Posts Tagged ‘god and God’

PSALM 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Religion is often criticized as so much whistling in the dark. Under the harsh and unforgiving conditions of mortality, human beings have a desperate need to believe they are supported by providence and that their existence doesn’t just end in oblivion. The plain fact of the matter is that we’re thrown into existence and fall out of it without so much as a sigh of indifference from the universe.

Now it may be true that religion frequently ascribes to its god more supremacy and control over what’s going on than he or she genuinely deserves. To an outsider it can sometimes sound as if God is nothing more than a personification of what the ancient Greeks named Fate – the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed: a.k.a. “God’s sovereign plan.” Such belief in an absolute necessity behind everything is at least more comforting than the idea of it all as random and utterly pointless.

But maybe it’s not human insecurity that best explains the phenomenon of religion. Could it be that a mystical insight rather than neurotic anxiety underlies our many concepts of God? Perhaps it’s not primarily our fear of death that compelled the first thought and stories of God. More likely it was the intuition that our existence is grounded in a present mystery we cannot explain, but which supports us, inhabits us, confronts us, and transcends us in the marvelous adventure of being alive.

What’s more, this present mystery is provident – for here you are! The breath in your lungs, the beat of your heart, your living body and the countless life-lines connecting you to the earth and its moon, to our Sun and the spinning planets, into the galaxy and out to that One Song (uni-verse) that’s been topping the charts now for the past 15 billion years – all of it is conspiring to open a window of awareness on this very moment.

You blink, and it opens again.

PSALM 68:1-10,

Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
    let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
    as wax melts before the fire,
    let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful;
    let them exult before God;
    let them be jubilant with joy.

Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
    lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord
    be exultant before him.

Father of orphans and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
    he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
    but the rebellious live in a parched land.

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
    at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
    at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
    you restored your heritage when it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
    sing praises to the Lord,
33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
    listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34 Ascribe power to God,
    whose majesty is over Israel;
    and whose power is in the skies.
35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
    the God of Israel;
    he gives power and strength to his people.

Blessed be God!

If you were to spread the writings of the Bible along a line according to the chronological sequence in which they were likely produced, you would come to see how the concept and representation of God evolved through the centuries. A strict biblical literalism would then be forced to conclude that God has changed over time, which obviously conflicts with the Bible’s own claim that with God there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

A better explanation is that something has indeed changed (or evolved); however it’s not the reality of God but the mythological imagination of humans contemplating that reality. As human beings have evolved – from hominids to homo sapiens, and through the numerous stages of cultural development – the notion of a hidden agency and supreme intelligence behind things has steadily advanced. What becomes evident to us, then, is the fascinating way in which a regional population of human beings became increasingly rational, ethical, and inclusive in their orientation and behavior.

Before we file our exceptions to this statement, let’s quickly review how the Bible’s representation of God progressed over time. In the earliest traditions, god* is the jealous warrior deity of nomadic tribes that originally settled the region of Sinai. Yahweh’s idol may have been a war box that announced his arrival to towns and villages under invasion. At this stage, god’s love was a subordinate quality to his aggression, violence, and conquest.

A while later we find Yahweh inviting select individuals and their families into a formal ritual of agreement called a covenant. By obeying his will and worshiping no other god but him, the people are given assurance of Yahweh’s protection, blessing, and future prosperity. This use of the covenant metaphor is a strong indication that humans were progressing into a more stable, rational, and cooperative way of life. God’s love is coming more to the forefront of his personality, as one who cares for his people.

                                                                                                      

In the time of the prophets, the complexities of urban life advanced new concerns for marginalized members (orphans, widows, and other poor). Even outsiders coming to the gates as strangers were to be looked after and offered hospitality. In the prophetic consciousness, this ethical concern of god’s for those who suffer forced frequent confrontations with kings and political administrations that oppressed or neglected them. The love of god was opening out into a wide compassion, not only for insiders but outsiders as well.

Finally, with Jesus – who stood in the tradition of the prophets but took their challenge to another level – we hear that god’s love extends all the way to his “enemies.” These may be outsiders or insiders; their defining characteristic is an utter disregard for god’s will, even an outright antagonism to his way. In short, they are “sinners.” Jesus declared that all sinners are forgiven, that humanity’s debt to god has been released. His message of unconditional forgiveness was so revolutionary in its implications and so radical in its reach, that Christianity itself was unable (or unwilling) to carry it forward for long.

In all these various evolutionary frames, the representation of God is just out in front of human development. The depiction of god’s love in art, story and theology is an idealized projection at first, praised and glorified as an exceptional virtue of the deity. And because worship of god is also the aspiration of devotees to be like god – to love as god loves – this virtue is increasingly activated and gradually takes its place in the human moral repertoire.

*In order to distinguish a representation of God from the reality of God, we use the convention of a lowercase ‘g’ when speaking of the concept of God in art, story and theology. The reality of God is a mystery beyond words.

PSALM 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Today as in ancient times, we have to choose from among a pantheon of deities who demand our devotion. For many it is wealth, security, sex, or power. To the degree that these are the focus of investment, obsession, obedience and sacrifice, they serve to inspire our dreams and attract our worship. In other words, they are our gods.

What difference is there, really, between Baal, the fertility and harvest god in biblical times whose cult frequently competed with that of Yahweh of Israel, and Money, the god of prosperity and affluence in our day? The cult of Money – along with its attending saints Profit, Greed, and Conspicuous Consumption – drives social progress, big business, technical innovation, scientific research, class mobility, personal happiness, and even religion.

The poet believes that his deity, the Lord (Yahweh), is superior to the gods and goddesses of neighboring nations. While they might ensure a bountiful harvest or victory in war, his god provides something much more personal and, we should say, inwardly personal: inner peace, spiritual guidance, and fullness of joy. In other words, God isn’t merely an agency behind something that humans want or need, but the real presence and gracious mystery at the heart of life itself.

Interestingly in other parts of the ancient world as well, a searching intelligence was opening to the depths of existence. The Upanishads in India and Philosophy in Greece were simultaneously directing their meditations underneath and behind the phenomenal realm of everyday distractions. What were they looking for? In a word, reality.

We use this word glibly these days, but what is reality? Very literally, it’s the realness of something, its res or present being. Reality isn’t something else, on the other side of the world we sense and know. Rather it’s the depths of being itself, the really real, the real presence of mystery deep within all things. As the psalmist understood, this also means deep within ourselves.

As a causal agency behind the things that make the world go round, a god is nothing more than a personification of something we need but can’t explain. With this mystical (inward) turn, devotional focus was effectively detached from the conventional representation of this or that deity and plunged into the depths of a contemplative experience where God is present.

Not a personality but a present mystery. Not an agency behind things, but divine reality – not just a being but the very ground of being itself. God is not here to serve your needs. And – if you’re ready to hear this – God does not need your worship or devotion.

God is the heart of reality, the really real, even now rising from your depths with the invitation to an authentic and fully awakened life.