So much of our understanding of God within the Christian tradition seems to be focused on Someone “out there” to whom we need to appeal for help and salvation, or to whom we should direct gratitude, or whom we need to appease in order to avoid being zapped in some way. We tend to think of God as some kind of Super Being who is a bit moody and temperamental — you know, the One who needed Jesus to die in order to forgive us.
The problem with this understanding — or, I should say, misunderstanding of God — is that it leads us into all kinds of sticky situations. If God is a Super Being Out There who can be all powerful when he wants to be, then we run into problems when God seems to not want to do so. For example, when a child is dying, and multitudes of people pray fervently for the child’s recovery, and it doesn’t happen, we are left wondering why it is that God chose not to act. Often, we assign it to some mysterious Larger Purpose that we can’t understand. Some people will conclude that God is somehow nasty or uncaring. And still others will take it as a proof that there is no God at all.
It’s understandable that we would have this idea of God as a Super All Powerful Being Who Mysteriously Sometimes Decides to Act and At Other Times Decides Not To and We Don’t Know Why, because the Bible frequently can leave us with that impression. We see all kinds of stories in which God seems to act on behalf of people, intervening in spectacular ways into human history. But there are also many biblical stories that wonder why God is not acting, that wonder why God allows nasty people to get away with nasty stuff. We must remember that these stories were written by people like us, who also wondered about how God was related to us, who wondered who, exactly, God was.
In the Bible, we can also detect a different theme, one which is focused less on the inscrutable ways of God and which is focused more on the inscrutable ways of humans. Over and over again, we read stories and teachings in which human beings are called upon to change, to become enlarged and transformed in the direction of compassion and generosity. While there are stories that lament God’s seeming lack of action or concern, there are also stories of God lamenting the human inability to get with the spiritual program.
Outside the Bible, in the larger Judeo-Christian tradition, there is certainly a lot of theological musing about the ways of God. But there is also a great deal of spiritual musing about the way in which human beings are called to engage in spiritual practices that open us up to change, that make us available to God, who is depicted in various ways as the One who invites us but never forces us into relationship.
All of this is to say that I think religion is more about us than it is about God. I have long since given up seeing God as a Super Being Out There who needs to be cajoled, convinced, and appeased. For me, God is far more profound than that. God is the very foundation of being, the One who makes all things possible, the One moves in the subtle spaces. I don’t express it well, because how can one really express one’s self clearly about God, whom theologians of many traditions have repeatedly pointed out is not a being among other beings, but rather the very Possibility of Being, Being Itself. It is why we describe and relate to God through story and metaphor. And under such an understudying, the spiritual journey is not about getting that God to do things for us. Rather, it is about allowing ourselves to be changed, about growing into a more authentic humanity that is at once a more sacred humanity. The world’s problems are not the result of God’s action or inaction, but the result of our inability to live into our divine calling as human beings. The spiritual practices that have been developed within the Christian and other traditions are all meant to nurture exactly this: an encounter between ourselves and God that moves us to be changed, and that makes that journey safe because God’s love accompanies us always.