Piyush shares a dramatic personal experience of God's presence during a near-death experience. Matthew, a professor of religious studies, meets Jerry at a conference during his talk, The Scandal of Divine Presence. Matthew considers several historical accounts of prophecy and what these experiences mean.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin, author of the true story and reporter of his communication with God, and host Scott Langdon discuss these insightful letters from readers and listeners. Scott and Jerry discuss the connection between humans and something more, the scandal of reporting these experiences, and what they teach us.
Yes, God is with you!
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God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, is written by Dr. Jerry L. Martin, an agnostic philosopher who heard the voice of God and recorded their conversations.
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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 135.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:01:08] Hey, Scott.
Scott Langdon [00:01:09] Hey. How are you?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:01:12] Okay.
Scott Langdon [00:01:15] Welcome to God and Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm Scott Langdon, and today, Jerry and I come to you with our latest edition of What's On Your Mind. In this series, Jerry and I discuss emails we receive here at the podcast from listeners and readers of Jerry's book, God: An Autobiography, as Told to a Philosopher. Remember, you can hear the complete audio adaptation of Jerry's book for free any time by listening to episode one of this podcast and continuing through its conclusion with episode 44. So now it's time once again for one of our favorite questions- what's on your mind? I hope you enjoy the episode. Welcome back, everybody, for our 16th edition of a series that I really love doing. This is called What's On Your Mind? I'm back with Jerry and we are going to read a couple of emails and talk about them as they were sent to us. And if you'd like to send one in to us and ask a question or make a comment, please do so. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you. Jerry I'm excited to talk about these today.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:28] Yeah, I think these are very interesting and one is a long, thoughtful email from someone I know, and the first one is a dramatic personal experience of God coming into a person's life.
Scott Langdon [00:02:42] Yes, Piyush, this is really exciting. I loved reading this. Let's share it. Piyush writes in and says this:.
Piyush's Letter [00:02:47] Yes. I have true experience with God, in the year 2000, I had a major accident. I was in I.C.U (at that time I did not know how many days had passed). I was unconscious there– all of a sudden I was conscious and I felt there is God near me who saved my life. YES YES GOD IS WITH ME.
Scott Langdon [00:03:22] All in bold capital letters there at the end, which I love.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:25] Yeah. Yeah. His very excited response, which I think puts a bold Yes! Yes! And here's what I wrote back: What strikes me about your story is not so much your dramatic rescue from the brink of death, though of course, that certainly is an important part of the story, but the deeper miracle that, barely conscious, you were instantly, unmistakably aware of God’s presence, God’s nearness. The worst experience of your life became the best. And, to this day, you know with palpable certitude that God is with you. I pray that you will always be blessed in this way. And what I meant by that final comment was actually, I pray that he keeps this in mind, does not forget. Sometimes one has-- I have a friend and teaches at a distinguished theological seminary who's had precisely one experience of a dramatic combined presence in his life. He's had other good experiences, but one dramatic presence, unexpected, remembered forever in his life. Well, it's remembered forever in his case. I know other people who have very significant experiences and it goes on the shelf pretty soon. It fades from memory. It loses its vividness for them. And the point of such experiences is to let them radiate over your life. Let them inform your whole life. And I just have a feeling that's what this writer is going to do, that he now understands the divine presence and that it is with him. And once-- we had terrible smoke, such that it was sort of dangerous to go out. We went out to a restaurant and wore a mask again. Got the old masks.
Scott Langdon [00:05:39] Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:40] And I didn't notice it until someone alerted me to it. So I had not seen the smoke, the haze. But after someone alerted me, I saw it every time I looked out the window. When we went out it was obvious to me. And sometimes these dawnings are like that. Just something you've never-- you never noticed God's presence. And after you notice, oh, yeah. God is kind of here, right? You know, and especially if you continue to be receptive, then you continue to notice.
