We far too often talk past each other. In order to understand one another, it’s imperative we define terms. Two different people both tell me they are depressed. One means she is suicidal; the other means she feels a bit blue today. Both use the same word – “depressed.”
When you tell me you are happy, I naturally equate that with what I mean when I say I feel happy. I assume we mean the same thing. Often, we do not. What I need is for you to describe in depth those key concepts.
When you feel happy, sad, hopeful, depressed, etc., what does that feel like for you? Describe your happiness. What color is it? How does it make you feel in your body? Where in your body do you feel it? If it were an animal, what animal would it be? Can you paint a picture of it?
Unless I ask you do be very specific, I may entirely miss your heart. We can go on for weeks assuming we’re communicating, when in fact we are ships passing in the dark.
Similarly, with any concept.
Take “God,” for example. Society in general uses the word “God” to mean some sort of a supreme being, a higher power, creator, the source of life.
When some people say “God,” they mean a harsh judge. Others might have a moral police officer in mind. Still others, a kindly old gent – jolly, but perhaps a bit senile. Some people view God as a celestial Santa Claus, a cosmic genie, to fulfill our wishes. Some see God as a wizard-physician whose primary job is healing. Perhaps God is more like a watchmaker who created the universe, set it in motion, and has now moved on to other projects. Or, maybe God is impersonal, another name for nature, the life force that runs through all. Perhaps God is just a name we give to anything we cannot explain.
When a person says, “I don’t believe in God,” I need for them to describe the God they don’t believe in. Invariably, they describe something or someone I don’t believe in either. The “God” they reject is not the God I worship. The “God” they reject is most often a monster.
Someone asks, “Do you believe in God? Heaven? Hell?” It depends on how we define those words.
Yes, I believe in God as revealed in Jesus who demonstrated unconditional self-sacrificial love and forgiveness on the cross and conquered evil and death by absorbing them into himself. I do not believe in God as frequently caricatured by religious fundamentalists.
I believe in heaven, if by “heaven” we mean union with God who is perfect love. I do not believe there is somewhere “up there” where our rather sad current little lives continue on to a happy ending.
I believe in hell, if by “hell” we mean willful separation from God. I do not believe that there is a dungeon somewhere where humans are consciously tortured for eternity.