The Theological Grace of True Contemplation

“True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace.”
– Thomas Merton

GRACE pervades life in and through an obedient, surrendered soul.

It would be hard to believe the witness of a work of God’s grace through someone not surrendered and disobedient.

But the obedience we speak of is not simply obedience at the level of sin; it’s an obedience at the level of virtue.

The busy, cluttered soul probably has no problem with the initial graces – the reconciliation of hurts and the ability to go at depth with the soul. But they perhaps are at a loss to explain how to enter what they truly need – a true contemplation.

A true contemplation is a special kind of surrender in this day and age of busyness.
It is an obedience to throw it all away for just God alone.

Obedience that sees nothing ahead of it but God – not one distraction prevailing – is an obedience often required, especially regarding contemplation.

***

What are the practical graces of a truer contemplation?

We have discussed the actual need of drawing aside from the world, from people, from tasks, and from distractions, but the practice of grace of the inner life is even a negation of our very selves.

It’s not simply about making time, but aggressively pairing away from every care.

It’s not just about finding sources for direction and nourishment, but embodying these contemplations in every fissure of our being.

It’s about jettisoning the important things for a time. It’s about departing from our routine selves.

Practical graces of true contemplation are moments in time strung together in series. Such moments transcend the ordinary, and in such moments the true imperatives of life are seen unadorned but kingly as they are.

It is amazing how our losses and the depth of our grief – as moments of eternality – speak of the truer contemplations our souls are desperate for. See how those massive disappointments of life come back in our defence? See how those dark nights we endured come back as God speaking into us from eternity?

***

Our dark nights of endurance are our truer contemplations where God’s Presence is manifest.

Those very times of soul bitterness and contempt, worked through, become the very fuel for praise.

For the depths endured in sullen contemplation there are the heights scalable for spiritual contemplations of bliss.

For every abyss descended there is a spiritual peak to be ascended.

© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

God In Review

We often like to have debates, oft in the guise of arguments, often intense, usually friendly but sometimes not so much, over those nebulous Big Questions in philosophy that don’t really have any practical benefit (like assisting you in paying your bills). One such concept that has been debated way, way, way past the point of the cows returning home, is the existence or non-existence of a supernatural deity or deities. Today in our modern monotheistic society and culture that pretty much boils down to God (or Allah – same difference IMHO). Here are a few recent and choice bits and pieces or abstracts I’ve entered into over the atheistic nature of God which pretty much translates into God being just a mental concept and not a really real reality.

GOD IN REVIEW

The statement “how does God create” is irrelevant if there is no such entity. There is no “He” (or “She”) that theists can produce for us disbelievers upon request. Theists might claim such-and-such exists but then they need to give us the proof of their pudding by producing the such-and-such. Theists need to produce some actual evidence and not just say it is so. I’m happy to put the mechanism(s) to one side for the moment; just produce the body that breathes fire into the mechanism(s).

I see theists admit that, according to the Bible at least, God has done this and that and the next thing and has kept busy. However, when I brought up these very interactions, theists just said they were symbolic and therefore had no actual physical reality. God didn’t drown people; God didn’t exterminate the Egyptian first-born; God didn’t nuke Sodom and Gomorrah; God didn’t actually carve any stone tablets, God didn’t fly around inside a cloud and God didn’t actually sit on a physical throne in Never-Never-Land (Heaven), etc. These recorded events were just pure symbolism. In any event, here we go again with a non-physical being who doesn’t actually exist or reside in an actual space being able to interact physically with objects and individuals here on Terra Firma. It’s ridiculous.

So if it’s something positive, like creation, it’s real. If it’s something negative, like nuking Sodom and Gomorrah, then it’s symbolic. Sounds more than just a bit phony to me given theists are just pickin’ and choosing what you like and assigning categories accordingly.

By the way, what’s God done lately to keep busy? He has been conspicuous by His absence for way over several thousands of years now. If He has done all of these interactions that need doing, well why hasn’t Earth been transformed yet into paradise? Why hasn’t God shown His non-physical face of late? Of course that might be according to some theists because God resides in non-space and we here are in-space. As I said, it’s ridiculous.

