Who speaks for God? Who has the knowledge, wisdom and authority to say, “In the name of God, this is The Truth”?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that this week, but few people would find my thoughts satisfying. That’s because people want certainty. They want to say, “This is who God is and what happens after death,” or they want to say, “There is no god and nothing exists outside of the physical world.”
And whatever people believe about God, most of them are eager to tell you that you ought to believe what they believe — or else you’re a sinner or you’re a fool.
How can we even talk about what’s true and what’s not? Everything we believe is built on subjective experience and assumptions. Some of those assumptions are shared with others, but very few of them are specifically defined.
You’re not in my head and heart — and I’m not in yours — so we have very little way of truly understanding the core of what other people believe or experience. In fact, the evidence suggests our minds are so complex that there isn’t even a unitary “me” inside each of us with anything approaching consistency of belief. Some of the parts of our brains literally can’t communicate with certain other parts — and those parts frequently have different needs and wants.
(I can’t even prove anything outside my consciousness exists. I believe the world that I subjectively experience exists in an objective way, but I acknowledge that’s an unproven, fundamental assumption in me. If nobody else exists, my writing is merely me talking to myself and then making up responses from imaginary people.)
For those of us who are certain there is more to reality than just the shared experience of the physical world, how do we determine what we believe?
For almost everybody, the specifics of this belief — which we label theology as a broad category — are driven by culture. We listen to people who say they’re certain, but if you question them, you find they are merely building on assumptions which have been taught to them by others. That doesn’t necessarily mean everything they say is wrong, but a model of truth based on nothing more than “someone told me this often enough that I believed it” isn’t very compelling.
When I was younger, I believed what I was taught theologically and I found it difficult to question the conclusions I was given. These specific words written thousands of years ago are inerrant truth. When there are apparent contradictions in the words, we will find questionable ways to avoid the contradictions. When the words say one thing is true but we do something else today, we ignore that. When we act in ways completely contrary to what the words order us to do, we ignore that, too. And when we make up new rules to add ourselves — saying that the words of the text justify our rules — we pretend that our words have the same authority as we’ve been told to give to the text.
The failure to confront this reality about where our view of truth comes from leaves many Christian young people with nothing to stand on when they finally start asking obvious questions. This leads many, many sincere people — who just want to know the truth — to abandon their faith after they discover that the people who spouted platitudes to them have no intellectual integrity or spiritual depth.
Today, I trust only my own experience of truth, knowing that I can be wrong and also knowing that “I don’t know” is the only honest answer I can give to many questions. I continue seeking God. I continue trying to understand my relationship with God. I continue to reflect on the history and wisdom which a lot of people seeking God have shared in the past.
But I don’t claim to speak for God. I don’t claim to know all Truth.
When I share thoughts and feelings with you, I know that I am simply sharing my experiences, my insights and my conclusions — and I try not to allow my pride to assert anything beyond that.
It seems to me that I can allow my conclusions about truth to be driven by group culture and tradition or by my own experiences and subjective interpretation. Neither is perfect. Neither can lead me to any systematic theology which I can know is The Truth. I can never claim to speak for God — and I suggest you run away from anybody who claims to speak for God.
I’m trying my best to understand what I experience of God and then I sometimes try to share that experience with others. For me, doing that is profound — far more sacred than when I was simply repeating shallow systematic theology from others — but I know it will never make most people happy.
Human beings want certainty. And that’s why so many people — ranging from atheists to fundamentalists — are so eager to say, “This is the truth and you are wrong if you don’t believe what I tell you to believe.”
There’s a lot I don’t know, but I know that I experience a Loving Spirit who I call God. I don’t have any interest in arguing about theology. I don’t have any interest in making it an intellectual game. I’m just interested in sharing a journey of love with others who are just as eager as I am to understand the Spirit from which we came.
I want to experience the love of God and reflect the love of God in this world as well as I possibly can — but please understand that I do not claim to speak for Almighty God.