God is a What?! Part One

Stephen Marsh apologetics, church, doubt, eschatoloty, faith, God, testimony, theology 33 Comments

  • God is the God of Sparrows
  • God is as seen through glass, darkly, the God of Mists
  • God is a light in darkness, the God of Light
  • God is at a distance
  • God is plausible deniablility
  • God is a God of almost miracles
  • God is a God of Miracles
  • God is tamed and trained Lion

Which of these is God to you?

I’ve a friend who died and came back from the light. He believes in a God who marks the sparrows fall. To him, the only miracle God works is that God knows, loves and cares, God suffers with us. But in his view, God does nothing else in the world. When I read his editorial in the paper on that, I realized that he believes that God is the God of Sparrows.

One step past that is the God of many, a God who gives vague guidance to man, who we can see through a glass, darkly. The God of obscurement, who I have named the God of Mists. Something beyond the agnostic’s question, but a great mystery.

In counterpoint, there are those who feel that God is a light in darkness. To them, God’s only miracle is knowledge and inspiration to those who will look, listen and feel. I refer to this vision of God as the God of Light.

There are others who believe that God works tangible miracles, but only at a distance, for others, long ago and far away. God saved Israel from the Pharaoh, but of course did not save the Jews from Hitler (though, if you think about it, Israel spent four hundred years in bondage, the Jews did not suffer the Nazis quite that long). That is the Distant God.

The Distant God contrasts with the God who only works miracles that are indistinguishable from random chance or unknown physical laws. They believe that the miracle of loaves and fishes was really that Jesus prompted people to share what they had, and that turned out to be more than enough. When God heals, it is only people who would or could have healed naturally. In this view God is the God of Miraculous Coincidences and luck.

Then there are those who believe in weak miracles. The God of almost miracles (I put that in lower case intentionally). My favorite example is of a man dying of cholera who as asked if he had faith to be saved. He responded that if only they had come an hour before, a miracle would have saved him.

Then there is the God of Miracles, the God of my experience. One who loves like the God of Sparrows. One who sometimes leaves me confused like the God of Mists, and other times has been brilliantly clear, like the God of Light. But one, who has from time to time, worked real, tangible miracles.

What God has not been for me is the trained and tamed lion (intentional C. S. Lewis reference) who performs miracles on demand, by rote.

Which is some ways raises more questions than answers. It also leads to my next post “God is a What?! Part Two.”


This understanding of God is why I don’t see a difference between God not revealing the policy shifts we want, when we want them with other circumstances where God does not miraculously intervene.  A policy shift revelation is easily within the grasp of even the God of almost or minor miracles, as are the solutions to many problems.

Comments

comments

Comments 33

  1. Well, your view of God is one I share. The idea that we can command policy changes also assumes that ideally the church should be perfect and whole all the time regardless of worldly circumstances. I don’t know whether I believe that or not. Something to think about.

  2. God is my father.

    He gives me great advice, talks with me whenever I am willing to contact him, encourages me and calms me when I am flummoxed, calls me occasionally when I simply am too distracted to call him, loves me even when I bring dishonor to the name he gave me, talks with me differently than he talks with my other brothers and sister, wants my happiness as much as anything else, is willing to let me fall and fail and learn from the experience, etc.

    My entire life perspective is wrapped up in the statement, “I am a child of God.”

  3. God is is Love, Art and Beauty. God is Passion, Faith and Compassion. God is our human gender natures now divided consumated and united in perfection. God appears as irrationality, but is the ideal inviting us to marvel, to worship, to find strength in our weakness, to admit our limitation to perfect our own lives by our own measurements and efforts, to draw unto living in authenticity and community with our fellow humankind. God is mighty, and mighty to save each individual who would have Him their LORD. God is Father architect, reaches us in Christ and transforms us in Spirit. His Kingdom is a kingdom to be pursued and found now. His pursuit to redeem His creation, to restore our ideal — a New Humanity, New Earth and New Jerusalem — seems as unattainable and irrational a material and spiritual reality, perhaps as irrational as His ideal nature. Yet that is the beauty and mystery inviting me outside and inside, within and beyond my own self, to embrace my humanity yet aspire to all He would have me become.

  4. I’d have to pick from your list:

    God is the God of Sparrow
    God is a light in darkness, the God of Light
    God is a God of Miracles

    I’ve also pondered the meaning of the word “expedient” lately. So many things in life are not for certain, and it’s sometimes impossible to predict outcomes. And so it may be difficult for someone to fully accept God because of all of the unknowables. People pray for guidance, answers, comfort, and it still doesn’t go their way, or rather the way they expected.