Let’s return to those non-physical beings that are not located in space. So theists have a God that now exists in time but not in space? So can they identify exactly ‘where’ we can find some of this non-space? I assume their God is the sole resident? If so, where does Jesus live? And where do the angels live? And where do all of those God-worthy humans who have departed this mortal coil live? Isn’t all really just a pot-full of pseudo-theology?

If theists can mentally conceive of the Maximally Greatest Being (i.e. – God) ever, then I can conceive of the Maximally Greatest:

– Unicorn
– Dolphin
– Artificial Intelligence
– Whatever my or your imagination imagines.

If one accepts an infinite Cosmos (due to endless causality and the inability of creating something from nothing), then that rules out any need for any supernatural creator deity* hence any evidence for design, fine-tuning, meaning, purpose, etc. has to be put down to chance, necessity (only one type of physics is possible) or to a simulation(s).

*Which doesn’t rule out a supernatural deity, just a supernatural creator deity, although anything ‘supernatural’ existing in a natural Cosmos would IMHO have to be a natural part of that natural Cosmos in and of itself and thus not ‘supernatural’ at all.

According to some theists, “God is beyond all human knowledge, all human concepts.” That’s well and truly a cop-out answer if ever there was one. Now if the Bible / Koran is really God’s / Allah’s holy inspired word (snicker, snicker) then that’s all you should really need to know on the subject of God / Allah. Assuming you accept that premise then their previous comments are nonsense and totally false.

God exists, but in the same manner as how Wednesday exists; how the quadratic equation exists; how the rules of chess or baseball exist; how beauty or hope exists; how unicorns exist along with Wonderland and Oz (complete with Alice and the Wizard); what the meaning of life is and what the sound of one hand clapping sounds like. These are all mental concepts or inventions of the mind with no associated really real reality to back them up as independent objects with an associated structure and substance. So which came first, the deity or the human? If God is just a concept conceived of by the human mind then humans created God; God did not create humans (or anything else for that matter).

Theists’ Logic versus My Logic:

Theists’ Logic: Once upon a ‘time’ there existed a state of timelessness that their Maximally Greatest Being (i.e. – God) inhabited. In other words, God once existed outside of time or in a timeless state.

My Logic: One cannot inhabit a state of timelessness, for timelessness is a state of being changeless and if nothing ever changes you can hardly be said to be inhabiting such a state. To inhabit is to have structure and substance and more likely as not be alive. Things with structure and substance change, especially things with structure and substance that are alive.

Theists’ Logic: Once upon a ‘time’ there existed a non-physical state, a ‘region’ of non-space, their Maximally Greatest Being inhabited. In other words, God once existed outside of space or in a space-less state.

My Logic: If you inhabit a non-physical state then you are inhabiting a perfect vacuum, a perfect void, devoid of all possible things (particles, forces, fields) that have structure and substance. But of course that non-physical region isn’t entirely non-physical since it contains a Maximally Greatest Being.

Theists’ Logic: That a Maximally Greatest Being, God the Creator, is therefore also non-physical since He (?) ‘exists’ outside of space and outside of time.

My Logic: Something non-physical cannot create nor interact with something physical, like the cosmos and the physical inhabitants therein. Therefore, at some point in ‘time’, God crossed the Rubicon from a timeless state into a state of time and God crossed the Rubicon from non-space into space and thus also crossed the Rubicon from a state of being non-physical to a state of being physical. That’s quite some crossing!

Theists’ Logic: An absolute something can be created from absolutely nothing and God did it!

My Logic: An absolute something can only be created from an absolute something. Any other scenario is a violation of the conservation laws that have to date passed every test given them. By the way, even the Bible doesn’t specifically state that the Creation was a creation of something from nothing.

Theists’ Logic: The cosmos is finite in space and in time. There’s nothing in religious texts to imply an actual infinity. If time is infinite, then there is no need for a Creator, and if space is infinite then it seems logical that even God would have to take an infinite amount of time to create an infinite amount of space. Such is the nature of infinity.

