Friday, June 16, 2006

God is whoever and whatever God is

I love tautologies and the meanings one can read into them with a bit of inflection here or there. Many don’t. Months ago, some sportswriter was blasting how frequently players answered reporters’ questions with, “It is what it is,” or words to that effect. Tiger Woods even used that phrase this week. This writer gave the players some credit that maybe they were trying to say, “The thing speaks for itself,” but felt frustrated at the uncertainty that this was actually what anyone meant. He was more inclined to say this is a fad, popular as a meaningless thing to say just to fend off the question about someone’s performance. It’s like saying someone’s “nice” because you can’t think of something specific.

I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s an important observation that analysis often produces a false image. “Why did you do that?” usually triggers some answer, but my experience is that there’s always more than one reason for anything, even more than two. Picking one reason can diminish one’s understanding, as everyone then speaks as if that’s the only reason.

This has happened to God. As a liberal Christian, people who know nothing of me have labeled my way to God as “picking and choosing”. From their point of view, one either believes everything written about God in the Bible, or one is following a different gospel. Why? Is there some God besides God? It seems to me that God is what must be accepted for whatever He is, not how God is portrayed in the Bible. I’m not picking the God I like from the Bible, but trying to understand the reality of God from having Him in my life and rejecting any ways in which the Bible doesn’t fit that.

God is God, not a book. You’d think that’s obvious. It is obvious enough that anyone who idolizes the Bible will say that of course he or she worships God, not a book. Yet everything about God that is different from what the Bible says is inaccessible to a Bible-believing Christian. Is the Bible perfect when it comes to how God wants us to live? How about in circumstances that didn’t exist thousands of years ago? Is it enough to God for someone just to worship a part of Him? How can anyone know? I think it’s best to ask Him, but find that’s not a popular position.

People can argue forever about such things, but so what? At least one side of the argument has to be wrong, maybe both sides. It’s clear from watching arguments that the words used aren’t so magical as to decide anything. Even the role models that any faith puts forth aren’t that helpful. Show me the religion that has existed to end poverty or one that has ended conflict except by saying everyone else should agree with us. All religions are false in some way.

God is a different matter. People mean some combination of power, knowledge, love, and goodness in referring to God. Surely these things exist. What combination of them is the real God? Some say God is the ultimate in all these. I don’t know that. Some focus on God the creator. The creation was very far from me, in time if not in space. It’s too far away for me to know God that way.

I think I know God best from prayer. I’ve prayed successfully for direction, strength, comfort and some prayers prescribed by 12 steps. Praying to win the lottery didn’t help. I still think my winning the lottery would be a good thing. My guess is that God thinks so, too. He actually just confirmed that for me in words. Unfortunately the real God doesn’t seem to control physical events as some expect Him to. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I’d be happy to find out that’s the case. In the meantime, though, there are all these amputated limbs, none of them ever having grown back miraculously. I’ve seen presentations claiming medical miracles. There’s always some obvious problem in such a claim to someone with enough training. Still one physical miracle would change how I see God’s power. I would welcome that. It could happen. I have time.

I’ve been frustrated with how unfocused liberal Christians are about God. Some who are supposedly like me deny a spiritual side to the universe completely, making God into some abstract love or resource. Others insist that their New Age fantasies make sense when they don’t to me. Others stay very close to tradition, even as in other areas they break from tradition entirely, as an Episcopalian minister once said to me, keeping one foot in the Bible and another in science. That can be a precarious position.

I’ll always be a liberal Christian. Jesus Christ will always be my Lord and my Savior, and those words will mean whatever they mean in the real world, both physically and spiritually, not what some conservative says they mean in his or her theology. Having ten bullet points does not make anything real. Words are just words. Yet some words are more comforting than others.

In recent years, I’ve found one sentence to be particularly comforting. God is God. It’s like what Muslims say, that there is no allah but Allah. It’s not meaningless. His existence does not depend on what anyone says He is or She is or isn’t. For those who hate tautologies, I can expand it a little. God is whoever and whatever God is. It’s still almost a tautology, but I get meaning out of it. To me it means that the God I know best, whoever and whatever gave me the direction, strength, and comfort I’ve received in prayer, plus whatever more there is to God, exists as a person or not, with grand attributes or quite puny ones, as something close to the traditional God or quite different from that. No know-it-all can pin that down any better than I can. I experience God as I do. Those who only experience God at a distance, through their theology, have only words, and words aren’t nearly as magical as ancient people thought they were.

That might sound like agnosticism, but it’s not. I’m devoted to God, whoever and whatever God is. It’s not that I don’t know Him. I just don’t know that much about Him, but do know that those who claim to know everything actually know next to nothing. The part of God I experience I perceive clearly. There is more to God than that. At least He tells me there is. I believe Him. I believe Him over those who claim that ancient people had everything right when they didn’t even know that moonlight is reflected sunlight, over those who say their modern theology describes the real God when it includes nothing I know, and over those who say there can’t be a God because they find no need for Him. I hope I can write from time to time about how I have found the limited God I know more trustworthy than any human being. He has an advantage being inside my consciousness somehow, when anyone else has to rely on conventional communication, but the difference is more than that.

I suppose it is human nature that people’s beliefs are usually more detailed than this. Neuroscientists and evolutionary psychologists can speak to how that reflects our brain being built to fill in any void, such as the blind spots we have in either eye. In addition to that, we don’t walk well where we can’t see. I knew that many years ago, but it’s still been amazing over the years to watch how people defend their beliefs with just some notions for why they believe what they do. I defend what I know or opinions that are a matter of taste, but I know there is a fundamental truth to the phrase, “It is what it is,” no matter what kind of smarty pants ridicules that or wise fool insists that it is something else.

God especially is worth getting to know by more than just quoting what someone else says. He is what He is. She is what She is. They are what They are, multifaceted as They are, one as They are, Elohim, but one. It’s not that everyone is right in what they say about God. It seems to me everyone is wrong. God is not to be found in those places where people seem to be least wrong about Him. I’ve looked there, just as Joseph Campbell and others told me to. Religion is so artificial. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone to stop at some point and just ask God who He is and what He’d like me to do about it. It worked for me. I’ll write more about it. I need to do that, even if only God cares.

No comments: