God as Being, Part 2
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed…”
If we cannot accurately liken God to a human being, what sort of being is God? Is God a being at all? This is the question I posed at the end of last week’s Life Note. With questions like these that cannot be answered with any degree of certainty I find it best to answer, “Yes!” and “No!” In other words, it depends. It depends on what we mean by a being. And this is where our attempts to put something ethereal into words fails us because words limit whatever we’re attempting to describe. God, by definition, is limitless. So how can we explore the God of the universe with words or thoughts? I suggest that we can only explore the God of the universe with words or thoughts inaccurately and imperfectly. Given the limitations of language, however, it is a natural thing to attempt and is not a bad thing if we understand we are limiting the limitless and our answers will always fall short of the reality. Which is exactly why we need to also seek understanding in ways that are not dependent on our words or thoughts. We can gain a fuller understanding of God through our experiences of God than by anything written or spoken about God. One of the most accessible ways to experience God is by increasing our awareness of God’s presence as we go about our normal, daily activities.
Many of the Psalms, as well as countless other verses in scripture, encourage us to praise God. The suggestion, most often expressed as a mandate, has always troubled me because I think most of us do not understand praise. When I picture people praising God I think of people with their arms raised, rhythmically moving to theologically empty (at least to me) praise music, and acting in ways they do not act outside of church. While I will not deny that is a legitimate way for some to express praise, I think there are subtle and effective ways to praise that fit into any situation we find ourselves in. At its core, praise is attention. We praise another when we are aware of them, consciously present with them, and in communion and community with them. As we become aware of God’s constant presence with us the regular, mundane daily tasks of our lives become acts of praise. We praise not because God is an attention-seeking narcissist, but as a reminder to ourselves that God is always with us. I, at least, need that reminder on an hour-by-hour basis.
Can we praise a non-being? I believe we do it all the time. We praise good ideas, reliable relationships, and the positive energy and expressions emanating from others. The point, of course, is that God does not need to be a being for us to praise God. Perhaps the biggest temptation to perceiving God as a being is that it is easy for us to imagine God in that way. We can imagine a being who consolidates all the positive qualities of everyone we know and call that God. Good looking? Check. Physically fit? Check. Intelligent? Check. Emotionally mature? Check. Spiritually healthy? Obviously. If God, however, checks all the boxes for what we consider a perfect being, where does that leave those of us who fall short in one or more of the categories? It seems to me that this expectation of perfection is at the root of our feelings of unworthiness. Who are we to judge what is perfect or beautiful? Who are we to judge what constitutes good looks, physical fitness, intelligence, or emotional or spiritual maturity? We can only judge such traits through our severely limited human point of view and in the context of our time and culture. In Luke 17, Jesus warns the religious elite of his day that the kingdom of God will not come in ways we can observe. Our human senses and understandings will not reveal it to us.
While it may be more accurate to understand God as a non-being, it is also difficult to imagine ourselves in relationship with and to a non-being. If God is always with us, but God is not a being, then where and how is God with us? For me it is helpful to think of God as being but not a being. In the same way that waves are expressions of and held within the ocean, no particular wave or wave-like entity is the ocean. We are held within and are expressions of the non-being, being of God.
This is the 55th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.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.