We live in a world with so many ideas of God. I think of author Alice Walker’s words after she saw her first illustrated Bible, “it was difficult to get that white man off my eyeball.”
I grew up thinking God as the big man with the white beard I saw in the clouds, a large, burly, finger-shaking, guilt-tripping, punitive God who made me feel extra bad about myself.
Author Anne Lamott in her book, Bird By Bird wrote, “Now, it might be that your God is an uptight, judgmental perfectionist.” Or as a priest friend cautioned her, ‘stay away from the standard God of our childhoods, who loves you and guides you, but then, if you are bad, roasts you.”
Who wouldn’t stray away from such a god? Who wouldn’t seek alternative spiritual pathways, or forget religious pursuits all together?
How do we then answer seekers, those who don’t yet know God? How do we answer when they ask, like my son’s teen friend did in response to a conversation we were having about religion while I drove him home one day, “but who or what is God’?
I thought, Wow, what a profound question. Who or what is God? I grappled for an accurate, equally profound answer.
Yet, before I had a chance to answer, this inquisitive, young person reflected “I guess God is what is all good.”
Yes, that’s it, I said. You said it better than I could ever had said it.
I only wish I had discovered God as good during my childhood. Instead, I ran far from the punitive, guilt-tripping, rigid God, wandering into thick, dense, dark forests of the world without a loving guide. And I got mighty lost.
Sadly, millions do the same today, running from rigid, legalistic, condemning religious messages. Jesus illustrates this went on even in his day,Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
In reading the Old and New Testaments over the years, and intelligent writings by well-respected authors, a more clear picture of God emerged, a God so different from the one I had known, a loving God. A God very different than the militant God I knew.
I think of the book, Waldo I read as a child. What a challenge finding Waldo camouflaged in massive crowds in a city, football stadium, or circus scenes. What a joy to finally find him in his tell-tale red and white stripped shirt and beanie.
Will the real God stand up?
In 1John, we learn “God is light, and with God there is no darkness”.
The Light of the World desires to banish darkness and bring joy and wisdom to all.
We also learn, God knows all things.
And that God is love.
God is Love, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
And God also disciplines, and yet by following such guidance we welcome God’s comfort. Surely the prominence of God’s wrath in the Old Testament is frightful. Yet, I’m also shocked reading about how his chosen people turned away from God to other gods, and the evil done in that day, including barbaric and atrocious practices not limited to the burning of and eating children as sacrifices.
God unfathomable, is the creator of all, a shelter in the storm, a mighty rock, our hope and c omforter in sorrow.
We learn God is here, now, amongst us, and at hand. This means God is not some unattainable ‘thing out there’ in the cosmos. God dwells in the here and now.
Author and theologian Dallas Willard tells a story of a character in a story by Vladimir Nabokov, who watches an old women on the streets drink a cup of coffee. At that moment, he became aware of the world’s tenderness, the profound beneficent of all that surrounded me.
I’m transfixed by the author Fredrick Buechner’s description of discovering the divine in traffic one morning on the crowed, frantic turnpike:
“There was brilliant sunshine, and the cars glittered in it as they went tearing by. The sky was cloudless and blue….When I came out of the Lincoln Tunnel,the city was snarled and seething with traffic as usual; but at the same time there was something about it that was not usual. It was gorgeous traffic, it was beautiful traffic—that’s what was not usual. It was a beauty to see, to hear, to smell, even to be part of. It was so dazzlingly alive it all but took my breath away. It rattled and honked and chattered with life..The spring day made everybody a celebrity— blacks, whites, Hispanics, every last one of them. It made even the litter and clamor and turmoil of it a kind of miracle.”
God is in our midst in everyday moments.
If we have eyes that see.
We learn that God can speak to us, in dreams, in visions, through prophets, and in voices.
“Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice”
Both the Old Testament and the New indicate that God is without form, that is, God is spirit.
Jesus, of himself, spoke radical claims.
In the Gospel of John, the Jews are seeking to kill Jesus, because he was calling God his Father, and making himself equal with God. Later, The high priest questions Jesus, Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? And Jesus said, I am – for which he later was crucified. Jesus had also asked the disciples, Who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. In other scriptures we read, For in him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.
John Baptist foretold of Jesus’ coming,The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He also testified, I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus claims, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
The Christ, who Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
C.S. Lewis said, Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
Yet, today, we meet many Jesus’, Jesus the hippie, Jesus Christ the Superstar, the good guy, a messenger, the Jesus you might hear about as you drink a latte at a mega church.
And yes, the all too familiar blue-eyed Jesus.
I’ve met several people who didn’t know Jesus was Jewish.
Many of us form our ideas about God from cultural influences, from being hurt by religion, from being misled or misinformed. Until the spirit of God fills our hearts and souls with profound, unbending truth, a truth that turns tables of history toward goodness, that transforms souls into all that is good, that banishes darkness, comforts, provides, and loves fully,we may be looking toward a man-made sort of god.
Yet, knowing God may not in any means ‘seeing’ God. Knowing God comes from having faith and carving the words of God’s way on our hearts. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Dallas Willard tells, us in order to have faith, we must know the God to whom we are faithful.