Nine times out of ten, I believe this is a matter of good or bad fortune. One could go on. Random events occur. For me, this is abundantly obvious.
To attribute a miraculous escape or a devastating tragedy in an event, to God, is for me, both absurd and morally bankrupt.
Sometimes, to an extent, we can help create our own luck. Not smoking might have a good effect on our chances of getting cancer. By driving within the law and not being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, may lessen the possibility of having a car accident. Good diet is beneficial to our health. Our behaviour and life-style may influence the luck we have, at least to some extent.
There are probably other causes which affect the way reality works but I believe the three mentioned are operative. Synergy occurs constantly. Different causes, when working together or against each other, make things happen. This, for me, is common sense. I may have skimmed over this issue rather superficially. It is incredibly complex, but I understand that what happens, happens without an almighty God who intervenes.

Having ‘cleared out’ what I perceive to be the anthropomorphic, person-ised, separate, away, the sometimes violent and always-in-control images of God, I have moved away from some of the major beliefs about God which I have been taught and held for many years. All these categories of thinking are no longer relevant to me when speaking of God. For me, all this is a huge move in my beliefs. I feel I have created a very large empty space that needed filling but I feel I have filled it with common sense and some alternative, more acceptable theological beliefs. At least for me anyway!

[1] Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 65.
[2] Fox, Original Blessing, at the beginning of his chapter entitled Panentheism.
[3] Ibid, from Fox’s chapter entitled Panentheism
[4] Ibid, from Fox’s chapter entitled Panentheism
[5] Vosper, With or Without God, 230.
[6] Jenks, Jesus Then and Jesus Now, 18.
[7] Deirdre Browne, Together in Song, Hymn No. 693, verse 3.
[8] Vosper, With or Without God, 28.
[9] Ibid, 29

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So to the introduction

Starting all
over again?

Yes or No?

Starting all over again? Yes or No?
Comments from readers.

Rev Peter Botha, Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, ‘There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.’ Doubt is not something the church has encouraged amongst its members. Indeed doubt is often seen as the antithesis of faith, calling into question some long held, cherished beliefs.
George’s approach is summed up in his quote of the French philosopher Peter Abelard who says:
The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.
In this book George, through questioning and doubting, arrives at his own truth and shares that journey with the reader. In an open and honest way, he questions some of the cherished and long held ‘beliefs’ in the church. After years of reflection, research and re-discovery he explores new pathways of ‘understanding’. He abandons belief in a transcendental personal God who is at once both ‘present’ and ‘remote.’ Instead he wants his readers to experience the ‘God beyond, the God within and the God between.’
This is not a book for the faint-hearted but it will enrich our understanding of what it means to be a ‘follower of the way of Jesus.’

Dr. Ivan Hawke, Retired Primary School Teacher and Consultant to schools for NSW Education Department.
‘Starting All Over Again? Yes or No?’ is a passionate thought provoking text that traditional and conservative church-going people may find very challenging. Others who have left the church may find it liberating and an affirmation of their decision taken to leave.
George dares to question and challenge many of the pre-conceptions and basic tenets of belief that through force of traditional practice are still claimed to be fundamental to Christianity. He declares, however, personal whole-hearted commitment to the teachings of Jesus and identifies himself as a faithful follower and disciple of Jesus. As a supplementary bonus to the text he incorporates many of his own songs written for use in congregational singing.

Rev John W H Smith, Leader in the Progressive Christian Movement in Australia.
I am delighted to endorse George Stuart’s book and to express my gratitude to him for taking time out to record in great detail his personal spiritual journey.
In this book George has made a great contribution to the new genre of authors who have revealed their personal life journey in discovering their own spiritual voice, and by doing so they have encouraged others to realise that the sacred spirit that they are seeking already lies within and between them. George’s book encourages all of us to recognise and affirm this liberating spiritual energy.
It was the Methodist founder John Wesley who encouraged people to seek the sacred spiritual energy we call God, not only through faith tradition and scripture, but through life experience and one’s own reasoning powers. George has done exactly this in bringing the message of his own spiritual journey through the process of contemplation and research based on his intellectual integrity.
George is well known by progressive Christians for his composing of modern lyrics expressing the theology that has developed as a result of his search for his unique spiritual voice. Christians seeking to express their spiritual beliefs have been blessed by George’s compositions, because they can now sing with integrity as well as with passion. For all who are searching for a faith with integrity George’s book is a must read.
‘Starting all over again?’ is a timely book from a man of faith, because it provides encouragement and wisdom for all who are struggling to find a faith that is grounded in honesty, integrity and most of all in compassion.

