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We tend to see what we expect to see. That's why fundamental beliefs are so important. We all have a world view, a paradigm, a lens through which we interpret reality. It is the place where we stand, and it influences how we experience life.

There are many ways to frame the conversation, but I am a priest, so I'm going to start with Christian language, and Christian disagreements. I hope you will translate this into your own belief system or paradigm.

Christian tradition affirms that every person is a child of God, created in the image of God. God is love, and God loves us into being. We are all blessed from our beginnings, and we all have a capacity for receiving the unlimited goodness of God. At the center of our being God dwells with us and in us always. Our truest identity is this interior union with God. Yet no one comes to full maturity with the sense of this union intact. Each of us loses this intuitive sense of union with God, and we fall into a world of division. We wrongly believe ourselves to be separate from God, and we experience anxiety, fear and alienation. The healing human journey is to let go of our attachment to the self-centered habits that separate us from God, from ourselves and from others, and to nourish our essential union so that God lives in and through us in love.

Another Christian tradition emphasizes that we are all sinners. Humanity inherits the original sin of Adam. All have sinned. The wages of sin is death. We are under God's judgment. We are separated from God by sin. God is holy, and there is an infinite chasm between God's holiness and humanity's sin. We are all lost. But Jesus did not sin, therefore Jesus did not deserve death. By accepting death on a cross, Jesus became a perfect offering for our sin. So whoever believes in him is united to him and will escape judgment and eternal death. Jesus' faithfulness triumphs over our unfaithfulness.

Both of these traditions can be defended from the Bible and by articulate theologians.

So, is the cup half full or half empty? Are human beings fundamentally good or fundamentally bad?

We tend to see what we expect to see. If you expect to see sin and depravity, that filter will shape your experience. If you expect to see God's presence in every person, that's what you are more likely to see.

I have lived in the world of the loving, blessing God, and it has made a profound difference to me.

I know myself to be loved infinitely. I know God's loving presence is breathing me into being, even when I am unaware. When I fail myself or others, I can turn to the intimate comfort of a love greater than my failure, and I am encouraged. Loved, not judged.

I believe every other human being is loved as infinitely as I am, and every other person has God's presence at the core of their being also. I try to look for that presence and goodness, even when it is deeply camouflaged. I look for the hints of unity rather than the evidence of division. I try to love others, including enemies, as I know I am loved. I hope to encourage people to act out of their divine center, which is their truest identity. That's my perspective.

The other perspective has both a soft and a hard version. When a person is truly humbled by their own sense of sinfulness, they can be deeply forgiving and accepting of others and of others' failures; they can be soft.

But, if you believe everyone is fundamentally bad, it is easy to stand in hard judgment over them. If you believe you have the answer, the one answer, to universal depravity, then you have divided humanity profoundly. Right/wrong, saved/lost, us/them. The only way to overcome the divide is for them to become like you. I believe aggressive dividing threatens humanity.

Jesus overcame divisions with love. He healed and fed his own people's enemies. He saw the good in those who were aliens and outcast, and he nourished their hopes. He inspired radical generosity. Jesus only scolded the proud. He refused to fight.

Jesus knew God at his center. He shows us the way.

Commentary on 08/20/2019

Print Headline: Half full or half empty?

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