Thursday, August 4, 2011

Creating God in my image.

Recently, a "seeking" friend presented me with a phrase about God and asked me to expand on it in my own words. My response is below.

“The name that we give God is not even worthy of God."

This is really beautiful. I don’t know where it came from, and I chose not to Google it to find out - because I didn’t want anyone else’s theology in my head.

I’m quite capable of coming up with independent reflection – and I will – but I can’t help but be struck by how Orthodox the statement is. In Orthodoxy, there is the concept of apophatic theology (“negative” theology), which describes God in terms of what God is NOT. (God is NOT limited; God is NOT knowable, God is NOT definable, etc.)

In other words, we simply cannot grasp what God really IS because our own minds and hearts are not capable of doing so. He’s just so … MUCH. Apophatic theology is very much an Eastern concept, and I would not be surprised if the statement comes from someone who has been somewhat influenced by Eastern Christian thought.

Now for my own humble thoughts …

When I was in college and struggling with the whole born-again issue, feeling trapped inside a legalistic and rigid theology, I wrote down a “conversation” between myself and God. I didn’t actually think that I was hearing God’s voice, but I wrote down what made sense to me.

One of my questions to God was, “But didn’t you create us in Your image?”

And God answered: “At first, yes. But afterward, you created Me in YOUR image.”

To me, that’s what this phrase points out. In my view, it’s obvious that everything in the universe was created by an intelligent force. (And by this, I do NOT mean the pseudo-science that is “Intelligent Design,” which is simply Creationism by another name. ID denies that everything can ultimately be explained by science, and I believe that if humankind were to survive long enough, this could eventually happen.)

No, I believe that Existence, in and of itself, begs a Creator of some sort. Whether this Creator is a Diest being that simply wound up the clock at the Big Bang and then walked away, or whether this Creator is intimately involved in the day-to-day workings of our individual lives, is almost beside the point. I personally think the reality is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

So the question (for me) isn’t “Is there a Creator?” But “What is He/She/It like?” And that’s a much harder question to answer.

It’s clear to ME that God did not “dictate” ANY scripture – not the New Testament, not the Talmud, not the Koran, not any Buddhist or Hindu texts. There are simply too many contradictions in them for this to be the case. Had any particular collection of scripture been proven true beyond all doubt, solving all problems and providing provable information we could not otherwise have, it would have risen to the top already. It would be evident. There would be a single world religion, and we would all follow it.

Even within my own chosen faith, I have questions like “When Jesus was on earth, why didn’t he teach us about germs? Tell us about other planets? Explain how to make medicine? Warn us about nuclear weapons?” Even esoteric and Gnostic texts, with “hidden teachings of Jesus,” don’t contain such things.

That doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t God incarnate. It means that if he was, he still chose to allow us to discover things (and make mistakes) on our own.

So that leaves us in the dark, even in a post-incarnate world.

The human mind is an amazing thing to behold. Our ability to think, reason, and create seems almost unlimited. But we do have limits. For instance, we cannot imagine “infinity.” No matter how hard a person tries, he can’t wrap his mind around that concept. When I read that the universe goes on and on without end – or even that Pi does – my mind just shuts down. I can imagine to a point, and then I can go no further.

And it’s the same thing when we try to imagine God. We can only go so far. If this limitless universe … if time and space … if micro- and macro-physics (which are contradictory!) … were all created by this Creator, than this Creator is bigger than all of those things. Ironically, the more we discover through science, the bigger the Creator has to get.

So the only way I can begin to comprehend God is to compare him to myself, because ultimately, “myself” is all I have to compare things to. If I want to believe that this Creator is good, then I imagine myself as “good.” If, to me, being loving and forgiving and gentle is good, then God must be an awful lot like ME.

That’s why peoples’ understanding of God so often reflects their own limitations. Those who are angry, hateful, judgmental and bigoted worship a God that is just like them.

Therefore, whenever I invoke the name of God, I am – to some extent – simply invoking an image of my own self.

And “myself” is a million miles away from being worthy of all that this Creator is.

So …“The name that we give God is not even worthy of God."

-The sinner, Teresa

Note: This piece is not meant as an official statement of Orthodox Christianity. Clearly, our example of what and who God is is understood in the person of Jesus Christ. But my comments reflect our own limitations as human beings to recognize and to see. Pray for me, a sinner. -TBP