My New View of God

In Culture, International, Opinion, Religion on June 6, 2009 at 11:42 am

After reading A History of God by Karen Armstrong (most of which was beyond me, I admit) I have come to the conclusion that it is sacriligeous for any of us to say that we have the last word on God. Why? Because God, by His very nature, is beyond our comprehension. It’s even sacriligeous for us to call Him “Him.” That’s one reason why I always capitalize pronouns that refer to God, to differentiate between Him and a human man. I would call Him “She” except that would be perpetuating the same misconception. And since I can’t quite handle calling God “It,” I use the male pronouns.

But the probable truth is, God is “It.” The “It.” Like most “its,” He is subject to misunderstandings and met with confusion. And humans don’t like to be in the dark about their gods. Any of our gods. We want to have total grasp of any and all subjects: biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, theology–the list is legion. And when we don’t–or can’t–have total understanding, we make things up to make ourselves feel better.

I wouldn’t say that I have lost my faith, because I still believe in God. I just think it is limiting to latch onto one interpretation of His nature, whether that be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Druidism or whatever. I think some explanations have more merit than others, but it is hard for me to say–at this point in my life–that any one explanation is the only true or full explanation. How can God be captured like that?

If we were to be totally honest, isn’t it more accurate to say that “this is the way I experience God”? And since we are all products of our upbringing, history, culture and psychology, doesn’t it make sense that we are going to have different experiences? I believe that God exists, but I also think that people try to make Him fit into their version of reality. People who need a great deal of structure in their life are going to be more likely to identify with a specific set of doctrines, for instance. Or people who see God as an agent in history (or rather, the Agent in history) are going to experience Him in the context of their history.

Thus the Jews hold onto their conception of the Creator God and themselves as His chosen people. Christians have shaped their religion around the philosophies of the church fathers and have identified with a Triune God.  And Muslims see God as the last word in faith and history (according to Mohammad). Obviously I am oversimplifying here. And I’m leaving out the other belief and thought systems. But these are just examples.

I was raised as a Christian. Not only that, but as a Lutheran. I learned to identify with Martin Luther, the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ. (Not necessarily in that order.) It all made perfect sense to me. I was never beset with doubts about the Trinity or the resurrection of the body.  When I became an adult, I joined the Methodist church where I learned about John Wesley and the doctrine of works, not just faith, and the second blessing. Not long after that, I became a born-again Christian. I remained in the Methodist church, but identified with non-denominationals, probably because I felt constricted by the Methodist–and Lutheran–doctrines. I sensed that denominational differences had more to do with historical events and persons than with revelation.

Lately, I have been learning more about Islam and I realize that it, too, fits the culture out of which it grew. I don’t come out of that culture; hence, it seems foreign to me. At the same time, I recognize that Allah is as valid a concept as the God of Israel or the Triune God.  What, other than my background, keeps me from “trying on” another belief system? If I try to use reason and base my choice on comparisons among religions, I come away with the realization that they all have something to recommend them. But they also all have things that don’t make sense to me, or I don’t agree with, or I can’t see making such a big deal about. And I have to take that all into account. I can’t experience God without being who I am.

  1. There is good reason that God is Spirit. He can accommodate who we are and where we are. Creatures could never know God the way he knows himself, but we know him nonetheless.

    “He has made everything appropriate in its time He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” Eccl 3:11

    We know him intuitively. That is why Jews, Christians and Hindus alike ascribe to some form of spiritual revelation with some form of Godhead. But if we are Christian, there are specific historical events that, regardless of how we as individuals relate to God personally in experience, as unique as that might be, testify to a God that stands out among all others.

    Not only does he stand out, but he makes himself and his desires plain. We do this with each other. We explain, give directions, share our hearts, our likes and dislikes.

    It is important to make the distinction between the mysterious and the factual. God is spirit and his essence a mystery, but he is also a person. People are mysterious, and many times we are a mystery even to ourselves. And we can trust God to be who he says he is, in his mysterious qualities, eternal and all-powerful and the like, even if we cannot grasp them in the same way we can his devotion to his people in real time.

    The historical Jesus distinguishes Christianity from all other faiths. How we live my faith in Jesus distinguishes individual Christians from other Christians. But how I experience God and what I know to be true about God distinctly, are two different things.

    We cannot deny the resurrection if we claim to be a Christian, but nor need we understand what this means in reality. It is a doctrine, and is believable and useful for an intuitive sense of the essence of life around us. It is both a mystery, but it is communicable and can be accepted, since we ourselves have a sense of mystery in our hearts, called eternity. We grasp things both intuitively and logically and reasonably.

    It is not one, or the other. Both intuited mystery and factual reason make up the fabric of reality. We heed both, when we communicate, either between friends, or between large collectives.

    I believe it is important how we use terms. Some are general and others specific to reality. When we major on the general terms like the word ‘culture’ there will be disputes. It goes with the territory. If we greet someone with a kiss, or with a handshake, then there is little room for difference in views. They both express a loving greeting, regardless of the cultural base.

    Love and acts of love tow different things. I want to be sensitive to cultural differences, but love is universal. God is eternal, which means his traits will distill into specifics that meet needs of the moment that that transcend culture.

    We want to transcend culture, and Christianity is not particular to any culture, as you said. But it is nevertheless communicable and therefore a shared experience.

    Respond if you wish.


    God is also historical in expression of himself towards us.

  2. […] in this holding pattern for several months. Then, on June 6, 2009, I wrote this post about “My New View of God.” I was done with […]

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