“Giving up the center of the universe”

I have been sharing with friends an amazing story concerning my cancer.  On the  Tuesday before Christmas, I had a PET scan.  A few hours later, I met the oncologist.  He looked glum.  He told me – the news is bad.  The cancer was active, it was spreading, the treatment wasn’t working.

He said, I had one more treatment option – a chemo pill (whose side effects would likely make me very ill).

Realistically, he continued, I should think about “getting my affairs in order.”  I should think about “closure.”  I’d been getting chemo now for three years – but the tumors keep returning.

The worst part of all this was knowing that I had to go over the entire thing with my mother.  I called her when I returned from the clinic.  Tuesday was a somber day.

The next day, the day before Christmas Eve, the oncologist called.  He informed me that there had been information from a previous PET scan in October that hadn’t been sent to him.  The missing information showed that my situation wasn’t dire – in fact, it was an improvement from October to December!  The treatment WAS working.  So – we’re continuing with chemo in the New Year.

Right away, I called my mother – who was in my older brother’s car on their way to celebrate Christmas at his home in Delaware.

I have shared this happy story with enough people that I get responses that bother me.  “It’s a miracle!” being the worst.

I have a problem with miracles.  I understand why people do believe in them.  When they read the Scriptures, they see God intervening from one end of the book to the other, spinning off miracles right and left.  Nothing like getting inundated – and If you’re swallowing everything – disdaining reading the Bible with a critical eye and the use of reason – miracles abound.

But here’s the problem with miracles.  To believe that God intervenes and changes the course of events, one must believe that God has made a CHOICE.  God has chosen to do this.  Which means – in all other cases, God has NOT chosen to intervene.  Toddlers with brain tumors, kids who are burn victims, abusive adults beating up kids…Plenty of worthy cases!  But all we have to do is check out the news every day.  Nobody is jumping in to save.

Jesus is for me the clearest profile of God.  And what stands out in the life of Jesus is – compassion.  To think that God deliberately chooses NOT to intervene in so many heart-breaking situations – visiting the floor of a Children’s Hospital would be sufficient – but does intervene with miracles in other situations – is unworthy of Jesus.  I can’t imagine Jesus WATCHING a child suffer, and deliberately choosing NOT to intervene in a way that people claim God CAN.

That’s one reason I have a problem with people saying my case was a miracle.  The other reason is:  I still have cancer!

What kind of God tinkers with a situation to buy me some more time – but leaves the cancer?  It sounds like a cat toying with a mouse that will eventually be killed.

What all of this shows is:  We remain very self-centered in our religious beliefs.  We believe that God is watching out for every detail of our lives like a hovering parent.   It is known as belief in a “personal God.”  The Almighty watches us in every detail of life, and jumps in to help.

This remains of the ancient, barbaric beliefs of God as being a human figure.  The famed preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick said we think of God as being just like a human – only a “magnified human in heaven.”  We imagine God thinks like us, acts like us…

There is much more emphasis on this anthropomorphic idea of God than in the idea of God as being not a human in character, but spirit.  In this sense, God as Spirit clarifies the role of God in our lives.  God’s “job” is not controlling weather patterns (lest anybody think these Christmas tornadoes were some kind of test); God’s “job” is not diverting bullets or jet liners; God’s job is not acting like Superman.  That’s too human.  Rather, Jesus tells us, God is spirit.  That is, God moves in the world as spirit.  In other words God’s influence in spiritual – in short, relationships.

I believe it’s through relationships that God acts.  People are moved by Jesus (in my belief) but not only by belief in Jesus.  The doctors and nurses who have been caring for me made a decision early in their lives that treating people with cancer is what they wanted to do.  To me, that’s the influence of the Spirit.  They may not recognize it as such.  But something moved them to get into this line of work.  And how these are the doctors and nurses who are working for me as hard as any humans can work.

God’s “job” is building relationships.  God intervenes through relationships.

But it’s difficult for those of us who grew up thinking of God as the “magnified man in heaven” to give up this belief.  It simply does not match reality.  If anybody claims a person was saved by a miracle, I can simply unfurl a newspaper and show countless people whom nobody is saving.

It’s difficult to give up our “central position.” as the focus of attention of this “magnified man in heaven.”

The recent controversy over the Miss Universe contest made me think of how calling the contest “Miss Universe” is likewise a refusal to give up the old biblical notion that we’re the center of the universe.  “Miss Universe”?  They would be mistaken even to call it the “Miss Galaxy” contest.  We’re not even in the center of our galaxy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – experiencing the rise of Naziism – realizing people can’t expect God to swoop in and save them – said, believers need to grow up!  We need to live in the real world.  He called it “a world come of age.”  He meant, a world that gives up the factuality of these stories about God intervening with miracles.  The stories are misleading.     The strength of our faith is not reliance upon an outside agent swooping in and fixing things.  The strength of our faith is to know that the presence of God is within us – and within others – and that’s a great resource for stepping onto the stage of life






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