Intriguing, insightful answers to your thorny theological queries
DEAR DR. TOM: There is so much negativity in the world
today—including news media, the dark themes in movies,
and fatalism about life not getting any better. Everything
seems to reflect a lack of confidence in life itself. Has the
Unity message failed?
—W.M., Cincinnati, Ohio
DEAR W.M.: On the contrary. True, there have always
been “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24: 6), and not
just on the battlefield. Cable news networks and social
media now deliver the worst scenes of life directly to
our phones, 24/7. Yet what is not regularly reported is
the rising tide of optimism around the globe. People are
recognizing their ability to choose the kind of life they
will lead by exercising their inner divine nature. They
may not use Unity-specific language to describe their
new feeling of untapped potential, but they are becoming
aware that human consciousness is rising. As a Fury to the
Stars character created by friend and fellow sci-fi author
Christian Kallias says, “So, lighten up, soldier. Start living
your life now, instead of spending all your time fearing the
future. You did good.” Sound familiar?
DEAR DR. TOM: Will I live forever?
—J.P., Jacksonville, Florida
DEAR J.P.: Not in this lifetime. Most religions have taught
that something good awaits beyond the certainty of death.
This “undiscover’d country” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet has
been described in both religious teachings and popular
fiction. You doubtless have a few templates stored in your
mind, whether heaven, paradise, Jannah, nirvana, the
Elysian Fields, Valhalla, Stovokor (Klingon heaven from
Star Trek), reincarnation, regeneration, or reintegration
into divine mind. Descriptions vary, but there’s one
constant amid the speculative chaos. Whatever happens
when we die is just another phase in the life cycle and
therefore can be trusted as good. My suggestion is to “let
go and let God.” The older I get, the more fervently I find
myself affirming those words.
DEAR DR. TOM: Does prayer accomplish anything in
the “outer” levels where problems really exist? Can God
actually do something other than console my mind?
—J. T., Honolulu, Hawaii
DEAR J. T.: Yes, absolutely. I’ve seen too many examples
of divine order crashing the limitations we have set for
ourselves. Whenever I ask Unity congregants if they have
personally witnessed a miracle, a majority of hands go up.
What are the physics of the miraculous? Maybe an
outpouring of positive energy occurred because someone
accessed the underlying spiritual principles which,
along with the laws of the physical universe, shape our
multidimensional reality. Maybe it was a coincidence.
Or maybe God, the one presence/one power, acted in
a biblical sense and performed a miracle. Who knows?
Upon encountering mystery, I always give the same
DEAR DR. TOM: Why is there suffering in a world ruled by
a loving God?
—L.C., Shreveport, Louisiana
DEAR L.C.: The problem you have identified is called
theodicy, and it’s the most-asked question in this column.
It’s also the most ancient, most difficult question of
them all. When I raised this issue with each new crop
of students for the Unity ministry, many blinked and
announced they had figured it out already. My response
was always the same: “If a quick answer comes to mind,
you haven’t spent enough time with the question. The
greatest minds of humanity have wrestled with theodicy,
and no satisfactory answer has emerged.”
Some invoke free will. Others cite predestination. Still
others view good and evil as opposing cosmic forces
locked in eternal conflict, with humans struggling to
be faithful in a cruel and unforgiving world. Another
solution says suffering is an illusion because all is God,
therefore all is good. While this sounds comforting, it
strips life’s choices of ethical context. Some actions are
plainly evil. Auschwitz will never be good.
Both joy and suffering happen, and God—however
understood—walks with us through it all. We are born
free. The choice is ours.
REV. THOMAS SHEPHERD, D.MIN.,
FORMER PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY AND
CHURCH HISTORY AT UNITY INSTITUTE®
AND SEMINARY, IS THE AUTHOR OF MANY
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