God, are you there? (by Gerry de Guzman)

I do believe in God. But once in a while, I find myself beginning to raise a doubt, on account of some people making remarks about “God” being nothing more than the product of human invention. Even my 11 year old grandson gives me a condescending smile when I come home from church for my Sunday mass:  “grandpa, do you have to go to church? Do you really believe there is such  a thing as God? You surely cannot  believe the nonsense in the bible which is no more than a fictitious book.” His classmates seem to have more influence on his attitude towards religion than his God-fearing  parents or grandparents.

I think it is honest and healthy for me to raise the question “God, are you there?” The question is, however, not so much as a doubt on God being out there, somewhere; but rather on the sincerity, strength, and character of my own belief, my own faith. More often than not, I am a “man of little faith”. I am like Peter in the Gospel story, who walked on the water and then begun to sink (Matthew, 14:31)

I live in a society where the majority can be described as one would a coin: side one– no time and place for God in their lives; side two– an almost absolute faith in the greatness of man. This is a society where people owe their affluence –wealth and possession– to their own industry, (I heard about a French-speaking man from Wallonie having said once, that “the Flemish live to work, whereas we, Walloons, work to live.”), not owing such abundance to some divine providence.  They enjoy their good health and longevity, thanks to their own self-discipline, diet,  and the advances of science and technology rather than to some divine gratuitous intervention. — I remember the text in the Book of Deuteronomy: “He made you experience want and put you to the test, so that it would be for your good later on; lest you say, ‘With my own strength I have attained all these good things.’ Remember Yahweh, your God, the one who gave you power to become prosperous, as you are today, in fulfillment of the Covenant he promised under oath to your fathers,” (Dt. 8:16-18). — Hence, it is not uncommon to find the majority of the population spending their whole Sunday either at the football matches or idling in bed at home. Sunday liturgy or prayer services are only for the  superstitious and feeble minded.

In this kind of society, if your faith is not strong enough, it’s good as lost to superstition and feeble-mindedness. So, better admit that your faith is weak and be like the drowning Peter in Matthew’s gospel, and pray God to strengthen your weak faith. “God, are you there?” Of course! “Yahweh, I know you are there, standing always at my side; You guard me from the foe, and You lead me in ways  everlasting”, (from Psalm 139).  I have this assurance from the First Book of Chronicles: “… Yahweh knows all our thoughts and desires; If you seek him, he will let you find him; but if you turn away from him, he will abandon you forever,” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

Since my childhood, even until I finished my post graduate studies in theology, I have been drilled to think and say that the Bible is God’s written word to mankind.  I still believe it so, but the way this faith statement is worded is rather crude, to the point that it could lead the hearer to a misconception, that God wrote the bible in exactly the same way as I am now writing this essay. Of course, if I say yes, then people could  rightfully call me nuts.  It is people, men from ancient times in the middle east, who were the ones who penned down, reflected on, and treasured and lived out, the writings we now call the Bible.  The bible is a collection of  literature written by different individuals or groups of individuals concerning a people they call their own—God’s people. They wrote their story as a people; they talked about their life experiences, about their dreams, travels, encounters, failures and achievements, crimes and virtues. And how all of these involved an intimate relationship with someone they called their God. These writings narrate their obdurate, unremitting unfaithfulness to this relationship while their God on the contrary remained unfalteringly faithful to this relationship, one they call a “covenant” relationship. These unfaithful people say that the God of the covenant speaks to them through these sacred books.

To say that the Bible is God’s written word to mankind, can be understood without misconception, misconstruction or confusion, only under this condition:  to read this collection of writings from beginning to end, as one would seriously read a novel with the intention of really understanding the story as the narrator intended, under the auspices of its owner/writer (God’s own covenant people) and even then, only  with a prayerful hope to be able in the long run “to see what many longed to  see”  (Matthew 13: 16-17).

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