I am a Christian by nature and nurture.
First, by nature. That is to say, I was born into a Christian family. I did not choose this family. I could have been born into a Jewish family in Manhattan or to a Muslim family in Iran or to a Buddhist family in Tibet. Which, of course, would likely mean I would be writing this today and saying, “I am Buddhist by nature,” or “Jewish” or “Muslim,” and so forth.
A Christian by Nature
But I was born into a Christian family much like many of you who are reading this.
Now, if I were a Christian believer believing in the predestination of the saved elect…if you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky…if I believed in what we learned in seminary as “Five Point Calvinism” like Christian leader Al Mohler I suppose believes today and teaches others to believe, I could sit back with Mohler and relish in, as well as rejoice over, this theological myth, as I suspect he and other likeminded folk do, that, like him, I have been divinely “elected” to be saved…that I have been pre-ordained to be on God’s short list of “insiders” invited to his banquet in the sky and, as a consequence, I need not worry about those not so fortunate and who are, furthermore, eternally doomed.
I am a Christian by nature. But I am not this kind of Christian. The god of these Christians I do not know. The god of these I do not want to know.
Rather, the God I feel I know by nature is a God of love, compassion, a God of inclusion. This God is neither Christian nor Muslim…or, anything else. The God I feel I know by nature is a God all people have encountered in all faith traditions and is even a God those who may have no faith tradition have encountered, either by nature or by choice. I cannot say that with certainty because I know only my own experience. But I believe this to be so, as I cannot help but fondly remember reading the wonderful little book by the French philosopher and atheist, Andre Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. In it, he speaks so beautifully about his own experience of transcendence, or whatever you’d like to call it, without speaking of this as a “religious” experience or an experience of a theistic god.
I loved the book. And, I highly recommend it.
But, not if you’re just looking for a fight or something to disagree with. If that’s where you are, you’ve found enough to argue with here already.
Have at it.
The God I feel I know by nature is not limited by my narrow-minded view of things. If I were to pretend only Christians know God, I would be deluding no one but myself. Besides, how arrogant can I be? You can hide arrogance behind neatly-packed cliches’ like, “I just believe the Bible,” but you’re kidding no one, but yourself. To presume Christians alone know God says nothing about God, except perhaps that your view of her is pretty small.
The God I know by nature is…
Expansive…sort of like this unimaginably expansive universe.
The God I know by nature is…
In all things…
IS all things…and,
Is with you and me now.
Can I explain this God? No
May I try? I do.
Do I succeed? Only in my own delusional moments.
A Christian by Nurture
Second, I am a christian by nurture. That is to say, not only was I born into a Christian home, I was raised, or nurtured, into the Christian faith by my very Christian parents.
Were they perfect in their nurture? No.
Did they know everything there is to know about God? Hardly.
During the first half of my adult life, I accepted their nurture, which means I accepted what they taught me about God, almost without question. Then, a series of life events, some so tough to handle I wouldn’t wish them on an enemy, caused me to begin questioning everything I was nurtured into believing.
At first, these questions scared me.
I felt alone in asking them, even more alone in my search for answers.
I seldom mentioned my quest to anyone else for fear of being judged or, worse, rejected.
But, like it or not, I had to make this journey…this inquiry into everything I was taught to believe.
And, I did.
And, because I did,
I discovered three things…
One is, there are more questions than there are answers. And, I’m OK with both.
Two, many of the things I was nurtured to believe I had to let go…I had to move beyond.
I did. And, discovered something else.
You won’t die for asking questions. You will be judged by insecure people. But, in the end, you’ll be the better for having made the journey.
Was my laying down some of the things I had been nurtured to believe disrespectful of my parents?
I hope not. In fact, I have regarded this journey as the next step in my own, and hopefully that of others who read my thoughts, evolution of spiritual consciousness…spiritual understanding…or, our awareness of the Eternal Other, I just so happen to still call God, but a god whom I feel and know and see in everything and everyone around me…here and now.
The other thing I discovered is that joy and freedom are the consequences…or, Divine gifts…awaiting those who courageously take this journey into self-inquiry, even self-doubt.
Such as it is, I would advise you to make your journey.
I suspect some of you are now.
Others of you are feeling drawn to make the journey but you’re scared.
Go for it. Embrace your doubts. Your destiny lies just beyond them.
I do not know what God you’ll meet in the process. But of this much I feel slightly sure: If there is a God, I suspect you’ll know her…
By her LOVE…
Even those we sometimes think of as our enemies.
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader in the fields of human development, interfaith diversity, and spirituality. This article first appeared on his website blog: www.SteveMcSwain.com