Thursday, March 24, 2016

Soul Sustenance: God - An Autobiography as Told to a Philosopher

Dr. Jerry L. Martin was a lifelong agnostic. His naturalistic worldview had no room for God or for a divine dimension of any kind. But one day he had occasion to pray. To his surprise, God answered - in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions ... and God had a lot to tell him.

I recently had a chance to review the book he wrote, God: An Autobiography, written by a man who not only was an agnostic, but was married to a Jewish woman. Throughout the book, he comes to grips with who he thought God was, and how to handle the sticky questions of humankind, like the true religion, love, and the afterlife. I had a chance to interview the author to learn more.

Q.  What is your biggest hope for the book?
            That the book achieve God’s purpose. What is that purpose? Literally, I received in prayer that I was to “tell God’s story” and to tell it exactly as God told it to me. What is God’s story? God has been interacting and communicating with people from the beginning -- and with all peoples. There is no time or culture from which God has been absent. So the purpose of the book is to open people’s minds and hearts to a greater God than they have previously known, and yet a God intimate to their own lives.        
Q.  How would you respond to people who don’t agree with facets of the book?
            I wouldn’t expect them to agree with everything. Often I didn’t myself agree and argued back. I was told in prayer to “relax my categories” and to think less either-or and more both-and. Finally, it dawned on me that, if God was going to tell us only things we already believed, there wouldn’t be any reason to have me write the book. We should conform our beliefs to God, not insist that God conform to our beliefs. 
            To the reader, I would say:  Read prayerfully. Find those parts that speak to you. God may have a message for you different from what I or another reader takes from it. If you think I have really gone wrong at some point, then write me at And pray for me. We can all use prayers!      
Q.  What was the most surprising thing you learned in the process of writing the book?
            The greatest shocker for me as a life-long agnostic was that God exists. And that God is not just some abstract mind but is a very personal God who can (and cares to) talk to an ordinary guy like me. To me, that was a stunner.
            Then there was a ripple of aftershocks when I was told something uncomfortable or illogical. I argued back and God answered all my questions and objections. There were specific revelations that I found mind-blowing. At one point – you will find it in the section on “Worlds” -- I was so upset that I stopped praying for six months. Then I learned that what seemed crazy to me was well-known in another great religious tradition.
Q.  What are your next steps?
            One task I was given in the book was to start a Theology Without Walls project. Traditionally, theologians studied only their own tradition. Catholics did Catholic theology; Lutherans, Lutheran theology, and so on. We are now coming together to think about God in light of revelations to multiple traditions. 
             I asked God a lot of questions, and God told me some things I did not know enough about even to ask. God also gave me personal guidance and taught me how to live my life “in harmony” with God, “like two singers doing a duet,” as God put it. The guidance God gave me is important. It touches our lives in the most urgent ways. We should talk about the ideas in the book and share our reactions, and how they relate to our lives. I would like, with the help of videoconferencing, to have discussions with church groups, book clubs, college classes, women’s groups and other organizations. The book itself relates a dialogue with God, and I would like to bring others into that dialogue.

I agree with his hope for the book. Much of what he wrote meshes well with traditional Christian doctrine, but some doesn't. If his book succeeds in opening the dialogue between religions, then I think it will have been an amazing success. If nothing else, I hope it helps those who read it examine the possibilities of who God can be, even if that means stretching outside the box of their own theological expectations.

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