In Bart Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem, he tells us that his upbringing led him to believe that God is “out there” — and He could influence our day-to-day world, just as he did throughout biblical history. But of course, as Ehrman concludes, if God is “our there”, is full of love, and has the power to do anything he wishes, then something is terribly wrong! In one way or another, earthly suffering is God’s responsibility, and after much serious consideration Ehrman no longer finds it feasible or moral to believe in such a callous God.
But is God “out there”?
Perhaps the most famous of all of Christ’s quotations, as well as one of the most disregarded, is found in Luke:
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke.17.20-21)
Moses taught the same thing earlier when he said:
Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, `Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, `Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut.30.11-14).
But we are held in thrall by the things of this world, our attention dispersed into the world around us, and we look for heaven and God precisely where Moses and Christ told us not to look, turning spirituality into the superficial and formalistic worship of external objects and historical events. As a result, God can only contact us from outside (‘Show us proof!’), never from inside.
As our focus becomes more and more external, the lower rational mind gains strength and becomes more and more affronted by the literal irrationality of spiritual and religious claims. This is when the champions of atheism become increasingly vocal and adamant – not without cause!
Jesus was aware of this problem. So he presented his teachings about the kingdom of Heaven through parables. Since God and Spirit are not external he used images and symbols that bypass the rational mind and sink directly into higher levels of consciousness.