I am not a theist. That is, I was raised in a non-religious home and have never been able to get my mind around the belief in a supernatural deity. When I left home for college, I began a spiritual journey, searching for a way to understand the world, people, suffering, meaning, all the things that usually are met by a belief in God. I am, at 49, no closer to believing in a supernatural figure, but I have developed a spiritual or existential set of beliefs and ways of seeing the world.
There is a lot of God around our world these days. It seems as if wherever I turn, someone is claiming to know the will of God and to be fiercely protecting God’s interests. Whether it is televangelists telling us that God is going to punish Dover, PA for teaching evolution in science classes, radical Muslim clerics whipping their followers into violent protest over satiric religious cartoons, or Arabs and Jews making competing religious claims on disputed lands, there’s a lot of talk of the will of God these days.
I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone which of these Gods is the one true God or which set of beliefs or rituals is the royal road to Heaven or Hell. My very non-theism would disqualify me in the eyes of many theists from just talking about the subject. I’m not even that comfortable using the word “God”, out of concern that someone will think I mean something I don’t. But since that is the word that most people use to mean “Higher Power” and since “Higher Power” lacks the elegant brevity of “God”, then just this once, I am going to try out believing in a God. And since everybody seems to have their own take on who or what God is, I’m going to try my hand at it.
The God I believe in is not a noun, but a verb, to paraphrase Rabbi David Cooper, a becoming, a transforming, a living force that helps me to see the possibilities for love in the world.
The God I believe in loves the Bible, the Koran, the Gospels, the Tao Te Ching, all the traditions, but doesn’t have a preference for certain prayers or religious stories over others. The God I believe in doesn’t have a name, isn’t a He, a She, or an It. My God knows that names, images, and stories are all tied to particular histories, time periods, languages, and cultures, and My God doesn’t play favorites. The God I believe in courses through all epochs, languages, and peoples.
The God I believe in wants me to see beyond all these elements that separate us from one another, our colors, ethnicities, genders, nationalities, and beliefs. My God knows that under all these different masks lie hearts aching to love.
The God I believe in knows that the sacred institution of marriage has undergone many forms and has been used by humans for many, many different purposes in our short history on earth. My God knows that marriage can be a joy, sometimes an agony, but often a comfort and lucky blessing, and My God hopes that anyone who wants to try their hand at this high-stakes challenge gets a chance. The God I believe in knows that my gay brothers and sisters have as good a chance as any of us at making a go of it.
The God I believe in knows that reason and science are gifts that help us discern how much of our world works, and how to balance competing claims and make informed decisions. My God can read the social science research. My God knows that research has shown us that raising kids is hard work, but that gays and lesbians are just as likely to get it right as straights. My God knows that I pray that I have parented as well as some of my gay and lesbian fellow parents.
The God I believe in has a sense of humor and is always ready to make fun of me when I think I know more than I do about someone else’s beliefs and customs. Sometimes, when I can’t hear God myself, my God speaks through my wife and reminds me of my arrogance and limitations, thank God. My God has a sense of irony, paradox, and wit, and just when I think I am praised and full of grace, My God slides that banana peel under my foot. Thanks a bunch, God!
The God I believe in isn’t big on real estate. My God doesn’t want me fighting someone else over land and doesn’t care too much about whether I get to magical places after I die. The God I believe in wants me to share this earth in this life with my fellow creatures without making too big a mess out of it. My God figures that’s challenge enough.
The God I believe in doesn’t go in for magic or miracles, though My God does get a kick out of it when that guy does the levitation trick on TV. The God I believe in thinks it’s miraculous enough when mortal enemies put down their weapons and forgive one another for horrible things. My God wept in Egypt, Babylon, Gethsemane, Belfast, Auschwitz, My Lai, Hiroshima, Rwanda, and Darfur.
So, that’s My God, the best that this secular humanist can come up with after 49 years in the wilderness (well, not really the actual wilderness, but definitely the spiritual one.). It may not be your God or your neighbor’s, but I sincerely hope that we can all figure out enough areas of overlap between our Gods, so we can make this suffering, broken little world into a Paradise that even a Messiah could be proud of.
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