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Reflection September 3,2017
The Hardest Work There Is: Speaking About God
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
How can we even begin to talk about God? Everything we say about God is necessarily speculative, always theoretical. Whenever we come across someone who claims to know all there is to know about God, we can be assured such a person is a con artist. The world is littered with a plethora of self-appointed God-charlatans, found in every world religion.
I wish it were easier to talk about God. I wish it were spiritually satisfying to just grab some Bible quotes and then assume we know who God is and how God works in our world.
I believe discussing the ways of the Almighty is the hardest work there is in our world. This is probably why so many clergy shy away from attempting to go deep into the divine landscape. Abundant courage is needed for such work!
To me nothing is more cowardly than to see a clergyperson fail to engage in a deep discussion of the One in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) But I also understand why so many of my sisters and brothers in ministry avoid the hard questions about God’s activity in our world. Questions like: “where is God in this tragedy?” and “Why did God let this horrible thing happen?” are never easily answered. Facile answers to such difficult questions are anathema to true faith.
To proclaim: “I really know almost NOTHING about the ways of God” to one’s congregation is a frightening and daunting task. And yet such a proclamation is a bedrock theological reality - a truth for all ages. We are all speculating when we speak of God.
We necessarily utilize metaphors when it comes to our God-talk. God is like this; God is like that. But such metaphors are always symbolic language, poetic language. As the Scripture professor, Barbara Bowe, stated it: “Whenever we claim that our words or our images (of God) are expressions of the full identity of God, we fall into idolatry. Whenever we claim that our (God) metaphors are synonymous with the reality (of God), we fall into idolatry.” (From Biblical Foundations of Spirituality)
God knows that I wish our “search” for God was easier than it is. God knows that I have spent endless hours, days, months, and years seeking the right words to speak about the ways of God; how God works among us and within us. But in the midst of all the reading, in the midst of all the heart-felt attempts and the soul-searches, I’m left with an unsettled silence and a necessary self-surrender.
Again from Bowe: “ … speaking about God, or speaking to God, is learning to say (in the words of my Old Testament professor, William Holladay) ‘the least wrong thing about God,’ because anything we might say is, by definition, always wrong - wrong because our words can never fully capture or name adequately the infinite mystery we call God.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that we give up our attempts to speak about God and to speak to God. We know God is “unseeable” and “unknowable.” I wrote about this in the August 20 Advance (available on our church web site: morganparkbaptistchurch.org)
As we read in John’s Gospel: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18) But even here we must take a big breath: God is like a Father to us but God is also like a Mother to us. God is beyond gender.
How do we name God? In the past (because of many Biblical images) we usually fashioned God in masculine patriarchal terms. But to think of God only as a male does a disservice to God and to us. God is both male and female - as well as neither male or female (a bit of a conundrum to be sure!)
God indeed “fathers” us, but God also “mothers” us. God “sisters” us as well as “brothers” us. God is best fathomed using both masculine and feminine analogies.
God language serves no purpose unless it helps us experience God. If thinking and talking of God in purely masculine terms doesn’t help us come to God, then we need to think and talk about God in terms that will. It is the hoped-for experience of God that lies underneath all our tedious and never-ending quarrels about religion.
We might well remember that our long Christian mystical tradition teaches us that in relationship to God, we are all feminine. In much of our mystical tradition, the soul is perceived as being feminine. God and the soul become joined in decidedly masculine /feminine symbolism.
The intimate union of spouses is understood as the ultimate analogy of how God and our souls are united. As Jeremiah 20:7 makes clear, God “seduces” us. Such seduction may well lie at the core of all true attempts to encounter the Living God of Heaven and Earth.
We are, each of us, engaged in a serious romance with the One Who Made Us. Just as language falls flat in every attempt to crystalize the essence of true and abiding love, so our language falls flat when it comes to capturing the core of our on-going intimacy with God.
I end with a few words from the Biblical professor, Marcus Borg’s posthumous work, Days of Awe and Wonder: “As the author and theologian Roberta Bondi puts it in one of her books, ‘God is besotted with us.’ That single five-word sentence stood out in neon lights when I first read it. ‘God is besotted with us.’ For just a moment think how your life would be different if you knew, at the deepest level of your being, that God is besotted with you, that God yearns for you, yearns that you turn and be in relationship with God as the beloved of God.” Amen! May it be so!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor