what the mind cannot accept. That’s a paraphrase of retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. When I first heard the idea a few decades ago, I wasn’t sure that I agreed with it. Now I know that I do agree with it wholeheartedly. Whenever I hear someone offer a nonsensical reason for a well understood happening, I cringe. If, for example, someone says, “I prayed for rain and it rained,” I sincerely hope they are mentioning what they understand to be two completely unrelated events even as I suspect they aren’t. When someone asks me to pray for a one hundred two year old relative who has fallen ill and the clear implication is that they want me to pray for their recovery, I have severe reservations. I wonder how long they think that relative should hang on just so they don’t have to experience loss? I also wonder what kind of magic power they things I have, or what kind of special pull I have with God, or what kind of a God it would be that would be obliged to cater to everyone’s whim.
When I was in graduate school I had a theology professor who claimed that legitimate miracles can never violate the laws of the universe. Those laws and processes might work faster or slower, but could never be broken. I wasn’t sure if I agreed completely when I first heard the idea, but now I do agree. We can hope, wish, dream, and pray that we will live forever, but it isn’t happening. Try as we might, we won’t exempt ourselves from the laws of physics, throw on a red cape, and fly out of our windows like Superman. When we read stories in the scriptures of any tradition that contradict the laws of physics, we must understand them as metaphor. The same is true when we read about someone who walks on water, interrupts meteorological events by saying something, or a Divine being who has some of the less well adjusted human emotions such as anger, jealousy, or temper tantrums.
The reason I mention all of this is that the heart will never love what the mind rejects. Whenever we hold a belief that the uninitiated would never buy into, we hold a belief that does damage to our own spiritual credibility. We live in a time that is seeing the implosion of institutional religion. I believe the biggest reason for that decline is that religion has become lazy and inbred. If you listen carefully, you will hear a great many people making some pretty incredible claims. If those claims were made on behalf of anyone other than a divine being, the people making them would be ordered for a psychiatric evaluation. Why do we seem so eager to believe that a divine being would do them, especially given that there are no verified reports of a divine being from any tradition doing anything even remotely resembling the kinds of things some of us ask of God on a regular basis?
The answer is that part of us doesn’t want to grow up. Part of us doesn’t want to take responsibility for our lives. Part of us wants a parental figure to take care of us more thoroughly that our parents ever did – or ever could. We project all of that onto God. We recreate God in our image with the express purpose of meeting our needs on a regular basis. When we do these things we miss out on life. I am convinced there is a God. I am also convinced that no being worthy of that title would agree to be our personal little errand boy, running to and fro in response to some awfully strange requests from humanity. I believe that such a being would seek to call us into wholeness rather than avoidance – which is exactly the opposite of what so many religious people seem to be seeking. Isn’t that odd?