God as Being

God as Being

I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I believe that prayer changes us and we change things. Mother Teresa[1]

Perhaps the most egregious outcome of anthropomorphizing God is in our imagining of God as a human being. Our patriarchal societies since biblical times have portrayed God as a man and referred to God with masculine pronouns, but the counter-movements that portray God as a woman are, in my opinion, equally misleading. Portraying God as a gender-neutral being – an it or they – is not only misleading but also feels cold and impersonal. The core issue with human portrayals of God, aside from their inaccuracy, comes in our expectation that our relationship with and to God can be likened to that of another person – a highly enlightened and powerful person perhaps, but a person none-the-less. I find it difficult to understand God within the limits of personhood because God, at least in our anthropomorphized understanding, should not disappoint, abandon, or let down. People do.

The supposed personhood of God is reinforced in the concept of the Trinity, where the one God is described as three persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In reality, these persons can just as descriptively, and perhaps more accurately, be named as expressions, relationships, or energies of God. As expressions, God the Father represents the divine Creator, who is beyond everything in the created universe since whoever creates is, by definition, assumed to be greater than their creation. God the Father expresses as God beyond or above us.

God the Son expresses as the creation. God the Son is the Christ, as I have attempted to elucidate in this series of Life Notes. God the Son and the Christ are infinitely broader expressions than was Jesus of Nazareth, even though Jesus of Nazareth achieved or awakened to oneness with God and as God’s Christ. The Christ as God’s creation, of which we are an intimate and vital part, expresses as God with or beside us.

God the Holy Spirit is the breath of God that permeates, animates, and flows through all of creation, including heaven and earth. The Spirit is like the connective tissue in our bodies, linking every part with essential nutrients, holding the body together as a single functioning unit. God the Holy Spirit expresses as God within or inside us.

We recognize that we experience the same God as beyond, beside, and within us, depending on the situation or need of the moment. It’s the same God expressing in different ways, not unlike how I express as father, husband, brother, friend, co-worker, and the many other roles I assume depending on the life circumstance occurring at the time. Even so, given the limitations of my being, I cannot be beyond or within another. I can, however, be beside them.

We can also describe God as relationship. This is one way the imagery of the Trinity can be helpful. A father cannot attain fatherhood without a child, like a son. A child, like a son, cannot be a child without a parent, like a father. The titles require a relationship. And in the relationship between parent and child a third something develops that is unique to that relationship. That third something is the spirit or connective tissue of the relationship. God as Trinity can be visualized as the three expressions of God giving themselves fully to one another in a sort of circle dance,[2] where there is a continual self-emptying and refilling, giving and receiving, of one into the other.

God can also be described as an energy that influences. This view is hinted at by Mother Teresa in her quote in the epigraph. She is talking about prayer, which is a manifestation of our relationship with God. She says that relationship does not change things but it changes us so that we change things. This is reminiscent of 16th Century mystic Teresa of Avila’s concept that we are God’s hands on earth. In this sense, if God is a person, then God is a person who hands all the work over to us! When we imagine God as an energy, however, we can visualize how God works through us to accomplish God’s work on earth.

The point for our purposes here is that attributing personhood to God, as if God were a human being, is inaccurate at best and certainly misleading. The question growing out of that point is this: Who or what is God? Certainly, God is not a human being, but can God be considered a being at all? More next week…

This is the 54th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/719941-i-used-to-pray-that-god-would-feed-the-hungry#:~:text=Quote%20by%20Mother%20Teresa%3A%20%E2%80%9CI%20used%20to%20pray,for%20answers%2C%20but%20now%20I%27m%20praying%20for%20strength. Accessed January 26, 2022.

[2] This image of the circle dance of the Trinity is developed well by Fr. Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance, Whitaker House, 2016.

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