Eric Stevenson. Eric withdrew from chaplaincy in a Community Mental Health Centre to establish the Family Counselling and Mediation Service of the Uniting Church. In retirement, he is a member of the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought in Sydney.
This book documents a skilful response to one of life’s greatest challenges. For George it has involved how to cope with an immense personal philosophical change. The change was (and will continue to be) learning how to shift from earlier conservative and outdated beliefs and their patterns of thought and behaviour to a more informed and impartial world view with the consequent questioning and/or to an inevitably different interpretation of them. Its appeal lies largely in the author’s common-sense reliance on his concept of justice and on his recognition of goodness and compassion in human relationships. George’s sincere search for truth, and the courage with which he is critical of orthodoxy and declares his doubts is a salutary affirmation of my own understanding.

Rev Alan Stuart, Retired Minister of the Word of the Uniting Church in Australia.
This is a courageous book. The author has faced his own demons in the reading of the Bible and in thinking deeply about the faith he had been taught in Sunday School and which he had accepted without questioning even for most of his life. But finally, in his later years, he has refused to silence the nagging doubts, following both his scientific training and his wider reading in the culture and understanding of the 21st century, and he has faced his doubts and his questions with integrity, and come up with a reasonable understanding that can, at least to some extent, reconcile his heart and his brain. I would recommend the book to all who find the faith as presented by the church and in the preaching Sunday by Sunday as no longer acceptable. This book offers an alternative explanation which still preserves most of what is considered important, at least by ethicists and even by many Christians.
This is a confronting book. The author has fearlessly faced the contradictions he has found in the sacred book of the church, the Bible, and come up with what for many, is a reasonable compromise, accepting the teachings of Jesus without accepting the Jesus who is often presented by orthodox Christians. I would recommend it to those fundamentalists who rigidly retain the idea that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and can never be questioned.
This is an easy book to read, disturbing perhaps for Christians with a conservative theology but I would recommend it particularly for people who find the usual presentation of the gospel unsatisfactory or unconvincing, and who are prepared to study the faith seriously, and recognize alternative viewpoints.
And this book could be a comfort for those who are reluctant to throw over what they know to be valuable and worthwhile aspects of the Christian faith yet who cannot reconcile much of the teaching of the Bible with current scientific explanations of reality and of the cosmos. For others, it may be disturbing but it is worth a read.
One can feel the passion of the book. George is seriously concerned for the ordinary church goer, whom he suspects has little theological education and has little alternative but to take on board whatever is presented in or by the church. If the reader feels this becomes altogether too passionate or too dogmatic, the best thing to do is to read again the introduction where the author presents his reasoning for his position and allows differing theological views to be held.

Dr. Val Webb, theologian and author of books including ‘Like Catching Water in a Net’ and ‘In Defence of Doubt’.
Like anyone who is brave enough to share their journey, George Stuart offers us a revealing, personal account of his struggles and joys, with a willingness to step beyond the boundaries of convention to tell it as it has been for him. Such honesty and commitment brings hope and encouragement to the rest of us, and, for this we are thankful. Those around the world who have found George Stuart’s hymns inspiring in their application of contemporary theology to beautiful old hymn tunes will be energised by this story of the man behind such inspiration. Thank you, George, for this beautiful work!

Home printed by the author, George Stuart
148 Brighton Ave.
Toronto NSW 2283, Australia.

Cover printed and book bound by
Lakemac Print
126-128 Main Road
Speers Point NSW 2284, Australia.

© 2019 by George Stuart.

‘Starting All Over Again? Yes or No?’ is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit This means the following.

• Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
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If however, the book material is used for discussion in study groups, the text being studied may be printed, unaltered, one copy for each group participant.

First published August 2019.
Second Edition October 2019

Front Cover – photograph of Brighton Ave. where the author lives – on top of the hill – left side facing north.

Back Cover – About the book and its author.

Starting all
over again?

Yes or No?

A faithful questioning of what I have been taught about God and Humanity, the Relationship between the Two, about Sacrifice, Dualisms, the teachings about Jesus, the Bible, a Creator God, Gender Bias, Prayer and praying and Life after death.

