God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher- a revelation reported by Dr. Jerry L. Martin offering a unique narrative account of God's experiences throughout history and beyond time. Jerry and Scott share a dynamic conversation recapping the last three episodes of the series:
-Where Two Philosophers Wrestle With God- two philosophers unwrap the Problem of Evil and question, why is there still pain and suffering if God can stop evil? This dialogue considers God as a Person with an ongoing development and explores the intimate relationship between God and humans, as unique as every individual and integral to the progress of development.
-What's On Your Mind- reactions from readers and listeners about their personal spiritual experiences with God. Including stories from Letitia, Nelda, Alice, and Laura on topics of talking with God, spiritual conversion, and how to stay in rhythm with the divine presence in the midst of the evil also present throughout the world.
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Scott Langdon [00:00:17] This is GOD: An Autobiography, the podcast. A dramatic adaptation and continuing discussion of the book God: An Autobiography As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin. He was a lifelong agnostic, but one day he had an occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered- in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions, and God had a lot to tell him. Episode 81. Welcome to the 81st episode of God and Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm Scott Langdon. And today we bring you the sixth edition in our series, What's On Our Minds? Today, Jerry and I discuss God's revelation to Jerry about the problem of evil, and God's relationship to it, and to us. In episodes 78 and 79, Richard Oxenberg, and Jerry Martin discuss Richard's take-away from God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher regarding God's point of view on the problem of evil, and it's an extremely well thought out, and beautifully articulated argument. At the same time, while an intellectual understanding can be extremely helpful and useful, we soon see that an even more practical, and personal relationship is what God truly craves from each of us in our own unique and precious lives. As always, if you have a question, comment, or a story of your own about an encounter with God or a spiritual experience, please drop us an email. to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for spending this time with us. I hope you enjoy the episode. Hello, my friends and welcome back, Jerry. What's on our minds? This is the sixth time we're doing this, and I'm really excited about talking to you today.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:36] Well, we have some interesting things to talk about, I think, Scott.
Scott Langdon [00:02:40] Yeah, I do, too. When we look back on the last three episodes, which is what we typically do on this series, What's On Our Minds, we look back on the previous three episodes, which are episode 80, where we talk about What's On Your Minds, we looked at three specific emails, and before that we had episodes 78 and 79, which were the sixth dialogue between you and Dr. Richard Oxenberg. And it turns out when I went back to really listen to these three episodes again in preparation for this one and what we would talk about today, what really stood out to me is what you and Richard first talk about, which is the problem of evil. And Richard has a really great, you know, sort of take and explanation based on his work with the God book here and his reading of it as to it to what God is talking about when He gives you the revelation on this sort of problem of evil. And it ties in with What's On Your Minds from last week's episode, because the emails talk about what it's like to sort of be in this world and trying to discern, you know, good from evil and right from wrong and where God is in all of that. And part of what you and Richard talk about is this idea that there is a God who could do away with all this evil but just simply refuses to, just just won't won't do it for some reason or another, because God says so or what have you, and that can be very problematic.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:13] Yeah, it's a great puzzlement for any religious person I'm most aware of it as a problematic in the Christian tradition, but different religions face this question of if there's any divine reality at all, you know, call it God or call it something else in a different tradition, well, why is life so miserable, so much of the time? Why are there actual horrors and suffering going on? The problem of evil sometimes-- it's called the problem of evil in the Western tradition, but normally human evil is accounted for by free will, and that seems to kind of answer it. Okay, God didn't rig everything. He leaves it to us to make our own actions in that world in which we're free seems like a better world than a world in which we're preprogrammed robots just doing the right thing. But suffering is a different matter. And so, if you're religious, and here some traditional religious traditions tend to say suffering isn't quite real. And there's even a version of that in the Christian tradition, I know. But God tells me suffering is as bad as those who turn against God because of suffering, think it is. So, God to me, never denies the horror of suffering and does give somewhat explanations, that you might call, that I thought it was mitigating factors. But Richard Oxenberg, in a very intelligent way, went through finding different parts of the book and put them together as a more systematic answer to the problem of suffering. In a way, the answer is first about the nature of God, and then about the nature of the world. About the nature of God, God is not perfect in