This weekend I was channel surfing on television and came across the PBS fundraiser by Deepak Chopra entitled The Future of God. If you have not seen it, it is well worth watching. Dr. Chopra does an admirable job, as he traditionally does. But I also enjoyed the program because it was filmed in our sanctuary at Marble. Our church looked really good on TV. I was proud.
With a title that includes the word "future," one immediately assumes he or she might hear something new, revolutionary, previously unthought, unspoken, or unpublished. When the topic is "God," that's really a pretty ambitious thing to think. Across the centuries, with all the thought that has been applied to theology, are there really any new questions to ask or any new statements to make? The simple truth is, the author of Ecclesiastes was probably correct when he observed: "There is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Dr. Chopra did a very good job restating ideas that have been put forward across centuries. For example, his explanation of the nature of time was a restatement of the writings of Boethius in the late fourth and early fifth centuries CE (where Boethius put forward his assertions about "the eternal now"). Much of his understanding of how we experience and encounter God was a restatement of pantheism (God is in all things), a religious philosophy that has been around for thousands of years. If any of you ever read the Daily Word devotional site, their meditations are frequently based in that philosophy. Likewise, his understanding of God as "consciousness" was not unlike what we read in the very first chapter of the Gospel of John where the author writes of God as “Logos” (mind). Chopra also spent some time describing how we try to give God human characteristics. This tendency, of course, dates back to the very earliest times when any thoughts from previous oral traditions were initially written on parchment. We call it "anthropomorphism.” Let me reiterate, what was done in that program was done exceptionally well. And I commend it to you. It's just that when it comes to thinking about God, there really is nothing new under the sun.
The simple fact is that human beings have been thinking and talking and writing about our search for God since the very first moments we were able to imagine anything beyond ourselves. From the first instance when one of our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago realized, "Where there is a creation, there must be a Creator," we have been wondering and imagining what that Creator might be like.
We have thought about the Divine for millenia. The problem is that throughout all that time our religious thinking has always been more prevalent than our religious doing. There is an old adage that says, "It's not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. It is instead that Christianity has been found difficult, and therefore has not been tried." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly said to his listeners, "You have heard it said of old, but...,” and then would remind them that they had not lived into or up to that which they had been taught for so many years. Then as now, it was easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. It was easier to talk about forgiveness than to forgive, easier to talk about Grace than to live graciously, easier to talk about charity than to contribute, easier to talk about church than to become involved in it, and easier to talk about how important it is to love our neighbors than to actually put love into practice on their behalf. Thinking and talking about God and religion are, in fact, not difficult things to do. The challenge comes when we are asked to actually live in godly fashion. "You have heard it said of old, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven...." (Matthew 5: 43-44) That verse, and so many others like it, is not difficult because we cannot figure out who God is. It is difficult because it is easy to figure out what God asks of us, and God asks something that we would prefer not to do.
I like what I heard from Deepak Chopra. I loved seeing our church as a stage for a national audience. But at the end I was reminded of what I have always known, what you and I and all religious thinkers have always known – that we have been thinking about who God is ever since, as a human species, we've been thinking at all. Our challenge is always to move from thinking to doing. "You have heard it said of old, but....”