If you were asked, what does the word “god” make you think of,
how would you respond?
I like that question as it reveals quite a bit about the way a person thinks. The potential answers to that question are limitless.
A few simple examples,
“ god is my father ”
“ I don’t believe in god ”
“ god is in everything “
“ Jesus is god “
“ god is a dangerous idea, i don’t like it “
Every single person, that has ever lived, has had a different experience while living on earth. That reality is reflected in the wide variety of answers you would receive if you were to ask 20 different people how they think of god. People from the same families, towns, and even churches think of god differently. There may be similarities from one person to the next, but no two are identical.
Why is this?
I think this sentence best explains this interesting phenomena,
God is intensely personal.
I don’t mean this to sound like there’s a cosmic man in the clouds that has a ultra personal relationship with you.
It is the idea of god that is remarkably significant to people. From “ born again” evangelists, to atheists, the way we feel towards god, or the idea of god, is intensely personal. Perhaps the main reason people do not often ask others what they think about god, is because we understand how personal that belief, or lack thereof, is. Asking someone about religion or god is like bringing up politics at a family dinner. It could get really messy, really quickly.
As we start this dissection series, I wanted to start from the top. I wanted to talk about this question,
who is god?
After all, it would be quite difficult to perform a dissection without the body in place. In order to understand the various subjects we will talk about, we first need to understand some healthy ways to think about god.
We all have different starting points with god. Some of us come from backgrounds of religion and certainty, others come from a place of spirituality and questioning. We are theists and atheists, and then a multitude of various layers in between. This is further evidence of the intensely personal nature of god, we all have a unique views of the divine, cultivated from our unique experiences.
I can easily remember the first time that i heard a couple different statements about god. I can still picture the people who spoke them, and i still feel the sense of bewilderment at the ideas they expressed. The first statement about god that threw me for a loop was,
“I love god”
What. Does. That. Mean?
Often i hear that phrase, and my brain twists into a pretzel trying to figure it out. What does a person picture when they say that? Who are they picturing? What are they picturing? Do they think that the man on the clouds could possibly know or care that a person in michigan loves him?
There’s currently about 7.5 billion people on earth.
If every person alive was to get the undivided attention of god for one minute, it would take 14,269 years to get everyone their minute. It would take almost 7 years just to get done with Connecticut.
This seems preposterous. It seems that way because the idea of god as a singular humanoid type thing living somewhere in space is preposterous. We can see into other galaxies, we can split atoms. If this god is out there somewhere, he’s the all time champion of hide and seek.
And it’s very hard to love the all time champion of hide and seek.
The other statement about god is nearly the opposite.
“There is no god.”
I have a hard time processing that idea as well. To be fair, if we are talking about the hide and seek god, i don’t believe in that either. But i have experienced to much of something spiritual to claim there is nothing divine in our existence. When I hear someone express this view, I think of all the times I have witnessed the divine in people.
In moments of heartbreak
In moments of unadulterated joy
In moments of pure sincerity.
In my life i have seen the divine most present in moments of true honesty. When nothing is being hidden behind a veil of pride or confidence. When people openly embrace their feelings and thoughts there is something that I feel, that I cannot contribute to anything other than the divine.
I believe this is why I am so challenged by the two statements I have shared.
Both have the appearance of arrogance.
It takes an enormous amount of self confidence to claim you know god so well that you love him/her/it, just as it takes a large amount of certainty to claim nothing divine exists. I know fundamentalists who are loving people, just as i know atheists who love people more than I often can. The point is not that either view is somehow evil, or morally wrong. But that absolute certainty in your thoughts is a dangerous way to live.
Having total confidence in your personal brand of philosophy and/or theology has not often led to anything positive. Throughout history people have been segregated, families torn, towns split, wars started, and genocides committed over this dangerous form of self assuredness.
In the old testament the Israelites wiped out civilizations and had their own cities destroyed in the name of god/s
In the new testament Jesus was executed as were many of his followers in the name of god.
From the Crusades to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, millions of people have died because of their own, or someone else’s, certainty in god.
Historically it seems quite difficult to pick up a sword or a gun unless you are very sure of what you are killing for.
This may be why Jesus and so many other spiritual leaders have been on the opposite side of violence.
Jesus worked in the dregs of society to bring hope to the hopeless, not to place ideas of manifest destiny in the minds of men, or to inspire shock and awe invasions.
As Bob Dylan critically sings, “you don’t count the dead, when God’s on your side.”
It is very easy to commit all types of terrible crimes against people when you believe that god agrees absolutely with you. The statements I remember, and shared with you can be the beginning of such things. I do not suggest that anyone who thinks in those ways is going to kill people of opposing views, but ideas like those can be dangerous.
In America we see that danger quite clearly. The numbers say that more than 80% of evangelical christians voted for a person who campaigned on platforms of refusing help to the least of these, and of killing not only enemies, but the families of enemies.
“For you don’t count the dead, when god’s on your side.”
I believe it is quite easy to see why thinking of god in a poor way is destructive.
We must begin to think of god in a way of sacrificial love.
We should hold our theologies loosely and focus on the people in our world that need help.
If the divine is found in moments of sincerity we can find him in the homes of the poor, in the streets where those without homes look for food and shelter. If the divine is shown in moments of honesty we will see god in NA meetings and in line at the social security office,
We will find the divine in the eyes of the orphan and the widow.
If we can replace our certainties about god with love, we will find the divine has been waiting for our embrace.
Will we continue to cast or ballots for security and certainties, and in doing so continue the oppression of anyone different than ourselves?
Or will we accept these words,
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The divine is not somewhere out there, waiting for those with correct doctrine.
The divine is here, today, in our towns, looking for a meal to eat, hoping for a safe place to rest.