God: An Autobiography, God is not perfect. The theological problem of evil always comes out of the assumption that God is all good and all powerful, and if God is all good and all powerful, how could anything be wrong? But God told me that God is developing. God is a developing God, moving toward, in partnership with us, toward more actualization as a divine entity, and not all powerful. That God does not, you might say, rig the story. God does not set the script of the world. God did not invent the laws of nature. For example, I'm told. The other big thing is about the nature of the world. And this I'd always taken to be the key, and I think Richard employs it just right in our our discussion. God needed the world to be real. He needs people to be real. And I'm told the real world is going to be a material world, and a material world is going to have things like entropy. Things can fall apart. And material world, moreover, if you're going to have people, and it's not going to be quite complete if you don't develop it all the way up, you might say, the ladder of kinds of beings, if there's going to be organic life in this world, the nature of organic life is to be born, to grow, to take in nutrients, to deal with the hazards of the environment, to suffer accidents, eventually to grow old and become even more vulnerable to disease and so forth, and to die. That's what it is to be an organic being in a real world, and if you're an organic human being with human consciousness, human desires and aspirations, then those are going to be even more complex. We're going to have many more complex needs, like the need for love that can be frustrated. And that's the nature of a fully developed life, is the life of beings who are quite aware of of their goals, of their needs and have high values that can all be frustrated and disappointed. And so that's what it is for it to be a real world. And that is what God is living through with us as partners.
Scott Langdon [00:08:54] Part of what you and Richard talk about early when we talk about the creation story and how God in God: An Autobiography gives you the creation story from God's point of view, the personal point of view, part of what you two talk about in that, in the developing sense of that, is that God is in one sense, is the world.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:20] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:09:22] And in another sense is the person of God.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:26] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:09:27] So from the Big Bang, you know, when you talk about what is the Big Bang, is the birthing of the God of this world, in the sense. It's described, he describes it that way, as this birth. So when you talk about the God beyond God as sort of this pregnant Nothingness, the birth of God is the world and God as separate from the world, all of that happening at the same time.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:53] That's right. The whole works, that's the actualization. The God beyond God is a sort of potential God but for a potential God to become an actual God in the world, God and the world have to be created. It's different, it's not God exactly as the Genesis story, creating the world from nothing and so forth. God and the world explode into being together, and God starts doing God's job.
Scott Langdon [00:10:19] And the world and God develop together. So we as humanity as part of the world are developing. So then God is developing?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:10:28] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:10:28] As the world, as humanity, and as the person of God.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:10:33] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:10:34] So God learns from interactions with Scott. God learns from interactions with Jerry, personally, but then also collectively God-- from all of the experience of the world, God is learning and developing. So knowing that, the idea of a perfect God is not only problematic, it is detrimental to our relationship with God. Because when we think of God as being this perfect God, and we as never being able to measure up, and we start getting the sense of our separation from God becomes more, and more, our unworthiness, our we get lost, we can often get lost in the feeling of separation to the point where, as you say, asked God, you know, why are you so elusive? And God answers back, I'm not. I'm everywhere. You see me all the time. But the idea that we have the feeling of separation from God, that we feel as if God were separate, is part of the nature of being a human being and knowing separateness.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:48] That's right. That's right. And therefore, we have to often take some steps that like open ourselves to the divine. The divine is there available, accessible, but not accessible, quite like doing your email or text messaging. You have to, as I often just say, get the clutter out of the way. You've got to get some peace of mind. You've got to get, often, some openness of soul,. Although, God can reach the drunk in the gutter, also. You know, we can't say that there are exact prerequisites, but it helps to create some quiet space, to get, I know when I'm going to pray. I have to somehow get other stuff out of my mind. The preoccupations of the day, my own personal agenda, I don't pray for stuff because then it's my personal agendas actually get in the way, I just tend to pray and see if God has something to tell me. I may have a question, what should I do about today? But I ask for guidance, and I most often give thanks because I've got a lot of blessings in my life, and that's an important thing for people to remember to do, not bad to start off with thanks.