I wish to acknowledge the tremendous assistance given to me in this endeavour by my elder brother, Rev Alan Stuart. His endless patience, his ability with words and grammar, his theological insights and his wise counsel have been invaluable to me. Without his help I may never have finished this undertaking. His theological insights in particular, usually very different to my own ideas and opinions, have challenged me to think again, to ask more questions and to give a comprehensive account of the faith that is in me. Our numerous emails to each other and our respective responses have caused some frustration as well as much profitable sharing. I hope I can speak for both of us. When my exercise eventually drew to a close, I think I can honestly admit that we both had had enough. Thank you Alan. I am fortunate to have you as a mentor and friend.
I also thank Rev John Smith of Melbourne, a leader in the Progressive Christian movement there, for his initial encouragement to think about doing what I have done. I thank Tom Evans, Ivan Hawke, Hilary Croger and many others who have helped in the process of editing and re-writing. Ivan has been a continual source of encouragement and challenge to me throughout the whole process as well as giving me endless help with computer stuff. I also thank the members of a group to which I belong, for going through each section, discussing it and helping me see other ways of sharing my thoughts. To Maureen and Peter Turner, Val and Graham Dunlop, Des Murphy and my wife Wendy: Thank you. I thank Ms. Di Atkinson for her permission to use her wonderful prayer of intercession, included in the appropriate chapter.
A special thanks to my wife, Wendy, for her patience and letting me spend time in this endeavour. I am thankful for her knowing smile when I said to her so often, “Well I’m nearly finished, sweetheart.” She knew full well, as I probably did too, that I was NOT nearly finished. However, her humorous “Yes” was really an encouragement for me to keep going. I love you. One other thing. She is a good speller and I’m not, so I thank her for the numerous corrections she gave me. By the way, if there are any spelling mistakes, we know who to blame. Adam all over again; “It’s not my fault.”
I have come to realise that writing a book cannot be, and never is, done in isolation. It really is a community effort. I thank all the people who have instructed me in my journey with Jesus over my 80 years. I thank especially those who have given me permission to ask questions, very serious theological questions. To the authors of books from which I have quoted and to other writers whose books I have read, thank you for your wisdom and your scholarly endeavours and insights. I must mention in particular, Gretta Vosper, Marcus Borg, Derek Flood, Robert Funk, Walter Brueggemann, John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, Lorraine Parkinson, Hal Taussig and Val Webb. In recent times they have greatly broadened my education and opened me up to new and challenging ways of understanding. Particularly to Val Webb, because, as well as sharing much theological wisdom, when nearing the stage of publication she gave me much needed advice about the use of italics, how to insert quotes and especially how to add footnotes, etc.
I believe we are all united in our quest to make a deep human response to the eternal Great Mystery.

How to possibly use this book.

It may be possible for you to use this book as a study resource for small group discussion. The first three chapters deal with the framework and teaching the church gave me on some fundamental theological matters. These chapters closely follow on from each other and lead into the fourth chapter, about the meaning of the Cross of Jesus in Fall/Redemption theology and its links to the Hebrew sacrificial system. The fifth chapter deals with the dualisms of Earth/Heaven and Humanity/Divinity and supernatural activity necessary for communication between God and humans, between Heaven and Earth. The sixth and very important chapter deals with Jesus and his teachings. Because there are numerous references to the gospels in this particular chapter, Bibles will be helpful for each member to access. The later chapters can be used as individual monographs for discussion. There subject matter is somewhat more individual and separate.

Some of the chapters are a lot longer than others, so for group discussion purposes, it may be necessary to allow for more than one group meeting for discussion of a chapter.

Pre-reading of the material to be discussed at meetings is recommended. If this is done, group members are better placed to discuss and share their understandings.

My misgivings and numerous questions may give the opportunity for people to ‘come out’ with their own misgivings and questions. This is not always easy for many people. In each section, after having dealt with my misgivings, I try to give alternate ways of thinking and believing which I hope may lead to open discussion and sharing. These comments begin with the heading ‘So what for me now?’

If you use the book in this way, I suggest the maximum number in such a group should be 10. A larger number could be a bit daunting for the more hesitant. For those who are perceived to be a bit more articulate and out-going, the leader might push them for further explanation of their thoughts, however this needs to be done with sensitivity. Here are some suggestions for questions. You may have others.

