"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better." - Dorian Scott Cole
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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Can You Please God?

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Can You Please God?

I posed the question to several Christian groups, “It's impossible to please God without being kind to all others. – agree or disagree?”

The responses were incredible. Thanks to all who responded! Most of those responses will be cited here in summary form, with an occasional first name. There are no right or wrong answers. I realized a long time ago that in our spiritual journey we form many ideas of what our relationship with God is. We see many aspects over time. Spiritual experience changes what we see – not that one vision is better than others, but more likely what we need at a given time.

Or as T. pointed out, Jacques Derrida explained how the Divine is experienced in each person we meet. From a Semiotic (signs) point of view none of us understand or experience anything exactly the same. Even a word means something slightly different to each one of us.

Note that I queried more mainstream groups, and didn’t go to those far-right conservative groups who tend to have a different way of looking at things, with which I’m already very familiar.

Sometimes it’s just the picture given to us by our church, and sometimes this is lifelong. Sometimes it’s being “a friend of God,” as mentioned in the Bible. Sometimes a word here or there compels us toward personality and spiritual integration – an epiphany! In those “aha” moments we see things in a new light.

What does it mean to be kind?

This was one of the first questions discussed. I used the word kindness because the word “love,” which is more accurate, means many different things to different people. “Kind” is a more specific action.

I'll not impose a meaning for kindness. The dictionary defines kindness as: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

In the Bible, where the word Kindness is often substituted in some translations for the word love: Kindness is generally regarded as selfless, compassionate, and merciful; its greatest power revealed in practice to our enemies and amongst the least of these.

We found ourselves clarifying that being “nice” to “all” people doesn’t necessarily mean kindness. As Beverly pointed out, All is a really big, encompassing word, and we all fail somewhere along the line. As others pointed out, some people have to learn the consequences of their actions. Driving people away is a consequence of mistreating them, and people have to learn that.

As C. pointed out, “Sometimes, in order to be kind to one person/group of people, we need to challenge the behaviour of another.” I believe it is unkind to not help others see the faults in their own behavior, but I have to balance that with not being judgmental. Paul described this over and over.

Rk. used this example: “An addict would say it's kind to give them the substance of their choice but that not be just. [God desires] is informed behaviour. Instead … sit on the floor with them. Share food and donate to a service in their name”

As N. and others pointed out, “Sometimes wrongdoing and evil have to be confronted and that can mean we're unable to be kind - in any normal sense - to those who do wrong.”

Yet there are also examples of endless kindness, or love, being offered to people who behave badly, and this effort making a change in that person’s life. It takes wisdom to decide which is right. There are those who drag others down to destruction during their own self-imposed destruction.

Sometimes creating an early crisis by leaving, or through intervention, begins their turning around. The wisdom and discernment of many, including experts in social science, is often required in these decisions. And it can be just as important to protect yourself and your family.

Righteous anger can’t be ruled out. As G. pointed out, “Being kind does not mean you don't hold people accountable for their actions or prevent them from hurting others.”

Many considered the tendency of us all to put limits on things. “This far, but no farther.” We will be kind to these, but not those. Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan was offered. The Jews hated the Samaritans, but Jesus used the example of a Samaritan who helped a Jew in need on the road when others simply avoided even acknowledging the person was there.

We all had to acknowledge that we miss the mark when it comes to living up to what is asked of us. I know that generally the people who spread themselves very thin trying to take on every cause in the world and try to help everyone in a community that needs help, ends up burned out. Few can be a Mother Theresa, and even she had times of doubt. God loves each of us, and while there is an element of being selfless to our faith, there is also an element of being who God made us to be.

Some looked to the Hebrew Bible (OT) for verses.

In perspective, the Sadducees at the time of Jesus, who were the leading priests in the Temple, felt that the reason they had been forced into exile was because they had failed to live up to pleasing God. Therefore, they spent less of their effort in helping people, and more on observing the 613 Jewish Laws, which the Sadducees felt pleased God. Jesus said, in contrast, I want mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13).

The Prophets of Judaism spoke often about the humanitarian aspect of the Law. As J. pointed out, in Jeremiah 9: 24, “L et the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight ….”

