A simple and logical approach
I recently had a discussion with a friend. He had been a defiant atheist in college. Later in life, as he faced many challenges and difficulties, he came to believe in God. But he believes in a God who created the world and went on vacation, leaving human beings to themselves.
Once he was arguing with me. “How would anyone know who is God or who has the way to God? It is next to impossible to know. Religions are all the same anyway: man’s way of explaining life! And what about all the wars fought in the name of religion?”
“Here’s a simple approach,” I explained. “I approach learning about God the same way that I treat learning about any other matter. Take, for example, learning about mechanical engineering.” (I used this example because my friend is a mechanical engineer.) I went on to say, “I have four options.”
1. On my own: I could try to understand it and discover it from my own thinking and what makes sense to me without asking anyone or reading any books. Of course, this can take a lifetime and at the end I may or may not uncover some aspects of mechanical engineering. Most would say this approach is an unwise waste of my time. Some would say this is how a person not serious about studying mechanical engineering would approach the subject. (Amazingly enough, this is a common approach to learning about God.)
2. Ask the experts: I could ask others about mechanical engineering. Of course, logically I would need to ask an expert on the subject or someone who has studied it. It would not make sense to ask a genetic engineer or a chemical engineer, much less an economist or a historian, about mechanical engineering. Asking a mechanical engineer is more helpful than the first approach, but still does not result in a deep level of knowledge.
3. Read about it: I could read books and articles on mechanical engineering written by mechanical engineers since they are the experts on the subject, ponder what I read, and ask questions to understand and learn. This results in a deep level of knowledge.
4. Take a class: I could learn about mechanical engineering in a structured way by taking a class or several classes. This is the way to acquire comprehensive and deep knowledge of the subject.
So I had the same options when it came to learning about my Creator:
1. On my own: As I mentioned earlier, this would not be a wise approach, so I decided not to go this route. However, I have heard many people say, “All I need to do is follow my conscience, be a good person, and don’t hurt anyone. That is all God requires of me.” Or “I’ll meditate and ponder over the magnificence of the creation in order to know God.” Certainly we do not follow our conscience or meditate to learn about mechanical engineering, George Washington, driving laws, or anything else we want to know about. This is only logical. And who gave us our sense of logic? Of course, the One who created us. If we want to depend on our own thinking to discover who God is and why He created us, it could take a lifetime with uncertain results. If God gave us our lives, it is incumbent on us to find out why He gave us our lives, how He wants us to live, and what will happen to us after this life. Those who subscribe to such an approach are either not using their God-given faculty of reason and logic or are not serious about learning about their Creator.
2. Ask the experts: I decided to ask the experts to tell me about God. However, who are the experts? This was quite challenging. After some thinking, I concluded that I needed to ask those who claim or have claimed that they have received a message from God (that’s assuming that God has sent us a message). There have been people in the past and there are people today who claim God has given them a message. The simplest and most logical approach would be to start with the five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Since the original recipients of the message lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, I asked the knowledgeable followers of these faiths. Of course, it is very important to determine if the original message has remained intact after so many centuries. If I did not receive a satisfactory answer, I continued asking people of other faiths. What is amazing is to me is the number of people trying to learn about God by asking philosophers and poets, none of whom claims or has claimed to have received a message from God and who readily admit that what they say or have said is the result of their own thinking. Asking a philosopher or a poet or reading their works is like asking a genetic engineer about mechanical engineering! So asking experts is a good start to gain some knowledge and understanding of various faiths, but it does not provide a deep level of knowledge.
3. Read about it: Today we have access to the written texts of world religions. In my search for God, I have read books of many faiths, from the Bhagavad Gita to the Book of Mormon, pondered over them, and asked questions of their followers in a sincere desire to learn—not to argue and prove my own point of view. By reading, pondering, and asking, I was able to attain a deep understanding of each religion.
4. Take a class: I took a comparative religion class at the University of California at Davis and attended several others. I read the required textbooks, which covered all five major religions and many of the minor ones, such as the Baha’i faith, Unification Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and others. I have also visited various houses of worship.
Steps 3 and 4 are certainly the most comprehensive approaches.
Of course, there is a major difference between trying to learn about mechanical engineering and trying to learn about God, the Creator, Lord, and Sustainer of all things who loves and cares for His creation. So when we try to learn about Him out of sincerity and love, He will reach down to us and guide us to His path.
“And those who strive for Us—We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (Qur’an, 29:69)