• What did you think about what you have read?
• What, if any, are there ideas in it that reflect your own thinking?
• Have you had any new thoughts presented to you? If so, what are they and how do you react?
• If you wished to challenge something you have read, what in particular would it be?

As leader, try to avoid ‘closed’ questions; i.e. those that can be answered by just a “Yes” or “No”. Always ask ‘open’ questions, which request a larger response. If you find discussion closing down, try ‘Going round the ring’. This is the process of going to each member of the group in turn, asking for a response to the same question. If you do this, make very sure that to “Pass” is always acceptable. State this before beginning the process.

If you have group meetings, limit the time of discussion to no more than 1½ hours and stick to that limit. An hour is probably more appropriate for most people, particularly those who may not have previously participated in such an exercise. It’s better to stop the discussion when group members are interested rather than to continue on when interest seems to be waning.

Give the group members the opportunity to decide where and when to meet, and how frequently.

Introduction ……………………………………………….………………………………………..16
Area of questioning 1
The biblical presentation of God, similar in many ways to that which is presented in the past and current church services I attend. ……………………27
Area of questioning 2
The underlying emphasis of humanity being sinful and worthless, both in the Bible and similar in many ways to that which is presented in the past and current church services I attend. ……..…………………………………………….65
Area of questioning 3
The impassable gulf between God and humanity caused by human sin…………………………………………………………………………………………………….…..74
Area of questioning 4
The Hebrew sacrificial system which is biblically said to facilitate reconciliation between God and humans, and which helps create the basis of the church’s present Fall/Redemption theology..……………………………….79
Area of questioning 5
The dualisms of Divinity/Humanity and Heaven/Earth and the supernatural dimension which underpin the whole Bible story and church dogma………97
Area of questioning 6
The emphasis on the church’s teachings ‘about’ Jesus compared with the teachings ‘of’ Jesus. …………………………………………………………………………….106
Area of questioning 7
The reverence and authority given to the Bible, the Christian sacred book…………………………………………………………………………………………………….161
Area of questioning 8
A Creator God……………………………………………………………………………………..235
Area of questioning 9
The Garden of Eden story and gender bias promoting male domination.…………………………………………………………………………………………287
Area of questioning 10
Prayer and Praying………………………………………………………………………………303
Area of questioning 11
Life after death………………………………………………………..………………………….332
What comes next for me?.…………………………………………………………………..350
Full text of new lyrics used……………………..……………………………………………356

This is a very personal journey. It is about my own individual expeditions into the world of beliefs, biblical interpretations, church teachings and the influence each has had on me through my 84 years of life. I relate my experience and my present convictions. One might even call it my belief/theological autobiography. This is all done in the environment of uncertainty and a feeling of, ‘The process is one which is always on-going’. I’m sure this will continue while my brain continues to function reasonably well.

Why have I chosen the title, ‘Starting all over again? Yes or No?’ With honest questioning, I am trying to look at my beliefs again, because I have so many questions and misgivings about what I understand to be the orthodox theological teachings of the church, its currently espoused doctrines and practices as well as the current liturgies used in the church services I attend and have attended for many years. It is my experience that there are other church-goers in a similar situation with their own questionings and misgivings. For me, many questions and misgivings have existed for years.

The picture on the cover is taken from the bottom of the street where I live. Every time I walk to the nearby shops I have to walk up this hill to come home. The hill seems to get steeper and steeper every time I have to negotiate it. I don’t know why this is the case (Maybe being 84 has something to do with it!), but it is symbolic of the increasing difficulty I have with my past church teachings and the hymns and liturgies I am presented with each Sunday. So I thought it was an appropriate pictorial presentation of my theological situation. However, I keep coming home and I keep attending church services.

Is my situation so hard that I do have to ‘Start all over again’ regarding my beliefs and religious practices? I use this theme in each area of my questioning because, where I feel it necessary, I wish to break free from past beliefs, starting from scratch. Going completely back to scratch of course cannot happen, because my past is always with me and, to an extent, conditions who I am now and what I presently believe. So what is my past in the church?

