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How can I possibly conceive of God?

Question & Answer


Q: By A Reader

I recently read that a team of astrophysicists have concluded that there are over a trillion galaxies in the observable universe. Given what we know and given the photos of the universe available today, how can I possibly conceive of God?

A: By Carl Krieg

Dear Reader,

During biblical times the three-tiered universe provided a place for God and for us: God was up, the nether world was down, and we stood on the plane in the middle. Thinking he had disproven a religious hypothesis, the first Russian cosmonaut went up in space and reported that he found no god up there. Today, not only do we know the world is a sphere, with no up and down, but also that the universe “out there” is literally beyond imagination. There may be a trillion galaxies that we can see in theory- the observable universe- but then there exists what can never be known because it is accelerating in its moving away, and its light will never reach us. We will remain in total and eternal ignorance of that unknowable part of the universe. We are, alas, a tiny speck in this ocean of infinity.

And yet, the presence of God is as near to us as our neighbor. Remembering one of Jesus’ most famous parables, a man approached Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responded quoting the Shema: You know the answer. Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And the man asked: who is my neighbor? “A man was walking…” Jesus tells us, and was beaten and robbed, “and then a Samaritan came along…”. We all know the story. When we love, we make God real in our own life, and this experience is so much more than conceiving God, it is manifesting God. God is love, and that is something we can experience and know right here and right now.

There continue to be many attempts to find a place for God to be in the universe. Some say God can be identified as the consciousness of the universe. Some say God may be found in extra dimensions that exist right alongside us. Some say in the dark energy inhering space-time. Perhaps. But we need not look any further than the fullness of God’s creation that surrounds us and the love that upholds us. And when we in turn reach out in love, we do better than conceive of God. We make God incarnate in our own life.

Most people today in our culture do not even use the word “God”, and that trend continues and increases. Many in the church decry the trend toward secularism, but the movement seems not only inevitable, but is, I think, beneficial, and beneficial in the sense that it focuses on the essence of who God is and what God wants. The Hebrew prophet Amos put it starkly, teaching us that God hates and despises the festivals and takes no delight in the solemn assemblies of religious institution, but instead desires that “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. Jesus echoed that sentiment exactly, and secularists are as capable of fighting for justice as are religious folk. We don’t need to use the word “God” when we have the word “love”. And we don’t need to conceive of God in the abstract when we can love our neighbor.

As we gaze into the infinity of the stars out there, we have three options for the attitude we can take. One is to believe that the universe is amoral. It cares not about anything, just moving along. The second is the thought that evil runs the show. The last is to see everything as imbued with love, and that really is the message of Jesus’ life, death and new life, that ultimately, death and destruction are overcome, and love rules the day.

~ Carl Krieg

About the Author
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of  What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith, and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Norwich, VT.

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