Wednesday, 21 December 2016
Is God a means or an End?
Love cannot be a means to any end. Love does not promise success, power, achievement, health, recovery, satisfaction, peace of mind, fulfillment, or any other prizes. Love is an end in itself, a beginning in itself.
This quote is from The Awakened Heart by Gerald May which I finished reading a few days ago and I have begun reading again. I do not usually reread a book right away but there are so many things in this work that touched my experience of God and of life that I want to delve into it once more with to see how it speaks to me a second time.
The above quote resonated with me because it holds a deep truth about our relationship with God. If we understand God as love, the essence of love, we can see how it applies to the Ground of Being—to use Paul Tillich’s term.
There is a great danger in wanting to relate to God in terms of what God can do for us; for our loved ones; or even the world. It is natural to pray to God that God will give us what we desire and believe is right. Those things may be reasonable from our personal ego driven perspective; we may want healing for ourselves and others. Indeed my daily prayers and our collective prayers ask for just that. However, what happens when God does not deliver on God’s part of the implicit contract. We are told we are God’s people and if we are God should give us the things we ask for.
We often end our prayer with the phase, “if it is your will” which is a reminder and declaration that God is supreme in this relationship. However, behind that can be the belief that if God is just we will get what we ask for and what we deserve; well not necessarily what we deserve but what we should receive as God’s children. This can be misleading and the darker side of this is the prosperity Gospel which preaches that if you have success in life, as the world defines success i.e. material possessions, a nice home, a good job, and a happy family etc. it is a sign that God is rewarding you because you are a good person.
This view is summed up in that wonderful song recorded by Janice Joplin, O Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz. There is a wonderful phrase which captures this approach to God, ‘God the Butler’. We believe that we can keep God down in the servants’ quarters a la Downton Abbey, and call on God to come upstairs when we need something.
That is what happens when we make God a means rather than an end. This can happen when we use our spiritual practice for a personal means rather than making space for us to recognize God’s work in our lives. We can use contemplative prayer, centering prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices to make us feel better and to give us physiological and psychological benefits such as lower blood pressure and feeling at ease with others. However, when we do that we are placing ourselves above God. We believe that we know what God should do for us. We are indeed using God as a means and not an end.
Gerald May addresses this, “beware if turning it (spiritual practice) into a psychological method… I caution you not to “use it” to cope with stressful situations or to increase you efficiency.” In my experience this is certainly tempting and I have turned to contemplative prayer to deal with stressful situations. The trap is that it seems to work at times. In my experience what seems to be the key is intention. Do we open ourselves to the love of God or do we substitute our will for God’s and demand my will not Thine be done?
In the end we are called to make God the end, the goal of our existence and not to means to the existence that we want or believe we deserve. Thanks be to God.