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Our Images Of God: The Trinity, Judge, Abba, Spirit, Love

How do you personally think of God, if at all?

  • Do you think of God in the conventional Christian sense: God the Father, God the Son, & God the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you think of God as early Unitarians thought of God: as one Being, not a Trinity?
  • Do you think of God as being the Ultimate Judge who gives us “what we have coming to us” when we die?
  • Do you think of God as being completely Spirit or Energy, and that this Spirit lives within all things and around all things?
  • Is it a combination of some of these ideas?

I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian, and I was taught that although God was a separate Being from me – and triune at that – He (always He) was also personal.  There were many years where I found it helpful to refer to God as Father, but the Trinity was all too confusing for me.  After I left fundamentalism, I found the idea of God as “the ground of all being” or “the Spirit in and through everything” to be very helpful. God became much much closer to me. I began to believe that each human being is actually an expression of God – by now I called God Spirit, Mother, The Divine, and Source. I still tend to think of God this way now, and do not believe there is a literal Person in the Sky who “sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake, knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

Still, for me there seems to be something missing. If God is in fact Love, as the Christian Scriptures say, then God, I think, must be about relationship. For how can we live in love without living in relationship?

So, recently I have been finding myself praying substantially more than I used to, to the Source, the Divinity that is all around me and within me. I’ve even used the parental imagery that Christianity has used for such a long time, though I usually use Mother now (as if God has testicles). But there is no grovelling, no talk of being an awful sinner in need of forgiveness. It’s only a seeking of a greater understanding of Love, and for help during times of weakness.

My favourite author when I was in Bible college was Brennan Manning, a former Franciscan priest and former alcoholic. In his 2009 book The Furious Longing of GodBrennan writes:

“If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who have lived in the course of human history, all their goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength, and love and united all those qualities in a single person, that person’s love would only be a faint shadow of the furious love and mercy in the heart of God the Father addressed to you and me at this moment.”

I know of no one better than Manning who can take people’s perceptions of a distant, angry God and turn them on their head. Here is another passage, explaining that Jesus called God the Father Abba, which means “Daddy.”

“Is your own personal prayer life characterized by the simplicity, childlike candor, boundless trust, and easy familiarity of a little one crawling up in Daddy’s lap? An assured knowing that the daddy doesn’t care if the child falls asleep, starts playing with toys, or even starts chatting with little friends, because the daddy knows the child has essentially chosen to be with him for that moment? Is this the spirit of your interior prayer life?”

Although Manning and I would probably disagree on some or many aspects of theology, I can still appreciate and be deeply touched by how he conveys the “furious” love of God.

So again I ask: How do you view God, if at all?  For me, I fumble around a lot, a lot of the time I’m not sure what I believe, I take some of the old beliefs and explore new beliefs; often it’s a mess. But underneath it all I see God as the Love that is within and all around me which I can be in relationship with.

Mark Andrew Alward is a former fundamentalist Christian and current Unitarian from Kitchener, Canada. He blogs @ The Loving Room.

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