What do people understand by the word ‘God’?

I had already started working on this material when I listened to the interview with Barbara Brown Taylor where she had been asked “What do you think when you use the word ‘God’?”.

I have had the chance to attend a few U3A (University of the Third Age) classes on the History of Christianity, the History of Religion, Buddhism and Islam. My thoughts therefore are not limited to a Christian perspective.

I have learned so much about why Christians believe(d) what they believe(d), often as a result of divisive, denominational theology, and also something of why they even fight among themselves about their ‘beliefs’ and what they see as the place of Jesus.
Some people see Jesus as their ‘boyfriend’ while some see Jesus as God!
Why for example is there so much fear, guilt and shame associated with Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity?

It was Richard Holloway (the former leader of the Episcopal Church in Scotland) who suggested that the symbol ‘God’ is one of the most ambiguous of human inventions.

  • How much do we know about God?  How well do we know God?
  • Do we really know what we believe?
  • How did we come to believe in this God? What place culture?
  • Christian faith presupposes that we can talk to God, but what does that really mean? What place prayer and worship?

The notes that follow are loosely based on a three part podcast by Rob Bell in 2015.

There have been endless efforts trying to figure out why this God who is apparently somewhere else intervenes down here from time to time!
How do we get God to come to us here?

Consider this quite provocative critique of Christianity:
Because there was a problem here on earth, God had to send his son from somewhere else?
Was it necessary that God’s son had to be killed so that there would be less violence in the world?
Peace would only come if God killed someone?

Is it fair to suggest that few things have caused more atheism than Christians clinging to ways of viewing the world that now sound crazy?

It’s surprising to me how many Christians still believe in that “Grandfather in the sky”.

How many of us resonate with those who reject some or all of these views of God?
A/theismagainst theism – maybe against a three tier system that puts a divine being somewhere else?

Are we witnessing the death of a way of thinking about God.

Is it time to move on? Many people are doing just that. I particularly like a Nomad podcast in 2018 entitled, “The Invisible Church – Stages of Leaving”.
See the sidebar for my own summary.

We are all on unique journeys – all our views, secular and divine, are based on our own life experiences – all theology is personal – is there such a thing as objective truth?
Consider the trajectory of our own beliefs – moments of enlightenment on a small scale – here a little, there a little?

We have questions when people are the victims of injustice. Is there any way of rescue, liberation or salvation? How are we going to use power, wealth or influence – to oppress or liberate others?
‘Empire Building’ or ‘Liberation and Rescue’?
What place social justice?

Consider Wall Street – does it make sense that the ability to make money simply lines the pockets of a few? Shouldn’t wealth be shared around to empower others?
Do we use everything we have in terms of wealth, power, education and resources on behalf of those who need them the most – or do we build our own little or not so little empires?

Religion creates really deep anxiety – you never know where you stand.
Whenever people create a religion, tribe or school they set boundaries for the divine.
God is bigger than every story – assuming there is a source!
We keep going because something has been planted within us?
An evolving enlightenment – God doesn’t have grandchildren?
How come these ideas resonate with us at a very deep level?

What do we believe about the deepest forces of the universe?
Are there powers at work in the universe stronger than death/terrorism that can transform, envelop and bring something new?
What do those beliefs do in the real world for people who need it the most?
Do they guide and empower people to act in beautiful, loving, redemptive and inclusive ways?

There are so many assumptions hidden in the word GOD.
Many are asking questions – many are angry, frustrated and disappointed – wronged – a sense of loss – injustice – rage against the world as it is – bitterness that life is not better – resentment – specific losses. Where was God when . . . Why didn’t God stop that . . .
Why doesn’t God come down and answer my prayers? All very real questions!
What if there was a divine being who could explain?
Does God have a plan?

The reality is that human beings are free to make choices, some of which will be destructive. There are also natural disasters.
The importance of expressing our feelings – get it out! It’s surely all part of being a healthy human being?

Some people talk about when God showed up – others just wonder what that means. Can we learn something from other people’s stories?
It is said by some that when we move towards others with love and grace that our eyes are opening to the divine presence.

I want to end this first part with a brief reflection of my own thoughts and feelings at this point  in time.

I have been attracted to the idea of the Ground of Our Beingthe electricity of God that everyone can be plugged into!
Are we moving from God up there somewhere to God as source or that from which everything flows.
Communications with others that resonate – feelings of being connected to everything – to nature – a deeply divine presence – a strength that is available beyond self?
Are we moving from God being somewhere else (who may or may not be involved from time to time) to the God who is right here with us?

What place colonialism, slavery and even capitalism?

Let’s begin with what we see around us.

How’s that for starters?