    And so I would say that, for me, knowing God is literally my Father in Heaven forms the foundation of everything else. To me, this knowledge means He notices even a Sparrow; as I am surrounded by cynicism and sophistry this truth serves as Light; and I do not need to see miraculous events that defy our understanding of the physical world…the simple fact that I can actually be forgiven for my sins, made white as snow, and return to live with Him is for me Miracle enough.

  5. #4 – The poet has spoken. Thanks, JfQ; that describes my feelings well.

    #5 – That also describes my feelings.

    One more thing:

    God is as much as his individual children need at any given time. I am fascinated by that.

  6. God is the ideal we create to counter an imperfect world. God is the concept that comforts us in a harsh and un-just existance.

    God does not find our lost keys or cure the child of cancer.

    Finally I cannot fathom a god that cares what I think or believe as long as I am kind to others.

  7. “The Distant God contrasts with the God who only works miracles that are indistinguishable from random chance or unknown physical laws. They believe that the miracle of loaves and fishes was really that Jesus prompted people to share what they had, and that turned out to be more than enough. When God heals, it is only people who would or could have healed naturally. In this view God is the God of Miraculous Coincidences and luck.”

    Umm, in this view, if Jesus is God, then He is not distant, right? He’s sharing life with human beings in the most direct way.

  8. #7 – God sometimes does heal the child of cancer (or other issues that normally kill). I have no understanding of why some are cured and others aren’t – none whatsoever. It baffles and puzzles me. I know it happens, however, so I am left to wonder.

    My second son is alive today through a very miraculous healing. The doctors who operated on him said it was the worst case they had ever seen where someone lived and worse than many who die (that they couldn’t understand why he survived) – and he recovered in less time than many with far less serious cases. Here is the kicker:

    When he was blessed as a baby, he was told that no physical difficulty he would experience in his life would have the power to keep him from accomplishing what the Lord had in store for him. There was NO indication that he would have any physical problems; he was a healthy baby, with no complications that would lead me to feel like he needed those words in his blessing. NOTHING “warranted” that part of his blessing, but that’s what he was told.

    This is our child with severe allergies; this is our child whose appendix ruptured in 5th Grade, after leaking for almost a week first; this is our child who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in 8th Grade. None of our other 5 kids have had ANY serious medical or health issue; he gets them all. None of our other children were blessed with anything related to physical difficulties; he was.

    Again, I have no idea why this is, but God really does heal people who could not be healed otherwise. That is incredibly painful for those whose loved ones, especially children, are taken and not healed, but it does happen. As I said, if baffles and puzzles me, but I have seen it firsthand.

  9. #9 – Sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes we don’t. I have found it easier to believe in a god that does not pick and choose which children suffer and which ones don’t.

    I do have a child that is profoundly disabled. She suffers every day of her life. There is, apparently, some purpose in this. Try as I may I cannot explain to her so that she understands.

    Better no god than one that punishes her but refuses to tell her why. Is that a parenting model you would follow?

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    Again, I have no idea why this is, but God really does heal people who could not be healed otherwise. That is incredibly painful for those whose loved ones, especially children, are taken and not healed, but it does happen. As I said, if baffles and puzzles me, but I have seen it firsthand.

    The same here. In many ways it is easier to accept a God that does not work miracles than one who works miracles in a way that is beyond my understanding. From personal experience I’m stuck with a God of Miracles, which influences me.

    Imperfection I’ve written on affliction here, I would not necessarily agree that pain or suffering is punishment.

    But it is pain and suffering.

    I’d also agree that not telling one why now, is not telling us now.

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  12. An ideal question to ask at this point (and may be addressed in part two) is which God do you hear: 1) coming from the pulpit in General Conference, 2) coming from the pulpit in a typical sacrament meeting, 3) presented in a typical primary class, 4) spoken of by active Latter-Day Saints when they’re not at church, 5) when you read the scriptures (and is it different depending on which scriptures you read), and 6)in your own heart and ponderings.

  13. Larryco – IME, the God I experience in those places is filtered by those speaking. As Ray said (and I agree) in #2, God to me is primarily a father. But when my sibs speak of my parents it is thru the lens of their experience, not always mine. Sometimes we see it the same way, and sometimes we don’t.

  14. God sits atop a topless throne, He is big enough to fill the universe and yet small enough to dwell in our hearts!

    Oh, wait.

    ~

  15. Imperfection,
    No less a luminary than C.S. Lewis himself once felt exactly what you express. I think their is a lot of wisdom in where he went with this question. He wrote

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too — for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

  16. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense.

    So far, so good…

    Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

    Nonsense!! Lewis claims that if there was no god, we’d have no concept of such a being, and “god” would be meaningless word, “therefore,” and we’d be unable to deny the existence of “god,” because we’d have never heard of “god.” That’s supposed to be some sort of proof of god??

