(This is a dialogue between Jeff and Mathab that was presented via Zoom at the 2022 ANZURA Conference in Tasmania.)
Jeff: Hi, Mahtab, good to see you. What have you been up to lately?
Mahtab: Oh, the religion of personal experience.
Jeff: Cool! Could you tell me about it a little?
Mahtab: Sure—after you answer the same question. What have you been doing?
Jeff: Same thing, what do you know! The religion of personal experience. I like the conference title and the phrase, “intimacy with God.” For me, the religion of personal experience involves times when I’m wrestling with the intimate details of my personal growth struggles. But I’m also writing about this religion of the spirit as we find it in Jesus and his gospel.
Mahtab: Tell me more.
Jeff: Sure—but—would you be willing to start?
“In its true essence, religion is a faith-trust in the goodness of God”. (2.6.1) A recent health challenge made me wonder how true this statement is in my own personal experience.
One morning I woke up with my throat swollen up, and hardly able to swallow even my saliva. For the next few days, I tried to taking tiny bites of food, hoping that whatever it was would pass in a day or two. It didn’t, and in fact things took a turn for the worse. Gradually, speaking became uncomfortable and I started to lose my voice, followed by significant weight loss. After visiting with a few specialists, I received a diagnosis of laryngopharyngeal reflux disease or LPR. It took me some time to realize that this might become a chronic condition. I was scared, as nothing seemed to help, and I was desperately looking for an explanation for what had given rise to my symptoms in the first place.
This ordeal also made me aware of how much I had lacked in living faith. These had been difficult and uncomfortable times, and I found myself spiraling down the path of fear and anxiety. The Urantia Book tells us that “Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience.” (101.8.1) And it says that “a state of mind attains to faith levels only when it actually dominates the mode of living”. (101.8.1) In the earliest stages of my sickness, I felt entirely dominated, not by faith-trust in God, but by fear and uncertainty. In the thick of the moment, I had lacked that “living”, “expanding”, “releasing” and “liberating” faith and sublime trust in God’s over-care that would have opened me up to the guidance of his indwelling spirit. I easily lost sight of the truth that no matter what I was going through, God was still present. That the spirit of the loving Father of a universe who knows all still indwelled my mind, and that he was likely working tirelessly to teach me something amid this turbulent experience.
It’s been almost two years since that morning, and looking back, I have learned much about my condition and how to manage it. For instance, I have learned about dietary and lifestyle choices that likely gave rise to my ailment. And most importantly, the insight that when it comes to making decisions about diet and lifestyle, there is no “one-size-fits-all”. I will do well to tune in to my own body, rather than follow a popular trend. Mentally, I have become more patient and resilient, knowing that though my symptoms can be particularly bad on a given day, they are almost always better on the next. And that the body has a wonderful ability to heal, given time and the right treatment. As of today, I continue to learn about my condition and adapt accordingly.
More recently, as the dust settled and I began to gather myself and think more clearly, I realized the spiritual dimension of the problem more fully and was able to make some progress. I have been using a technique to help nurture a living faith-trust in my relationship with God. When clouds of uncertainty and feelings of fear start to gather in my mind, I have been pausing to first recognize them, then actively change my state of mind to a trusting mode: that assurance that all things work together for good, because God is good. I don’t always succeed in diverting my thoughts in this way, but I know that with practice, this can turn into a habit. I am grateful for every step of spiritual progress. Because of this trusting attitude, I am already noticing that my mind has become more active in spiritual domains. This faith-trust has moved me to make and execute decisions that will further allow the spirit of God to work in and through me. For instance, when I feel overwhelmed by the daily tasks ahead, rather than feeling paralyzed, I focus on a trusting attitude and take on one task at a time.
This experience has been of great value for me personally—in large measure because I have drawn on the universal value of Jesus’ personal experience. His life best demonstrates the concept of living faith. His personal religious experience forms the basis of the Gospel. We are told that his living faith “wholly dominated his thinking and feeling, his believing and praying, his teaching and preaching. This personal faith of a son in the certainty and security of the guidance and protection of the heavenly Father imparted to his unique life a profound endowment of spiritual reality.” (196.0.9) Jesus’ gospel was the good news of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Just as a child readily trusts his earthly father, we can trust our heavenly Father to watch over us and guide us in all circumstances of daily living. The Fatherhood (or parenthood) of God encompasses so much, above all a matchless love for his children. A loving Father desires his children to love him in return, but also to trust him with a whole heart. Indeed, we are told that “the goodness of God is found only in the spiritual world of personal religious experience.” (2.6.1)
Mahtab, thank you for your open, courageous, and helpful sharing. And also, for that beautiful and insightful concluding reflection on Jesus’ personal religious experience as the basis of his gospel.
