Amnesty "Because God Says So"

By John Rhodes on December 2, 2013

The art of spiritual discernment is a difficult but rich endeavour. In the arena of Christian faith, it can be described as an attempt to read between the lines of life, in order to get a sense of God's mind, to get a sense of what God may be prompting, to get a sense of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

It is an endeavour difficult enough that a tradition of spiritual direction, meant to assist spiritual discernment, developed early in the Christian Church. John Cassian (died 435 AD), Christian monk and celebrated theologian noted for bringing the ideas and practices of Egyptian monasticism to the early medieval West, provided some of the earliest recorded guidance on the art of spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is provided by a theologically trained and spiritually formed person who co-sojourns with the person seeking to discern. Together, "director" and "directee" listen for God.

The art of spiritual discernment is a difficult but rich endeavor, difficult such that when I hear Christian people state with certainty that they know what God is saying, I get nervous. Spiritual discernment occurs in faith, and in faith we do not see — or hear or touch or smell or taste. Thus, the certainty that accompanies normal, everyday experience is absent from the arena of Christian faith and thus from spiritual discernment. We can have a strong hunch about what God may be saying, but we can never say with certainty that we know what God is saying. "Because God says so" is always a very qualified statement. Such is the nature of faith. And faith leads to humility.

If this is true, then, I get nervous when someone states with certainty that "we humbly attempt ... to align our own hearts with the heart of God, who desires justice for immigrants and immediate justice for the 11 million undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters within our borders". I get nervous when someone declares with certainty that God wants comprehensive immigration reform — U.S Senate-style, 2013. Who stated this? It is from the declaration of those who have been fasting in a small tent on the National Mall in an attempt to highlight "the human cost of political inaction on comprehensive immigration reform".

It was also stated (by wholesale adoption of the statement) by Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde in her invitation to stand in solidarity with these persons. In her November 27 blog entry, Bishop Budde emphatically declares that "the time for immigration reform is now", and she invites Episcopalian Christians (at least those who agree with her) to join the "tent-dwellers".

In this case, "because God says so" is an unqualified statement. So much for nuance and respect for the nature of faith.


Topics: Religion