I am an extremely fortunate man. But it’s not the fair share of earthly rewards and accolades to which I refer; God’s spiritual blessings are the real measure of my riches.
Over many decades, His hand has placed me in a number of unique positions that allowed me to observe and participate in historical events that shaped the world. It turns out they were a gift that put what’s really important into sharp relief; I came to realize that the frenzy and turmoil of human interaction on a grand scale were a metaphor for the quest for meaning that goes on inside all of us. The seeds for mine was planted in me as a young boy.
God had been around all my life but it wasn’t until middle age that I started to pay serious attention to Him. His blessings were answers to the questions that had nettled me from the time I was an adolescent, answers that came to me when I found myself by finding Him. I’m convinced that He wants me to share my bounty with as many as I can by sharing what I have learned.
As a young Naval Officer, I served on nuclear submarines and spent a year in Vietnam during that devastating war. Later, as a trial lawyer and political activist, I participated in national political campaigns and was a part of landmark trials from Watergate to the post-2000 election cases in Florida that determined the winner of the U.S. Presidency. I’ve traveled Communist China before its modern opening, walked through Soweto, South Africa, during the height of apartheid, and recoiled at the reality of slums in South America.
On my journey, I have also been awestruck and enriched by the wonders of this world and of humanity, those just outside my door as well as others around the world that are known to many. At every station I’ve occupied along the way, I witnessed the best and worst of human conduct.
There is more that unites us than divides us.
Not content to just live my life as if it were a game of chance, winning some hands, losing others, and breaking even on the rest, I was compelled to search out what seems to me the logic, purpose, and interrelation of personal and world events. I’ve delved into theology, philosophy, history, and politics. On my quest for spiritual understanding, I have cross-examined, if you will, humanity as a whole to make the case that life has precious meaning for every human being.
While this world of ours seems so vast and varied, with markedly different peoples, customs, and beliefs that provide built-in excuses for conflict, I have come to realize that it is really a very small place with more that unites us than divides us.
I ask, what are the material differences between the racism of apartheid South Africa and our history of segregation in the U.S? Between the poverty of the rural Arkansas of my youth and that in South America? Between the historic fallacies that the Sun revolves around the Earth and that the Universe revolves around me? Between the idols of antiquity and the false gods of today? Between the desperation of a starving body and that of a starving soul? Amongst Moses, Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha? What do you do when things like life don’t make sense? If you’re like me, you ask questions, if not of others then at least of yourself. There are so many questions—but what are the answers? Dogma, tradition, and politics often say one thing when common sense seems to suggest another.
What are the material differences between the idols of antiquity and the false gods of today?
My experiences in life pushed, punched, and pulled at me until the world finally started making sense. After thirty-nine years of putting cases together out of competing facts and concepts so that I could present them to a judge or jury, I’ve come to understand that if something doesn’t add up, by and large, people won’t and shouldn’t believe it. I’ve learned to set up, side by side, all the available facts the various differing parties profess are true and fit them together as if they were an enormous jigsaw puzzle. When they fit, the picture gets clearer; likewise, there are times when things just won’t mesh and something has to either be set aside to be reintroduced later on or discarded. You can’t just force the pieces together.
In this way, I’ve tried to study and understand that which has puzzled me all my life—God, people, life itself and how they all tie together. How does one make sense out of them? It may be presumptuous on my part, but my training and approach have given me a somewhat different perspective from that of many formal theologians, philosophers, and scientists who have confronted the same questions.
For example, as you will see throughout this book, I have a fascination with the life, times, and writings of St. Paul that I have studied extensively. Today, most Christians are taught that Paul wrote for the ages and that his directions to his church’s members two thousand years ago are equally applicable and binding for our age. Yet, many people now find some of the things he was reputed to have said very troubling, especially where they deal with the proper places and roles of men as the dominant gender and women as subservient to them.
It seems to me, however, that Paul thought of himself as an underground, short-term operative who had to keep a beleaguered movement together and expand its numbers when its beliefs threatened the then-existing power structure and order. All the while, he awaited what he understood to be the imminent return of God and His rule to Earth.
If something doesn’t add up, people shouldn’t believe it.
Apparently, juggling was one of Paul’s many talents. On the one hand he, on behalf of God and Christ, professed the impotence of the reigning gods and declared that, in a society based on slavery and female subjugation, slaves and women would soon be equal to or better than their male masters. What he advocated was a huge threat to the accepted formal structure of a then-pagan world. On the other hand, Paul counseled his flock to accept short-term accommodations, including male dominance and female subservience that were necessary for a weak and dispersed Christian community to survive until its leader’s return.
That return, he believed, would herald the destruction of the hostile world structure that opposed and oppressed the nascent Christian Church and set up a new world where the relations of its inhabitants, male and female, would be in a proper balance, equitable for all.
It seems to me that some of us, however, take Paul’s short-term counseling and recommended accommodations and turn them into immutable laws for eternity. For this reason, I think his writings must be read in the context of his time and his purpose instead of thinking that he had at least two thousand years of future humanity in mind as he penned every word. We must, therefore, decipher what is relevant today among his writings and what is not.
A Seed Was Planted
Choices & Challenges represents my personal quest for understanding the disquieting issues that have reared their heads in ways I couldn’t ignore and that quest turned out to be a journey of faith. It’s the sprout of the seeds that had been planted in me long before. It responds to those who would reject God’s existence as well as to those who preach outmoded dogma. But it also reaffirms that faith as God intends it exists in every venue, from a small country church to the conning tower of a nuclear submarine to the halls of Congress. Most important, it exists in everyone’s heart.
What you are about to read are one person’s considerations of bedeviling questions related to social discourse and faith, and the answers he uncovered. Whether one believes in God or not, it’s an attempt to make some sense out of life. You may agree with what follows or you may not—in a sense, you are part of a jury hearing my case.
An excerpt from “Choices and Challenges” by Alan G. Greer. All Rights Reserved. 2016.