    I could well say the same about Santa Clause. Gosh, if there was no “Santa Clause,” then we’d never have heard of him, so we wouldn’t be able to deny “Santa Clause.” So, since it’s possible to deny that Santa Clause exists, Santa Clause lives!

  17. To be clear, I am not making an argument for atheism. I would, however, make an argument against the version of god that arises from our human ignorance. Some causes are unknown. If we acknowledge god when a child gets better, then we are also obliged to acknowledge god when the child dies. It is comforting to believe god’s hand is behind the child getting better but not behind the child’s suffering. Yet, if god is all powerful then his hand is behind both.

    I prefer to ascribe neither to god. Then, god is not the bad guy.

    What I can control to some extent is this life. I can try to make my child’s life as comfortable and as meaningful as possible. I won’t try to explain causes and motives that are out of my control. Such speculation in ignorance will almost certainly lead to fantasy.

  18. “If we acknowledge god when a child gets better, then we are also obliged to acknowledge god when the child dies.”

    Only if we assume God saved all who live and did not save all who die. As I said, it baffles me – specifically because it’s not so black and white.

    This is not because it was my child who lived. My aunt choked at the dinner table – in front of four of her kids – while two others were serving missions – while my uncle was a very faithful bishop. While one of the kids called 911, he tried to bless her to live until she could receive proper medical care. He opened his mouth and nothing came out. He broke contact, tried again, and nothing happened. He relaxed, cleared his mind and blessed her to die quickly and peacefully. She was dead before the paramedics arrived.

    On the other hand, my wife’s aunt had 7 children at home when she was struck by a drunk driver and killed as she was turning into her driveway. Her death caused ripple effects among her kids. Some people said, “It was her time; God must have called her home.” I can’t buy that, since I can’t believe God caused someone to get drunk so she could die that day and leave behind children whose lives were impacted so negatively.

    So, I am left baffled and puzzled. He saves some; he binds the mouths of some as others die; he sits back while drunks kills others. It would be very easy to eliminate him completely from the picture and chalk it ALL up to nothing more than chance – but I can’t eliminate what I have come to understand through the blessings in which I have participated. I know he saves some, so I am left to wonder why.

    I don’t see the big, full picture, and, ironically, it is the small glimpses I do get here and there that keep me from abandoning the idea that there is one – even when I have no real clue what those glimpses mean.

    Even though they leave me baffled, I am grateful for them.

  19. Nick,
    But Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, he exists in the ….
    Never mind, bad joke.
    His argument moves beyond the existence of God to the existence of Morality, which in his estimation, (and mine), implies the existence of God, in fact is the entire point of God. I mean you could argue if God is really just, but I guess that all depends on where we are getting our sense of justice from.

    Imperfect,
    I would argue that to lock yourself away from the mystery of God, and refuse to exercise faith also leads to fantasy, the fantasy that you are any less deceived. At the same time, there is certainly much power in moving beyond the Why questions that waste our energy and asking what we can do to improve the lives of others. I can agree with you there.

  20. …the existence of Morality, which in his estimation, (and mine), implies the existence of God

    So tell us WHY the existence of morality (it’s not a proper noun, thus it should not be capitalized) supposedly “implies the existence” of a deity. There is simply no logical connection between those two assertions. It may be true that some individuals define their concept of morality on the basis of what they believe their personal deity has declared. It may be true that even more individuals, particularly religious leaders, define what they believe their deity has declared by their personal concept of morality. Neither of these ideas, however, relies upon the other. Morality does not require the existence of a deity, nor does a deity require the existence of morality.

  21. Nick is right from a strict linguistic standpoint. “Morality” is very different than “righteousness”, and “immorality” is very different than “sin”. The former simply are the standards a society believes are proper and can change among cultures and within the same culture over time, with or without any specific belief in God.

    Homosexuality is a great example of this. It used to be seen as one of the most egregious examples of immorality in Western civilizations. Right now, homosexuality is more moral than polygamy – even if we keep each under the Mormon concept of sin.

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    Nick,

    You are doing a good job in understanding why most of philosophy leaves modern readers cold — the logic requires a grammar that isn’t justified, so the conclusions do not follow.

    If we acknowledge god when a child gets better, then we are also obliged to acknowledge god when the child dies.

    Often, often. I think much of it goes to the issue of our perception of affliction.

    I wrote Part Two already of “God is a What?!” and was thinking of a Part Three of the various types of all powerful (from ALL POWERFUL, could remake the universe to achieve any goal, including salvation without pain or risk, yet with the same benefits we have now to “all powerful enough to achieve salvation under the rules” which is a completely different concept. Obviously God is not powerful enough for us to avoid all adversity or adversity is something in a larger perspective that we want regardless of the alternatives. Hmm, I’m thinking more. Not ready to write Part Three yet.

