I was recently on a panel discussion on HuffPost Live about the reality of death and how it can test our faith. It was in response to a post by Alice Markham-Cantor, a teenager, who eloquently expressed her mental and emotional reaction to death and her rage at God for the death of people she cared about. It reminded me how essential it is to take a look at our own assumptions and demands about God and what kind of relationship we have with God.
Our fundamental assumptions and beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of God and what kind of god we imagine informs how we live our life. Like Alice, people of all ages rage at God for not conforming to their expectations of what and how God should be. Alice said “…but there’s something about sitting at the funerals of people who were close to me that makes me want to kill God.”
So, how do we kill God? And then what happens? This kind of rage at God is essentially a mental construct. Let’s use the example of turning against God when someone you love dies. The typical sequence of events goes something like this: We attribute the occurrence that we did not like or understand to God. We then decide that the intensity of the grief or hurt we experience is incompatible with the actions of a loving God. We conclude that God therefore cannot be loving or worthy of our belief. We resolve the tension between reality and our beliefs by rejecting God. The only thing this really accomplishes is to make us feel more in control of the situation. We fire the inadequate god of our imagination and take on the job of god ourselves. But what “god” are we getting rid of: God or the god of our imagination?
When we demand that “God” make sense to us we are dealing with a very small god. This is a god limited by the human mind, imagination and perceptual capabilities. It is a god in our image. In the grander scheme of the vast and complex universe we inhabit and those that lie beyond our knowledge, that’s a very puny god.
What if God were so beyond our capacity to comprehend or talk about that the only valid response was what Rudolf Otto, author of “The Mysterium Tremendum,” refers to as drop jaw awe? What if everything that happens is somehow perfect for all involved? What if God is really worthy of our awe, gratitude and love? What if the real problem is not God, but rather our limited thinking?
The questions of God’s existence or nature and the spiritual dimension of life are the most profound inquiries we can explore. It is an adventure of the heart, body, mind and soul in a maze filled with shortcuts and dead ends. Many reach the dead end of demanding satisfactory proof of God’s existence and perceiving none conclude that God does not exist. Others, like myself, can’t get past the glory and beauty and wonder of a tree and spend a lifetime seeking a deeper attunement with God. This is not a quest for the faint of heart, but for me, the blessings have been magnificent.
I like telling people that I don’t believe in God. The truth is that after many years of intentionally focusing on building my awareness of God, a life-threatening car accident in 1997 brought me over the threshold from belief in God to knowing God’s existence and presence in my life. My knowledge of God is beyond words, or my mind, and is not transferable to others. I consider it a blessing beyond anything else I could imagine receiving in my life. My primary identity has transitioned from that of a woman with certain mental, emotional and physical characteristics to knowing myself as a divine being having a human experience as that woman.
I don’t think any of us should settle for a god that is unworthy of our love and awe. So, if your god seems too small for you, consider exploring the following questions:
- How do you define God?
- What assumptions do you make about God?
- What limitations do you place on God? For example, do you think you should always be happy or that people, especially children, shouldn’t die?
- Is God a mental concept to you or a guiding force in how you live your life?
- What kind of relationship do you have with God?
- What would make your relationship with God better than it is now?
- What do you think is the purpose of your life?
- What would have to change for you to know God?
I don’t think anyone is “right” or “wrong” based on what they believe or don’t believe about God. Each of us is wherever we are on these matters and that is our personal truth. However, I do think the question of God’s existence and nature is worthy of our personal attention and exploration. We owe it to each other to respect our differences in this regard for indeed, if I stood in your shoes or you stood in mine we each would see what the other sees — that’s the irony of it all.
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