Posted by: dacalu | 10 January 2009

An Uncomplicated God

            Last week, I introduced the idea of Christianity as three simple things: soul, God, and love. By simple I mean not complex, things that cannot be reduced. I also talked about soul, the irreducible you that transcends (but does not exclude) your body. You are; full stop. You exist, make choices, and have relationships. This week I want to talk about God.

            Now God, like the soul, can be a hard thing to grasp, and I need to start by saying that I will never be able to explain God to you. It doesn’t work like that. There’s nothing mystical about that. My inability to explain does not come from any magical property of God’s. It comes from God being a person (or three), something like you or someone you know. Like any other person, no amount of description will ever take the place of the real thing. My resume will tell you a great deal about me, but you cannot truly know me until we spend time together, until you see how I behave, until we interact. In short, you can only know me by encountering my soul as it manifests itself in the world.

            I’m not sure if it makes sense to say that God has a soul. Traditional language would have it that each human soul is made “in the image and likeness of God,” and perhaps that’s the best we can do. We think of God as soul-like because souls are God-like. Both exist in and of themselves, without acting or choosing. They simply exist. They are indivisible and irreducible, but they have a profound impact on the world. We know them by the imprint they leave.

            So, God resembles a person in some fashion or another, specifically in existence. You can meet God and talk with God or simply sit quietly together in the same world. You can encounter God. That’s the upside of personality, but it has a downside as well.

Pick a person, any person. I’ll say a mother for the sake of discussion—I’m counting on everyone who reads this having a mother. How would you prove to me that your mother existed? You could bring me documentation, perhaps a birth certificate or a driver’s license. Of course those can be forged, so they suggest a mother, but don’t conclusively prove one. You could show up one day with homemade chocolate chip cookies, but you could have baked those yourself. You might even bring in a picture of a little old lady with an apron—my mother was never big on aprons, but you get the idea—but even this isn’t really definitive proof. She could be anyone’s mother, or no one’s. Maybe you got the picture from a friend. You cannot prove your mother exists, except by introducing her. More to the point, why would you prove that your mother exists? It’s not the sort of thing we do. The same is true of God. I think it utterly pointless to prove to you the existence of God. I can’t even prove the existence of myself—and I’ve known me for years. I can’t prove God exists, but I can introduce you.

God, like any person, cannot be broken down into parts and still be God. A core, transcendent, soul-like God exists—and I do think this is the right way to interpret Christian scripture. Analogy can be a tricky thing, but we know that one must make an analogy from the familiar to the unfamiliar. I could tell you, for example that an okapi is something like a deer, but for most of you it would be silly to say that a deer is something like an okapi. We know deer; they show up in North America. Okapi on the other hand, can only be found in zoos—at least in this part of the world. Deer are familiar; okapi are not; so the best analogy is from deer to okapi. When we say that humans are made in the image and likeness of God, we mean that God is something like humans.[1]

You have an experience of human souls. You can speak about yourself, friends, and family. You interact with them and know them to exist—not just as bodies, but as personalities, with will and motivation, humor and history. If you do not yet know God, think of God as a soul.

[1] Of course, this one ends up being turned around later. As Christians, as people who begin to know God intimately, we can also use the analogy from God to human. As we grow in Christianity, we start to see that the God whom we love appears in every human being.


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