Is your God too small?
Bishop John Robinson in his book “Honest to God” suggested that we retire the word “God.” The good Bishop would put the word to rest for a while because it just has too much baggage. Of course, that will never happen; both theists and atheists are addicted to it. So we’re stuck with the word.
But is our God too small? Or would we be better off with the I-Thou of Martin Buber? One key I-Thou relationship Buber identified was one between a human being and God. Buber understood this as the only way to interact with the Mystery. For Buber God was relational.
Or would we be better off with Paul Tillich’s Ground of Being? Tillich would have us think of God as a Universal Presence that sustains and holds all being in existence: the Source and Sustainer of all.
One of the most horrifying sayings about God is calling the Mystery the “man upstairs.” He is not a man. He is not upstairs. He is not a he. The Mystery is down here – in you and in me, in the flowers, in the breeze, in the grass, in our relationships.
As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God.
Or if you prefer something more churchy, how about this hymn?
Praise for the earth that makes life to grow.
The creatures You made to let Your Life show,
The flowers and trees that help us to know
The heart of Love.
The Unitarians and the Muslims are correct in stressing that God is one. But so are the Trinitarians. There is an otherness God not necessarily Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but the Mystery Itself is relational – even familial.
Many readers will find this God-talk too intellectual and complicated, and will have already flipped to the sports page. But bear with me, after all we’re trying to write about God and that itself is presumptuous – a safari into a blinding, desert sandstorm. – God is Mystery.
In the end no philosophy, no theology can understand God. No finite thinking can grasp the Infinite. God is not only mystery; He/She/It (the pronouns never work) is THE Mystery. Our little minds can never grasp It. Karen Armstrong said somewhere, “it would be trying to eat chicken broth with a fork.”
If we can’t know the Mystery, then we are all agnostics or should be. “Agnostic” is the Greek for not knowing. And when it comes to God that’s all of us. We just DON’T know.
So those who say we can know God in the Bible, or in the Koran, or in the Book of Mormon are mistaken. There might be some good stuff in those books, but it’s not God. And those who claim (traditional Catholics are great at this) that we can find God and His holy will in ecclesiastic laws and rules also have it wrong.
“God is love” (1 John 4:8) that what the Scriptures say. God is self-giving. But it’s not only Christians who believe this. Gandhi also said, “Where love is, there God is also.”
And where does religion fit into all this? Here’s Gandhi again: “God has no religion.” But no matter what our earthy religions, we are all declaring the same message: that life has meaning and we are grateful for the Mystery that created us.
Religion, even if God doesn’t have any, has its place for us struggling human beings. For one thing it provides a community, which supports and encourages us in life’s inevitable trials. And it gives us a place and space to encounter the Holy.
But if you want a personal God to relate to, Christians have Jesus, whom they believe is God incarnate. That is God in human flesh, who was born, lived, ate and drank, suffered and died.
But whatever your beliefs, remember God is THE Mystery – and all our gods are too small.
Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His columns once appeared regularly in The OBSERVER, Dunkirk. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of his previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/