Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now

During this year of 2018, I will be doing something different with many of my blog posts. For 30 out of the 72 scheduled articles for the year, I plan to post articles based on my as-yet-unpublished book that has the title you see above.
In the preface of the book, which you can read here, I tell how the idea for the book came from Gordon Livingston’s 2004 bestselling book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now.
There are 30 short chapters in the book, so 30 times this year I plan to summarize a chapter in 600 words, or less, and then provide a link so that those who have the time and interest can read the entire chapter.
Please give attention now to the main points from the first of the “thirty true things” (which I will occasionally abbreviate as TTT).
#1  God is Greater Than We Think, or Even Can Think
I don’t fully understand God. And unless you are greatly different from everyone else, you don’t fully understand God either. But that is all right, for as someone wisely said many, many years ago, “A comprehended god is no god.” (That statement may go back as far as John Chrysostom, c.349-407, but it is often attributed to Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769, a German Pietist.)     
One of the reasons why God is greater than we think or even can think is related to the assertion that God is the Creator, maker of heaven and earth. If God is really the Creator, the cause or source of all that is, for that reason alone we are not able to comprehend the greatness of God. Since we cannot even begin to grasp the size and nature of the physical universe, how could we possibly grasp the “size” and nature of God, the creator of all that is?
If God is really the creator of all, then every person must be related to God in some way, and there surely must be some awareness of God by all the peoples of the world. John Hick (b. 1928) has been one of the most prominent and prolific religious philosophers / theologians during my lifetime, and he is the author of a book titled God Has Many Names (1980).
A recognition of the fact that God has many names helps free us from one of the main problems of many religious people, Christians included: the problem of tribalism, the belief that one’s own “tribe” is inherently superior to all others.
So, why is this “true thing” important?
First, it is important because it allows us to embrace a view of God large enough that there will be nothing we can learn about the physical universe that will conflict with our belief in God.
Further, when we truly understand that God is greater than we think, or even can think, we can then more easily affirm the idea that God is the God of all people, regardless of how they perceive God or even regardless of whether or not they acknowledge God.
So, even though Livingston was probably right in saying that most people get “too soon old, too late smart,” and even though it may be rather late in life for some of us, let’s try to be smart enough now to comprehend that God is, indeed, greater than we think, or even can think.

[To read the five-page first chapter of TTT, please click on this link.]


  1. Local Thinking Friend Wade Paris wrote, "Thanks. Keep the chapters coming. I would imagine you have read J.B. Phillips’ little book "Your God Is Too Small."

    1. Thanks, Wade. I could well have included Phillips's book in my chapter, for it is a good an important book. It was first published in 1953, and I probably read it in the 1950s--and I know it helped me to begin gaining a broader, fuller, more accurate concept of God than I had as a boy.

  2. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky sent these comments:

    "I like that and your book proposal, Leroy.

    "You would get a lot of affirmation from the mystics. I like Pseudo Dionysius’s, 'By knowing naught, he [Moses on Mount Sinai], beyond knowing, knows.' That apophatic tradition extends to Thomas Merton, too."

    1. Thanks, Dr. Hinson. I haven't read much by or about Pseudo Dionysius, but I have read Merton to some extent, of course. And in recent years I have been reading Richard Rohr, who is at least partially in that same tradition, it seems to me.

  3. My posting on the last blog mysteriously disappeared. So I hope this one hangs around. Or maybe I am just getting old and only thought I got it posted!

    The phrase "god beyond all gods" has been used in different ways, in Hinduism to point beyond the popular Hindu gods to the ultimate god, in Christianity to point to Jesus Christ, who stands beyond all prior understandings of god. These points are useful, but a key issue is that the very structure of the concept force us continually past all forms of explicit gods beyond. This is a good thing, for it both allows for an ecumenical search for common ground beyond our specific religions, and it challenges us to never be satisfied with a finite definition. Think of physics, always probing deeper and deeper into the mystery of atoms. Today physics is looking for something called "string theory." However, if that is ever established, it will no doubt lead to more questions than answers. Neither Rama nor Jesus is the god beyond all gods, even as Mohammed is not the last prophet. That is the price each religion must pay to enter the temple of truth.

    Having moved the goal post out beyond the farthest know god, let me circle back to "A comprehended god is no god." Theologian Paul Tillich wrote about the importance of "broken myth." We need broken myths, because otherwise we might as well be secular humanists, and just give up on gods entirely, for any god we can comprehend is no god. There is power in the blood, even if the blood is a broken myth. There is wisdom in Hinduism, even if even Rama is, to the extent comprehended, a broken myth. There is a great call to justice in Islam, even if both Mohammed and Allah are shrouded in myth. We do not need to comprehend god to experience the power of god. That power usually flows to us through our various religious traditions. We all need to spend time with Job, sitting on the ground in ashes, contemplating the ultimate mystery.

    Now this is not to say that all gods are created equal. They are not. The economic fundamentalists who worship the Almighty Dollar really need some better theology. Pretending that economic fundamentalism is not a religion just proves that it is a cult. When compounded interest was invented about five thousand years ago, every religion that came in contact with it promptly reacted by banning usury. Ancient kings regularly ordered mass debt forgiveness to keep their economies from grinding to a halt. There is always something bigger out there that we must acknowledge and respond to, even if we cannot comprehend.

    1. Thanks for your erudite comments, Craig. And your reference to Tillich is appropriate. The Wikipedia article on Tillich has a whole subsection titled "God above God," which was one of Tillich's theological emphases.

      I mentioned above about gaining a broader/fuller concept of God by reading J.B. Phillips's book "Your God is Too Small" in the 1950s. My understanding of God was broadened/deepened further by reading Tillich in the 1960s.

  4. I feel certain that, centuries from now, Christians will look at the recorded words of Christ and say, 'He was talking about them, too" -- 'them' being people who are often seen now as outside certain faith communities, and separated from God. I am still reading Brian Zahnd's book, 'Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God', which does brush against these themes and what Dr. Seat has written in his latest blog entry. Highly recommended if the Thinking Friends here haven't read it. I like the phrase 'Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart', as that perfectly encapsulates many of my thoughts about my own life in recent days. ;-)

  5. Here are comments from local Thinking Friend Don Pepper:

    "Here are my two brief comments on this vast topic. . . .

    A. To gain insight into what is 'true' of TIME, SPACE, and MATTER throughout the range of the smallest possible to the largest possible 'Thing' and gain better appreciation of the special place of Planet Earth and Humankind, please read 'The View From The Center Of The Universe - - {Discovering Our Extraordinary Place In The Cosmos}' by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams.

    "B. In the meantime, consider borrowing from the spiritual philosophy expressed in the Eleventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. . . . 'Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, ({In italics}, as we understood Him), praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.' That can be sufficient.

    "Thank you for your good work."

  6. I appreciate this brief comment from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "What a challenge you have taken on! I will eagerly look forward to receiving the information you have described and hope to God I have the wisdom to understand and apply the truths you describe."