Who – or What – is God? (part 1)


GodThis topic will take a few posts.  This one will hopefully give you an idea of my history with this question.  In a later post we’ll look at some of the explanations of what God might or might not be, and – as a friend likes to say – really get down to it.

A few weeks ago I had a talk with a friend of a (different) friend about God.  We didn’t exactly agree, but we didn’t exactly disagree either.  It was a fascinating conversation, at least for me.  (I hope he got as much out of it as I did!)  Anyway, it’s been on my mind ever since, so thought I’d write something up about it while it’s all still fresh in my mind.

Who or what is God is a question mankind has been struggling to answer for a very long time.  Many faiths have a definition of God they either want you to believe in, or require that you believe in.  Some go so far as to say “there is no god”, which can simply be another definition of God.

My path started in fairly modern, inquisitive Christian churches – at least to my perception.  There was this God who was behind everything, though I don’t remember a clear description of exact particulars.  My apologies to all my Sunday school teachers if I was asleep that day, but I don’t remember any of them forcing the “traditional God” picture of a man with a long white beard sitting on a throne on us.  Yes we saw such in paintings, but in all honesty I don’t remember hearing anything like “THIS is what God looks like, you must believe!”

I take this to mean my Sunday school teachers and ministers did a good job.  Thank you very much!!!

I do recall the standard Christian depiction of Jesus as “the Son of God”, with most if not all the powers of God.  The Jesus I was introduced to was not a hellfire-and-damnation kinda guy, he was much more of a real person who cares about actual regular people, with a whole lot of mystical powers and wisdom thrown in.  The Jesus I was introduced to was someone you’d want to know.  The kind of guy you’d REALLY want to have a beer with some time, and pick his brain.

Again, I thank my Sunday school teachers and ministers for leaving us room to explore for ourselves.  This was definitely not the experience many of my friends had in Sunday schools.

Anyway, back to the question.  We all come up against the “who/what is God” issue in our own way, according to our own background and experience.  Or maybe just because someone asked.

You might come up against it in rebellion: I’m not going to believe in a God that forces me to (a) do this or that, (b) believe this or that, (c) doesn’t accept me the way I am!

Or suffering: What kind of God would make me go through THAT?

Or through compassion. How can I believe in a God that would allow humans to suffer like that?

Or through logic. We know so much more about the mechanics of the universe today because of science that I don’t need to believe in God any more.

Or even through a different kind of faith. Science today is so advanced and they haven’t found God, therefore there is no God – the universe doesn’t need a God to exist.

So I pretty much came out of church in my teens with a sense that there was a loving God out there who was basically unknowable.  We can look around and see what God created, but we can’t see God directly.  We can’t see Jesus as he lived 2000 years ago.  There’s just a lot we have to take on faith –

Or go exploring to see what it means.

Of course that’s the road I took.

I’ve talked with literally hundreds of people over the years about their views and beliefs about God.  As you might not expect, some of the people who said they believe deeply in God were very calm and quiet talking about their belief, in quite some detail.

Some of those who said they didn’t believe were quite fervent in their denials.

I’m not trying to tilt this one way or the other.  To be fair, there were reactions all across the board.  We humans really are exceptional!  We are thoughtful, we care, we have passions, and we have logic.  Each person is their own mix of those qualities.

I’ve been fascinated by the different depictions, understandings, interpretations, observations  and beliefs about God for years.  As you can tell, I can probably go on for hours about that, but I won’t right now.  Instead, I’ll note the current state of things-about-God this way, and we’ll explore more as we go along.

As a human, I look around and I don’t see God directly interfering in the big issues that pester humanity.  I don’t see huge miracles suddenly happening to stop two countries going to war with each other.  I don’t see war machinery coming to a sudden halt to prevent violent deaths of innocent civilians.  I don’t see God speaking with world leaders so they all see one way out of the dilemmas facing humanity.

Not that God might not be able to do these things, these just don’t seem to be happening.  I am certainly not blaming God for not doing these things.

Instead, I believe there is a God out there, (at least one big one,) who created this universe we live in.  I believe this God also created us, one by one, and knows our name.

However, my belief is not quite traditional in any sense that I’m aware of.

I believe God gave us this universe, and we’ve become so enthralled by the gift that we’ve forgotten about the giver.

In the Torah (aka the Old Testament) there is a story about God giving Adam the earth, then saying basically “it’s all yours, I won’t interfere. You have free will to do with it what you will.  Enjoy it.”

I think that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on. God gave us this place, and it’s up to us to make it into paradise.  God isn’t going to interfere (directly) with the affairs of mankind on earth.  Making this place paradise will take all of us being good people doing good things, which is one of the reasons I think we’re here.

I understand God to be behind and beyond the physical universe, so until we can “sense” beyond this world we’re not going to experience God directly.  Given what I’ve seen in people, I think we all have the tools inside us to do just that.  I think we can find God if we go looking in the right way in the right place.

The God I’m familiar with is not some big guy sitting in a throne with a long white beard and a staff.  The God I’m familiar with is very subtle at first, not wanting to interfere with our free will.  I don’t know if God can speak directly to humans, my experiences have been much more subtle than I would expect if I was actually communicating in words directly with God.

But maybe we don’t communicate with God through words, email or even Morse code.  Maybe that’s part of the problem – maybe God doesn’t need modern tools to communicate with us.

Maybe we’ve had the tools we need to communicate with God all along, and we just didn’t realize it.

Maybe it’s up to us to discover how we can each communicate with God for ourselves.  Maybe we don’t need churches to act as intermediaries.

Maybe then God will describe what He/She/It is directly to us individually, in a way that’s meaningful to us – in a way that will let us settle this question for ourselves.

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.

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