My oldest son brought home a couple of pieces of card stock paper a while back. He had gone with some friends to hear an inspirational speaker, the basketball coach for Northern State who apparently and fortunately makes it his mission to teach young people about more than just basketball. One of the little papers had 28 thoughts on living… such as ” Live beneath your means. Return everything you borrow. Stop blaming other people. Admit when you make a mistake. Do something nice and try not to get caught. Listen more; talk less. Be kind to kind people. Be kind to unkind people.” The final five tenants listed at the very bottom of the page, right above where it states that the previous words of wisdom came from a Quaker newsletter, say, “Learn from the past. Plan for the future. Live in the present. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.” I love that. It may not ALL be “small stuff”…but 99% of it is!
And speaking of “Quaker” wisdom…My mother is a fan of the writer, preacher, speaker Phillip Gulley who was raised Catholic and converted to the Quaker religion. I picked up one of his books and read a few pages and quickly decided that his way of thinking was not for me… but what I did agree with whole-heartedly is the notion that there aren’t a handful of religions in the world, REALLY there are as many religions in the world as there are people. I am a religion of one. No one else in the world has exactly the same beliefs that I do… and because of that, how can I say that I am right and everyone else is wrong? I can’t and I won’t… and please don’t tell me I am wrong either. Only God is All Powerful and All Mighty and All Knowing. He created everything, and understands perfectly how and why things work as they do. On the other hand, even the wisest men and women can only theorize, and attempt to compartmentalized and put rules and limits and come up with mathematical equations and “Laws” of explanation so that our limited minds can attempt to understand.
I read a fascinating article recently about, Dr. Eben Alexander III, a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon who claims a “near death” experience. He was skeptical when his patient’s would come out of comas or flat line situations or surgeries with stories of something AMAZING that is beyond our imagination and can only be understood when we are “gone” from this world. He had always agreed with the scientific community that these experiences could be chalked up to chemical malfunctions… UNTIL it happened to him. He developed such a severe case of bacterial meningitis that all but his most primitive part of his brain, a part of his brain stem, completely shut down. Obviously he was in a coma…a very deep coma…as close to brain-dead as one can possibly be for seven days. But he says that through it all he still knew who he was. His “self” never ceased to be aware. He was not aware of his physical body…he didn’t know where it was or who was poking it or prodding it at any given time. He wasn’t the ghost in the corner of the room looking at his body on the bed, or hearing the beeps or whirs of machines or fretting over the nurses care or his visitors tears. He was somewhere else entirely. A place where he felt one with everything and completely alive and had complete knowledge. His experience led him to write the book Proof of Heaven. I did not read the book, because I am not a skeptic and I do not need proof…but his story did cause me to stop and consider some things.
God created Adam, the first human we have an account of…that starts “our” story…the first person to have a real understanding of himself and his surroundings and the consequences to his actions. God gave Adam dominion over every plant and animal – God even gave Adam permission to eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden…even the tree of life….but God warned Adam NOT to “eat” from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It went well for God and Adam except Adam had no suitable helper, so God created Eve. “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Genesis 2:25. It was a beautiful thing. God, his creation, man and woman and everything they could ever need or want. We all know the story…Eve was deceived by the devil disguised as a snake who told her it was ok to eat the fruit God has specifically forbidden, “You will surely not die…For God knows that when you eat your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5.
The original sin. Turning away from God…choosing one’s own way instead of God’s way. Tempted…and not just tempted but acting on the temptation. As my study Bible says, “In eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Even sought a creaturely source of discernment in order to be morally independent of God.” Sin is the primary reason that we humans become separated from God. Sadly, Adam and Eve had the tree of life available to them…but they did not choose well. They ate the forbidden fruit instead and God banished them from the Garden of Eden. And besides the banishment, from then on EVERYTHING would change. Nothing would be easy…
Now let’s go to another place in the Bible…Genesis 11. “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech…the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them…’ So the Lord scattered them from there all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11: 1-9.