I was born into the church. I cannot remember a time when I was not associated with it as a member. I was taught many prayers and a couple of creeds. I still have imbedded in my subconscious, numerous lyrics and melodies of traditional hymns I have sung over and over for many years. I can even remember the numbers of many of them from the 1927 edition of the Presbyterian Hymnary, the hymnbook the Presbyterian Church used during my childhood and youth years. Onward Christian Soldiers, No. 535; The Church’s One Foundation, No. 205; There is a Green Hill far away, No. 105; Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, No. 1, and so on and on. I can remember as a young person, adjourning along with other young people after an evening church service, to a private home of different congregational members to sing with great gusto, many of our favourites. Positive memories.

In my youth I spent much time in church associated activities, playing in church sporting teams and participating in church social events, as well as attending the weekly church youth group meeting. I attended two church services every week for 20 or more years. (I do not use the term ‘worship’ when referring to the regular weekly gathering of the local Christian community. I use the term ‘church service’ because of reasons which become obvious throughout what follows. Michael Morwood states,

I too would stop using the word ‘worship’. The notion of worship belongs to an old paradigm, an outdated template for religion. [1])

I did much studying of the Bible both in classes and in private reading. I can also remember long discussions with friends about such things as to whether we should go to a milk-bar on Sundays to buy a drink, because it required someone to work on that day to serve us. We also had long debates as to whether or not we should play cards. My; how things change over time.

I can remember as a child that I was permitted to play games on Sundays at home, as long as they were not games of chance. Cards and dice games were a No-No, but chess was permitted. I had no idea why.

As a young man I trained and graduated as an analytical chemist but after a number of years in that profession, I changed tracks and for a few years worked as a state youth leader in the Presbyterian Church in Victoria, Australia. Subsequently, I submitted myself to the Presbyterian Church as a student for the Christian ministry and was accepted.

During my theological education at Ormond Theological College in Melbourne in the early 1960’s, I was introduced to theologians and biblical scholars; Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich Scheiermacher, Rudolph Bultmann, to name but a few. I began to think far more deeply about my beliefs, which I presume was one of the aims of the theological education.

After being ordained, I became a full-time minister, beginning at Whyalla, South Australia. A few years on and after long conversations with church leaders, local, district and state, I was granted permission by the church to seek secular employment, while still retaining my leadership role in the church. I applied for and succeeded in gaining employment at the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd. (BHP). In this BHP employment, I gained some promotions in the Administration Department, Human Resources section, being in charge of apprentices and trainees and eventually having responsibility in Occupational Health and Safety for the whole steel production plant at Whyalla. During this time I retained my position as minister of the local Presbyterian congregation in the west of Whyalla. I conducted church services each weekend and attended to pastoral care matters, doing funerals during my lunch hour and then continuing with pastoral visits during the following evenings. My situation was a sort of ‘worker-priest’ position.

For family reasons I asked the church for a transfer and I was granted a position as the assistant minister at St. Andrews/St. Phillips, the city Presbyterian churches in Newcastle, New South Wales. Fortunately, I also gained a transfer to the BHP plant in Newcastle.

In 1977, Church Union was achieved between the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations. I was promptly asked to leave the St. Andrews/St. Phillips parish. That combined parish wished to remain outside the union whereas I wished to join it. I was fortunate in being posted to a nearby ‘Uniting’ congregation as a supply minister. After a couple of years at this new congregation, the Presbytery of the Uniting Church requested me to resign my position at BHP and become a full-time minister again or resign from the ministry. I wrote reports for the Presbytery about my ministry within BHP, not as a chaplain but as a senior employee, giving reasons why I believed my work at BHP, together with my leadership position in the church, was a legitimate expression of ministry. I refused to resign from BHP so I was required to submit a resignation regarding my church leadership position. I left my fate to the Presbytery. I find it rather ironic that, the Presbytery meeting at which my resignation from the ministry was accepted, a communication came from the New South Wales Synod of the Uniting Church, that Presbyteries should consider seriously, different ways of doing ministry.

I concluded my career with BHP after 19 years and eventually completed my paid employment as a Rehabilitation Councillor with the NSW Government Insurance Office. I retired about 15 years ago.

During my retired life, after reading a reasonable amount of theology and biblical commentary, much, but not all of which had a bias towards Progressive Christianity, I realised that much of what I had been taught in my early church life and had accepted without question for many years after, was no longer what I believed and was no longer helpful in ‘my journey with Jesus’. (I use this phrase rather than ‘my faith journey’ or ‘my spiritual journey’, because ‘journeying with Jesus’ captures better what I think I have been and am still doing.)