Scott Langdon [00:13:01] Yeah. And I'm glad to have people in my life that remind me of that. You know, I think that's part of listening, and taking the steps, and so forth. Is having people and experiences in your life as much as you can that do remind you of things like how important gratitude is, and how important... So I talked to my best friend on the phone every day, you know, either text or whatever. Basically about 8:15 in the morning, one of us will call the other. We usually, you know, spend a good 15 minutes talking on the phone, and he will, I'll get down about something and he'll just remind me of getting into gratitude, and then you go, oh yeah. And so that's something about our separateness that, you know, Scott is getting caught in whatever troubles Scott might be having, but then my best friend, who is appearing separately from me, says to me, remember gratitude, and it hits me, Scott, to go, oh yes, I got to remember gratitude, and then I do, and then God and I are in sync again.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:14:06] And one of the ways God speaks to us is through other people. When Abigail said to me early on, you know, I was kind of doing what the voice said, and yet... You know, here I was a lifelong agnostic, had a different worldview. So I wasn't quite believing it, I was just reporting- God told me this today. And Abigail says, "Is this just entertainment? Or are you going to take this seriously?" And, I thought, Whoa. Well, I don't know if that was God or not God, it was certainly the right thing, and it could be God. As I talk to people, they often have reported these moments where it's sounds, that sounds like God talking to them, delivered, a message delivered through a friend.
Scott Langdon [00:14:48] That's so interesting, because on the one hand, I think this encapsulates what we've talked about a number of times before, when we talk about the separate and same aspect of our relationship with God, your anecdote just there is really interesting because on the one hand, there is the literal voice that you, Jerry, heard God say, you know, all the things that are in the bold print in the book, and more that was left out of the book. And yet, I really was excited to have Abigail voice her own lines, if you will, in the early edition, early episodes of the podcast, for the very reason that, it illustrates the point that we're talking about, which is on the one hand, it's God talking to you through the agency of Abigail. At the same time, there is the separate nature of the voice that you heard that is in the bold print. That's right. Those are two separate entities. Just as Sarah, my wife, would talk to me, and you would talk to me, or my best friend would talk to me.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:57] The God voice is a distinctive voice.
Scott Langdon [00:15:58] Right. So when I listen to, like, let's say, a piece of music by Bach. For some reason, and I don't know what it is, I am so drawn to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, especially his cantatas and choral religious work. I don't speak German, I don't speak Latin. I have a good, you know, working, educated, artist's relationship with it, but I don't speak it fluently. And yet there is something about the complexity, the, I don't know, the way you take a melody and match it to the text to have it. I don't even need to hear the language. I understand it, and then if I go and look up the language and translate it to English to help Scott Langdon's limited brain in some way, it may enlighten me in a different way, but I don't even need that. It just comes to me and speaks to me in a way that not only touches my heart, but motivates me to do something in the world. So in that sense, it has the same effect as the English voice that you heard, right? The God coming to you in that way and has the same effect. And yet I recognize that it is separate than me, it is separate from me. It's through the agency of Bach, through the agency of the players, through the agency of the CD I'm listening to, and everyone who made CDs, and everyone who made all of that is interbeing, as the Buddhists would say, it's all connected and interbeing wise and to feel that essence of communication from God is a kind of knowing that is different than knowing my wife is talking to me.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:47] Yeah. It's it's also part of what Richard and I also discussed, is that we're in partnership with God. Bach, you might say, was in partnership with God. The people who played Bach, was in partnership with God. You listening to Bach in the way in which you listen to it, is in partnership with God. And as Richard nicely restates, that's very meaningful. You know, talk about the meaning of life. A lot of the meaning of life is in this drama that unfolds over time. You know, you can tell it in a big historical work version. You know, the Old Testament to the New Testament is a big historical version. And of course, the story goes on beyond that. But also, just in an individual life of the way you discover it, you kind of have to discover where God is most available to you, communicates both fully to you. One of the ways for you, Scott, is Bach. Right? That's not the only way by far, but it's one of the ways. And, so, you look and pay attention and then you accept it when it comes your way. Oh, this is one of the ways God is communicating with me in particular about my life, and how we're going to be in sync with each other.