Two months ago, when Mahtab sent me the first draft of her presentation, I was struck by what she emphasized: faith-trust in the goodness of God. I immediately sensed that this was important for me. I had never worked with this teaching. And I recognized that I had some deficiency in this area, so it was the perfect topic for me, too.
For the next two days, I struggled to comprehend faith-trust in the goodness of God—and got nowhere. Then I realized that I needed to exit my mind and get recentered in my soul. After all, it is the soul that discerns the goodness of God. Moreover, the soul is the spirit-perceiving part of us.
As I surged into my true self, I had the most flowing, beautiful, powerful, fulfilling realization of divine goodness that I have ever experienced. At the same time, recognizing the personality of God triggered worship.
But it’s one thing to have the gift of a glorious spiritual experience. It’s another thing to sustain faith-trust in divine goodness when we are struggling.
Jesus: asleep in the boat in the storm, awakened by terrified apostles—whom he rebukes: “Where is your faith?” They should have known that, as his closest associates, they would not perish in the storm. Does not the loving Master expect faith-trust in the goodness of God from all who would be great in the kingdom?
Living faith is both receptive and active. It is receptive, for example, to how God answers prayer. He gave Mahtab an expanded revelation of truth, an enhanced appreciation of beauty, and an augmented concept of goodness.
Living faith is also active. Faith, given by God, comes with unsuspected power. If we mobilize that power, active faith allows divine spirit to do good for us, with us, and through us.
Here’s one of the coolest things that faith can do. I quote:
The cry of the righteous is the faith act of the child of God which opens the door of the Father’s storehouse of goodness, truth, and mercy, and these good gifts have long been in waiting for the son’s approach and personal appropriation. (Paper 146:2.8, 1639.3)
The Father’s storehouse of goodness is within you. It’s like the cook who has prepared the meal for the guests and calls out, “Come and get it.” Appropriation means making the gift truly your own.
When your faith goes into action and you trust in the goodness of God, you expect good things to happen. Expectancy makes a big difference. Recall the Bethsaida hospital, where Jesus visited those who were sick. It was noted that:
Transformations of mind and spirit may occur in the experience of expectant and faith-dominated persons who are under the immediate and inspirational influence of a strong, positive, and beneficent personality whose ministry banishes fear and destroys anxiety. (148:2.2, 1658.5)
Next, let’s invite God to augment our concept of his goodness.
“The goodness of God rests at the bottom of the divine free-willness—the universal tendency to love, show mercy, manifest patience, and minister forgiveness.” (2:6.9, 42.1)
Stop and Ponder:
The goodness of God rests at the bottom of God’s free-willness.
God’s free-willness is the Father’s tendency to love, show mercy, manifest patience, and minister forgiveness.
And it’s not only God’s tendency. It’s the universal tendency. This means that God’s goodness is at the bottom of the same tendency in you.
So as you love, show mercy, manifest patience, and minister forgiveness—you can know that at the bottom of it rests the goodness of God.
Next, here are some tips about how to enhance your experience of faith-trust in the goodness of God. After this discourse, we’re going to take five minutes to try it out.
In my opinion, a major key to enhancing our spiritual experience has been discovered by research in the field of positive psychology. In her book, Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson describes a natural tendency for positive emotions to blossom and fill us, if we help this to happen, and allow it to occur. The ten most common positive emotions are also the ones which affect our daily lives the most: [expressively] gratitude, joy, awe, inspiration, serenity, interest, amusement [laugh], feeling good about oneself [dancing a bit]—and the last one, encompassing all the others, is love. Tip: Fredrickson says that for these words, these labels, to become truly meaningful to us, we must connect them with our own experiences.
Fredrickson finds that most of the time, we do not allow positive emotions to blossom and fill us. We have a positive feeling at a modest level—and we assume that’s it. So we don’t open ourselves for anything else. Instead, we get distracted and move on to something else.
But we can nurture this blossoming. Tip: Interpret things and ideas as they unfold—in ways that generate positive emotions. She writes, “You allow yourself to take a moment to find the good, and when you do find it, you support it and let it grow.” The Urantia Book says practically the same thing referring to the indwelling spirit of God: “Why do you not encourage the heavenly helper to cheer you with the clear vision of the eternal outlook of universal life as you gaze in perplexity at the problems of the passing hour.” (111.73)
So in response to our recognition of God’s goodness, what may begin as a warm feeling in the heart can rise all the way to loving worship.
One more Fredrickson finding: When our ratio of positivity over negativity improves to the point where the positivity is three times as much as the negativity, then our whole life shifts into a higher gear.
OK. That’s it. Next, we have a five-minute period of silence for you to allow and encourage the blossoming of your faith-trust in the goodness of Go