And like most babies, she was “pacified,” until she realized the pacifier wasn’t the real thing.
As I was watching her, it occurred to me how we humans are so often satisfied with pacifiers, how often we fall for what the Jesuit, Richard Leonard, calls “the narcotics of modern living.” He includes among them drugs, alcohol, sex, work, gambling, technology, and shopping. I would add the preoccupation with technology, sports, exercise and the cult of the body, the fascination with “stuff,” and the idolization of food.
These allures, which can be substitutes for religion, “never take away the pain of living but temporarily mask its effects,” Leonard writes, and many of us eventually – sometimes late in life – realize that they can’t replace God.
They are what the author of the psalms was writing about when he wrote that “the idols of the nations are silver and gold…. They have mouths, but they speak not, they have eyes, but they see not, they have ears, but they hear not, nor is there any breath in their mouths.”
Missing in Action?
But the problem with the God of the psalmist is summed up in the title of Leonard’s book, “Where the Hell is God?” He/she appears to be missing in action. Many people no longer find God in church and can’t connect with him/her in prayer because they feel they’re talking to themselves.
And they don’t see the need for religion. Its precepts make no sense to them. They may also feel that belief in God is dishonest and adherence to religion a sham.
Still, many people who feel God’s absence continue to search for him/her. I believe it’s because of the truth of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Obviously, God doesn’t force him/herself on us. We are free to ignore or reject him/her. But we may ask ourselves whether it’s wise to do so, and ask what is needed in a search for this God who appears to be AWOL?
To start, I would say an open mind, one that is not totally plugged into the current culture. That would include trying to banish our biases about religion, and we may have plenty of them. Among them is the idea that religion is “old-fashioned,” as if it had anything to do with time; that it appeals only to old people and that it promotes conservative causes. This may result from a failure to recognize the difference between what a religion teaches and how some of its adherents behave and think.
Another bias about religion is that it is anti-science, including the notion that it denies evolution. Religion and science depend on two different ways of knowing, both of them useful and valid. Related to this is the idea that if you can’t see it, touch it or feel it, it doesn’t exist. Science itself has debunked this idea.
Apart from biases, a sense of history helps. It puts things into perspective, helping us realize that a “trend” that lasts 15-20 years is insignificant in the history of humankind, let alone in the history of life on our planet or in the universe. Innumerable trends have come and gone but religion remains in various forms.
Another important factor in the search for God is a “sense of the holy.” This, it seems to me, develops as we become more “spiritual,” and the closer we come to God, the more of this sense we have – the sense of the awesomeness of God and a willingness to acknowledge it, even publicly. Contrarily, the more we become estranged from God, the less likely we are to understand the holy.
God's Search for Us
As I’ve written previously, we talk about “the search for God” but we could just as easily talk about “God’s search for us.” That’s because, I believe, God tries to communicate with us through other people, nature (including the findings of science), the church, the Bible and through our own experience, thoughts and desires. We usually fail to recognize God in these sources or other sources, however.
The Bible, I believe, is a uniquely useful way to find God. Problem is, many today are turned off even by its mention. They may think of people who use the Bible to justify their actions or condemn others.
Growing up Catholic, I thought of the Bible as a Protestant book. It wasn’t until I began studying theology that I came to appreciate its wisdom and insights into God and humans. But much like reading Shakespeare, it’s not always easy to read, and we may need help. Finding a good commentary is useful.
Finally, the search for God is rarely a matter of suddenly waking up to him/her. It usually takes effort, persistence and a willingness to accept uncertainty. And you have to be in it for the long haul.