WHO OR WHAT IS GOD ? Summary of mtg 1 Nov'15 led by Nigel Jones
Thursday 21st January 2016
What few words would you put in the sentence beginning 'God is...' ?
How about 'God is Silence' ? The Welsh vicar and poet R.S.Thomas wrote of being "within listening distance of the silence we call God", implying both that God is best discerned when we are silent and that God is not nothing.
Likewise, Hindus 3000yrs ago believed God is sensed when reasoned argument is driven to silence. A medieaval Christian wrote a book about God as "the cloud of unknowing" and when Moses asked for God's name, he simply received the answer "I AM".
One of the generally accepted characteristics of God is ubiquity, the ability to be everywhere at once. Thus Psalm 139 "Where can I flee from your spirit, if I climb up to heaven you are there, if I make my bed in hell you are there.....". George Herbert wrote in 1633 the hymn which begins "Teach me my God and King in all things thee to see".
How therefore can God be thought of as a being ? Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century said that God cannot be thought of as a kind of species; God is not and cannot be, "a sort of thing". Karen Armstrong in her book 'The Case for God', contrasts this with modern thinking, identified by Descartes, the 17th century philosopher who clearly said God is a being. She makes it clear this kind of thinking is a mistake. Paul Tillich, writing in the 20th century said that once you describe God as an object, even a personal one, you have created an idol.
So it would surely be better to say GOD IS BEING, as opposed to saying God is A Being. Maybe, in order to make it clear that God is not equal to creation (pantheism), we should use the phrase suggested by Tillich, that GOD IS THE GROUND OF BEING.
In 2013, Andrew Marr said on radio 4 that while surveys showed less people believing in God, large numbers said they believed in a spiritual force. We then need to ask about the nature of this spiritual force.
Many would say that a good starting point is to talk of God within; among these is R.S.Thomas, Jonathan Sacks and Solzhenitsyn. It also ties in with the Christian message of Incarnation, though this is not always interpreted as broadly as it should. In 2001, Bishop Christopher of Stafford wrote a christmas message in the Sentinel newspaper saying:
"The church still has a long way to go in really understanding the message of Jesus, the message of Christmas, which is God's love and life in humanity...God in every child, God in every victim, God in us."
This brings the conversation from the realms of theory and philosophy to the practice of living. God is experienced, rather than merely thought or described, maybe experienced unconsciously more often than is assumed.
The bible is concerned primarily about people's attitude and behaviour. Passages (such as Psalm 14) that mention those who do not believe in God are concerned not about statements, but about people behaving in an evil way, as if God does not exist. In Mark 3 and in Matthew 7, Jesus emphasises that what matters is whether people do the will of God.
There remain two related questions:
What is God's will ? What is the nature of this spirit we call God or Ground of Being?
Jesus and the prophets make it clear the answer is not primarily in rules and regulations or religion. Rather it is about Love. Christ's teaching is clearly summed up in love for God and love for neighbour. I suggest that the usual way of putting God first and then because of that, your neighbour, is inadequate. It is in loving your neighbour as yourself, that you encounter, and become in tune with, God. Mother Theresa of Calcutta firmly said that it was in helping the desperately poor and the dying that she met Christ (as well as in prayerful worship), and therefore by implication met God.
Thus in the first letter of John, chapter 4, we read "Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God, for God is Love."
Paul Tillich in a short sermon (in a book called 'Shaking the Foundations') describes different kinds or levels of knowledge; there is partial knowledge (including that which comes through Science) and there is whole knowledge (spiritual). When talking of knowing God, we are talking of KNOWLEDGE THROUGH LOVE.