Scott Langdon [00:06:16] These kinds of experiences that we share with one another, these experiences where we feel where we are connected to something more than us, or beyond us. That maybe even a feeling of-- it often seems to happen when folks are in a place of like, intensive care, like Piyush where there's nothing else to do physically except sort of surrender. And then your mind just sort of surrenders. And other folks have these kinds of experiences. And I think I have had a couple of these kinds of experiences without having to be in intensive care by also coming to that sort of same mental conclusion, like, what else can I do? Like, I essentially have no control over the outcome of things. You know, sort of surrendering to that. And that's difficult to hold on to because you say, you know, well, I have to do something. I don't want to be lazy, and I've got to you know, you've got to work hard and accomplish things. Well, there's definitely work to be done. The question is, does any of this work matter? Does it make any sense? Do you know what would be the purpose, and so forth. But, once I just sort of surrendered to, I'm completely unique. That nobody else can do what I can do. And every single human being can say that about themselves. And so with just that basic knowledge, it becomes, what do I do? And you look at folks who have had these kinds of experiences with God, especially ones who feel that they've gotten some kind of assignment to do as a result of that experience with God. Some of the, you know, well-known maybe prophets from the Bible, those experiences come with a- What do you want me to do? What can I do? Your experience came with that very declaration in your own words, basically. Essentially, when He, when God says to you, "You're my new Elijah, if you'll take the assignment." And you say, no, you know, I can't. I'm not worthy. And God says, I'll decide who's worthy. And finally, after much grappling, you say, "What do you want me to do?"
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:43] That's right. This was something I did not want to do. And if you look at the Old Testament stories of the prophets, they repeatedly don't want to do it. Moses says, "No, not me. I don't speak well." I have a heavy tongue, or something. And there are others. Isaiah called as, if I'm remembering the story right, he was just a boy working for the High Priest or chief prophet, or whatever, and he gets the call and just says, "What are you talking about? I am12 years old," that kind of thing. When they found David, who was not a prophet, but something very special, I don't know if David resisted the call, but often people do. And it's almost a good trait. Because otherwise, one of the big dangers you don't want is pride, boastfulness, somebody who wants to lord it over other people, or one has a hyper desire. You know, we talk about drama queens, and I don't know exactly what these terms mean, but people who always want to be the center of some big drama and in their own minds, you know, romanticizing themselves. Well, those are all bad signs. So the person who says, and I guess I found I fell into this category, who says, surely not me, I'm not worthy. I'm not-- nothing special about me. And I continued to tell the people, the only thing special about me is I was willing to do what God wanted me to do. And God says to me, it's I think in the report in the book, He says, and even that was not a virtue of yours. It's something I gave you. You know? I did prepare. God gave me that credit, that I was kind of open. But it's something God gave me.
Scott Langdon [00:11:02] We have two emails we want to share with you today. The first from Piyush was just this wonderful declaration about this experience with God. He ends with Yes, Yes, God is with me. It's a great thing to shout out, especially in all caps in an email. It's wonderful. Our second email comes from Matthew, and Matthew takes quite a bit of time here to explain some things and pose some questions. And Matthew is a friend of yours, Jerry?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:31] Yes. Yes. I met Matthew at a conference. It was a very nice moment. I had spoken at some panel or something, and as he was leaving the conference, going downstairs, I was coming back upstairs to another session and he paused and thanked me for my presentation. Well, you know, we often forget how many, you know, excellent speeches have you heard, performances in your line of work, Scott, and never told anybody? You know, the speaker leaves the platform and, you know, and it's a wonderful thing to do. It's something we need to remind ourselves to do. It's part of our gratitude. If someone does something good, then let them know it. You know, let them know it. And that empowers them. It gives people energy, social energy to go on and do another good thing. And anyway, Michael, excuse me, Matthew did that, and I got to know him. He's a professor of religious studies at a college in New York. And I got to know things about his family. We had various follow ups. And so, he's very intelligent, super educated, very thoughtful, as you will see, as everybody will see from the email he sent me, being struck by my God experience and what he was to make of it.
Scott Langdon [00:12:58] Well, it's a terrific email and it takes some time, and I think we should take some time with it. So we'll start and stop as we go through and we'll kind of break it down.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:13:09] Sounds good.
Scott Langdon [00:13:11] Matthew writes in and says this.
Matthew's Letter [00:13:14] Jerry, various people in history have said God spoke to them, and now a friend of mine, whose sanity and rationality I do not doubt, is one of them. What am I to make of what he reports—and of what others reported long ago as well? I notice that as long as I am in the majority who has not had such an experience, I can comfortably view your and their accounts as curious, puzzling specimens of abnormal human experience. But even a brief look at what more than a few people have written at the God: An Autobiography website indicates that there are more like you than I imagined–yikes!—leaving me to wonder if we “normal” people are actually in the minority, and you all know something the rest of us don’t!
