does your God need a bigger bowl?

between us cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
Here’s another one of my older devotional cartoons. So I’m going to speak here from a devotional Christian perspective.

There are all kinds of intricate theologies created to explain why we feel distant from God. As a pastor, I’ve observed that this is one of the most prevalent problems Christians face. If they are willing.

Some say God withdraws to discipline us. Or to test us. Or to punish us. Or it’s just a mystery. I want to make a series of suggestions:

  1. I claim our ideas of God are just that… ideas. The word, the idea, is not the thing. It is a sign, a symbol, pointing to that which it points to. What if this idea we have of God, this mental construct, is the highest that our minds can possibly conceive at this particular point in our life? It suffices for our level of maturity. Our minds have formed a container within which to conceive of God.
  2. There comes a point in our life when we realize that this highest concept our minds have conceived of God is deficient. It becomes obvious to us that our highest mental construct of God is bankrupt and even idolatrous. This may come through study or a gradual dawning of realization. But in my experience and observation, it comes through a crisis of some sort, usually physical or intellectual, when it becomes clear that our God is too small and even embarrassing.
  3. We then experience alienation from God because our mind has lost its concept of God. We may conclude that God has removed himself. Actually, our mind has concluded that its image of God is false and suddenly God disappears from our experience. God has removed himself because God is above and beyond what our minds can imagine. But really our mind realizes that it has always been remote from God because it could never imagine him rightly. It’s a mutual separation: we distance ourselves from our idolatrous mental image of God and our God distances himself from it as well. This creates a vacuum that creates a crisis. Enter a time of severe confusion, darkness, and even terror!
  4. This is when we have a choice: we either shrink back into a familiar and comfortable previous perception of God, or we push forward into our next level of conception. Our mind at this point formulates new and larger concepts for the suddenly larger God. Like moving a goldfish from a smaller bowl that it has outgrown into a bigger one, we allow our minds to provide a larger space for our God to fit in.
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 above.
Now, there is a way to avoid this game altogether. But that’s for another post.
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About David Hayward

David Hayward runs the blog nakedpastor as a graffiti artist on the walls of religion where he critiques religion… specifically Christianity and the church. He also runs the online community The Lasting Supper where people can help themselves discover, explore and live in spiritual freedom.

  • Adam

    I like the way you have expressed this David – a lot of truth in it. I like the irony in the cartoon where the figure talks of something being beteeen them and God and metrialsism and other thigns being in the gap between them and God.

    It sounds similar to Fowlers different stages of faith in a sense, with what you talk of with “there comes a point in our life when we realize that this highest concept our minds have conceived of God is deficient [and] it comes through a crisis of some sort, usually physical or intellectual, when it becomes clear that our God is too small and even embarrassing”.

    Fowler describes transition from stage 3 as “critical reflection on how one’s beliefs and values have formed and changed, and on how “relative” they are to one’s particular group or background”. And in stage 4 the individual must “take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes [and] face certain unavoidable tensions”. Someone in stage 4 “finds him- or herself attending to what may feel like anarchic and disturbing inner voices”.

    Fowler describes stage 5 as being rare before mid – life and being “Ready for closeness to that which is different and threatening to self and outlook (including new depths of experience in spirituality and religious revelation), this stage’s commitment to justice is freed from the confines of tribe, class, religious community or nation”.

    This links in nicely with other discussions we have had hear about duality versus the contemplative mind and inculsivenes.. The wise person knows that times of difficulty can also be times for learnign and growth.

    The difficult thing about trials is that the test comes first and the lesson afterwards.