Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the philosophers as false, and by the rulers as useful.
— Seneca the Younger, Roman Stoic philosopher
Once there were two mayoral candidates vying for election in Elah, Texas. One, named Sarah, believed that God had told her to run for the mayor’s position. The other, named Ruth, also believed that God had called her to run for mayor.
When questioned about their respective callings, Sarah explained, “I always take my marching orders from a higher purpose. Until the Lord tells me where I march next, I’m open. I try not worry about my political future. I have a strong faith and pray for guidance in hopes that the Lord will lead the way. When my higher authority tells me what my next calling is, I follow what he says. He has told me I should be mayor of Elah, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Ruth held similar views about doing God’s will. Each day she had talks with God to discover His will for her. God told her to run for mayor, not once but on several occasions during the month before she announced her candidacy. Ruth said that “when God reveals His will for us, He doesn’t give us a blueprint, He gives us a sketch and we fill in many of the details. He did not tell me how to run a campaign, but he told me that I would be the next mayor of Elah.”
This situation created a conundrum for God, assuming we are discussing the same God. If he had called both of these candidates to become mayor of Elah, obviously only one could be elected. How could He have done this to Himself? No matter which lost, He would look foolish. Even if there was a tie vote, a coin flip would make one the winner and one the loser. What was He to do? This omnipotence thing was proving to be very difficult.
It reminds me of George Carlin’s question to his priest: “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” This is called the Omnipotence Paradox by philosophers and theologians. While it calls into question the omnipotence of God, it does not relate to God’s omniscience, omnipresence, or other characteristics.
Of course, it’s easy to understand how God could have made the mistake of calling two people to each be mayor of Elah. Christianity has about 2.1 billion adherents and Islam has about 1.5 billion followers worldwide. If the God they both pray to is the same God, that’s about 3.6 billion people who might be praying to God on any one day. If you add the 14 million Jews to the equation, all praying to the same God, it is easy to see how God might get confused and make a mistake occasionally. I mean, how does He keep up with the attempts to communicate with so many people?
When Ruth asked for His guidance about her political future, He gave her what seemed at the time to be prudent advice, forgetting that He had given Sarah the same advice. After a few million supplications, who could remember all the details? If God can’t make a rock so big that he could not lift it, then his omnipotence is called into question. This probably explains His calling two people to become mayor of Elah.
Of course, one of the two (or maybe both of them) may have misunderstood this personal revelation from God. These revelations come about in several ways. If either Sarah or Ruth studied the Bible, they may have reached some understandings of God that caused them to believe that He was calling them to become mayor of Elah. Using the Bible to figure out what God wants you to do can be perilous. Remember that God told Abraham to kill his son. Abraham was about to do that when God told him that wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe Sarah or Ruth received a garbled message that has yet to be clarified.
Sometimes, these messages that are believed to be from God come through other Christians. Of course, it’s hard to know when someone is devout enough to become a messenger from God. There’s lots of room for mistakes here.
At other times, God speaks through the circumstances of our lives. If I am looking for ways to fill a lot of my time (especially every other Tuesday), becoming mayor is a great way to have a life, immersed in the minute details of spending nearly $40 million of taxpayer money, wielding power, and playing to the crowds (not to mention all the funds that can be raised from grateful developers for helping them make lots of money). In such circumstances, it could be easy to misunderstand what God is telling me.
Neither Sarah nor Ruth explained just how God told them they should become the next mayor if Elah, but it may have been that they heard a still, small voice inside them. They may have started contemplating the mayor’s race and started feeling at peace with the idea of becoming the next mayor. That “voice of peace” has propelled more than one person into the political arena. It’s strange how a “voice of peace” could lead a person into a political war, but that’s a subject for another time and place.
If Sarah and Ruth did not hear a still, small voice that gave them a peaceful feeling, they might have heard something that sounded like the audible voice of God telling them that their calling was to become mayor of Elah for the next three years. I’m not sure exactly how this works, but I know several people who claim to have heard the voice of God. I’ll just have to take their word for it.
Susan B. Anthony, the prominent civil rights and women’s rights leader in the 19th century, recognized some problems with personal revelation when she wrote, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”
It has occurred to me, probably because I was a devotee of Bob Dylan’s early music, that if God is on the side of the citizens of this imaginary Texas town that He would not be advising anyone who claims to know Him and His will intimately to become mayor. I don’t think He wants a New Jerusalem here in Texas.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins