YOUR GOD IS DEAD!
That's what the bumpersticker declared on the back of the 1970's VW van covered with colorful paint. I'm not sure which was holding the hippie van together, the duck tape or the bumper stickers. Maybe they both were.
But I got to thinking. Our ideas about God are sometimes just as old and held together just as tenuously.
God, as I was raised, brainwashed or conditioned to think of him (I prefer "her" just to remind me to stop thinking of him as a him when he is actually neither him nor her)...it is this God who may be dead. It is this God who may not have ever really existed.
You'll have to decide that for yourself, however. I can only tell you where I am today and where I am today is miles from where I was even ten years ago.
If it isn't too threatening to you, I'd like to get you to thinking, too.
God is dead.
The one I was taught to believe in, that is.
He's died slowly, however, and over a long period of time. Oh occasionally, I still try to keep him alive on a kind of religious life support, comprised mostly of little "beliefs" I self-inject into my soul to comfort the pain of letting him die, much like a nurse might administer morphine to a patient in pain.
Here's the God I was taught to believe in...
Some of you'll recognize this description of him.
Just don't confuse the description with the deity herself, which may be our biggest error.
This God lives above the sky, somewhere even in the "heavens," wherever that may be. Perhaps somewhere among the stars.
It was much easier to think about this when I was a child. Then, I went to school one day and learned our nearest star is something like eight or nine light years away. That is, the little light I saw at night when I was just eight actually emanated from its source before I was born.
Not a very comforting thought to an eight year old looking for God in the heavens at night.
So, where is this God? And, what does he look like? And, what am I to think about him?
Is he as angry as the preachers I see on television and hear on the radio?
Is he as pissed off as I was when I was a preacher? Angry at sin. Equally angry at sinners. Ready to hurl a lightning bolt or two or a tsunami at any moment against those not like "us," particularly the gays and lesbians and transgenders? Oh, and the Muslims, too?
Know this God?
Ever heard of him?
I'm pretty sure you have.
Is this God Dead?
Is this God dead? Not hardly!
He's very much alive in the thinking...the believing...of religious people today, whether Christian or Muslim or whatever.
He's still alive from time to time in my own thinking. It's true, whoever said it, God loves those I love and, at my worst, he probably hates those I hate, too.
I know better than this, however, in my better moments. I just don't have enough of them.
I was raised to believe in a God who was super-human but human-like, the big super-duper guy in the sky.
Isn't it true that this kind of God comes to your mind even when the name of God is mentioned?
Honestly, for me, I have this image of a aged male in a white robe, long beard sitting in a high-back chair, similar to a throne, and the throne is floating around on a cloud somewhere just above the clouds. Or, maybe on the clouds.
This God is a miracle-worker, just like Cecil B. DeMille depicted in "The Ten Commandments" starring Charlton Heston as Moses. If I watched that movie once as a young adult, I must have watched it a dozen times. More recently, there have been newer, more dramatic depictions of this God that have been captured on the big screen.
"Our God is a powerful God!" I was told. If Moses carried a big stick, you should see the stick God carries!
It is to this kind of God you offer up prayers in hopes you've offered them correctly, in the "right" spirit, with the "right" words, and, of course, with just the right amount of faith to move him to action.
Always on your behalf, too, and why not?
So, I regularly prayed, "Bless us, O Lord," by which I really meant, "Bless Me, O' Lord." If I've prayed that prayer a hundred times, I've prayed it maybe several thousand. After all, I'm deserving of a blessing.
It is this God I was raised to believe in...that many still believe in.
It is this God the atheist reacts against and says "God is Dead" or declares never existed.
And, they're probably right.
But, what Christian has the gumption to admit it?
Just my opinion, of course, you might disagree. But...there's no need to react to any of this. Or, to write me and tell me how wrong I am, how misled I am, and how mistaken I am to mislead others who'll end up in hell with me and because of me.
You really believe in Hell? Don't get me started. Just add me to your prayer list. I could use your prayers. You likely could use the practice. We'll be mutually benefitted.
All kidding aside, I wish only to invite you into thinking about all of this...about the God you were taught to believe in, just as I was.
Just ponder the whole God-thing but give up feeling that God needs you to defend him. I can assure you, if God is the kind of God I was raised to believe he is, there is nobody big enough to threaten him.
It is this big, angry, bully God I no longer believe in, however - the one I used to say in one breath is a God of love but in the next would say is going to judge the world and consign to hell those who are not real believers like us.
So, why are you threatened? Do you not react because there is something in all these questions that rings too painfully true?
Can You Let this God Die?
I know how scary it is to let old ideas of God die. I know how much easier it is to cling to mythical ideas of God, too. I did this for a long time precisely because I had no other way to think about God. And, giving up old ideas about God felt too much like I was giving up God herself. And, that was just too frightening to face.
Do you cling to a God deep down you fear has died because you have no living God with which to replace her? Is this why you keep listening to preachers talk about things you know just aren't so because it at least means you're not alone in a denial of truth?
But then, aren't you getting tired of pretending to believe things you know are simply not true? Isn't that like administering CPR to corpse that's been embalmed already?What if God...the real God...is not this miracle-working, super-duper Guy in the Sky with all the answers printed in a leather-bound King James Version of the Bible?
- What if, instead, God is the spontaneous thought of God that just pops into your head from time to time?
- What if God is the face you see across the counter at Starbucks?
- What if God is the feeling of awe you get when you hear the birds at dawn?
- What if God is the gay, the lesbian, or the transgender person across the hall?
- What if God is the immigrant that would be easer to fence out than cut path to let in?
- What if God is the woman wearing the hijab to work?
- What if God is the smile you see on a stranger's face? Or, the pain you see in a starving face?
I'm just asking. You'll have to work this out on your own, which is what Saint Paul meant when he said, "Work out our own salvation" (Phil. 2:12).
Yep, I'm afraid so. No good thing comes cheap. There's a little effort involved in spiritual enlightenment. The gift of grace may be free. But the package wherein it resides has to be unwrapped.
What if, however...
What if God is bigger, grander than anything you could define, describe, or draw on a piece of paper or print on a page of inspired scripture?
My own experience has been...when you can let go of all your definitions of God, you might just discover...as I did...a discovery worth making...
One that'll leave you wondering why you kept returning to a tomb every year, looking for a body...
When the tomb emptied of all evidence 2,000 years ago.
Except, of course, for a few garments called, "Old ways of thinking..."