A Leap of Faith in God’s Time
On November 2, I am trying to pay attention primarily to my faith commitments regarding my and our time in the universe. Who am I, who are we, what am I/we here to do? Why is there something and not nothing? In the big picture, does this moment matter?
I am going to use “we” below, meaning “we” who claim a faith and/or spiritual tradition.
We live in a universe that is nearly 14 billion years old, comprised of billions of stars and realities that we have scarcely begun to comprehend or even see. We are all made of stardust, the origin of which is as old as the first moment in space-time.
In the universe, there are billions of stars around which orbit perhaps millions and millions of planets circling in a Goldilocks Zone capable of hosting sentient life. We earthlings are not alone in the universe.
Our earth home is about 4.5 billion years old. It is an evolving world. The world has undergone 5 mass extinction events in its history. We may well be into the 6th, driven by human activity. Quick work considering that human beings—homo sapiens—have been around for mere seconds of a cosmic year.
Human beings evolved to be the dominant species because we learned to use fire to cook food (and thus grow our brains), and because we learned the value of forming groups and cooperating. In the process, we formed cultures.
Our cultures are the soil for all our languages, values and institutions, as well as our ongoing conversations and conflicts about who we are, have been, and should be.
In the course of time, human beings have tried many forms of group cohesion: family, village, clan, tribe, elders, warrior-king, council, federation, empire, monarchy, republic, dictatorship, police state, pure democracy, democratic republic. And I’m sure I’ve omitted a bunch. But, the larger and more diverse the group, the tougher it is for us to find the glue to cohere.
The Bible is a collection of different forms of literature written down over several centuries in a very small part of our—in terms of the universe—very small planet. The Bible’s authors are, on the whole, deeply suspicious of kings, kingdoms, and empires.
In the Hebrew Bible/First Testament, there is a long argument between God and the people regarding kings. In that argument, the people claimed they wanted a king like the other nations around them. God cautioned them often that a king will use his power to steal from them, to dominate their lives and enslave them. More often than not, the kings behaved just as God predicted.
In the Second Testament/New Testament, the king is a Roman appointee and the real power is in Rome, with the emperor. Jesus and Paul were no friends of the empire.
In other words, there is no love in the Bible for empire or for strong man leadership. That deep suspicion was animated in the American colonists’ fight with their king. From Declaration through Constitution, Americans enshrined our opposition to a power higher than “we the people.” We do not submit to Leviathan.
On the other hand, we—at least the “we” represented by the Abrahamic faiths—believe there is a God, who is the creator of the universe. We who identify with a Christian tradition claim God is love, that love inheres in creation (not unlike a chef “makes her food with love”), and that love is the most powerful force in human life.
Yet, sometimes we the people long for a king who represents power without love, who will set the world right as a segment of us sees the right. Sometimes we do not believe the arc of the universe bends toward justice, and we despair or explode. Sometimes we are so inundated with reports of the worst of humankind and the use of hate as a glue to form an “us” versus a “them” that we can’t sense the power of love and we mirror the hate we’ve received.
So, in this particularly anxious time, I am also trying to keep in my attention: the universe is God’s. Love is at the center. God loves the world and each of us.
What is the meaning of “today” in this universe so much larger than our world? In terms of the history of this planet, November 3 and coming weeks and months are microscopic events. In a bigger vista, are these days as important as they feel to us?
One could read all of the above and conclude, “Then what happens does not matter.” True, one could.
But one could read all the above and say, “This moment is precious, because every moment is precious in God’s time. God always needs witnesses who by their lives will testify that love is the core of life. Isn’t it wonderful that, despite the age and scope of the universe—or the number of universes!—God is luring us, here, today, on this beautiful blue speck in this chaotic age, to become a more beloved community? I may not know why I am given the gift of life in this moment, but I have been. And I will use this moment to live as one created in God’s image and to be with others as if they are created in God’s image, too.”
I’m fixing to vote for the latter. Or, at least, I’m trying to take that leap of faith.
Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.