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:14:06] Isn't that a good, you know, dawning on Matthew to take this in? Oh, yikes! You know, I thought we secular people, you know, we live in a very secular age. And so any person who isn't secular or isn't talking in a secular vocabulary unless they're in a community somewhere, a religious community, but even those people, when they go out, tend to leave their, you know, their fate under wraps. But yeah, there are a lot of us. There are a lot of us. And of course, I think everybody, including Matthew, he just doesn't know it yet. You know, the way we were talking before, that's like before I saw the haze, someone pointed it out. Then I saw the haze perfectly obviously. And so you have to kind of look around within yourself. When I gave a talk at a conference, my talk was named The Scandal of Divine Presence. And I use that title because in our secular scientific age, it's sort of a scandal when somebody reports such an experience. God spoke to me. God was present with me in the ICU. You know, as I came to consciousness. And there was a very interesting commentator I've kept in touch with him subsequently, a commentary on the panel, and he said, "Well, there's the scandal of hearing from God, but isn't there another scandal?" He said. "Why aren't we? Those of us," he said, "standing in the doorway, halfway in the hall and halfway in the room with God's presence, isn't there another scandal? Why aren't we hearing from God? Why aren't we aware of God's presence." I thought that was a very wonderful comment and very not accepting or rejecting it, and Matthew is somewhat in that ambivalence of what do you make of this?
Scott Langdon [00:16:11] Yeah. So he goes on to ask:
Matthew's Letter [00:16:14] What should we make of such experiences? Is God really speaking to you and to all of these people in history? What about the ancient prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, like Isaiah and Jeremiah—did they really hear what they wrote down? Or were they trying to give expression to what they thought God would say if God were to speak in a human language? But then why go to such lengths to describe a seemingly independent source of these thoughts? Whatever we conclude about them, should it also guide how we view other famous cases? What did Muhammad really hear or experience? Or Joseph Smith who founded the Mormons, or Mother Ann who started the Shakers? What about Baha’u’llah of the Bahais, Guru Nanak of the Sikhs? Are what you and others report to be God’s messages identical or at least consistent, which could suggest they have the same source, or at least are parallel phenomenon? Or are these reports of God’s message incompatible, which could suggest not all of them can be valid, and we have to figure out how to sort through them? Or are none of them what they appear to be, and they should all be demythologized, deconstructed somehow? And in that case, do they tell us more about human beings than about claims for God’s reality or significance? Are the essential choices either “God really speaks to some people” or “This is all imaginary projection”? While these two appear to be mutually exclusive, is it possible in any sense for both to be true?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:58] The story in God: An Autobiography is, you might say, basically the religious traditions of different cultures. We're hearing from God whether they use the term God in a theistic, you know, conceptualization or not. They were getting messages from the divine reality. God gave them different messages, and in the book God explains why. You couldn't just pile the messages all on top of each other, that would be un-digestible. And anyway, there's different tasks to be done. There are different aspects of the divine reality to be revealed in these traditions, and there are different human tasks, ways of picking up on this or that or the other. Divinely sanctioned tasks. There's only one thing for all of us to do. There are many things because God has many sides and we live in a many faceted world ourselves. There are many things to be done in carrying forth a kind of divine mission. And it's up to us, each of us, and our own religious devotion and our own best connection to the divine, to figure out what our task is.
Scott Langdon [00:19:18] Matthew continues:.
