There is a wide-spread search for meaning in contemporary society, taking many forms, only some of them relating to traditional forms of religion. For many people, ‘the church’ and ‘religion’ are not meaningful, even if once they were. Now, people are engaged with a quest for spirituality, for values, meaning and direction in their lives and for their future. In a universe that may be infinite in its proportions, in the face of rapid change and many forms of insecurity, what is it that makes life itself meaningful and worthwhile? Does it make any difference, to ourselves or to others, how we live —or even that we live? What is the basis and meaning of our lives? These questions are the sorts of issues which have in the past been expressed in terms of the search for God. ‘God’, though understood in many different ways, is taken to be the reality at the centre of, and in some way the source of, our lives.
Our quest for an authentic faith begins with the search for some understanding of this reality we call ‘God’. What is God like?
How should we think of God and how can we relate to God?
It is crucial that we begin with an honest acknowledgment of these questions and the agony and struggle which they often express.
What’s God like?
In what follows, I offer some reflections on this theme, based upon the opening ‘prologue’ to John’s Gospel: You can read this text here Just type in the reference, and there it is!
The question of God is one we all find difficult to answer, if we ever
attempt it. To put in words what we think ‘God’ is or might be like is
a very demanding task, requiring much more than just intellectual
effort. It calls for moral and spiritual involvement, in some kind of
quest for integrity. If we are going to deal with this question, we are
really going to have to let it get at us. The way we answer this
question must surely affect our whole lives. Little wonder that many
people leave the question in the ‘too hard basket’.
Where is God? and What is God like? These are questions I’d like
to explore in a series of reflections, indicating some of the ideas
and images which I have found fruitful. In doing this I am not
suggesting these are ‘the answers’, which everyone else should believe
or agree with.
Rather, I would like to invite others to make similar
explorations and reflections of their own.
Without God the church has no reason to be. This is why one of the
ancient images of the church is ‘the people of God’.
increasing majority of people do not find God in or through the
churches; but that does not mean they have no interest in God.
Sometimes many people who attend churches also sense a deep yearning to
know God, but somehow the ‘religious’ activities in which they engage
do not meet this need.
One reason for this sense of ‘loss’ of God, or difficulty in
finding a sense of God’s presence, has to do with the ways we think of
God. It seems we are not sure what we are looking for: we don’t know
what God is like. Maybe we have some religious ideas, formed by Sunday
School lessons or through television programs, or the Hollywood movies,
but we do not feel that we really know or have any immediate connection
with this ‘God’.
We need to think about what we are looking for. What is God like: and so what are we looking for?
The first thing I want to say about God is that God is a being, a
person, a force or power – I don’t mind what image we use here – who
wants to be known. God seeks relationship. This is the good news
expressed at the beginning of John’s Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the
word; and the word was with God, and the word was God’. This ‘word’
idea, the greek ‘Logos’, speaks of the eternal, always-existing God,
the creative power which was before all things and is in all things, a
power of light and truth beyond comprehension.
But John tells us that this God, known by the philosophers and thinkers
through all those ‘omni’ words, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent,
and so on, this ‘God of eternity’ is not an adequate image of the
living God. John invokes this image of God in order to push it and
change it. For in the beginning, or at the essence of God, God is
something else. In the beginning is relatedness. God is ‘word’, which
means self-expression, reaching out, and being-with.
The essence of God is this wish and drive to be known, to relate to us
and all the creation. God is about the joy of belonging. That is what
God’s creativity is about. God is not, in essence, the God of the
omnis, in splendid isolation, above and apart. At the heart of God is
the thrust to relationship. That is why John uses the astonishing idea
that the eternal word has become flesh. God is most supremely known in
a human person, in Jesus from Nazareth. This is what God is like. In
Jesus, God lives and belongs with people, ordinary people. They are
‘his own’, John says; the local people are not strangers but God’s own
people and place.
If today the church is to be a community which knows about God or
relates to God, it has to be is a community inspired by the ‘impossible
possibility’ that through our human relationships, our community, and
our life in this whole cosmos, somehow God is present and God is known.
Where is God? It is a question we should never forget. The presence of
God amongst us is a gift, not something we can presume upon, not
something we can boast, not an achievement. But it is something for
which we can pray and into which we can live. Being with God is a
continuing, challenging relationship. It is a conversation filled with
questions, struggles and exhilarating surprises. The images and
metaphors for God which follow reflect my own discoveries about the
ways God can be known. These experiences suggest ways in which we might
challenge or ‘stretch’ some of the traditional ideas about God, to
discover new ways of saying what God is like.