My Logic: The cosmos is infinite in space and in time. It’s especially infinite in time since you cannot create something from nothing and therefore something has always existed. Time is also infinite because every effect has to have a cause which is in turn the effect of a previous cause and so on back unto infinity. Translated, there is no First Cause.

Theists’ Logic: Infinity is impossible since there was a First Cause – God’s creation.

My Logic: Infinity is possible. Infinity in time is mandatory since there can be no First Cause; no creation of something from nothing. Infinity in space is necessary since no matter how far you travel, you can go even further and continue to do so an indefinite number of times.

Who Is The Creator? I’d have to go along with theists in general about the need for a creator, just that I propose a computer programmer and not a God (or gods). In other words, we exist in a virtual reality Cosmos, not a supernatural Cosmos. Translated, we ‘exist’ in a simulated Cosmos and our Universe is a fake.

God Takes Sides: During WWII, Germany thought God was on their side; ditto Italy; ditto Japan; ditto USA; ditto England. Ditto teams/sporting events. All logical contradictions.

God Isn’t Omnipotent:

God isn’t omnipotent because He (?) can’t…

Create infinity;

Create logical contradictions;

Travel faster than the speed of light; time travel into the past; override the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle;

Create something from nothing;

Prevent natural evils that harm the innocent (or else He doesn’t want to);

God isn’t omnipotent because He (?) can and has…

Made numerous stuff-ups that then required the creation of miracles as a form of correction fluid.

Experiencing God – A Close Encounter of the Supernatural Kind:

So you’ve experienced God! How nice. Untold millions have also experienced their version of a god and accounts of those gods cannot all be correct as they are often contradictory. Religious experiences would fill encyclopaedias and prove nothing other than we are psychologically prone to have religious experiences. The brain appears to be hardwired for but not of necessity monotheistic beliefs or experiences but for spiritual experiences in general, including polytheistic ones. And further, these multi-thousands of religious or spiritual experiences haven’t advanced our understanding of reality – other than our understanding of neurological / psychological reality.

Of course tens-of-thousands of others have claimed to have experienced alien abductions – do you believe them? Millions have experienced ghosts – do you believe them? Lots of people claim to have experienced telepathy or been able to engage in telekinesis. Do you claim to be able to bend spoons with your mind? Numerous people claim to have been reincarnated. Many people believe in astrological experiences based on astrology columns in their daily newspaper or on ‘professional’ horoscope forecasts. Maybe you’ve experienced Bigfoot too and had out-of-the-body experiences. If so, why should we believe you? Claims are a dime a dozen. Personal experiences count for absolutely nothing unless you can back up your claims with solid evidence. And extraordinary claims (like experiencing God) require extraordinary evidence. To date, on any sort of credibility scale, religious visionaries rank as close to zero as makes no odds.

A Few God-Related Observations That I Have Established:

Monotheism: The concept that just because you can imagine something (i.e. – God) doesn’t make that something a really real reality. Monotheism may be a concept that someone at some time might have conceived but that doesn’t make monotheism true, any more than someone conceiving of a Flying Spaghetti Monster makes the Flying Spaghetti Monster a really real reality.

Regarding Greek Mythology: That the Ancient Greek gods and goddesses; demigods and demigoddesses, and all other associated mythological entities were clearly supernatural by any reasonable definition of the word even if the Greeks didn’t view things within that context. Medusa could turn mortals to solid stone with just one glance. Sounds pretty supernatural to me. And if the winged Seraphim and Cherubim are supernatural, what does that make Pegasus? Then too what about the Griffin, the Sphinx, the Minotaur, and the Hydra? All are supernatural creatures not part of any zoology that I’m familiar with. You do realize by the way that the Bible acknowledges the existence of Unicorns! So much for God’s infallible holy word!

