So how do we consider the actuality of God or a belief about God or an understanding of what faith means?
Let's consider how an academic researcher might proceed and at the end I will suggest an important twist:
- What is the burning question that you want answered? Are you concerned about the historical accuracy of the Bible? Or what Christ taught versus what you have heard about church or theological teaching? Or what it means to have a personal relationship with God? If you have any honest interest in calling yourself a Christian (or any other follower of a set of religious teachings), it seems to me that serious consideration is called for. What is bugging you? What is off-putting about your current understanding? What is your deepest yearning?
- What challenges do you see in your current understanding versus what you are considering? Do you say "I believe in God" to shut down someone you feel is bugging you? Do you say "I'm a Taoist" with little real knowledge to put people off or to appear an unusually smart person? Or is your life less than filled with peace, hope for the future, a sense of purpose or even more distressing, filled with large amounts and a wide array of "stuff" that is not helping ease the sense of "there must be more"?
- What sources of information can you access while you consider your question? This can be a problem because I have read some of the most inane, nonsensical stuff that was written primarily to generate income for the writer. Other things seem to have a single "if you do what I say, you will get what you want" message that is at best too narrow and at worst just plain off track. There are many versions of the Bible, some more slanted toward interpretation than translation, but all have their place. There are millions of websites with something to say and sorting the dross form the gold is a challenge. You can consult with someone you feel is a seriously kind, generous, forgiving person and ask for advice. You can visit a few churches to see if what you hear there seems authentic and when you find one where folks are living what they are saying, jump in to learn what sources they find reliable.
- As you research, how you can apply an idea to test it out? Folks in churches and writers of "How to" books on Christianity come in all shapes and sizes with widely varying degrees of pertinent information (and plenty of impertinence at times!) I strongly suggest you avoid things that depend on the personality or charisma of a leader or preach more about what you should NOT do that what you SHOULD do. Again, consider the folks at the church or program: Do they demand that you immediately accept all aspects of their doctrine or are they willing to listen to your concerns and share their personal experience rather than quoting something that they believe is only to be interpreted in their way?
- Why is your research important for your life? Based on what you are reading, hearing, discussing, is there a way to make it practical in your own life? Must you go to a certain place or say exactly certain words so you can magically get a blessing not available to others? Is God limited according to man-made perceptions and demands? Or does this give you hope that there is a life of purpose and growth and renewal and redemption available to you personally and to all those you love? If you are not hearing about a God that is bigger than what you can comfortably understand, then I suggest you keep learning and reading and seeking.
- What new research is possible, based on what you learned? Let's say you have read that it is important to consider decisions you make according to what is sometimes called the "Golden Rule." For Christians this goes something like this: “Be as kind, as forgiving, as generous, as loving to each of God's children as you long to have God be to you, even while you are uncertain that God could ever value you, forgive you, rehabilitate you.” What would that look like in your world? Would you be honest even if you believed your boss had cheated you? Would you be kind to your spouse even though there have been so many hurtful words you can hardly remember what being kind looks like? Would you forgive someone who had truly caused you harm, even though they did not ask or seem sorry? If you try this and you find it improves the quality of your life, then look for more ideas on how the teachings of God are practical for daily living.
You may say, “Wow, that is a lot of work!” and I would say, yes, in fact for me it is a life-long project. But if there is even the smallest chance that there is more hope, more joy, more love, more important work to do, more harmonious relationships, more of each and every good and delightful blessing, then what is that worth!
Is 3 minutes a day so much to spend to consider a life of something more?
Oh, and about the twist I mentioned at the beginning, I would suggest saying these simple words as part of your studies as often as it comes to your mind: “O creator of all, I come seeking something I don’t have the slightest idea of how to put into words, but, if you are there, if you care, if I have something worthwhile to bring to you, to the World that you created, then help me see and hear truth. Oh, and if you are sending someone to help, let me recognize them quickly!”
Do you dare?