It is difficult for me to explain what I mean when I say the word God. It started in my teens, when I began to study the world’s religions, and I continue to stumble over my words when I share my thoughts about the Divine with my children. I envy those who can articulate, with unabashed confidence, their ideas on God, yet I have always suspected that God was something much bigger than our language could even fully grasp.
You can imagine my relief to learn that having a clear and sure understanding of God was never the goal of religion. In fact, religious teachings were meant to deconstruct our comfortable notions of the Divine and remind us that there is no surety and no easy answers. In her book, The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts, Karen Armstrong explains the various ways that religions have pointed to the indescribable and elusive nature of God.
God in Hinduism, as Armstrong explains, is understood as something that “could never be defined or described because it was all-encompassing: human beings could not get outside it and see it whole. But it could be experienced intuitively.” This is why we find so many deities in Hinduism that help adherents break down the omnipresence of God into smaller, more comprehensible aspects.
In Confucianism and Daoism God is understood as “an omnipresent cosmic potency.” God is not personified in these religions, rather, the mystery of God is embraced as a given. This is clear in the opening line of the Daoist Sacred text, the Dao De Ching, that begins with, “the Dao that can be known is not the eternal Dao.”
Even in In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, where God is personified as a straight-forward, male deity, Armstrong points out how baffling and inconsistent this western monotheistic God can be. She claims that “the whole of the book of Genesis could be read as a systematic deconstruction of the conventional, reassuring depiction of the creator in Chapter one.” In this Biblical text, God goes from a loving creator God walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to a wrathful God who kicks his creation out of paradise, arbitrarily rejects Cain but not Abel, floods his whole creation in disgust and then pretty much vanishes from daily life forever.
As we can see, religions have always striven to illuminate the limitations of language when describing the Divine. Armstrong goes further to claim that ultimatly,
scripture could tell us nothing about God–indeed, its task was to make us realize that God was unknowable.
After reading, The Lost Art of Scripture, I feel more confident in my inability to articulate my thoughts on God because God was never meant to be completely understood. When we create these neat and tidy doctrines about who and what God is, we make God too small. God should not fit nicely into a box.
Here’s my working definition of God today:
That which is unnamable and unknowable, dynamic, endlessly evolving, and inherent in all things that exist.
Featured Image by Rudd Luitjen