Religious Culture: That one’s worldview and philosophies are a product of the life and times, society and culture, that they were born and raised and educated in. That includes their religious / spiritual worldviews and philosophies. People are obviously a product of the times, society, culture they are born into, grow up in and are educated in. That’s part of the nature / nurture dualism. You do not believe in the divinity of a Pharaoh because you weren’t born and raised and brought up in Ancient Egypt. Had you been, you would have.

Theology: Theology is both Earth-centred as well as human-centred. Yet in reality, Earth is about as minor a celestial object as you care to examine both in time and in space; humans are also quite the minor entity, especially in time vis-a-vis how long Earth has existed as well as how long the cosmos has existed. Therefore, theology, in cosmic (spatial and temporal) terms isn’t significant at all.

Regarding Intelligent Design: That the argument for God from design and the argument for God from intelligent design are two sides of the same coin. Intelligent Designers / Creationists still invoke God as the Designer / Creator, so a rose by any other name seems to apply here.

Animals Who Sin: I have been told that it’s not just humans that have sinned but that animals have been dragged into that state of affairs to. However, when challenged, nobody could cite me a Biblical passage(s) where it says that animals have sin or that animals can sin. I can’t seem to find anything relevant.

God the Designer: And if you argue there is a God because of design, and yet the human body is rather poorly designed, then that doesn’t make God a very good designer. That if a deity or deities designed the human body then that deity or deities did so after having failed a course in the “Principles of Anatomy and Physiology 101”.

Claiming Evidence for God: Claims DO require evidence. If you make a claim to your insurance company, you must give evidence to support that claim. If I claim you committed a crime the burden of proof is on me to prove your guilt; the burden to prove your innocence is not required by you. The scientists who claimed to have discovered ‘Cold Fusion’ had to put up or shut up. If theists doubt where the burden of providing evidence / proof lies, they should kindly consult a lawyer / scientist who will set them straight. That the burden of proof or at least evidence for those who claim that a supernatural deity or deities actually exist rests on their shoulders. To date no person or persons, theists or otherwise, have accomplished this.

Of course some theists suggest that atheists would not accept the evidence for God that theists provided which IMHO translates into copping-out big-time because theists have no evidence to provide. If they could provide actual instead of philosophical / theological waffle evidence then we’ll see where the cards fall. Of course that cuts both ways. Some atheists suggest that theists would not accept any evidence for the non-existence of God that atheists provide.

God’s Real Nature: You may well say that God is Truth and that God is Love and that God is some sort of Light in the Tunnel, but my source – the Bible – says that God performs acts of, or condones acts of, or orders acts of: Murder & Genocide; Animal & Human Sacrifice; Torture; Child Abuse; Animal Abuse; Theft; Slavery; Paedophilia; Rape; Incest; Cannibalism; Betrayal; and Lying.

Conclusion: If you wish to believe in an invisible ‘friend’ up in the sky who happens to be an egomaniac and mass murderer, that’s your right. But with ‘friends’ like God who needs enemies! Even if God (of the Old Testament) exists, He’d be the very last entity I’d want to snuggle up to. God has committed so many crimes against humanity that He makes Satan look like one of the good guys! In any event, Zeus is my kind of fun-loving deity. Zeus I can relate to.

Problems Associated With Evil

The sacred must by its very essence address issues relating to human existence, the proper way to live and conduct your life and above all it must address the questions relating to death. Of these three objectives, I personally find the one concerning death as most interesting. We would all like to postpone the inevitable however it appears that in the end the Grimm Reaper shall have his way with us. The best we can do is to devise explanations as to why and how it happens and what we can expect in the end.

The Buddhist belief of reincarnation appears to address the issue in the most logical and effective manner. We live multiple lives in order to strive towards obtaining the ultimate “Good.” This is achieved by the process of being born over and over until such goals have been mastered. This practice also provides us with an excellent rationale for the meaning of life. One could look upon our existence on earth as a small part of the puzzle which eventually leads to our final objective – Nirvana or heavenly bliss. The acts of reincarnation also blend perfectly with the Christian beliefs of “divine justice.” There is no better way to describe this justice than to have to atone in another life for our transgressions in the present time.