God didn’t confuse the languages and scatter the people to keep them from doing good. Remember, Man since his days in Eden is well aware of good and EVIL. Evil, prideful mankind had undertaken a godless effort for his own selfish ego, with every intention to dominate and control God’s creation. The earth would have become the kingdom of man with no hope of a kingdom of God. That would be completely unacceptable!!! Can you imagine? We already have a world with of ego-maniacs and tyrants today. Can you imagine how it might look now if God had let man continue evil schemes way back in the beginning – without thwarting them? Can you imagine this world if God was not here? If God had not been persistent? And merciful? And Forgiving and loving? I bet that we would have destroyed ourselves and our planet…but I digress.
This is the point. Adam and Eve were created for complete communion with God. All that they knew was good. All they knew in their garden paradise was complete joy and peace. And then they gained “knowledge”…we gained knowledge. But not the kind of knowledge that God has because he has an understanding with His knowledge. We must “recreate the wheel” at every turn and make educated guesses and created calendars and clocks and periodic tables and categories… We have gained the kind of knowledge that doesn’t really clear anything up…in fact it really confuses everything. Every generation discovers something new that makes the rules irrelevant or in need of “tweaking”. Even the most brilliant minds could only develop theories and formulas to explain what was observable…but what about the unseen? What if everything that we know has been built on faulty foundations? What if our measuring tools are faulty? Can we agree that we are very limited in our true understanding of really just about anything? We are just “making due” to the best of our ability given what we THINK we know.
We are given all of the stimulation that comes with a chaotic environment and we are supposed to be able to rein it in and make it fit in some type of orderly fashion into what we know. We are given the ability with telescopes to see out into space at galaxies millions of light years away and speculate about how fast the Universe is expanding…or contracting…and where and what a black hole may be and whether or not quantum physics is for real. We are able to translate even the most complicated language – but often meaning is lost in translation even among people who speak the SAME language, or know each other intimately…how much more may that be the case when people have different cultures and belief systems? Most of us know a little bit about a whole lot of things. But we think that the more educated and scientific we become…the more” knowledgable” about the ways of the world we become…the more we “master” our busy day…we decieve ourselves. Just like the serpent deceived us…we think we know sooooo SOOOO much, but all the “stuff” that keeps us busy and occupied and blind is keeping us from true knowing. Do we know what is important? We are so caught up and “sweating the small stuff.” Would we be better off if our brains were shut down and free from all of the worldly distractions so that we can KNOW? I think YES.
The knowledge that we gained when we ate from that tree is smoke and mirrors. We have always had the ability to understand. God promises us that one day if we do not lose focus and get caught up in the lies of this world, if we can transcend to a place of peace that passes understanding We one day will see. Now we can not see clearly because we have no idea how to maneuver through so much information. How much of our brains do we use? I believe that we will not ever know or truly understand anything until all of the things of this world that bombard our physical senses are one gone. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12
So the scientist was brain-dead…forget all of the books he read or the classes he attended or the surgeries he performed or the doubts he had about an after-life. He was a doubting Thomas until he saw it for himself. Faith is believing in something that we cannot see. I personally would rather not have a catastrophic illness or injury that makes me brain dead. I believe Dr. Alexander because it makes sense to me. It makes sense that our vanity and our desire to be all-knowing and creators of explanations is that which separates us from God. We don’t have to continue being the Adam and Eve that listened to the serpent. We don’t have to be the people who had egos to build grand things for their own selfish reasons. We are better than that . I am going to try to remind myself that God’s intention when He created man was for our union…too be together. I wish that Adam and Eve had accepted God’s plan and His gifts to them. I am going to pray that daily God helps me to see more clearly than every day before…that I won’t get blinded, caught up in, frustrated by or “sweat the small stuff.”
Especially at this Christmas Season, let’s find not just “the Reason for the Season” but the Reason…and let Him bring you peace.