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Beliefs in Motion: Part Two—The Nature of God

October 28, 2011

This is a continuing series taking a look at conservative evangelical beliefs, and comparing them to my own somewhat heretical, wide path view of Christianity.  We begin with the well crafted and much considered statement of faith from a fairly typical (in fact a pretty hip) church.


From the Church:  We believe that there is one true and living God, perfect in all attributes, one in essence, yet eternally existing in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) each equally deserving of devotion and worship. (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 20:28; Acts 5:3-4; Romans 11:36; Colossians 2:9).

My Take:  First, note the painting here, which is from Peru and dates to around 1750.  I am fascinated by the idea that until personal ownership of Bibles (plus the ability to read) became common well into the nineteenth century that key Biblical concepts were conveyed by art.  This image is unsettling yet is a sweet attempt to convey the triune (three in one) nature of God.   I love the fact that in art we are not necessarily told what we must think…rather it spurs us to contemplate that which is beyond our plane of understanding: that if Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are one, that they must also have been one within Jesus.  Because we can so easily identify with His humanity, it’s tempting to see Jesus as a seperate entity when He is much more.  This wrestling on just how God and Spirit and Flesh intermingle is the crux of the distinction between gnosticism and what became mainstream Christianity.  The Gnostics looked at Jesus and saw first God and Spirit; the winners of the third century war regarding the nature of Jesus won out on the idea that he was mostly human.  Of course neither side adequately grasped the mystery…primarily because they refused—especially the mainstreamers—to embrace the triune nature of God as mystery.  They sought to understand God with their minds through reason, when God is best understood through the heart in love.  Boy, did I jump ahead!   So here’s some key points on my view of the nature of God, and I’m basically going to go phrase by phrase on the statement from the church:

You know that every point here could be a book and probably is, right?

1. “one true and living God”   I first typed out here a somewhat lengthy theological discussion of the plural names of God used in the Bible and the whole jealous God thing…like, how can the jealousy mentioned in the ten commandments happen if there really aren’t any other gods?  Wouldn’t it be better to say, “Yo, I’m not jealous, but it ticks me off when you think other gods are real, cause they ain’t.”  (That’s my gangsta rap version of God, which is just as valid as the other cultures we create his identity within—wink.)   So, I erased all my scripture references to say this, which I do think is from the heart of God:  What’s the largest living organism on earth?   Birch trees.  I’ve been on a narrow gauge train ride at the Colorado border and seen the white bark of Birch trees for as far as the eye could see.  Guess what…they are not individual things; they are all connected at the root and are one being.  I think when we consider God as living and as one that we should remember the birch trees.

2. “perfect in all attributes”   Perfect? Seriously?  God admits to jealousy in the ten commandments and is allegedly ordering the violent killing of the babies of Samarian sinners (Hosea 13:16), and commanding Israelites to rape virgin girls and enslave them (Joshua 21).   Sorry, no one is supposed to tell you about those verses…don’t think about them long or your head will explode.  There’s no way in hell God had anything to do with that ugliness…even in the Bible stories themselves God is often co-opted by evil men as a justification for doing horrid things.  The Holy Spirit is seen in the movie “The Ten Commandments” racing through Egyptian villages and killing innocent first born folks; as a first born child I have a problem with that.  …and what of Jesus?  was He perfect?  did he ever have zits? was he really secure about his penis size?  We know that he ran off from his parents and disappeared for a few days.  As a parent I’ll tell you that is not an attribute of perfection, and somebody needed his holy butt popped.  Respectfully, God, as portrayed in the Bible, is not perfect.   God as love is perfect.

3. “one in essence”   Birch trees.  That’s all you need to know.

4. “yet eternally existing in three persons”   I still think they lose some folks with the one god in three persons thing.  The problem is the term “persons.”  That dog/god won’t hunt.  As soon as you try to make God be three people there’s just no way to make it work.  The triune nature of God can’t be defined…at least not adequately…in terms within our understanding.  By the way, the “eternally existing” thing implies that God has been looking at his Holy Calendar watching the days go by and wistfully missing the dinosaurs—at least when they were babies and still cute.  God is beyond eternal; God exists outside the dimension of time.  We’ll likely come back to that.

5. “(Father, Son and Holy Spirit”)   This is as good a place to stick this as any:  God, as exhibited in any of the three forms, moves fluidly within being male, female, in between and beyond.  (Don’t throw rocks at your computer screen….you’ll hurt yourself more than me.)  You likely get that when it says in Genesis: “and God (plural here) made man in his own image, male and female he made them” this indicates God’s image includes male and female.  The Holy Spirit is often referred to in the feminine, yet has very masculine attributes at times as well.  Jesus was certainly identified as male at birth, and frankly had to be male in that culture to heard, however if you read the Gospels looking for things Jesus did that were nurturing, empathic, sensitive, maternal…it’s a fascinating study.  You gotta love the imagery of Matthew 23:37 where Jesus speaks of wishing he could gather the people of Jerusalem to himself, just “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”  Read The Shack.

6. “each equally deserving of devotion and worship”  I’m likely going amend this later, however for now I’m really numb on the devotion and worship thing.   Is God really an insecure narcissist who needs or desires our praise?  I really don’t think so.  I believe the Bible and traditional Christianity  goes way too far in personifying God.  If God is truly omnipotent, and if he totally has his act together, he is really beyond the praise and worship thing.   So why does the Bible and the church talk about worship so much?  I suspect it’s US that needs to worship God, not God who needs to be worshipped.  Indeed we are the narcissists, and we’re not going to get past our whiny egos until we see who we are in perspective of the bigger reality, which is:   dude/sis…you’re a birch tree.

(I saw God smile with that last line.)

My Belief in Motion on the Nature of God:   God is a mystery, and we can best grasp God’s nature as we consider love and our interconnectedness.

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