If I say “love” would you think of your heartache, or the bliss that a lover can bring? If I say “God” would you think of a man sitting high in the clouds, or a glory that the word fails to sound? — The Reign of Kindo
Who is God? Is he within us? Or is he somewhere else, like in heaven, or sitting on a cloud? Is he a “he” at all? Is he merely a social construct? Is he the creator of the universe, who governs the laws of physics and mathematics and holds the cosmos together? Is his creation finished, or still ongoing? Does he care about us on a day-to-day basis, or is he just watching the story unfold? Is he good, bad, or neutral? Infinite? Powerful? Love? Does he exist at all?
When someone says “I believe in God,” and someone else says “so do I!” — I wonder if they really believe in the same thing. That being said… I believe in God. I probably always have. But who he is to me now is much different than who he was to me when I was growing up, or even two years ago.
I’ve come to realize that those who profess a belief in God, view him through a certain set of lenses. Here are some of them:
- Their own personalities
- Their culture
- Their worldview & values
- Their family history
Many, myself included, have argued at length about their own view of God being right, not understanding that their views are tinted. (Not tainted, necessarily, but perhaps that too.) And maybe, instead of arguing about our own view of God being the correct one, it may behoove us to realize that it is in fact just a view, or a vantage point, or whatever… and there are others.
I’m not saying that “all roads lead to God” or “all religions are the same” — but what I’d like to share is how I have found, in my own life, that dropping my preconceptions of God and holding my views with a looser fist have enabled me to experience him on a wider level (that is, in more places and more ways) and on a deeper level as well. Sharing this experience is the whole reason I wanted to start this blog.
Anthony deMello says in the book Awareness:
The fact is that you’re surrounded by God and don’t see God, because you “know” about God. The final barrier to the vision of God is your God concept. You miss God because you think you know. That’s the terrible thing about religion. That’s what the gospels were saying, that religious people “knew,” so they got rid of Jesus. The highest knowledge of God is to know God as unknowable.
As I write, I will probably use the word “him” often for God, and it’s mostly out of tradition and convenience. (Plus, not using pronouns makes for boring writing.) I don’t feel comfortable saying “it,” for some reason, but I definitely don’t believe God has any sort of gender. Most probably the male gender, in my speculation, was “chosen” by the ancient patriarchs to describe their ultimate authority, and to them, authority figures were male. I’m not trying to be cynical here.
Instead of thinking of God as a white bearded gentleman sitting on a cloud (which is probably just a modern re-imagination of Zeus), perhaps a burning bush that never goes out (Exodus 3) is much more appropriate. Or a pillar of fire (Exodus 13). Or a brilliant shining light surrounded by a rainbow and mystical creatures (Revelation 4). Something unexplainable, blinding, brilliant, unending.
“I am who I am” (Exodus 3) works perfectly, I think, to poetically describe the divine infinity, since it is equal parts sense and nonsense. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it’s kind of like when the witch asks Aslan (the lion, who is the God figure) “how will I know you will keep your promise?” and he roars. He doesn’t need any word or oath beyond himself. He speaks for himself. He is.
These days I also like more abstract ways to describe God, like the word Fullness, or Radiance, or His Dudeness.
Alright, so not His Dudeness. Let’s move on, shall we?
Here’s an interesting thought, which I heard on Rob Bell’s podcast, from a philosopher of religion named Pete Rollins. It goes something like this: “we make God out to be, in our minds, whatever we want most to become, which would be the best idea of ourselves.” This is not to say God is imaginary, or that we ever eventually become God somehow; it’s just to say that we project onto God some characteristic or ideal which is already within us, that we are striving to improve. Some examples:
- Artistic people may focus on God’s creativity/beauty
- Aggressive people may focus on God’s strength/decisiveness
- Intellectuals may focus on God’s knowledge/wisdom
Two quick asides.
1. My recent foray into the enneagram has totally aligned with this; each of the nine personality types has a “holy fixation” based on their own biggest motivator… maybe I’ll write more about this someday, if I ever figure it out. For now, if you’re interested in self-discovery and improvement, you could start here.
2. I don’t know much about Hinduism but my friend Laxmi wrote something on Facebook that caught my eye, since it’s so similar to what Pete Rollins said: “Many westerners look at Hinduism and can’t quite relate to the fantastical figures with six arms. Many think it is idol worship. This is simply a misunderstanding. Each deity is actually an aspect of self, an archetype. It is not an outward fantastical figure that is worshiped, but an aspect of our higher nature which is focused on and tended to in our lives.”
My point is, our personalities and ideals — what we are not — may get projected onto our own personal understanding of God. Also, there are cultures, worldviews, etc. which, as I mentioned, influence us as well. I’ll dive into each one next, in separate posts.
For now, I’ll leave it at that. There’s so much to say… if you’ve read this far, thanks for reading! And I hope your reverence for God and respect for others increases as a result. Peace.