Wednesday, February 26, 2014

God Is Bigger than Yours (and Mine)

Please join me for “The Passion: In Arts, Texts, and Music: A Contemplative Retreat for Lent,” 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., Saturday, March 8, 2014 at Columbia Theological Seminary. 

Reading “The Archaeology of the Stars” about Population I, II, and III stars in the Science Times of the February 11, 2014 edition of The New York Times, I realized again how tiny are our imaginations when it comes to God.

The tribal*, nationalist, and creationist gods are the tiniest of all. To think of God favoring a tribe or a nation, or to insist that earth is a mere 6000 years old, is a sign of hubris and ignorance that actually “disses” God—in Anglo terms, disrespects and dismisses God.

The movement gods are closer to recognizing the reality, I believe, whether that of the Jesus movement, for instance, or the gods of the ecumenical, interfaith, progressive, New Thought or New Age movements, to name a few examples. But these gods too can be trapped when enshrined in inflexible doctrines and institutions, domesticated like a pet to respond to our expectations.

The god of nature, of the environment, of the cosmos at least de-centers our anthropomorphic way of limiting God. The agnostic god recognizes our inability to imagine God adequately, while the god of atheism too often is a mirror reflection of a god rightly resisted. These three options, despite their alleged disbelief, seem preferable to a god that is nothing more than a tribal, national, fundamentalist, or movement pet.

As a participant in the Jesus movement, as much as I love Jesus—what he taught and how he lived and the life he still gives me—I have needed to move beyond the claim that he is the only child of God.

Rather, I have come to believe that he and many who followed him remind us that ALL are children of God, including the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and that we are each to have, in author Karen Blixen’s words, “faith in the idea that God had when God made us.” To paraphrase the sage Rabbi Zusya** in my own faith context: in the life to come, they will not ask me why I was not Christ, but, “Why was I not Chris?”

And further, why didn’t I recognize that my god is not God? 

*I intend that “tribal” includes any group that thinks only their group knows God.

**Rabbi Zusya famously said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ but ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

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  1. Wow. I am hearing what you are saying and it resonates my being. It is what my soul seems to know. Some have said when considering going on beyond the concepts we grew up with that they feel something akin to homesickness or a feeling of “it’s too big for me to relate to”. I still relate to “God” as personal and close to me but more like something bigger that I come out of that sustains me and everything. When Christians say I am dissing my need for atonement by Jesus, I say that by following the teachings of Jesus I am becoming at one with -----
    When I read what you said about being asked “why you were not Chris”—it hit home big time and deeply.
    And thank you much for advice about “not losing” what we’ve written as comment to your posts!! I am following your advice.-----hopefully, I am writing to you as myself, Chuck Jarvis

    1. Thank you for reminding me last week that comments sometimes get lost! My friend Becki Jayne Harrelson told me that's how she makes sure her comments don't get lost--writing them first and copying and pasting. As I responded to your comment on Facebook, I believe the bigger the God, the more intimate God can be. Thanks for your comment!

  2. This post recalls my dad, Ted Schuyler's, fascination with J.B. Phillips' book "Your God is Too Small", and of course my own commitment to the theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is truly tragic that people get so hung up in their violations of the commandment against making their own idols to represent their pet gods that they completely miss the awesomeness of Creation. Apropos of the idea that Jesus is the "only" Son of God, of course he himself said just the opposite, over and over again.

    1. Teilhard de Chardin's writings helped open my mind to the convergence of science and faith in college, as did Alfred North Whitehead. I am so grateful for the Religious Studies department at Calif State Univ Northridge--especially Dr. Thomas Love, Dr. Robert Shofner, and Dr. Robert Goss (not the same as MCC's Bob Goss). Though it was a little scary letting go of my fundamentalist upbringing, it freed me up for understanding a greater God.