Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where is God?

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A chart showing the relationship between weak/...Image via WikipediaThis is one of those things that has popped up over and over again in the last couple of weeks in different places I frequent. Where is God? Who is God? What is God? Is there a God? Is God male or female? Is God out there or in here? My image of God has changed so much over the years that the God I envision today (or don't envision to put it more accurately) is absolutely nothing like the Zeus-like old man sitting on a throne of my youth.


I guess the most fundamental question to answer would be "Is there (a) God?" If the answer is no, the rest of the questions become moot. No need to figure out any qualities or locations of a non-existent being (or force or spirit). The atheist supposedly says there is no God. But, maybe what he really means is there is no God as some theologians have tried to describe Him. Jews sometimes talk about the fact that you cannot really positively describe God as in saying what God is, you can only identify what God is not. There is a great little book that is now public domain and a free download called "Your God Is Too Small". What I have found is most atheists have not rejected the God that I have come to believe in. They have rejected a Sunday School image of God. They have come to the conclusion that God the Cop does not exist, or God the Old Man, or God as our Father (a projection of our earthly father). Many Christians have such a grossly underdeveloped idea of who or what God is that people from outside our faith community simply have to reject it based on common sense. While all of these models of God have had or continue to have some merit. To attempt to describe the Indescribable in such childish terms and present them as a complete picture drives people not to belief in such a god but to disbelief. Christians, inadvertently, create atheists with our absurd declarations about what God is .


I no longer think of God as an old man with a flowing beard. I rarely think of God as corporeal at all. And, when I do, I try not to. I no longer picture that when I get to Heaven I will see God. I believe I could see Jesus. I believe I could see Buddha or Ghandi or MLK. I don't know if I'd say anymore that I believe in a God. I do believe in God. I think of G-d as more of Force or Spirit or Intelligence or Life than as a separate entity or Being. I see God as flowing through and interconnecting everything and as Being everything more than I see God as sitting outside of His creation looking down on us. As someone said to me earlier today when I said that God created us out of Godself, G-d became us rather than G-d created us. When you describe as all that is, as the Creative Force, as the Organizer, as First Cause, how can anyone looking at life at the Universe, at humanity deny the existence of God? For me, the answer to whether or not God is is "Of course. How could I not?". The only question that remains is what is God like? Can we describe God? I think we can begin to. There are some things we can say about God. But, for me, thinking we have a clear handle on what God is would be like an amoeba thinking it has a handle on what a man is. Or maybe a better picture is a cell in our body thinking it comprehends the entire body. I think Christianity has done itself, God and humanity a disservice by thinking we have a clear handle on exactly what God is like and promoting this Sunday School primitive image that clearly does not fully describe the Divine.


My view of God is best described by a word I first heard only a couple of years ago. Panentheistic. Not to be confused with pantheistic. Pantheists believe that the Universe is God that the physical realm is the complete manifestation of the divine. I do not believe that. I believe in both the immanence of God (the fact that She is in with and part of Her creation) and the transcendance of God (that G-d is greater than Her creation). The creation does not contain God. But, the creation is contained within God and is made of God. I see God as more giving birth to the Universe and to humanity, a mother, than as a manufacturer, one who constructed us and our universe. That is one reason why I believe it's important to use feminine pronouns for God sometimes (If we're going to use pronouns at all). I believe that, in a very real way and a way few of us can comprehend, we are each made up of the "stuff" of God (whatever that means). I believe that God experiences Godself through each of us. That is not to say that I am God. To say that God is me is not the same as saying I am God. Kind of like the cell in my finger is not Brian in its entirety, but the cell in my finger is part of Brian. Inseparable.


This image (or lack of image) of God has been revolutionary for me. For year and years I looked for God "out there" praying, begging and cajoling for God to answer me. I heard Christians say they had talked to God. And, even more amazing God had talked back! To hear them talk, they knew exactly what God wanted and when He wanted it. They were so certain and sure of Him and themselves. I wondered what I was missing. Why did He choose to remain silent when I begged Him to reveal Himself to me? It wasn't until I learned about Centering Prayer (meditation if you will) that I finally began to truly sense the Presence of God. I started pressing people on what they meant when they said "God told me..." or "God told me to tell you...." Each and every single time it wasn't an audible voice they heard or a vision, it was a feeling, a thought, a word whispered in that "inner voice". When I finally realized this, I too began to hear from God. Then, it all started to fall into place. That stuff in the Bible about "be still and know I am God" made sense. Be still. Be quiet. That weird passage in 1 Kings 19 finally made sense to me:
11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
Many are still looking for physical manifestations of God. They expect God to come to them in fury, in awe, in might. Or maybe in a dream or a vision or by speaking through someone else. But, what did Elijah find? He found a still small voice- I believe an internal voice. I've heard people say it's blasphemy to say that God indwells us. They say it's heresy to say that we should look inside of ourselves to find God. But, isn't that exactly what the Bible tells us? Don't the Trinitarians say that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are One (and often they say they are the same). If God gives us the Holy Spirit how is that not God inside of us? If we're going to find God where else are we going to turn?