Scott Langdon [00:19:10] Mm hmm.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:12] I would also, and that's important, you know, I'm told, you were quoting this earlier when we talked, that God says suffering is the law of growth in the universe.
Scott Langdon [00:19:25] Yes. Yes.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:25] Well, that seems kind of true. And in fact, one of the chapters I'm led to, one of my early unhappy episodes in life with Nurse Ratched in the hospital. And then I grow from that. Yeah, I didn't like it. I wouldn't want to do it again and I wouldn't sign up. Oh, I want a growth opportunity, put me in the hospital. But, yeah, I did grow from it. You grow of course part by, I wasn't, had not had the God voice then. This was long before that. Several... Not long before, a year or two before it. If it happened to me now, I'd pray and see what I might learn. And well, I was just learning as best I could. That's how you go through life. You have experiences and figure out, what did I do right; what did I do wrong; what's the lesson of this experience; what can it teach me; what wisdom can I draw from it? That's what you do with experience. They say wisdom comes from experience and it mainly comes from, what is experience, well, it's usually making mistakes that then you learn from, and that leads to wisdom.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:14] In spite of the beauty of the solution to the problem of evil that Richard and I, you know, talked about in that dialogue, I was really struck by an email I got from one of the members of our team, Laura Buck. As we were kind of circulating memos about, well, we have these emails to talk about, the dialogues to talk about, what should what should the episode focus on? And here's what she wrote, and that's one reason we focused it in the way we did. She wrote, "Right now, there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Headlines of school shootings, Ukraine, the insurrection covered racial injustice. Many times I am feeling enough already. I stopped listening to the news. Reading the news, I question every day as to what makes people so evil. Why have I lost friends to COVID? Why do good people suffer and die from cancer? Like my dad recently. My Uncle Joe. Where was God? Some days it is too much and faith is hard to come by." So that, I thought, well, you can have a solution to the problem of evil. You might say on paper a kind of theological thing worked out where you got arguments and every detail is hammered down, you know, so that it's a perfectly sound argument and a good theory. And it's one reason I never quite felt there was an answer to the problem of suffering in the God book, in spite of things we quoted. Okay, it's the law of growth. Well, the baby who burns up in a hotel fire, that's a growth experience? You know, just they never quite added up. I understand it's a material world, it's a world, organic beings, organic beings get sick. These are basic facts of the world. And, yet, in daily life they are such horrors, often, and now focusing on the things like COVID, and children dying, and fires, and so forth, and people dying of cancer. Some people, I feel glad to have heart trouble, because you usually go kind of fast and easy. But some of these diseases are horrible, and they go on for years, and you're in great pain during the whole time. So there's a kind of existential side to this question of suffering, and how to deal with suffering and what to make of it. And, you know, my take away, I think Richard's argument is sound. It's based, I think, soundly in the book, he pulls text from all over. He's very good at basing his points in in with textual references to God: An Autobiography, of what God actually told me.
Scott Langdon [00:24:31] Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:31] And, so, that all seems right, that these are simply, as he sums it up, this is how the world is. This is how reality is, and it must be that way. That's true, that is the summary, and maybe there's a kind of wisdom just in the Stoics used to teach this. Once you realize the necessity of something, well, that relieves you emotionally. You know, it doesn't make sense to be in anguish about something. You use the example, Scott, at some point, I can't remember if it was on my air or when we were chatting, you step off the third floor railing and you fall down. The law of gravity is going to make you smash against the ground, maybe cement, and so you're shattered.