Because of my journey with Jesus, I have made a contribution to encourage change in the church, by writing over 500 new sets of lyrics to well-loved, well-known traditional hymn tunes, self-publishing them in 7 different volumes. They are all now on my website. I have written these new lyrics to enable people like myself to sing hymns in church services without compromising their theological integrity too much. I believe these new lyrics have been of some benefit to people like myself. For some of us, many hymns we are asked to sing in church services today, are very difficult because of their 1st to 18th Century theological emphases.

I am fortunate to live in a time when there is the religious freedom to do what I have done. I have little fear of being burnt at the stake! I find it a great pity that there are still occurrences like heresy trials, and I despair that Gretta Vosper has been subjected reasonably recently, to what seems to have been a similar process. We always need prophets to stand against what is officially embraced to try to reform an institution, its practices and beliefs. I suppose this might be one of the unfortunate, but necessary, aspects of the evolutionary process.

Being over 80 and retired, I face little financial or employment consequence from this endeavour. I may upset some of my friends and also strangers if they read what I am writing, but I think they might be able to cope or just stop reading and ignore it all. However, I hope readers might find some positive alternative ideas and different perspectives that give food for thought and facilitate some spiritual growth.
As a regular church-goer.

Before embarking on this process of questioning and reappraisal, reconstruction and rejection, may I state quite emphatically, that even though some of my statements are made quite forcefully, I do not wish to convey the impression that I think people who espouse other or contrary beliefs to mine, are stupid or ignorant. I might think such beliefs are ill-informed but that’s my judgement. Take it or leave it. It’s up to you. I too, am most likely under-informed or ill-informed on some matters which I discuss in this venture.

I write as a regular church-goer with all my personal history behind me and the Bible text in front of me. Having a formal qualification in theology, I am not representative of regular church-goers. I have probably done a lot more theological investigation, Bible study and Bible commentary reading than many other church-goers, but this does not qualify me as a biblical scholar nor do I make claim to be an authority in any of what follows.

Some of my comments about Bible passages may be unscholarly and even wrong but I can only work with what I presently have at my stage of learning. I speak out of my experience, my understanding and my interpretations of all I have studied and have been taught. I know these personal experiences create serious limitations and I acknowledge this.

Many people may not have had many of the experiences I have had and I have no doubt at all, that many people have had experiences which I have never had and probably never will. As such, my experiences lead me to opinions and attitudes which work for me but they cannot be definitive for others. No one. All I can do is share where I am at present, knowing full- well that I have much more journeying to do.

If I waited until I was totally confident in my opinions and beliefs, I would probably never write anything about them. But as I journey, I believe it is important to share insights I have pursued and concerns I have confronted. So I write now, believing that many of my questions and misgivings are not unique to me but are shared by many other regular and irregular church-goers, as well as many I know who have left the church.

The real worry I have, is that some people seem to have a closed mind or are frightened to ask questions. I’m not sure that change must happen but I think it is important to have an attitude which leaves open the possibility for change. Some people can go through life without questioning the things I question; certainly not the things that have to do with God and religious beliefs in general. It is, however, never my intention to try to destroy anyone’s beliefs and certainly not for those whose beliefs help them live a loving life, trying to make the world a better place. My aim is to encourage questioning, maybe even disturb but never destroy.

I encourage you to take note of not only the teachings I reject, but far more importantly, to think about the alternative and different understandings and beliefs I present. I find the usual reaction of people, is that they tend to remember the negatives and often forget other material. I ask you to guard against this tendency and take heed of the alternative ideas and beliefs I present.

Faithful questioning.

Peter Abelard, a medieval French scholastic philosopher, theologian, and preeminent logician, has been quoted as saying,

The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.

From my lyrics
In Praise of Doubt

Tune Forest Green AHB 240 TiS 316
(AHB – the official Australian Hymnbook and TiS – AHB’s second edition, Together in Song)
From Volume 4 of Singing a New Song No. 50.

Some people say, “To doubt is wrong”
We should not doubt at all;
To question our beliefs, they say
Could bring about our fall;
But doubt permits an honest stance
In those who are devout;
For those who think about beliefs
Can sing in praise of doubt.

