How does one believe one is connected to a Reality above and beyond our universe and is not simply deluded as Richard Dawkins and others say?
I mean, it is one thing to argue for the existence of God--and as I have said, this depends upon assumptions which cannot be proved.
It is another thing to argue for the existence of that God being personal.
It is another thing to argue that this personal God became flesh in Jesus Christ.
It is another thing to argue that Jesus was indeed the Son of God as He claimed to be.
It is another thing to argue that those who communicated to us the life, death, and resurrection of this Jesus were accurate in their portrayal and can be trusted.
But, how does one know in the depths of one's being that this Reality has taken hold in one's life? How does one know he or she is chosen and beloved--especially without falling into the trap of self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement?
This question is borne out of a discussion on a Lutheran message board which I frequent. A poster was upset about the situation in Israel and Palestine as Israel and Hamas continue to battle. The poster has a definite stance on the issue and who is in the right and who is in the wrong--one that I do not completely share; however, the questions raised by this poster definitely are relevant:
Who is to tell if a people is delusional or whether they were somehow "Chosen". (sic)While the poster refers to Israel and the designation as the Jews as the "Chosen People," I think the questions highly relevant to those of us who are Christian for many Christians believe they too are chosen. Many Christians believe they are holy--set apart. And many Christians seem to act as though their actions coincide completely with the will of God.
Remember the Branch Davidians and Charles Manson's followers? Weren't they too Chosen? How are we to tell? And Does that mean that anything done by the "Chosen People" is the WILL of GOD?
And we also see that those Christians who act in such a manner oftentimes leave us to scratch our heads. How can you say you believe in God and yet go and talk badly about your neighbor? How can you say you believe in Jesus and yet condemn people and their actions? How can you say you go to church when your church doesn't welcome certain types of people and seems cliquish? How can you say you are a Christian when you willingly support businesses who mistreat their workers all in the name of money? How can you say you follow Jesus when you criticize other Christians and say they are not "Christian" enough?
Now, if I begin to base my response to the original question based upon actions, then I am guilty of doing the very things I raised above. If I look at people doing the above things and judge them for not being Christian enough, then I am simply falling into the same trap of self-righteousness as if I have the moral high ground. Which I don't.
Which may be a key to beginning to answer the question.
For if we are all honest with ourselves, we know we are abject failures when it comes to living an upright and moral life. Sure, we can say, "I'm not so bad. I do some good things." But, really, when you think about the standards of what it means not only to refrain from evil but also for promoting good, then we all fail. Perhaps we can refrain from doing all sorts of evil deeds, but that does not necessarily make us good for while we may abstain from adultery, murder, hate, racism, and what have you, that does not necessarily mean we work for our neighbor's good at all times and in all places. In fact, very few folks truly give without thought to how it will affect their financial situation. Few folks purchase goods thinking about the impact of the workers who made them. Few folks stand up to injustice and bullying and other such things preferring to allow the "experts" or those we pay handle them.
In Christian terms, this means none of us stand before God as holy on our own terms. None of us can approach the throne and say, "I have done good, You must accept me because my actions speak well of me." St. Paul put it this way, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
If we truly look at ourselves, we see this. If we don't, we need only find someone who will really speak the truth to us. They will show us our shortcomings. Hopefully, they will be compassionate when they do so. If we take their criticism to heart and know they are not intentionally not trying to harm us, we do not get an inflated opinion of ourselves.
Yet, there would be quite a problem if we stopped here. For if we simply look at ourselves and see our brokenness; if we only see our shortcomings; if we know we do not measure up; we can become very depressed. We can think of ourselves no better than a worm; beggars; dressed in filthy rags.
And this is where the Gospel steps in. This is where Jesus intercedes by His death and resurrection imparting to us His righteousness as He lived the life we should live and died the death we deserved. Through His action, not our own, we are justified--this means we are looked at differently. By ourselves? Kind of. But not necessarily. We are looked at differently by God. Instead of seeing a condemned sinner, God looks through the actions of Jesus and sees His child. God sees a redeemed soul. God sees someone clothed in Jesus' righteousness. We are accepted by Him.
At the same time we are failures and accepted. We are chosen and rejected. We are saint and sinner.
If we find ourselves becoming depressed in our failure, we should remember we are children of God clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
If we find ourselves becoming haughty and thinking we are special because we are chosen, we need to remember we are actually failures.
Only by keeping the two poles in balance does one walk the line. Only by keeping the two poles in dynamic tension does one find oneself deeply loved without crossing into the line of self-righteousness; self-glorification, and seeing one's self and actions as completely and totally in agreement with God's will.
The Gospel--Christ's actions on our behalf--brings us to this place. The world is in desperate need of that Gospel.