Views of God
What I now see this dispute boiling down to is a fundamental disagreement on the nature of God. There are at least two different concepts for thinking about God, and both are found in the Bible and the Christian tradition. The first conceptualizes God as a supernatural being “out there” and separate from the world. This being created the world a long time ago and who may from time to time intervene within it, but largely is absent. This doesn’t keep God from demanding conformity and adherence to the Law passed down in the holy writ. In important sense this God is far and distant from our shores, is unchanging and can be fully known and experienced directly but only if the belief is correct and mediated by some hierarchy or holy writ or tradition. This is the God of Supernatural Theism. It is widespread within the Christian tradition and found also in Judaism and Islam, and could it be the majority thought of those who think about God (both believers and non). Some accept the existence of such a being, and some reject it but it is the notion of God as a supernatural being “out there” that is being accepted or rejected. I think that this first notion of God is nice, and served us well but belief in this style of God must be done away with as it cannot serve and only brings harm. It is Biblical yes, but not all of the Bible presents this vision of God. This idea of God is what I hear when conservatives speak. Deconverts from the faith, atheists and agnostics, who I’ve talked to state this model as the type of God they don’t believe in… and neither to I.
The second concept of God in the Christian tradition is quite different. God is the encompassing’ Spirit: we and everything’ that is be in God. God is not “out there” separate from the universe but rather; God is a nonmaterial layer or level or dimension of reality all around us. God is more than the universe yet the universe is in God. This is the concept of God called “panentheism.” God’s self-revelation is given and received in an earthly, worldly, human way. God is never directly present to us in self-revelation, and no one ever had a direct, personal relationship with God. God comes to us and we can know God only indirectly. It is in this indirect way that we come to know and enter into a personal relationship with God. God’s being is so different from our humanity, yet God is in us and through us, so all that we see and all that we are all parts of God yet God is bigger than the sum of all. We also know that people yearn to see God’s face and have some irrefutable evidence, like Moses and even the disciples of Christ, but “No one can see My face and live” God says to Moses and Jesus says “If you have seen me, you have seen my Father.”
Panentheism implies that God is not just close, but in and through everything. We are a part of God, yet God is still separate. God is with us and daily bears our burdens and yet is transcendent. God is with us and in us, in our midst when we pray alone with the doors shut or when two or more are gathered. There is no line between sacred and secular just like at the end of the Gospel of Mark where the curtain is torn in the temple, signifying a God which can’t be boxed, can’t be contained, and in and through all of creation. Therefore I affirm the omnipresence of God, but not the omnipotence of God. I think omnipotence of God was a bad move made in the 14th century by medieval theologians. This raises all sorts of pointless questions like “Can God create a rock so big God can’t lift it?” Instead, I prefer to view God as “omnipotentiality.” This view can be found in Exodus 3:14, right when Moses asks God for God’s name and gets the reply of “YHWH.” This has many possible meanings and for me, they are all true. YHWH could mean “I AM HE WHO IS", “HE WHO CAUSES TO BE,”"I AM WHO AM" or "I AM WHAT I AM" or “I will be what I will become.”
In Exodus 31, Moses asks to see the face of God. God tells Moses to crawl into a cave and God will put ‘his’ hand over the opening and Moses will be able to “See my behind.” This is a literal translation of the Hebrew. A deeper translation would be, “you will see where I was.” Not even Moses could see God in the present. This is a God we get only glimpses of. These highly personal encounters are still filled with mystery and, although we may experience God’s love, justice, spirit, or forgiveness directly, we should never take it for the totality of God.
Communities of God
Community is a big deal in both Testaments and in all of the world religions we studied this semester. Religions seek to answer the question “how then shall we live?” and each comes up with a different answer as they also define a different problem that spawns that question. Christianity sees that humans have fallen out of relationship with God and need to change it while Buddhism sees the problem as suffering caused by desire from grasping at a world that isn’t there. Taoists see people who are out of tune with their own natures and Islam sees humanity as not being in submission with the will of God. All of these are plausible answers, and depending on how one’s community views life and the problems associated with it, they will use different language to articulate this. I note how each religion never comes out and states that the fundamental problem with the world is that everyone is not like us. It is nowhere in the founding documents or speeches of various religious movements. Islam comes the closest with talk of putting infidels to the sword but they have grace with the “people of the book.” There is a difference between missional and imperial. But what happens when people don’t adopt your faith? What happens when religions come into conflict?
Many Christians, like the mega-church, seek to save people from the fires of hell and feel they do so out of love. However, many of their actions are imperial, which is the very notion I view Jesus as fighting against. Jesus fought against the imperial actions of the Roman Empire as well as a more localized system which dehumanized its own members, namely the Temple System. What I view Jesus teaching primarily, is that there is no such thing as a personal relationship with God without a personal relationship with our fellow human beings.
The driving force behind Christian colonialism is John 14:6. This verse is interpreted as: "I am the (only) way, the (only) truth, and the (only) life, no one (absolutely no one) comes to the Father/God, except through me (by believing specific beliefs that are Christian ).” I liked what we learned in class, that through a panentheistic and Trinitarian view, this verse becomes:
"God is the way, the truth and the life, no one gets to God except through God."
Jesus isn't calling for these sheep to change shepherds; he is trying to get us to recognize that the human family is one flock, with one shepherd. What he is NOT saying is "different strokes for different folks" nor is he saying "anyone can worship the god of one's choice, it's all good, no matter what." Which faiths? They aren't identified. We may surmise that faiths that truly follow the one Shepherd actively promote the love of God, neighbor, and self as Jesus did. Jesus also states that people shouldn't worry about what path others are on. He demonstrates time and time again throughout the Gospels for his disciples to concentrate on walking their own path and offering hospitality to those they meet on along the way. The Good Samaritan parable is the core here image here with answering the question of “who is my neighbor?” with a big and surprising “EVERYONE!”
So given this, it is naive for a practitioner of any faith to claim that theirs is the only "true" path. Religions do this to garner power over those too fearful to think in this way. Now there is a difference between best path for a person to take, so long as this claim is on an individual level or at the very most a tribal level. Becoming deeply rooted in the tradition of the tribe, one is then able to act in a more universal way, as they have a strong sense of identity and are not threatened by other beliefs outside their experience. It is also my hope that these people investigate other religions and not just for the sake of putting their own faith above it or gathering apologetic fodder. There's no shame in this and in fact it leads to a better understanding of our fellow persons. My childhood priest was a Jesuit and stated that one of the best ways you can know your faith is to encounter another. We can see how our faith takes a unique approach to problems and how these intersect, conflict with, or can even be informed by another faith.