Matthew's Letter [00:19:19] Most of us haven’t had the experience of hearing God speak, or even of believing we have received some inaudible kind of message from God. Thus, Jerry, you have an opportunity most of us do not have, to engage in an internal dialogue–between the mind which has had these experiences of God speaking, and the mind that can investigate, as logically and as objectively as one can, what these experiences mean. Some in your position might reply that doing so is in some way incompatible with accepting the authenticity of the experience, and might therefore deliberately choose not to “stand outside” themselves to examine their experience. But somehow I don’t think you are that kind of person. Nor do I myself think one must take such a position. On the contrary, it seems to me, to be a human being is to be thrown into a life where we cannot avoid such questions, a life in which these questions assail and also intrigue us.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:21] Yeah. Let's pause there for a moment, because this is very much something I faced early on. And in a way, to describe it this way, I like his language. Should we stand outside ourselves? Because I often thought inside the experience, I found it impossible to doubt that this is God any more than that opening email we read. There's no doubt this is God. What else would it be? You know, it's not Santa Claus. It's not a ghost. It's not hocus pocus. It's God. And that registers. So within the experience, there was no actual doubt. And yet, I would think step outside myself. And I know if this had happened to a friend of mine in my agnostic days, I would have thought, oh, that's weird and would have put funny brackets around it. Much like Matthew, if it's someone I knew well and was of sound, character and mind, I would have just been puzzled. I would have not known. Well, being a philosopher, that's what we do is step outside things. You know, we all believe that, let's say Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, we're better people than, say, Hitler and Mussolini. That's a moral judgment. But there are people who come along and doubt, you know, cast doubt on that. Isn't that just, you know, your clique or your social group? A sociologist friend says, well, everybody has group norms. Maybe that's just the norm of your group. And of course, as a moral philosopher, I'm saying, "Yeah, but some norms are better than others." You know, you can't just end the discussion there. But that's a matter of we're all able to make these decisions, you know, torturing a child, you know, it's just obvious that's wrong. And yet you can always step outside of it and become a kind of moral relativist or cast doubt on things. Well, a God experience, nothing, it would be easier, you might say, to be wrong about, to fantasize or, you know, who knows what. But I had to step outside it for a moment because there is that problem of discernment. But I decided never to step outside of it in the sense that denies the experience or leaves it behind. It had its own validity, and I felt even after I stepped outside and went back, that validity remains and it would be wrong to throw it out. You know, one has to in some sense trust an experience to learn what it has to teach us.
Scott Langdon [00:23:34] A spiritual teacher that I have been following lately named Rupert Spira said something that really intrigued me when he said, and we've talked about this before on the podcast, I think, "You are the experience God is having." When I look at it that way, when I see, you know, I'm very intrigued because of my upbringing, we've talked about this before as well, with the separate same part, I'm really intrigued with the same part. And when I think about stepping outside of something, I think about being an actor and what I've learned about portraying a character and sort of stepping out as Scott Langdon, looking at Cervantes, let's say, or Horace van der Gelder, who I'm playing right now, I can step outside and sort of objectively look at their journey and separate the two of us. And yet in the actuality of the moment of the play, when we're doing the play and people are in the audience and there it is in the actualization of it, there's no separation between Scott and Horace or Scott and Cervantes. Right? So how can Cervantes or how can Horace Van de Gelder step outside of Horace van der Gelder's Self? Where's Horace going to go where Scott isn't? So, where can Scott go to step outside of myself where God isn't? There isn't, where would I be? And that's how I got there. When I realized where could I possibly go and what would that be like where God isn't since everything is a manifestation of God? Where would I go? That-- everything crumbled with that realization.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:25:19] Yeah, I was just stepping outside in a reflective mode. Intellectual mode, not a reality. Because of course, the whole message of the God book is God is pervasive and God in some sense is everything. God is Jerry, and Scott, and Matthew. And from on that side of it, Matthew for sure, is immersed right now in divine reality. You know, God is not away from Matthew. But, like the haze that I didn't see until someone alerted me to it, you have to be alerted to it. Alerted to it in a way that makes sense to you, because we're also rational creatures, so it has to make some kind of sense to Matthew. And I don't know in in detail his journey. Maybe he's right now doing exactly what he should be doing. But that is a perspective that's quite valid. Scott, that the divine is pervasive. There's no way you can go outside it, there's nowhere to go. You know, even God as Scott can make a mistake. God as Jerry can make a mistake. Otherwise, we wouldn't see these mistakes. Right? But when we don't know what the big picture is, are they exactly mistakes or are they, you know, part of some bigger design? But in our own lives, we've got to exercise careful discernment and sort out one thing from another.
Scott Langdon [00:26:55] As Matthew goes on with his email, he brings up a very important question and he frames it this way:.
