Let me start by extending my compassion. I know how difficult it is to understand God, how long it takes to put together any meaningful understanding, how confusing, frightening, discouraging and painstaking the process is. But you know at some level how terribly important it is, and that keeps you coming back to the question. I hope we can agree on a basic definition of God as the mind or spirit which underlies all reality, the source of everything including the physical universe we perceive and all its laws and properties and creatures as well as our inner universe with all its concepts and feelings, and all the levels of our selves. If you can accept the existence of God (see assumptions) and this basic definition, then the following description of God may make sense.
My own vague internal model of God is complicated by the existence of time as a concept within God's own mind, which has the bizarre result of having God present both inside and outside of time. The purpose, it seems, is to allow God to fulfill his own nature through His creation by injecting His own awareness into His creatures and learning to love through them. What's weird about this is that the product of the process, a God who has been through all our difficult lives and thoroughly learned to love at all levels as the result, is the same one who started it all off, being outside of time. Hence one of His names in the Bible, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Strange concepts to be sure, but comforting in the implication that God is not only with us, but in the sense is us.
One of the questions I find people wrestling with most frequently is the moral character of God. Many religions, spiritual systems and personal accounts describe love as fundamental to God's character, and describe this love as being more complete than most human beings come to understand, somehow embracing all people regardless of how other people may regard them. It makes intuitive sense that if our ability to love came from God, then God himself must retain at least as much capacity in that regard as He gave. I have met people who have struggled for years with roadblocks such as "If God is so loving, then why does he send premature babies to hell for not [insert salvation requirement here]." If you reflect patiently upon the idea that God must be at least as loving as the most loving person we know, and moreover if we would trust that person not to send premature babies to hell for whatever, then the conclusion is that either our understanding of love is incomplete, or our interpretation of the offending scripture must be incomplete. Given my own assumption that the purpose of life is to learn to love, based on my inner intuition which is corroborated by the content of the Bible and other religious and spiritual texts and even the general reports of those with near death experiences, I think it is more likely that I would misunderstand a verse in a book than that I would completely misinterpret the core teaching of my entire existence. When I engage in the powerful thought experiment of asking how I would do things if I were God, I realize that whatever system I could come up with, good as it might seem, could only be outdone by the one who gave me the resources to come up with it. It is easy to be frightened of God when I go entirely by a scriptural description of Him, but when I give preference to my own experience of God's nature, by seeing what He can do through people, it has been extremely comforting because it puts a lower limit on the greatness of God. The other positive qualities of God, His wisdom, intelligence, sense of humor, patience, gentleness, etc., can be seen the same way - all necessarily present in equal or greater measure in God than in anyone He created. By reflecting on the inspiring characters of those we love, we can put a minimum limit on the characteristics of God.
What then about all the evil in the world? If the things we like in this world are present in God, don't the ugly things in this world contaminate God as well? Let me divide this question in two, the first part dealing with the evil things people do, and the second part dealing with trouble which seems to be outside human control. Take as an example a man who kills, as an example of evil. Why does he kill? First, the motivation to kill (as we normally understand it) depends on the assumption that there is no life after death. Someone who firmly believed in life after death would not be "killing" from his perspective, but pushing somebody from one reality to another. Depending on the realities, this "killing" could even be doing a favor. So first of all, it doesn't make sense that God would "kill" in the sense we normally understand it, because he would have to deny His own existence to do it! Why would a man kill? Out of hate, or a refusal to forgive and love. But maybe you would agree that the most loving people in the world would be less inclined to kill others than the least loving. In other words, love and hate, as major features of an individual's personality, seem to be mutually exclusive. There also seems to be a progression, where in general people tend to become more loving over their lifetimes rather than less, driven by our natural desire to be more loving people. My conclusion is that God is completely loving, just as He has designed us to want to be, but he made Himself that way by putting Himself through what we are going through. What we are going through is a curriculum about love, where we explore the question of whether it is better to love or not in all its forms, and experience the ramifications. To conclude with complete certainty that it is always better to love is to reach the same conclusion as God. Meanwhile, God allows us to reach that conclusion on our own because the meaning of love depends on it being freely given. For the second part of the question, I have found at least two answers. When people are faced by an external threat, they tend to grow closer together - that is, it tends to motivate them to learn to love each other, and also to turn to God for help. obviously in line with God's goals for us. Even so, I don't see natural disasters as being directly caused by God because our own faith has power over the forces of nature. In the Bible, the Fall caused nature itself to change, introducing the concepts of death and hardship, and Jesus showed direct control over nature with some of His miracles. Since most faith in this world is invested in the assumption that there is no God, it makes sense that the outcome of our faith would be distressing. The amazing thing to me is that things aren't much worse than they are.
The Black Hole Analogy
One useful analogy I have found for God's Kingdom is that of a black hole. The human population we see around us is in orbit around this black hole, some nearer and some further but rarely changing orbit. The gravity which would draw us into the black hole, analogous to the love of God, fails to do so because of the momentum of our sins, which keeps us each in a stable orbit. We each have control over our individual momentum and could enter free-fall at will, but as a group we are experiencing an extreme case of learned helplessness because the success of people entering the black hole is hidden by its event horizon. This observed lack of success, which convinces each of us of the difficulty or unlikelihood of reaching the black hole, is widely shared and expressed by our attitude, values and actions, so that anybody who has spent any time among us is robbed of any confidence that the black hole can be reached. The inability of specific information to return from beneath the event horizon causes discouragement about the value of the black hole in general. What I hope to convey from this analogy is that God isn't necessarily far away or difficult to find just because such a large proportion of the people around us seem discouraged about finding Him. There are reasons to believe that the people who find God are soon invisible to us, and their last activities are likewise unknown.
First, let me describe what I think is the connection between our assumptions and the world we perceive. Given that I assume that there is more than one world, or reality, by simply assuming that there is life after death, and that I assume that consciousness underlies all reality, then by what process is the form of a reality generated? Looking at the Bible for clues, we see God basically dreaming up the Earth and handing it over to humans, and then humans sin, which changes the nature of the world. Later we see miracles, which are the product of faith. If we define sin as the product of the assumption that there is no God, and miracles as the product of the assumption that God exists, that suggests that the most basic properties of the world are determines by the basic assumptions of those observing it. When we examine the specifics of the miracles, where Jesus tells people that their faith has healed them, or that He is unable to perform miracles because of lack of faith in the observers, it seems that the form reality takes is a compromise between the faiths of the people observing it. What about the amazing stability of our world? If our observations both reinforce and stem from our assumptions and beliefs, then it makes sense that they would stabilize each other. One of the lessons we seem to teach each other most exhaustively is that there is a world "out there" which is the same to everyone, and whoever disagrees with it is "crazy". An interesting observation that fits in with this model is that groups of people who take anticholinergic drugs, which impair memory formation, may report experiencing a private reality which is shared among themselves but no longer tied to what everyone else is experiencing.
So why is this good? Because it suggests that the world we see is determined by the assumptions we invest the most faith in, and by deliberately choosing where to invest our faith we can change the world we experience. Further, it suggests that it may be much easier to do this than we have been taught, because the only people he have heard from are the ones who haven't succeeded yet, which means that the success rate is unknown, not zero like we thought. Jesus, who claims to know how to reach God, says that it isn't difficult, that the only thing stopping us is ourselves, and that we will be glad when we succeed.
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