What I can believe about God

After I shared yesterday’s post, I got some pretty cool comments. People say, “Don’t read the comments,” and they’re usually right, but in this case, do read the comments. So far, they’ve been pretty awesome.

My friend Chris asked some questions today that I really want to respond to.

David, I’m interested in seeing you write all this out positively. What do you believe about God? Knowing you, as I do, I see that your are wrestling with your old understanding of God. Yet, what can you affirm about God? Also, where do you ground these affirmations?

I don’t know what I believe about God anymore. I don’t know what I can affirm about God. I haven’t thrown off everything, but I haven’t fully re-imagined God yet either. Barely even a little bit. Honestly, it’s all rather exciting, suddenly not having answers. I go to church and chapel and class and I hear scripture and I consciously try to throw off my notion of the God I don’t believe in, and suddenly it’s unfamiliar and fresh and interesting.

Of course I will keep arguing that God is love and God is just and that those words mean for God what they mean, and not their opposites. I will continue to draw from scripture as an authoritative source for truth about God, whoever or whatever God is.


But all that doesn’t really answer Chris’s questions, because, as I said, I don’t really have answers, so I can’t tell you where I’ve landed.

However, I am thankful for Lutheran minister Daniel Skillman and his fabulous Facebook page and a short series of posts he wrote a while ago about what he means when he says “God.”

I had them in the back of my head during my most recent crisis of faith, during which I (honest truth) started doing google searches to find out if there were any Christian denominations that would ordain you if you didn’t believe in God.

But I found hope in Daniel’s posts. “Maybe I can believe in God,” I thought.

Here’s some of what he said:

 

When I talk about God, I’m talking about unconditional love and valuing people just for their being people. You may…

Posted by Daniel Skillman on Thursday, July 23, 2015

 

When I talk about God, I’m talking about that feeling of joy and connection you have when you get together with close…

Posted by Daniel Skillman on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

 

When I talk about God, I’m talking about the breath of life; that mysterious thing that draws matter together and…

Posted by Daniel Skillman on Tuesday, August 4, 2015

 

When I talk about God, I’m talking about the passion you have looking into the face of your spouse, or the wonder you…

Posted by Daniel Skillman on Tuesday, July 28, 2015

 

When I talk about God, I’m talking about a longing for justice, a world put right. A place where people of all cultures…

Posted by Daniel Skillman on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

 

When you put it that way, I guess I do believe in God. At least, I believe in the God Daniel Skillman believes in.

After I searched Daniel’s Facebook posts and read those, I started wondering what else might lay along that stream. I asked Google, “What do you mean when you say ‘God?'” To no one’s surprise, Jesus-is-Savior and The Gospel Coalition were silent on the subject.

I got a few more fascinating responses:

Sometimes I think of God as being like the life energy that is in everything, that joins us all together. God is in everything. God is also in me and in you. I can be in tune with this life energy or out of tune with it. For me as an individual it has a lot to do with being at one with my true self. You know how sometimes you feel at odds with yourself or you know you’re not really being true to yourself? Well, for me, that’s the same as being true to God or it can be. I need to try to live in harmony with God and, if I do, then I’ll live in harmony with my true self and with the world around me.

William Loader, Emeritus professor at Murdoch University in Australia

Some people experience God primarily as a subtle voice or a force reaching out to us. They don’t expect God to act for them physically in this world. Perhaps this is the meaning referred to in Kings 1-19 when the prophet Elijah finds God in the “still, small voice.” Many experience God in prayer, in meditation or in some other form of inner search. Carl Sagan said “By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night.” Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan experienced God as the force for goodness in the world. If you understand God as a call to you, an awareness you have of a connection or as a link to higher consciousness, choose Option 4: I experience God in subtle ways and I know there is more to the world.

Rabbi Larry Seidman, Ph.D, in the Orange County Register

There’s an article by Rev. John. Buehrens at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website that I thought was pretty cool as well. I would’ve quoted it but I couldn’t find a way to get a snippet I liked without quoting the whole thing.

Philip Goldberg wrote another piece I found compelling at the Huffington Post.