The Thomas’ story has been used
To judge, condemn, deplore;
But Thomas shows he is sincere;
He wanted to be sure.
For doubt can help and not deter
A vital turnabout;
Yes! Those who care about beliefs
Can sing in praise of doubt.

If our beliefs prevent our search
For new and different creeds;
Let us beware of narrow views
Where dogma often breeds;
With new, exciting facts we learn
Much love can come about;
Yes! Those who grow in their beliefs
Can sing in praise of doubt.

(I have included some of my new lyrics throughout what follows. The full text of those used, together with references in Australian official hymnbooks to the different tunes I have chosen, are all listed at the back of the book. Please feel free to copy and use them. There are very few copyright limitations or restrictions attached to any of the lyrics, however, you may need to check the copyright issue for the tunes. All the lyrics are available on my website at Each of the sets of lyrics also has reference to the different volumes of ‘Singing a New Song’ from which each has been taken. For more information refer to the last section of this book.)

I certainly have to do more questioning but I’m not really sure that I have to ‘Start all over again’. That might be to ignore or reject all my past Christian teaching. That would be unfortunate. Surely I learn from my past. However, I think I learn best from it, by way of a healthy questioning. So my position, at least at present, is not as stark as to ‘Start all over again’, but certainly it is that which promotes a faithful questioning of everything, absolutely everything, even my own questioning.

Some time ago, I was introduced by Derek Flood to the phrases ‘unquestioning obedience’ and ‘faithful questioning’ regarding the different ways by which it is possible to approach the Bible. His book, ‘Disarming Scripture’, is about violence in the Bible, particularly violence attributed to God and within God’s commands to Jewish leaders. I quote,

The Pharisees are representative of the way of unquestioning obedience and Jesus is representative of the way of faithful questioning. [2]

Originally he uses these terms regarding how each attitude approaches rules and commands laid down in the Old Testament, particularly those commands which harm people. He later uses the phrases more broadly. [3].

When talking about Jesus’ own use of the Hebrew Bible, Flood suggests that the Jesus’ approach should be followed by us.

In other words, Jesus expects his disciples – expects you and me – to be making the same calls of knowing what to embrace in the Bible and what to reject. [4]

‘Faithful questioning’ is the beginning of the work of seeking new insights; not final and complete answers but new insights and wisdom. When I do some ‘faithful questioning’, I hope I am not making a shift further into my own prejudices and pre-conceived ideas. Not that pre-conceived ideas are necessarily valueless or counter-productive. They can be and maybe often are, but they are conceived; i.e. thought out and considered. They may be worth retaining as well as being an appropriate launching pad for further thinking. It is not essential that they all be abandoned. Having said this, no matter how hard I try, I know I am still bound at least to some extent, to my prejudices, presuppositions and thought-out attitudes. So what’s new? Aren’t we all so bound? I work hard at trying to loosen my mind from this bind so that I can think new thoughts and even go in different directions.

What then, am I claiming to be faithful to in my ‘faithful questioning’? I am endeavouring to be faithful to logic, to some scientific and psychological insights I have learned over the years, to new insights I have gleaned from reading modern biblical scholars and theologians, to my diligent search for truth wherever I may find it, to my discipleship of Jesus, to my conscience, my experience, honesty, thoroughness, to common decency and common sense.

When confronted by road junctions on my journey, I take one road but I accept there are other roads that other people may take for quite legitimate and good reasons. The road I take is not through complicated edifices of the academic world, even though there are a few buildings that modern biblical scholars and theologians have erected. And my road certainly does not have signs indicating, ‘This is the correct road to truth’, or, ‘Just around the corner you will arrive’. My road twists and turns and sometimes backtracks, goes up very steep hills but seldom on the plain and simple, flat and easy. My road hopefully leads to green pastures where there is plenty of good food to sustain me for an open future with all its risks, challenges and surprises.

My detailed questioning.

I am somewhat conflicted as to how to begin this venture. On the one hand I feel I need to affirm what I now believe and present it as a positive basis for my serious ‘faithful reappraisal’ of what I have been taught in my past by the church and have given ‘unquestioning obedience’ to for many years. On the other hand I feel the force of John Shelby Spong’s injunction, in his autobiography, where he states

Before one can hear what Christianity is one must create room for that hearing by clearing out the misconceptions of what Christianity is not.[5]

I have opted to follow Spong’s advice so I begin each section by ‘clearing out’ what are misconceptions, as I see them to be. My questioning centres on 11 different areas of orthodox Christianity as I understand them. These are identified by the titles of the 11 chapters listed in the contents.

