Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman – Part Three – God

Answering Questions about God

“A religion is as much a progressive unlearning of false ideas concerningGod as it is the learning of the true ideas concerning God.” Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

I believe in God. I’m afraid to add anything to that brief statement, because I don’t want to do God an injustice by limiting God with an inadequate definition. God is the most important ingredient in my credo. Belief in God is so central to my creed that I have wondered if I am a Deist, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as, “One who believes in the existence of a God or Supreme Being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason.” If by “revealed religion” they mean hypocritical religion, misguided religion, deaf, dumb and blind religion, unthinking religion, religion of rules and laws rather than love, then I wholeheartedly agree. Conversely, if they mean a religion that allows people to, as John Wesley put it, “think and let think,” then I don’t agree. The part of the definition that does not fit me is “basing his belief on the light of nature and reason.”

Concerning the church’s creeds, I agree with John Shelby Spong who wrote, “If the God I worship must be identified with these ancient creedal words in any literal sense, God would become for me not just unbelievable, but in fact no longer worthy of being the subject of my devotion.” The following is a quote from a sermon by one of Spong’s students: “…God is not a person. God is not a being. God is Being itself… God… is not the father of life… This God is life.” Whether we call this spiritual force God, Divine Intelligence, or Supreme Being is not important to me.

Even though I have no conclusive evidence that God will be with me and those I love, I am confident that God will be God and that means, for me, that God watches over his people.

Is God a Theistic God?

Spong contends that the human brain can only speak to the origin of the human concept of God, not to the origin of God. The concept of God was born when self-consciousness broke through consciousness in human development. That primitive human concept portrayed God as invisible, beyond the limits of our sight, in other words, “above the sky,” not of this world. God had supernatural power and, if we worship properly, obey his rules and pray hard enough, he will come to our aid. That is a totally theistic concept of God. Twenty-first century Christians must re-examine this concept and ultimately move beyond theism. God may be a super being, but is not out there beyond the universe.

I’m sure that I have in the past believed in a supernatural God. At least as a child, I probably believed God sent our weather. I remember our church having prayer services during drought to pray for rain, which, we were certain, God would provide. But I don’t remember ever thinking that also meant God sent hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other weather-related disasters. The same reasoning also applies to sickness and health issues. But why would God decree that a cousin would die of polio? Why would God inflict a stroke upon my Grandmother, which left her paralyzed on the left side of her body until her death many years later? Or why would my other grandmother die very young? Or conversely, why would God allow good health to some and punish others, no less holy persons, with poor health? This image of God is theistic, defined by Spong, as “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and invading the world periodically to accomplish the divine will.”

I believe God is among us, inside each of us. I don’t believe that God sends natural disasters, or poor health. Or that God favors one country over another during wars. I’d love to think that God favors me and will protect my loved ones, but when I really think about it, I can’t imagine why God would favor me and mine over you and yours (whoever “you” might be). We’d love it if God rewarded the faithful and punished the unfaithful, as long as we were part of the faithful. But we have all seen plenty of scoundrels who have power, wealth and/or health. I remember when my father died from lung and brain cancer from years of smoking and breathing the fumes of the cleaning fluid from his dry cleaning business, I had difficulty praying for a miraculous recovery. Not that I didn’t want my father to live; I absolutely wanted him to live many more years. But I also thought that he brought this health problem on himself by ignoring sound health principles, especially smoking for more than fifty years. I had difficulty asking God to suspend the natural laws of cause and effect to miraculously heal my father. A God who would show preference for one person or group of people over another would certainly be a capricious divinity.

Is God Simply a Human Creation?

My God is real. Although humans created the word “God” to explain their experiences with “the holy,” God is not simply a human creation. As Marcus Borg says, “We cannot talk about God (or anything else) except with the words, symbols, stories, concepts, and categories known to us, for they are the only language we have.”

Does God Have Gender?

I even hesitate to say “him” when referring to God. Even calling God “Father” implies male gender, although Jesus taught that God is our Father. Since I don’t consider God a being, God has no gender. It does feel strange to always say “God” instead of him or her, however. As a male, I’m probably most comfortable thinking of God in masculine terms, but I’m not at all sure that’s correct. J. B. Phillips claims that our concept of God is not big enough for our needs. However, I was disappointed when I re-read his Your God Is Too Small to discover that Phillips continually referred to God in masculine terms.

He also asks, “What sort of person is God?” I have trouble thinking of God as a person; the word makes God too human.

When we speak of someone using third-person language, he or she isn’t there. If we seriously believe that God is present, perhaps the most appropriate language for God is second-person – God is “you,” but that is also uncomfortable.

Is God Dead?

In the late 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche shocked the world by announcing in several of his books, including his classic Also sprach Zarathustra, that “God is dead.” In The Gay Science, he wrote, “God is dead… we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives…” According to the two University of Texas at Austin philosophy professors who wrote the introduction to a 2005 edition of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche did not mean “any metaphysical claim about a Supreme Being,” but was referring to people who think they believe in the Judeo-Christian God, but really do not. Their belief is not manifested in their actions and feelings; it does not make any difference in their lives. So actually, Nietzsche’s statement was not as revolutionary as it might appear. If we profess belief in God, our lives must reflect our profession or we are liars. If our concept of God is a human manifestation (we can’t possibly adequately define God), then we are ultimately accountable for God’s life or death. Therefore, for many people God is dead; even if they think they believe in God, they are not living their lives reflecting that belief. In order for God to live, we must unmask our hypocrisies and worn out concepts of a theistic God. So for me, God is most emphatically NOT dead! And I certainly hope my life reflects my conviction.

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