These are not my conclusions, and this is not where I have landed, but these ideas have given me space to say, “Yes, I do believe in God,” because I believe in this stuff. I’m still working through whether I can call those things “God,” or even if this is a useful way of talking about God, but these ways of talking about God have been helpful so far.

It’s weird, migrating from a land that is familiar to somewhere unknown, but if Abraham could do it, then it’s time to pack up my tent and strike out to a land I haven’t seen and to which I have yet to be led to by a God about whom I don’t know nearly as much as I thought. (See? That’s what I’m talking about where the Bible is exciting again!)

If I can re-imagine God these ways, if I can let myself believe that when Daniel Skillman talks about the things he talks about, he’s talking about God… then I’ll done with doubt. If I can let myself believe that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about God, then I already do believe in God.

And I always will.

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

6 thoughts on “What I can believe about God

  1. Pingback: The God I Don't Believe In | David M Schell

  2. David,
    God is so much bigger than religion can make him seem – but one thing I do know, by knowing Him – is that He is a personal God. But that I mean that He is not an unknowable force, He’s not nature, He’s not just an abstraction of all that is good and wonderful. Or, He is all those things, but He’s more. If the internet gets up and becomes conscious, it will take on personhood. If all of nature and goodness becomes conscious – or already was conscious – then allow that he/she/it has a name and a mind and a voice.

    And if you want nature for your God, evolution for your God, then be prepared: nature is not always seemingly good or kind. How cruelly nature kills! How merciless evolution is as it selects! Yet, there is a peace there that you are discovering – perhaps the God of nature will help you make peace with “monster God” Yahweh.

    But back to God being a personal God – The only way I know that is by locking myself in my room for hours and days and weeks of hours and days spent calling on His very personal name until for whatever reason He decided to start answering, for which I am incredibly grateful and wouldn’t trade that fellowship for any philosophy.

    There’s a lot of what you’re going through that I don’t know how to weigh in on. But I just don’t want you to give up on God’s “person” because that person, if I might be so cliche’d, really does want personal relationship with you – if you throw off the shackles of religion, do it because you want relationship with Him, whatever horrible or un-horrible person He might end up being in your eyes. If we can accept people for who they are even though they aren’t what we would make them, can we allow that much for God – even to some small extent?

    Heather

    • I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the idea of God as a person or personal somehow – or that I even could. A primary problem I do have with that though is that as soon as I say “person” God’s right back to being an angry man in the sky. Thoughts?

      • Um, ok – help me understand why the moment you consider God as a person that “he’s right back to being an angry man in the sky.” How does one necessarily follow from the other?
        But on the topic of anger – I have noticed lately on the internet among both my progressive and charismatic friends, that anger is the one emotion that everyone seems agreed that God should not be attributed, ever. Like anger is just out and out reprehensibly evil. Only speaking for myself, as I interact with God, I have at rare times tasted emotions from Him on the annoyed/angry spectrum – and I’m ok with that. I definitely wouldn’t describe that as his dominant emotion but then again – I don’t have to disallow him any emotion in the spectrum of emotions in order to be comfortable with who He is. Why must God be lobotomized? Why must we see Him only as like a …tribble….or something? If a spouse in a relationship with another spouse never allowed their spouse to express anger, that would actually be considered an extremely abusive relationship where the spouse not allowed to express anger or frustration was being oppressed by the the other spouse.
        Anyway.

  3. I’ve been reflecting on this idea a lot since reading your post yesterday, trying to pin down what I believe of God, what words I can wrap it in and trying to figure out exactly what I’m trying to wrap. I think there’s part of humanity that drives us to be part of something bigger than ourselves – and for many that need is filled with belief/religion – is that need God? My mind has been caught on the idea of redeeming and redemption for the past few months – I’d say that fits into the definition of God somehow – the force that makes things new and better and whole. But there’s a lot of subjectivity in there and so much that isn’t tangible, but not tangible doesn’t mean not real. And I have to be aware that my understanding of the Divine has changed and probably will change again, and I could look back on this years from now and realize I was completely wrong.

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