Scott Langdon [00:25:18] Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:25:18] Okay. That is reality.And there's some wisdom in, okay, that is the world. And as Richard points out rightly, I think it's an implicit theme throughout God: An Autobiography that's sort of the meaning of life is working in a challenging environment as partners to God. So you're not working in the pointless way, as though someone just gave you the job of cleaning the sewers or something. Well, even that, of course, wouldn't be pointless. That'd be an extremely useful thing to do, perhaps. But you're doing necessary work. That's what I'm told in the book. God says you're doing necessary work in partnership with God, and it has obstacles and triumphs and growth through suffering and also just deep, deep meaning. That's the arena in which values play out and which love you might say really counts. Not love just sitting around soaking up love, but love in action. In the world is where all of these things count and come to a head and have meaning, and that is the story of life and with God right in the thick of it with us.
Scott Langdon [00:27:14] When we look back on last week's episode, episode 80, What's On Your Minds, and the emails that we looked at there, Latitia, Alice, Nelda. They tied together in a way I thought that was really interesting. Letitia, if you remember, was Catholic and wondering if God was wanting to use her more in the Jewish tradition of things. And so she was trying to decide whether or not to convert to Judaism. And she'd had gone to Shabbat services several times, had a relationship with the rabbi where he said, okay, listen, go ahead and talk to your priest, let him know what's going on, you know, here's a book that you can read and learn more, and, you know, we'll talk some more at another time. And when she talked to the priest, he seemed to be very prickly. She got a very negative reaction from him and kind of discerned from all of that story that God was leading her to go to the Jewish faith. And she started studying. At the end of that email, she started studying the Torah more intently, and so she was feeling that God was leading her in that direction.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:28:28] She even had the feeling, we were talking about God speaking to us through other people, that somehow, you know, it's as though God, God had gotten the priest, you know, to weigh in a negative way to help, to kind of point her in the right direction, and reminded me of the passage in Exodus, where it's an odd verse. God hardened the Pharaoh's heart, and of course, that's part of what led to the people of Israel to leave.
Scott Langdon [00:28:58] Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:28:59] It's very unpredictable how God is going to communicate.
Scott Langdon [00:29:03] Right. Right. Which leads me to this point about Letitia and her situation, which is I got to thinking about her story and the roles that different people played in her story. So you have the teacher who is the center of the story here, and then her rabbi and her priest. Now, in the story of Letitia here, the priest serves a certain function in her story and led her to a certain way. And so, you know, as you just talked about, there could be an argument made that, you know, God was actively involved as the priest in this situation. And it made me think about the fact that in an Letitia's story, that's how they functioned. And yet the priest has a life outside of any experience with Letitia where he might be a really great-- he's somebody son, he's got friends that really love him, and think his counsel is the great counsel, and would always go to him. And so he plays a different role in different people's lives. And it's interesting how, at least for me, when I contemplated this, how I don't give enough credit to the roles that God is playing as this other person when that other person is not involved in my life.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:30:24] Right.
Scott Langdon [00:30:25] Do you know what I mean? Like, in other words, how somebody functions? To me, that's not the extent of their identity.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:30:31] That's not that whole person.
Scott Langdon [00:30:32] It's not the whole person, whole person. It's how they appear to me and how I perceive them functioning in my life. Yet they have a whole other existence where millions and uncountable experiences with others. Not excluding an experience with God all along. That priest is having an experience with God all along his life as I am having an experience with God as you, as Letitia is having an intimate experience with God all along our lives. And yet He is functioning to her in that situation, in that particular role.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:06] Yes. And as the, I'd forgotten the name of, was it Mary? The one who came and said it's like the different religions are tuning into different frequencies.
