By Ray Waddle
I once ruined a perfectly good late-night discussion about God. We were a small group of friends, trying to make sense of it all. But our comments revealed an interesting pattern. We seemed to base faith in God according to the sort of week we had.
One friend said job and family were sailing along fine; all was well with God. Another was glum about the lack of a boy friend - glum also about the possibility that God exists.
Something wasnt quite right: We were tying belief to fickle mood and ever-changing circumstances, as if the reality of God depended on the work status and social successes of a few people sitting in a circle in one corner of one town in one state of one country on one continent in one hemisphere of one planet in one solar system of one known universe.
So I blurted out: God exists whether I'm in the mood this week to believe God exists or not.
The evening soon ended, though we were really just getting started on a big issue: locating our reasons for confidence in God no matter what happens day-to-day.
These days, amid horrific suffering from earthquake or economic crisis, doubters assertively ask: "Where is your confidence in God now?"
There's no use denying the real anguish of honest doubt. But I recall Psalms 14 and 53: It's foolish to say there is no God. It's hasty, and it's ungrateful. I suspect it is also based on fickle mood and ever-changing circumstance: atheism is the rejection of a particular sort of God, or a bad experience at church as a child.
But those same psalms warn believers not to get cocky. Everybody has gone perversely astray - believer and unbeliever alike. When times are good, the believers are tempted to think they know God's will and prosper from it. In good times, it's easy to redefine God so that God's will aligns with my own. When things turn sour, God appears to be disloyal, and the relationship suffers.
A dose of Ecclesiastes helps. The writer is skeptical about human pretensions to truth but also upholds the sovereignty of God. He recommends a spiritual realism that grasps two ideas at once: 1) much mystery and suffering infuse this world, but 2) the Creator God perseveres and undergirds our lives. Despite everything, the wise response is awe of divine power, reverence for divine commandments and a zest for the life we are given.
During Lent, the discussions continue (inside my head and with friends). Jesus showed a new way of touching God - a path for walking this earth, relating to others, honoring the commandments, keeping goodness and confidence in the foreground. The ego's self-defeating moods and delusions don't get the last word anymore.
--Columnist Ray Waddle, author of two books published by Upper Room Books, lives in Bethel, Conn.