  23. Nick,
    Does morality exist? Why, what evidence do you have? I would have to say that at a minimum, the idea of ethics, justice, and a true right vs. wrong suffers from the same lack of objective evidence a materialist would claim for God? You are right that one does not prove the other, but the fact is neither can be proven, so to use a sense of justice and outrage as a reason for Atheism is a problem.

    Personally, I find evidence, if not empiric proof of both the same way, hence my belief that one belies the other.

  24. Doc, I would say that objective morality does not, in fact, exist. Morality is a cultural construct. Even if a society claims to have a “true revealed faith,” complete with “commandments,” that society still will develop a system of morality that is intended to apply, or carry out, that faith.

    As for using a sense of justice and outrage to support atheism, I didn’t do any such thing, nor would I even describe myself as an atheist.

  25. There are plausible hypotheses that explain human morality based on our evolutionary heritage. Whether proven or not, the existence of morality cannot be used as evidence for a divine being. If it were proved to you (someway) today that there was no god, I would bet you would still love your children and desire for them a functional society where they could live happy lives. In other words, you would still have the same desire you now have to be a good and moral person. (And to be honest, some of the most ‘christlike’ people I know are atheists)

    As for adversity, I am fine if that is god’s plan. Why then do we pretend that if we ask humbly enough He would take it away? The pat answer is to test our faith, but I don’t buy that. The most pure often are those who shoulder the most adversity.

  26. Interestingly,I share these views,and yet choose daily to believe in the existence of a loving God who chooses to share with us all that he has,including suffering.I think,on balance,this is the most constructive way forward through human suffering-the Greek idea that we can ‘suffer into truth’
    There are some experiences for which ethics cannot speak,as deeply as I respect this approach.
    Recently I read of a man whose young partner,with whom he had planned to have children,was dying of a muscle wasting disease .Of course,he had every right to leave her-this was not what he signed up to after all.It seems to me that such a situation can only really be addressed by morality rather than ethics.

  27. Also,Stephen,talking out loud about this stuff with people who can take it may be the difference between madness and sanity for me.
    You’re a mensch.

  28. Interestingly,I share these views,and yet choose daily to believe in the existence of a loving God who chooses to share with us all that he has,including suffering.

    I really like this thought. Mormonism, after all, does teach of a deity who suffers, even beyond the standard christian concept of Jesus suffering in the garden and on the cross. Joseph Smith’s account of Enoch goes so far as to portray deity as profoundly weeping for the misery of mankind, notwithstanding Enoch’s surprise at the possibility of deity experiencing such sorrow. The “three Nephites” are promised in The Book of Mormon that they will not suffer, except for their sorrow over the sins of mankind, implying that they will, in fact, experience suffering in their “translated” state. I tend to doubt that many LDS consider that the joyous exaltation they anticipate will also include profound sorrow and suffering.

  29. Nick, I doubt many consider it actively and often, but I doubt there are more than a handful who wouldn’t agree and accept it if I said it from the pulpit or in the classroom. The orthodox Christian response, otoh, would be to call that blasphemy.

    That’s one of the things I love about Mormonism, ironically – that our eternal theology allows us to live a life that includes the type of suffering we envision.

  30. Nick, I doubt many consider it actively and often, but I doubt there are more than a handful who wouldn’t agree and accept it if I said it from the pulpit or in the classroom.

    Ray, I may have been unclear. I completely agree that the vast majority of LDS would believe what I pointed out, if it was pointed out to them. My only point was that we tend to think of exaltation as some constant state of ecastatic bliss, never considering (or allowing ourselves to consider?) that it might involve equal extremes of pain. Of course, when it comes down to it, Lehi’s words regarding “opposition in all things” should suggest that exaltation without suffering would be exaltation without ecstatic bliss!

  31. My God is an Awesome God (aka: God is a Mule-driver, and I’m the Mule)

    Some of the time I get what He wants me to do and I go along happily enough.

    Most of the time I have no idea what is going on but I figure He knows what He’s doing.

    Occasionally I think God is nuts. Maybe He’s right that doing something nonsensical is actually the best thing- I can usually handle those outbursts of insane divine brilliance, but the really hard ones are when God seems way overconfident in the extent of my abilities.

    I try to be a good mule and what He says anyways- but I admit I sometimes become a little mulish.

    That’s the truly awesome part about my God. Instead of giving up on me, and sending off to be made into glue, like any sensible person would, God insists on cutting Himself a big stick and beating me back into line. Why He puts up with such a stubborn mule as I beats me, but I’ve learned to be grateful for it.

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