I have come to think that life is what you make it! There are no built in assurances that one's life will be happy, or successful, nor is one's life fated to be filled with unhappiness or end in disaster. When one is born, life is as full of possibilities, as one's historical circumstances allow, and one's capabilities permit. I did not always think of life as my own creation, however. The fresh air of philosophical secularism rarely penetrated into the suffocating religious atmosphere of the Mississippi Delta, where I spent my youth. I was taught that God had a plan for every life, which (if one could find it) would lead to success, but only as God counts success. That is to say, one's life may not appear successful as the secular world counts success, but God would regard it so. And one could count on God helping one achieve success in life (as God valued success), provided one resisted the wiles of Satan, God's arch enemy.
What is surprising is that this narrative I was taught by the church is not part of the views of some writers in the Bible. For example, consider the case of Judas Iscariot, who appears to have been destined for infamy from the beginning. Luke even describes Judas' traitorous act as being prophesied in Scripture (Acts 1:16; Ps 41:9), meaning that Judas' life became not what he made it but what God had forced upon him. The evidence is mixed for Judas, however; John describes Judas' betrayal of Jesus as caused by demon possession (John 6:70-71; 13:2), while Matthew describes the betrayal as inspired by Judas' greed (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11). A classic Old Testament example of God's interfering in our lives to work his inscrutable ways is the account of King Saul's clinical melancholia. It was caused by an evil spirit sent from God (1 Samuel 16:14-23), after the departure of God's (holy) spirit (1 Sam 16:14). Neither man had much of a chance for success in life; their lives failed because of invisible powers over which they had no control.
Is it true that invisible supernatural powers are at work on all of us (Eph 6:12) to our detriment or benefit and that we have no control over them, and we become what we are as a result of what they impose on our lives? It calls to mind comedian Flip Wilson's immortal line—"the devil made me do it!" It is true, however, that certain historical circumstances beyond our control do influence the outcomes of our lives (for example, economic, political, social, etc.). But these are neither invisible nor supernatural. Thinking that supernatural powers are at work in the world is a matter of personal belief; it is not objective reality. Naturally if one believes such things, one thereby creates an objective reality and it is that belief that influences one's life, rather than the putative supernatural power. This idea works as well for those who do not think that life is influenced by supernatural powers, for their non-belief becomes the objective reality that sets them free to make what they will of life.
Some biblical writers seem to think that God interferes in our lives in the sense that some are predestined to greatness and others to failure by God electing or choosing them for the fate that they come to realize in their lives (For example, Isa 42:1; 45:4; 65:9; Mark 13:20, 27; 1 Pet 1:2; Rom 11:5; Deut 7:6; 1 Kings 11:34; Ps 78:70-71). The clearest passage of which I am aware (perhaps the only one) where God swears "hands off" interfering in people's lives are the surprising statements attributed to Paul in Romans 1:18-32, where God "gave up" certain people to what Paul calls their impurity, dishonorable passions, and base minds. With this exception the biblical view seems to be that God interferes in all our lives. But secular belief can trump biblical faith in the sense that we create our own realities.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
Thanks Charles. The God of the Bible is very complicated. Jesus called Him, "Father" and Jesus was crucified. I'd say that life is what God has made it and what we make it.
The same was true when I was young. My observation is that it is still "live and well" in the more evangelical corners. But, it goes both ways. One uses "God's plan" to define everything from the hardworking success story to terminal illness and death. I see it as myth, a way to mitigate the "randomness" of success and catastrophe, displacing human and environmental factors.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you Charlie. We cannot control what happens to us- not even God can control that. All we can control is how we respond to what "happens." That's what real karma is: "The world is very hypnotic but essentially the world is your mind. And the world will always try to hypnotize you into believing that all that matter is 'out there.' You forget that what really matters is the state of consciousness with which you meet what is out there. What happens to you is always secondary. Real karma is how you react- it's the mental/emotional conditioning that makes you react in a certain way... It's a conditioned way of interpreting the phenomenal world.
Bring in gaps throughout the day so you're not dragged along by a mind stream, compulsively interpreting all the time... dragged along from one thought to the next, never managing to be caught up." Eckhart Tolle
Charlie, I was also taught that God had a "plan" for my life... Funny how no one could ever explain to me how much of the plan depended on him and how much depended on me... That always got a little too murky for grown ups to delve into.
Many thanks as always!! Elizabeth
This is not profound, it's a quote from the program, "Call the Midwife," but I like it: "God is not in the event; God is in the response to the event."