Some say it's going to far to say we are God. And it is ridiculous to say that individually, I Brian, am the Creator or that I'm perfect. For a wave to declare itself the ocean is absurd. However, it is not going to far to say that I am an incarnation of God, an emanation from God, a piece of God, if you will.


This is a very difficult concept for many to grasp and I cannot say I have a handle on it entirely. It's also very difficult to explain. But, we have to try. I'll end with a story:

The disciples were full of questions about God.

Said the master, "God is the Unknown and the Unknowable, Every statement about Him, every answer to every question is a distortion of truth."

The disciples were bewildered. "Then why do you speak about him at all?"


"Why does the bird sing?" said the master.


We cannot know all there is to know about God. But, that does not stop us (nor should it stop us ) from speaking about Her. The things we say about G-d are not necessarily to be understood. They are to be listened to and taken into the heart- as the wind in the trees, or the sound of the river or the song of the bird. They will then awaken something in the heart that is beyond knowledge. This is what has happened to me. I've stopped trying to "understand" G-d with my head and started trying to feel God with my heart. (story taken from Anthony De Mello's "The Song of the Bird")



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9 comments:

The Christian Heretic said...

Good stuff. I've also come to similar conclusions over the last few years.

Don said...

Brian- The fact that we all are one is manifested by this post. You have spoken with my voice here. Everything you have said, I have thought the same and believe the same. If I needed further proof of the truth of what I believe, you have given it to me. We are so aligned, belief-wise here, that I know it could be none other than the I AM who is speaking. I, too, have learned to listen in the quietness for I AM to speak to me. For the first demonstrable time in my life, I AM speaks to me. The conclusions you have reached are the same I have reached.
"I believe that, in a very real way and a way few of us can comprehend, we are each made up of the "stuff" of God.... I believe that God experiences Godself through each of us. That is not to say that I am God. To say that God is me is not the same as saying I am God."
I think I have stated almost exactly these same words. The warm feeling that encompasses me at this moment is obviously from I AM and confirms your words in this post. Man! Thanks for posting this one. Blessings bro! You made my day!

brian said...

I am so glad this made sense to somebody. This is one that was bouncing around in my head for a few days and I didn't know how it would come across.

Chaplain Roy, Texas said...

Brian,

Very good post and great illustrations. In my job as a hospice chaplain, I try to explain God to dying people. They often explain God to me even more.

I believe in "types and shadows" on earth as it is in heaven. By looking at our life as an observer, we may see the clue about "why". My parents, without understanding who God is, had a second son (me). As I grew, I realized that I was a combination of my parents. (not sure what they noticed). As my 3 sons were born and grew up, I saw my self in all three of them and was pleased and confused. When I held my first granddaughter, I saw and experienced even more of the wonderment. WOW!!. I think I'm feeling some of what God feels...unconditional love...all the time, for my offspring. My dna in them growing to be even more than I ever could by myself. Maybe that is what mother god is doing?

brian said...

Chaplain Roy,

I never had any idea what unconditional love was like until my daughters came along. I certainly think that is one way we can get a glimpse of what God experiences. After having my children, the idea of Eternal Torment made even less sense to me. No mother could ever do that to a a son or daughter.

Peace,
Brian

Someday said...

The idea of Panentheism is one that I too would describe of my own revelations of God. At one time I thought I was unique and different for thinking of God as everywhere and in all things. Then I came to learn the idea was ancient. For the Christian, one can look at the idea of Theosis as taught by the Orthodox Churches as evidence of an ancient Christian concept of union with God. It's not new age gobley gook like many "traditional" churches try to claim it is.

One of my favorite illustrations of the idea you are describing can be found in the following quote from a 14th-century saint, Catherine of Siena who wrote:
"The soul is in God, and God is in the soul, as the fish is in the ocean and the ocean in the fish."

If you ask a fish to point to the ocean, it must point up, down, all around itself, and finally inside itself. Yet, the fish is not the ocean.

Blessings

brian said...

Someday,

I completely agree. There is a musician by the name of Kirtana. I love her stuff. There is a line in one of her songs that I love.

The fishes are confused
In searching for the sea
Find what you can't lose
Be free

Glad you hung in there with me through the political stuff. It's nice to agree on something!

Peace,
Brian

chadholtz said...

Brian,
I enjoy reading your blog. I wasn't sure where to leave this comment so I hope here is fine.

You have been down this universal road longer than I and I am still sorting through some of it. My aim now is to get better at articulating what I have come to know and to do so in a way that helps others who are wrestling with this (or combative against it). As a pastor, I feel this is important.

On my blog I posted some thoughts today that I wonder if you wouldn't mind reading and let me know your honest take.

You can find it here:
http://chadholtz.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/the-universal-good-news/

thanks,
Chad

chadholtz said...

Brian-

Met a friend recently who just put up a great review of Talbotts book. You might like it.

http://soundandsilence.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/the-inescapable-love-of-god-by-thomas-talbott/