From my lyrics No. 1.

Certain of Uncertainty
Tune Forest Green

In life, with such uncertainty;
We long to feel at peace;
But with such complex liberty
We feel our stress increase.
When, in the maze we grope each day,
‘Confusion’ is our name.
When change unsettles life, we say,
“Please, let things stay the same!”
I submit that many of the fundamentals that I question, fit together very well for regular church-goers, presenting a unified framework for understanding the basic message of the Bible, the meaning and purpose of the life and Cross of Jesus, the way of viewing reality and the way of finding meaning for discipleship of Jesus. Most of these fundamentals no longer work for me.

Reader-Response interpretation.

Because I make numerous references to the Bible throughout this endeavour, I recognise my interpretations can differ from other people’s interpretation. I have found in my reading and study that very different interpretations of the same text, are made by various biblical commentators.

‘Reader-Response interpretation’ is reading into the text, ideas and concepts from our own experience of our own day and culture, rather than reading from the text itself and understanding it in its 1st Century middle-eastern cultural context.

I think those who have preached, using the Bible as their prime resource, have indulged in this ‘Reader-Response interpretation’ a great deal, and in extreme cases, have created their own text and then proclaimed it as being what the Bible teaches. I have been and still am certainly involved in this sort of interpretation, hopefully not to an extreme. Moises Silva expounds on this matter.

Insofar as every reader brings an interpretive framework to the text, to that extent every reader generates a new meaning, and thus creates a new text. [6]

Edgar McKnight, a respected proponent of Reader-Response theory, suggests that since we cannot completely break out of our self-validating system, ultimate meaning is unreachable. All we can hope for is to discover and express truth ‘in terms that make sense within a particular universe of meaning’. We may, therefore, continue to discover or create meaning, ‘which is satisfying for the present location of the reader’. [7]

Different Translations.

I usually use the Revised Standard Version (1946 & 1952) of the Bible when quoting from it. However, I sometimes use the New English Bible (1970) translation and also the Good New Bible (1976). When using these other translations/versions I usually state that I am doing so.

[1] David Felton, A New Template for Religion, An internet post.
[2] Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, 32.
[3] Ibid, 10th chapter, Re-thinking biblical authority.
[4] Ibid, 10th chapter, Re-thinking biblical authority.
[5] Spong, Here I stand, Author’s note, 469
[6] Silva, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1, 118.
[7] Ibid, 118

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Final edition of my book

I have fianlly completed my book and am having it published. I intend to post each chapter, one each week until the whole book is posted. I hope it will give you some food for thought; G&P George.

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Bible Studies

Some time ago I wrote a number of study guides about the Bible.  They are not studies of particular texts of the Bible but guides to study ABOUT the Bible.  They have the title ‘Towards an understanding of the Bible’.  There are 18 study guides in all.  If you wish you will be able to copy and print, as with all my website material.

I am trying to put them on my website but it might take some time, if indeed it is possible.   There are lots of different fonts and many pictures so it will take research on my part and hopefully a lot of help to achieve the aim of posting the whole 18 on.

If you visit my website, you may find some changes over the next few months but these will not affect the use of the website for other purposes like accessing the song lyrics or the content of my book.

I will inform you when it is finished or if I have given up!

Here’s hoping.   G&P  George.

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My book

I have just finished posting all the chapters of my book to my website, each separately.  You have to click on the title of the book ‘Starting all over again? Yes  or No?’, half way down my home page, and then go to chapter you wish to read or print out.  You are welcome to do both.   There are no copyright restrictions or limitations regarding the content of the book.   You may have to highlight the text on the website, copy it into a word document and then print the word document.  I had to do that.   I didn’t seem to be able to  print it direct from the website.

I have suggested ways in which the chapters can be used as a resource for small discussion group.   In the introduction I have suggested some questions that may be used.

Happy reading and/or discussing.  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Grace and Peace    George.


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A new book being added to my site

I have just starting adding my new book “Starting all over Again? Yes or No?” to the website “Singing a New Song”. This site will in time have other books or content I have been writing. It is all a work in progress; and you can see how it is going from this link:

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