Scott Langdon [00:31:18] Alice.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:19] It was a wonderful metaphor and maybe the priest is tuned in to a different frequency than the rabbi, and as you point out, Scott, there's a lot more to that priest than this one interaction. This may have even been a bad day. He may have later even regretted it. Or who knows? He may have thought, well, he stood for his faith, and there are circumstances in history where what everyon'e faith or principles are, you need to stand for them, and be brusk with people who are not, who are hurting rather than helping in that effort. That happens also. But yeah, you can't make the total judgment and the people are coming from different points of view in part. And of course, this is a big theme of God: An Autobiography. God was working through the different religions, just as God works through different ones of us and has a different assignment for Scott than He has for Jerry and for the priest. A different assignment that he has for the rabbi. He's got a particular assignment for Letitia and a different one for Mary, if I have the name right. And each person, their job is to figure out what's the one right assignment or the one right religion. But where am I called to be? Where am I? And part of that is the personal question Where do I find the best access to the divine? What's most relatable and open for me personally? And the other is, where does God want me? It might be you're very cozy and comfortable in a certain place, but God actually wants you somewhere else. And if you get that glimmer in your life that- no, I feel I'm supposed to go this other direction, well, then you need to give that credit also. And there are different frequencies is a perfect way to put that.
Scott Langdon [00:33:08] I also think about it in terms of when I think about doing a play as an actor and I think about, for example, I'm in a play right now called Blithe Spirit and I play a supporting actor, supporting character. The story is about a gentleman named Charles Condamine and I play his friend Dr. Bradman, come over their house. The experience that it's central to the story happens related to Charles and his wife Ruth. It can be very easy from the outside, as the actor Scott Langdon, to think, oh, the role of Charles Condamine is much more glamorous and I would really like to play that role because he's got more lines, he's, you know, more handsome and all those things. He's the star and I'm, you know, and I could get I could really. And so if I'm on stage playing Dr. Bradman, but Scott Langdon starts thinking, I'd really like to be that, I want to be him instead of me. Then I'm not being the best doctor Bradman I can be in that particular story. I'm trying to be something that I'm not. Right, I'm trying-- but when I focus on, well where does, if we take this analogy of where does God want me in this particular story. Well, to be available to, where does the playwright, if God were the big playwright, let's say, where would the Noel Coward in the sky want me, what would, how would he want me to personify and become Dr. Bradman? And then I concentrate on that and I'm serving the play in the story and I'm being there, I am in that story. But the other thing that's interesting about our lives is that sometimes we're supporting actors in other people's stories, but we are always the main character in our own story. So, God and I are the main character in the play of Scott Langdon, who is sometimes a supporting character to someone else's story. It's all interconnected.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:35:07] But that role in your own life was an extremely important role.
Scott Langdon [00:35:10] Absolutely.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:35:11] Right? Nothing more important to play that role. People can sometimes get pulled out of playing their own role and start playing into somebody else's role, you know, assignment for them. And the important question, this could be an assignment for listeners, are think about where does God want you. Or in your language, Scott, what role does God want me to be playing? Or if it's not definable by a role, just what course of life what? And it may not be a whole course of life. What does God want me to do today? You know, just start with the immediate. What does God want me to do today? Ask yourself that every day and you're likely to get better synchronized, you might say, with the divine.
Scott Langdon [00:36:12] Thank you for listening to GOD: An Autobiography, the podcast. Subscribe for free today wherever you listen to your podcasts and hear a new episode every week. You can hear the complete dramatic adaptation of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin, by beginning with episode one of our podcast and listening through its conclusion with Episode 44. You can read the original true story in the book from which this podcast is adapted, God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, available now at Amazon.com, and always at godanautobiography.com. Pick up your own copy today. If you have any questions about this or any other episode, please email us at email@example.com and experience the world from God's perspective as it was told to a philosopher. This is Scott Langdon. I'll see you next time.