Who or what is God?
A Supreme Being perhaps. Maybe a made-up concept. Or something else entirely.
I used to believe God was the ultimate SuperHero (aka Ruler of Creation). Being baptized was my ticket to His protection and everlasting life in a lovely place called Heaven. Supposedly I could recite prayers to God and receive an answer. Trouble was, that didn’t seem to work. For example, as a kid I often prayed that my dad would stop drinking, yelling, and hitting us. But he kept doing it.
Then later, I gave my life to Jesus, went to men’s christian stadium-events, and joined a church with weekly home fellowship gatherings. While the people were all really sincere and kind, I felt like an imposter wearing someone else’s ill-fitting clothes.
What kept getting in the way for me was the supposed fact that there is only one way to salvation (through allegiance to Jesus) and all non-believers are doomed. Christianity isn’t the only purveyor of that belief either. Other religions sometimes say the same thing about their path. How could only one be right? What kind of God would be simultaneously capable of creating all of creation from the quark to the cosmos (including love and forgiveness), and then be so petty as to require allegiance to one person with failure punishable by damnation?
That seems more like crap made up to scare people onto your religious team than truth. Welcome to the Divine Souls League with the teams like the “Jehovah’s Destroyers”, “Chosen Ones”, or “Jihadist Flames”. But I digress.
So if that contest is untrue, then what? Are all religions just myths as some seem to think? The theory goes that superstitious insecure humans thought up these urban legends to distract themselves from the bleak reality of their existence. Perhaps. And yet, there are all the lives of saints, mystics, and prophets. It seems mighty glib to dismiss them. What’s another possibility?
Looking for insight myself, I read widely – christian apologists, buddhists, hindus, mystics, and recovering addicts – among others. At first, I read each through a mental lens of “what are the flaws in this reasoning”. That practice came easy after a childhood filled with arguments. It took awhile to realize how counterproductive that was. It took awhile to understand that picking apart someone else’s beliefs creates disillusionment and doubt. I was giving myself robust anxiety instead of the clarity I desired. One day a piece of serendipity arrived in my mailbox. It was an oversized postcard with large print on the front side asking the question “why are you always so quick to disagree?” Wow. Some might call that a “God thing”. I’ll call it a Life thing.
Ever since then, my filter has been “what about this sounds, seems, and feels like truth”. Now I’m searching for gold nuggets instead of obsessing about mud and gravel. The God question changed from “is He or isn’t He?’ to what did the Spiritual Masters teach?. Let’s start with Jesus.
Learning that the earliest accounts of his life weren’t even written down until a hundred years after his death was a revelation. Discovering that the official books of the bible were chosen more than three hundred years after his death by men appointed by officials from the Roman Empire dispelled the idea that God dictated the scriptures. Finding out that the desert fathers and mothers willingly moved to barren seclusion in order to safely practice contemplative life based on Jesus’ teachings made me question the cruel fate of heretics during the centuries of religious wars. Then reading about the gnostic gospels, written by those heretics, and banned by the “official” church – made me wonder what did he really teach?
Remember the telephone game you played as a kid? One child whispers something to another, who whispers it to the next. On and on the game goes. The last kid recites what they heard and everyone laughs because it’s so different than the original message. It seems to me that our current version of the bible is the product of a religious telephone game. Think about it. Jesus taught his followers in person. Most of them didn’t know how to read or write, so they passed his teachings on verbally. Five full generations passed before surviving scrolls about his teachings were written in Aramaic. Subsequent copies were made by hand. When those scrolls travelled to new lands, multilingual scholars translated as best they could and hand wrote new texts. From Aramaic, to Latin, Spanish, Italian, Olde English, etc. Along the way, many writings were banned and burned. Given all that, it seems silly at best, and dangerous at worst, to believe that the current version of the bible is all there is to know about God.
Let’s apply that same idea to the other great religions and philosophies of world history. Perhaps understanding that every one of them was taught by one human, recorded by others, and reinterpreted repeatedly by still others – will teach us to use curiosity and discernment in place of certainty and proselytizing when talking about God.
And about that word – God. It’s really just a 3-letter word. For some it inspires awe & reverie, for others scorn & derision. It’s. Just. A. Word.
The trouble comes from using it as a label to describe Infinite Something and convince someone else your description is IT. Look, the word Matt doesn’t describe me or any other person with that name. And it certainly doesn’t give you an experience of me when you say it or think about it.
If the word God is problematic for you, try a different one. Maybe Life, Om, Atman, SuperMind, or the Force will work better. Use whatever works for you.
I believe the same holds true about finding a personal connection to whatever word you use to label Divine Mystery – God or whatever else. Find ways that work for you. Maybe in nature, meditation, or music. That process of seeking makes you a mystic – one who seeks a direct experience of Grace.
When attempting to describe that Infinite Something, choose attributes that are truthful for you and allow it to evolve over time. You can’t do it wrong. If you want to borrow mine as a starting point, here you go.
I believe God, Christ-consciousness, Buddha-nature, the Friend, and Enlightenment all point toward the same all encompassing web of Life. I also hold as truth that we are all unique individuals with that super-Something potential and the free will to embody It if we choose to practice. And I see our primary purpose in life as realizing our connection to All-That-Is while using our one of a kind gifts to make this world a little better for our having been here.
All that, while loving ourselves and each other along the way.