It is often asked where God is at those times when evil is present using the Nazi concentration camps as an example. I was especially shocked when I read about the little child who had been hung and remain alive, suffering for an additional 30 minutes. I too have to question the whereabouts of God in cases such as this. I am aware that most Christian theology uses the excuse that man has free well and therefore God does not intervene however I find this to be a weak excuse created to defend an almighty God. To say that God was there hanging with the child is equally weak in merit. A loving and caring God would do something to stop the slaughter of the innocent and not merely “be there with the child”.

Once again if we return to the concept of Karma it would explain the above events more acceptable than a tale that God was present and did nothing. Karma would justify such acts under the assumption that man must learn something to progress to a higher level. In this case perhaps in another life the soul of the child did a similar injustice to another human so he would therefore need to atone for that sin by being the victim himself. He can therefore understand the agony he placed his victims in.

I had previously reviewed several different religions and the values which they promote and had deemed Buddhism to be more in lines with logical thinking than what was discovered in other beliefs. The punishment of the wrongdoers is accomplished by themselves as they take the various roles in future lives.

There clearly exists a contrast between ideologies taking place here. The Christian thought is that God allows this to happen because of free will. He fails to intervene on behalf of his people sort of like a test to see if you believe in him or not. On the other hand, the Buddhist followers own up to the fact that they are creating their own eventual “hell” or “Heaven” by their own actions. The Buddhist perspective towards evil is that it is located within our own soul. In no way are the ill effects which befall us related to the will of God.

To relate how this enhances or modifies my views of religion, I would contend that it has provided valid support for the beliefs offered by the Buddhist followers as opposed to other religions. I pride myself as being a logical person who likes to take the facts and relate them to the solution of a problem. With that said I have to follow the thought that the Buddhist religion is a more realist view of life and death.

One of the things which have always perplexed me concerning the Holocaust has been the lack of the will to fight back. The guards at these camps were greatly outnumbered by the prisoners however those in captivity did not attempt to fight back or revolute against the cruelty inflicted upon them. They surely must have known that eventually the authorities would subject them to death so they really had nothing to lose but perhaps much to gain. I can only put myself in the position under the aspirations of what I personally would do but possibly as seen through the eyes of the victims it may be a different story entirely. Someday I would enjoy sitting down and discussing these issues with someone who has personally gone through this crisis. We frequently find considerable criticism for both the Jewish and the Christian thought in regards to the Holocaust. They simply accept the concept that perhaps we might have a God who is not only all might and knowing but they fail to accept the thought of one who refuses to acts in defense of His people. It becomes a very tacky situation with understanding the Jewish or Christian interpretation presented for the Holocaust when it stresses that the suffering of the Jews and others is merely divine punishment.

Moving on to the topic of Satan, I believe that this was nothing less than a fairy tale to frighten small child or adults who would than submit to the will of the holy leaders. The majority of Christians do not believe that Satan ever existed (Deem, 2011). We recall that in life every consequence has an opposite reaction. In this case the concept of good has a negative connotation of Evil; the idea of God must therefore have a view of Satan. Life exists under an umbrella of antagonism.

If we search history we will discover that Judaism prior to these issues encountered at Babylon had no concept of heaven or hell. The soul of departed merely went to “sheol” to rest regardless of what kind of life they had led while alive. There was no mention of Satan or of any angels for that matter. The modern notion of Satan appeared in Judaism during the Babylonian Exile which would account for the lack of biblical references prior to that time. Chronicles was written at the time of the Exile as revisions to the Deuteronomic history which resulted in the first reference to Satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1:

“And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel.”

The New Testament contains a number of references to Satan thus in the Christian theology Satan is indicative of the devil who is the adversary of God. Using the English language loosely we can find several names mentioned in the bible that refer to Satan such as adversary, devil, evil one, Lucifer, Prince of this world, serpent, etc.

Reference

Cunningham, L., Kelsay, J. (2012). The Sacred Quest (6th Edition). Pearson. E-book Edition.

Deem, Rich. (2011). Who is Satan? Retrieved from http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/who_is_satan.html