The Hebrew Bible and the Jews are an example to us of devotion to God. God’s message through them is summed up in such Prophets as Jeremiah, and in Jesus, and my favorite verse was often pointed out by others in Micah 6:8 (NIV) “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.”

The only people Jesus "judged" during his ministry were the religious leaders, who he called vipers and hypocrites. But did he actually judge them? He simply asked how could they escape a tragic ending. In the end the final judgement is God’s.

Justice in this sense is not capturing the bad guys and putting them in prison. That might be an aspect of justice, but what is referenced in the Bible is called “social justice.” This means things like seeing to the needs of the widow and orphan; the poor, sick, and needy; and the wayfarer in your land.

Transaction versus freely giving

We discussed the “transactional” nature of benevolence. The many Covenants (agreements) that God made with his example people (Jews) in the Bible took the form of “If … then.” If you do this for me, then I will do this for you.

Being kind to others doesn’t mean to do it so they will be kind to you. That’s a transaction. It doesn’t mean doing kindness so that others notice you or to have bragging rights. That’s a transaction. In transactions you give something (like money) to get something in return (like food or adulation).

Being kind to others is because you have been transformed into a kind person. It’s a way of life.

The Apostle James was also cited multiple times. “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, our faith leads us to do things for others.

S. summed this up with: “I think it is impossible to genuinely follow Christ, with your heart and soul, and not be better for it, to not have it soften your heart and make you want to serve others. When I say genuinely, I mean without reservations, selflessly, without other influence (fame, money, etc).”

Re. put an exclamation mark on this: “In Matthew, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" and in First John, "He who does not know Love does not know God, for God is Love."” And Pedro: “How you love others is how you love God. That's the way I see it.” And Susan, 1 John 12, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Rb. said, “We shouldn’t need the motivation of thinking we’re pleasing God to be kind to each other. Being kind is just the right thing to do.”

Trying to please God can be transactional. We shouldn’t be trying to please God to get benefits.

Is it necessary, or even possible to please God?

We reflected on the nature of the love of God. Love is an action of God toward us. Pleasing God is an action of us toward God.

D. pointed out, "The God who is love cannot ever be pleased with unkindness." I think that’s a fair statement.

A. pointed out one point of view that “Anything I have done, am doing, or will ever do, has no effect at all on how much He likes me, or loves me, or how pleased He is with me.” Keith said, “As a spirit who is love, God can neither be pleased nor displeased. God just is. A metaphor for this that I find useful is comparing God to the sun. The sun shines on everyone equally.”

One statement is one of generality – God is not pleased with unkindness. The other statement is one of specifics – God does not judge us either to condemn or be displeased. He simply lets us experience and grow.

Jesus said, in Matthew 5: 43-47, reflecting a lot of what was said here, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This goes to the nature of God. I write extensively about the nature (ontology) of God, especially as reflected in what God asks of us. As the wise King Solomon said in the wisdom literature, I believe that God has no needs except to see his creation flourish and do well. He certainly has no need for our sacrifice. He has no need to dwell on when we miss the mark.

God’s love for us is filled with exhaustive patience and tolerance. He is a God of variety, which his creation (nature) produces. He lets the themes and actions of our lives fully play out, while offering guidance if we want it, and allowing us free reign. Many things in live have consequences that we get to experience and learn from. God is always there for us, even in our worst behavior and worst times. As some pointed out, we may not please God 100%, but God’s grace is always there for us.

When we are in creative partnership with God, the world benefits. As I like to say, “Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better.”

An example of this is the creation of the Covid-19 vaccines. Good people put their creative minds and experience together and created something wonderful.

Being in the kingdom is different from the fruit we produce

This question should be differentiated that what we believe is a separate question from praxis. That is theory and practice. As E. pointed out, the proof of theory is in the pudding.

What we believe leads to producing good. Belief produces doing good. Doing good is evidence of belief. The prophets and Jesus showed us the way to God. Not spouting theory, but accepting the gift and acting on it. “He has shown you mortal what is good.” Those that believe in and accept the way shown us are in the Kingdom of God, which is open to all. Thanks to the grace of God we remain there despite our many faults and failings, as the work of loves continues to transform us.

What sparked this question for me is seeing T-shirts telling me that we must please God. I’m not for big, sweeping generalizations, and this one didn’t sit well.

- Dorian

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- Dorian

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