On Dating the New Testament

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 12 July 2006 0 Comments
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I receive your weekly newsletter and look forward to

it very much. I have read several of your books also and agree

with most of your insights and concepts. I also watched your

interview with Geraldine Doogue on the Australian Broadcasting

Corporation Television Station when you were out several years


The question is this: You say that you still spend a

lot of time praying but to whom do you pray? "The Ground of

Being" as you refer to God seems very impersonal and I find it

difficult to let go of the "father" image I was raised with in an

evangelical church in the 60's. How does a "Ground of Being"

actually care about me and my family? Intellectually I know that

God really couldn't care less about insignificant me here on

planet Earth (example Tsunami victims, hurricane victims,

famines, fires, etc.) yet I WANT to believe that SOMETHING or

SOMEONE does - or else what is the point of being born,

struggling through a crappy life and then dying and going to

nothing? I find I struggle with "what is the point of it all" on

a daily basis. I know that you say living life to the fullest is

what it's all about - but if there's no point to it all then why

bother caring about anything and living life to the fullest when

it is all for nothing in the end? I know life is for living in

the now - but I can't enjoy it if I know there's nothing at the

end of it and all my relatives that I love so much are going

nowhere and I will never see them again. It is all too sad. The

childish part of me still wants "someone" in authority to care

about me and my family. I guess that I really do still want my

God to care about me and "watch out" for me but I know wanting

God to care is childish rubbish and all the concepts that go

along with traditional Christianity.

Can you help me with some of these questions -

especially to whom do you pray and do you ask for help and love

from him/it?


I suppose that it is almost universal for human

beings, who have the ability to embrace the vastness of the

universe and to ask questions about life's meaning, to yearn for

a protective, supernatural heavenly parent figure, who watches

over us and is the source of that meaning. That sense probably

comes from our childhoods when parents seemed invincible and able

to fix anything or to manage any crisis.

The problem with that yearning for God to play that

role as you point out is twofold. First, it does not work.

Tsunamis do roll over the world with no sense of the trauma it

inflicts on its victims and with no one protecting even little

children. People die in warfare despite the fervent prayers of

both the military personnel and their parents. Second, this

yearning keeps us in a delusional state of perpetual childhood

where we can pretend that we do not have to take care of

ourselves. Delusions can be pleasant but they are not life


The interesting issue you raise is that you assume

that if there is no supernatural parent figure deity in the sky

then there is no reason to pray and no purpose in life. If there

is no life after death, the purpose for God disappears. In these

ideas you are suggesting that if your definition of God is not

true, there is no God!

Let me seek to unravel some of that by quoting a

Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, who said, "If horses had gods,

they would look like horses." Have you taken time to examine how

much your image of God looks like a very big, all powerful human

being? I doubt if it will ever be otherwise for human beings

cannot think outside their human experience. A horse cannot ever

know what it means to be human. A human being cannot ever know

what it means to be God. Yet human beings constantly tell other

human beings who God is and how God acts. Therefore, step number

one is to admit that you do not know.

That does not mean that horses cannot experience

human beings in their lives or that human beings cannot

experience that which we call God in our lives. It does mean

that the desire to be deluded does give rise to delusion. But is

the human brain the ultimate reality? Or is there a sense of

otherness? Of transcendence? Of the fullness of life? Of the

power of love? Of the Ground of Being? Can consciousness be

expanded? Boundaries broken? Humanity know transformation? Is

this a God moment? Are these the imprints of the holy 'other'

coming into our limited understanding?

We have no God language so words become terribly

inept in making sense out of this experience. That is why almost

every religious pilgrimage winds up in mysticism. Prayer is the

conscious attempt to enter the transcendent moment. It is not an

adult letter addressed to a divine Santa Claus.

That is what I mean by prayer. Does it work? That

is not for me to say. Does love surround those for whom you are

concerned? Does love assist healing? Expand life? Is love the

presence of God within us loosed by one to surround another? Do

plants grow better if we talk to them? Is the universe a living,

throbbing, mystical God-infused place? Is God a being among many

or the ground of all that is? Was Jesus perceived as an

incarnation of an external supernatural God or was he so whole,

so at one, that people saw the source of life and love and,

therefore, God flowing through him?

Those are the questions I would raise. God is real

to me but not definable, only "experiencible." However, that is

what gives every moment of life both its depth and its ultimate

meaning. Life is a tremendous and wonderful adventure that

touches eternity time after time. The idea that something you

call meaningless now would become meaningful by being extended

beyond death is a strange idea to me. I believe in life after

death because I touch eternity and meaning now. That is enough

for me.

John Shelby Spong




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