Matthew's Letter [00:27:02] To take one example of comparing and testing: Muhammad said God told him there would be no subsequent messengers after him. Yet you are one of many since Muhammad to say God has spoken to you, which already contradicts Muhammad’s account, from what I can tell of your experience, God says something quite different than what Muhammad claimed. What do you conclude—about the relationship between Muhammad’s account and yours? Who is right, and why?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:27:31] Well, maybe we just pause there. I don't speak to Muhammad since I was directed to read the ancient scriptures, the ancient foundational scriptures, and I didn't study any of the later people who heard from God or believe they heard from God. So I can't comment about that. However, it would be clear that one mistake, according to what I received, the mistake for sure would be to claim your God's one and only prophet. The one mistake religions are very prone to make and prophets are prone to make is to think they're the only one and the others are wrong. Well, the others may say something different without being wrong. They can all be compatible or just different aspects of the truth, like the blind man and the elephant. Each one's got a piece of the elephant and is not wrong about that. The wrong only if they think that piece is the whole elephant. And that's what religions do, and that's what Muhammad was doing here. And one gets less of the divine truth when one makes that move than you do if you keep your mind and spirit open.
Scott Langdon [00:28:50] As Matthew continues, he says:.
Matthew's Letter [00:28:52] We may wish that the investigation of such experiences could end by telling us whose claims are correct and whose are false. I suspect we all cling (or one of the voices within us clings!) to the hope that there are certain experiences which can be divided into two groups—those to be either respected as authoritative, or dismissed as delusory. What seem to be questions about what we can know may really be questions about what we should value—about whether we should regard someone’s “abnormal” experiences as either privileged or pathological, as humans are so wont to do. That is, we would secretly like to find out whether an experience such as yours is something to which we should defer as a foundation for belief and authority (“does Jerry give us new proof of God?”), or is something meaningless or even dangerous (“should we ignore or humor Jerry, or perhaps pity or shun him?”). But the more constant and sober truth seems, at least to me, to be that no experience—whether high or low, whether inspiring or suspicious, whether Jerry’s or someone else’s—no experience provides a magical answer to all our questions. And no experience excuses any of us, as either subjects or observers, from the tasks of life and the challenges of being faithful to God as best we can understand God.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:30:18] I love that statement. So, let me stop because I don't think I return to this one, but it's a perfect-- there is no magical answer. There's no one answer that solves all life's problems or answers all of life's questions. And the task, whatever, even if you have, believe, this one sacred text is the total beginning and end of the divine word, you still have to live your own life, make your own decisions. Even vis a vis how to understand the text, how to apply it to situations. And ideally you'll develop your own relation to God, kind of through prayer, or meditation, or worship, or whatever, such that you are receiving additional guidance. And anyway, in the end you're also a thinking person. And so you've got to be responsible for your own intellectual decisions, your own moral decisions, your own actions with reference to the people around you.
Scott Langdon [00:31:19] And finally, Matthew concludes with this:.
Matthew's Letter [00:31:21] While that conclusion may be disappointing, there is at least one respect in which it leaves me glad: It preserves Jerry, certainly in my mind and I hope in his, from the burden of somehow having to prove he is neither weirdly gifted nor bizarrely deficient, and lets him continue to be himself—and just my friend.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:45] Isn't that a wonderful concluding remark?
Scott Langdon [00:31:47] I love it.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:49] Yeah. He's returning to the simple human relationship, the human-- Which is a reality. That's a reality, that human relationship and a mutual appreciation, and also a rejection, or pulling back from our very great tendency to divide everything into dualistic categories. You know, there's either Jerry's got to be nuts, or Jerry's got to be the next Moses, or something.
Scott Langdon [00:32:20] Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:32:21] Well, maybe Jerry is somewhere in between the two, or a mix of the two. Well, I don't think I'm nuts, but who knows what all mixed, what goes into any human mix. And it's certainly not-- It may be a bit of Moses, a new revelation, as I rather believe it is, but it doesn't have to be a new revelation wall to wall. It doesn't have to-- this is a friend of mine said a revelation about revelations that does not displace or eliminate the other revelations. It's a kind of almost like a commentary on them. God looking back at the whole, what has God been doing? God: An Autobiography is God's story. What has God been doing? Well, God's been communicating to the different cultures, in part through their religious traditions. Not only that, through their artistic and cultural traditions as well. And so that's God's story. And anyway, Matthew is very sane and humane and a good friend.
Scott Langdon [00:33:24] 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.