Abraham might have recognized God when He came strolling down the road with a couple of angels on His way to blow up Sodom and Gomorrah. But it’s doubtful if he’d know who the guy on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel reaching out to Adam is supposed to be.
Abraham’s God would have looked Middle Eastern. Michelangelo’s is decidedly European. Not surprising. Michelangelo was slapping on that fresco in Italy after all. Only natural that his imagery drew on Roman mythology, which in turn drew on Greek mythology. And the boss of the Greek gods, as we all know, was Zeus.
But Zeus-god, which I’ve written about in a related article, isn’t sufficient to be the Creator of the universe as we now understand it.
And you know what? The Gospel writers didn’t think so either.
They called God Theos.
Theos is not a man – or a woman for that matter – “writ large.”
Theos – the Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as God – is not Zeus. Theos is better understood as Divinity. Theos encompasses “all the things of God.” In other words, God is part of everything in Creation. Theos is that in which we “live and move and have our being.” Theos is immeasurably more than Zeus. – from Zeus-god
In the two thousand years or so that have passed since Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, Christianity has undergone some absurdly extreme variations in understanding. These interpretations have been used to justify the most heinous acts of persecution and exploitation. But they’ve also been used to inspire humanity to engage in the most amazing acts of self-sacrifice and compassion.
They’ve led literalists to try to limit our interpretation of sacred text to nothing more than “history”; and they’ve led atheists to try to dismiss the same texts as nothing more than the fanciful imaginings of a primitive people.
Both miss the point.
Underlying the accumulated layers of translation and interpretation the core perspective of God’s “character” as our faith’s founders perceived it is still there to be read.
To restore the balance in creation, we must redefine our theology, its definition of God and our relationship to God. We have misread our scriptures, Spong claims, and should now begin to search the Bible anew for a different, more appropriate and yet valid definition of God. – John Shearman
I disagree with Spong on one point. We haven’t “misread our scriptures” so much as we’ve settled for what Tom Harpur has called the “lowest common denominator” interpretation. Harpur argues that in the earliest period of the founding of Christianity, the simplistic interpretation of “God” and of faith was all that most people had time to learn. Few people had much leisure to contemplate life, the universe and everything in the way that we, at least in the so-called “developed world”, take for granted today. For this reason, Harpur claims, the Christian founders fell back on traditional understandings of what “God” meant and what was required to be “faithful.” Given the number of pre-Christian rituals incorporated into our tradition, it’s easy to see how he arrives at this conclusion.
I think that Harpur is also settling for a simplistic explanation, but I won’t argue the point. What’s important to us today in respect to what he, Spong, and others have to say about history is to understand that underlying all of it is the core Message of the Christ; and that that message still comes through in the few manuscripts we have that became part of the New Testament.
We may have settled for “Zeus-god” in our translations, but the writers of our Gospels knew the all- encompassing Theos.
No gender. No lightning. No white robe. No white hair.
“God” is ineffable. Indescribable. Beyond our capacity to understand.
And that’s okay.
After all, if “God” isn’t a whole lot smarter than any of us, if “God” isn’t beyond the petty jealousies and impulsive acts of Zeus and his pantheon, we’re all in a lot of trouble.
But Theos is indeed beyond those things. Theos’ ways are not our ways. Theos’ thoughts are not our thoughts.
Theos, who is in all, who is all, and who is beyond all, is beyond comprehension.
Atheists claim that a God like that, a God who can’t be measured and quantified, is unscientific.
They’re right. Thank God.
Literalists claim that a God like that is so remote as to be irrelevant. They’re wrong.
That’s why we have the Christ.
The writers of the Gospels understood that to grow into the Message of the Christ we need to let go of the limited ways in which we envision “God.”
Two thousand years later we’re still struggling with that.
Because there is comfort in a “personal” God. There’s comfort in imagining God’s “arms” around us, or God’s “voice” whispering reassuringly in our ear.
That can make it a difficult image to relinquish.
But how much more personal is the understanding of a God who is inextricably interconnected to us? A God who connects us to everything else? A God who is part of the very fabric of our being and of the fabric of every atom of Creation around us, no matter whether that’s within us here or at the very farthest reaches of the universe?
That God is not only infinitely more capable of supporting us, but infinitely more capable of motivating us to live our faith in the world every day.
That “God” – Theos – is worth more than all the white hair and thunderbolts in Creation.