Let’s Talk about What People Understand by the Word God!

What follows are some thoughts that I collected from a discussion between Rob Bell and Pete Rollins – Let’s Talk about God (Robcast 111 – in July 2016)

  • When some people consider God they seem to think and talk about a bigger version of themselves. Maybe that ‘Grandfather in the sky’?
  • Karl Barth suggested that when we talk about God we talk about ourselves with a megaphone.
  • Our Gods can be flattering images of self – we may create our god(s) and our god(s) may create us – they might bless our tanks and/or freedom fighters and condemn terrorists. For some people God becomes a way of legitimising our world and our own thinking.
  • How many deeply spiritual people put themselves under ‘judgement’ and live life with endless thoughts of fear, guilt and shame? Can that be right?
  • How do we react to those things we see as bad or evil? Do we see them as lessons that we can learn about the problems in the world?
  • What place the outsiders who question our way of looking at the world?
  • When someone uses the word God they often think they know what it means – but overlook that we all seem to have our own unique view of God.
  • God is often seen as a superbeing – an object that we can think about.
    This is frequently the basis of endless arguments between believers (theists) and atheists – both talking about the same God – with many people unsure of what they really believe (agnosticism?).
  • There are endless different ways of looking at God.
  • There are the mystics who have this idea that God is the name we give to a hyperbeing – that God cannot be conceptualised – bigger, better and different than anything we can say about God – our understanding of God is less than what God is. This is said to be the most orthodox way of thinking about God.
  • Maybe we need to be rescued from whatever ideas we have of God?
  • Consider something like being a ship sunken in the depths of the ocean – the ocean contains the ship but the ship contains only a fragment of the ocean.
    Saturated in the divine?
  • Much of the unfolding narrative of scripture consists of labels created by the ideas of men, but in the Bible there are multiple ways of naming God. Some people are driven by what we cannot speak – speaking comes from frustration and not being able to articulate ones thoughts. What place poetry that draws us into something we cannot speak?
  • We can’t for example speak of love so we use many metaphors that often clash (such as warrior and peacemaker). We can’t just use one name. What about a God who changes, and a God who doesn’t change?
  • In some ways it is what we cannot speak that drives us to speak – the frustration that comes from not being able to articulate something.
  • Theology at its best is something that draws you into something you cannot speak?
  • Symbolism is more than literal. Just like a flag that might be seen as literal or a meaningful symbol of nationhood – it helps us to partake in a discourse that we cannot nail down – something we are taken up into? The literalist misses out on the power that pulls us into a participation; into a reality that transforms.
    We cannot capture experiences in words – we may describe a response but that’s not the same as participation – that’s what the mystics are talking about.
  • Most theology is idolatry – it treats God as an object – talking about how God is different from what we can conceive.
    Anselm suggested that God is that of which nothing greater can be conceived. That’s not the same as the greatest conceivable being. We can conceive (think) that there is something bigger than we can conceive (think). Anselm suggests that is where God dwells (an attempt to protect us from idolatry?).
    Paul Tillich says that there is a form of atheism that is closer to God, and that most theism is idolatry because most theism treats God as an object.
  • If we go into a museum do we allow a painting to speak to us? A good painting seldom has a single meaning – we may see something different every time we look at it. Paintings overflow with meanings – are we taken up by them? A similarity with the words of theology? Theology as a participation in a conversation that has been going on for thousands of years (with the Rabbis?).
    How often have we read over a particular scripture for years and suddenly see a new meaning?
  • People may have questions but because they don’t want to get it wrong, there is a fear of participation. There can be a great relationship when we don’t get what the other person is saying. Then we are able to get at each other because of a real love for each other.
    I’ve only ever had one friendship like that, which ended when Dave died within two years about an hour after sending me a particularly significant email.

  • Ground of Being (from Paul Tillich) – slightly different from hyperbeing.
    God is that from which everything arises. Everything arises from the ground we call God – this means that all speech about God is symbolic.
    The suggestion that whenever we say anything about God there is a subject (me) saying something about an object (God) – but God comes before subject or object – and if we make God an object we miss God because God is not an object. God is that out of which subject and object arise.
  • If someone says “I love God”, what does that mean?
    Religionless Christianity – forget about loving God – act in love towards others and discover God!
  • Mystics connect with God (in a sense the absolute) through contemplation and experience, rather than through intellectual means.
    We encounter God through ultimate concern by giving self in love to the world. We cannot love God as an object, but in loving someone we love God. God is something we discover in the act of loving others? That is subtle but huge!
  • Yoga – returning to early practices? Gratitude to source – breathing and its relationship to gratitude?
    Source and breathing fits in well with the mystics.
    Instead of “Where is God?”, “Are we in God?” “Is God in us?”
    Giving yourself to a vocation – something to live or die for – something that is bigger than self – that’s where we find God.
    Ultimate concern leads to finding meaning in life – but there is a problem when you make something ultimate that shouldn’t be, such as “patriotism – my country right or wrong”. But if people say they love their country so much that if they see things that are wrong, they will fight against it, that is healthy ultimate concern – giving of self to ideals that you may not be able to put your finger on!
  • Paul Tillich – suggests that we find God by bringing more life into the world!
    Is that ground of being?

    That was my summary of the first part of a four part discussion between Rob Bell and Pete Rollins. It is an attempt to draw together just a few of the ways in which people think about God.

    How’s that for starters?