Interesting comments to your superb contrast of secular belief and biblical faith in each of our live's outcome. My own belief about how our lives traverse can best be understood by seeing God as Mother Nature, e.g. the laws of the universe. Thus each of our biology, environment, parents, community, culture, intelligence, decisions, actions, etc., and perhaps even what some would call a bit of "luck" (actually coincidence) result in our lives outcomes. It would be too simplistic to say "Life is what we make it", but it would be fair to say life can be significantly affected, joy or pain by ourselves.
My life has been "saved" so many times by others after I've made an immature or stupid decision that I couldn't count how often. Just to name one, my family was almost in the streets 40 yes ago, when the wonderful home we live in now was arranged for by a friend's real estate broker father. Those who don't recognize the brother's/sister's keeper dynamic, dare I name a few, those are the ones who take credit for all their successes.
Good Morning Marcia,
I like what seems to be an aphoristic statement, but I also have two questions.
Why should God be in the response but not in the event?
Why is God (always?) in the response but not (never?)in the event?
Good Morning Gene,
Can you unpack your last sentence a little? I think that you are talking about the idea that everyone is responsible in some degree for what happens to others and that being the case, we should recognize that we always stand on the shoulders of others and can scarcely take all the credit for those things we succeed in doing. I have not stated it elegantly but am I in the ballpark?
I agree that the known physical universe operates with a regularity that we usually describe as "laws." We humans are part of the universe in the sense that we are comprised partly of the physical but also partly of "mind" (for the lack of a better word), which acts independently of the universe with impunity as long as it obeys the known "laws." So humans are one of the "coincidences" that frequently occurs in the universe--either to its betterment or ill (for example, human affect on global warming). would you agree that humans are part of the "luck" (either good or bad) that happens in the universe?
Yes, you have expressed the basic meaning of my last sentence. I want to emphasize, that from my perspective, it's not just a matter of being rewarded for having built credit with others, its being "picked up" by someone when others might think you deserved what you got so deal with it yourself.
Your response on March 22 indicated an understand of the points of my belief I had sent on March 21. However, I wanted to make a few comments about your March 22 response:
1. Re: "..we are comprised partly of physical but also partly of "mind"...
Humans are completely physical. The concept of human "mind" is nothing more than the physical functions of the human brain just as all the other organs physically operate. The human mind may seem in a league of it's own among the other body organs; but thinking, emotions, memory, etc. are similar to physical feelings sensed by nerves throughout the body. The human mind functions by chemistry and electrical impulses to produce all brain functions. Not understanding this simple concept of the physical operation of the brain, humans have long imagined non existing features as souls & spirits and then imagined gods, angels, heaven, hell, creation, etc. Admittedly, it takes some contemplation to imagine human thoughts, emotions, memory, etc. as merely chemical and electrical impulses produced & operating within the brain.
2. Re: ..are humans one of the coincidences of the universe? Ans. yes, as well as all living things on the Earth.
3. Re: betterment or ill of the universe
There is no betterment or ill of the universe. The universe just is. Such qualities as betterment and ill only relate to Earth's living things-coincidences all.
Good Morning Jim,
Thanks for pushing me on this subject, but we will likely have to agree to disagree. "Mind" is not a body organ. It is the complex of elements that feels (emotion), perceives, thinks, wills, and reasons. While the brain takes up space and can be weighed a "thought" cannot. A thought is something different from the firing of synapses, it seems to me.
With regard to your #3: What about the diminution of the ozone layer? is that not some harm to--if not to the universe at least to the local cosmos?
I'm surprised no one has brought up the subject of free will. That would fit here, wouldn't it?
In response to your question regarding whether or not God is in the event, I can only give you my personal feelings. I cannot believe a loving God would cause horrific evil or allow it to go unchecked if it were within Its power to prevent or eradicate it. Is God real or just a belief? Does it matter? If we believe God gives us the strength to respond to evil, to care for the helpless, to bring comfort to the sorrowful, etc., and we act on that belief, what dfference does it make if that belief is based on truth or delusion? God is in that response. I think one of the great contributions of Christianity is the belief in the worth of the individual and the power of an individual to effect change.
And Jim, your response sounds very Eastern; there is neither good nor evil, it just is.
"Evil" is a creation of our minds. It is a comparative conceptualization of a simple lack of light. God only cares for redeeming his chosen souls. Gnostics said these were the Pneumatics. The Psychics were destined in a future life for redemption, as best I can tell, and the Hylics were doomed. Try to be a Pneumatic!
We do have free will--up to a point, but I do wonder how free we really are; not because of unseen supernatural powers but because of social influences upon us.
In your larger paragraph: Why could not the capacity "to respond to evil, to care for the helpless, bring comfort to the sorrowful, etc." arise as a part of human compassion alone? Does it require a belief in God to motivate it?
Of course not; that would imply atheists are incapable of compassion. I was just trying to expand a bit on the original aphorism.
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