Last week, I listened to a sermon that discussed the lens we use to interpret the messages being communicated by our loved ones. The study the pastor referenced came to the conclusion that the people who seem the happiest in their relationships are the ones who believe their loved ones have their best interests in mind.
What stands out to me about this finding is that regardless of the loved one’s actual intention, the power belongs in the hands of the interpreter. This is especially powerful when considered in the context of the human/divine relationship: what we believe about God has personal consequences.
In A Dog’s Religion, Grant, the protagonist, comes from a rough, abusive family background that has left him poorly equipped to seek out any type of stability. Grant is aware that he has emotional problems and that his perspective of life is tainted—the tension between his actions and beliefs attest to this—but he is driven to reshape everything about his lifestyle, starting with his understanding of the nature of God. He hopes his experiences in the animal shelter will help him abandon a literal faith that doesn’t mesh with his intuition and into a faith he can experience as genuine. As he pushes himself out of his comfort zone, he starts to realize that he can form conclusions about the nature of God using his own innate empathy. Therefore, as his empathy grows and understanding takes place, he begins to be able to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy experiences of love and, as a result, is able to make a defining life decision.
As religions move out of literal interpretations of ancient texts and adopt allegorical approaches aimed at discerning spiritual meaning, God as revealed in scriptures will be measured against the knowledge one has of God within. This is a significant shift if tolerance is to prevail. People will be empowered to question whether or not the God they know would require animal and human sacrifice, that one nation is more precious to him than others, that religious observances and rules are more important than compassion, that salvation is exclusive, etc. The lens we use to interpret God will not only help us grow in our spiritual life, but it will allow us to keep pace with the awakening of empathy all around us without requiring scriptural support and church backing. And hopefully, the tolerance we have for differences can transform into an appreciation and exchange of knowledge.