The concept of God is intrinsic to many religions and represents at the least, the attempt to discern and describe a sense of the ultimate order that pervades the universe and human experience. The whole purpose of such religion, its liturgies, rituals, and institutions is to highlight, preserve, and convey this sense of cosmos and to recapture it in the face of the chaos that hovers perpetually around the fringes of our lives.
The opening chapters of Genesis and that of other creation myths say little or nothing directly of the nature of God. Instead, these myths portray God as the one who brings order out of chaos, offering to us a God found in the patterns of the world and human life. Most creation myths – the Jewish one included – do not begin with nothing. Rather, they speak of unordered, shapeless, primal being. God interacts with this anarchic nature and calls forth order, shaping the raw material of the universe into recognizable structures and patterns.
What are these God-patterns? For some, they constitute the core metaphorical vision of God – a sense of the integrity of all things, the interconnectedness of being. According to this line of thinking, there is an unseen order that manifests itself in human life and nature.
Some perceive patterns in nature and the moral order and calls these patterns God, or at least attribute the patterns to some sort of Divine agent. Asserting such a being amounts to a declaration of the unity of the universe – the oneness and interconnectedness of reality.
Do we discover God or do we invent God? Both. We discover he patterns of order and meaning, and name them. We have no direct knowledge of God. But we also have no direct experience of subatomic particles. Physicists discover such things by analyzing the patterns of energy and matter. So too, with God.
Humans have observed the moral order in human life and the creative order of nature. Being human, we will always conceive of God incompletely and in crude ways, much as we conceive electrons. Our ancestors no more invented God than the physicist the atom. They found God in the patterns of their lives, in nature and in history. These experiences were conveyed as pieces of sacred wisdom and truth in their myths – what we today call our scriptures.
To assert some notion of God is to assert some sense of an archetypal meaning to God – representing our need to comprehend the universe, to give a meaning to our lives, to see it all as having some purpose and direction. In this sense, God becomes the parameters for the mystery of existence.Regardless of what God is in itself, we can assert some meaningful sense of God as orientation, as the unifying focus of our values and commitments. God is the concept of unity among the diversity of being – the great oneness that speaks of the truth of the interconnectedness of everything. Such notions underlie most mystical experience.
When we contemplate our highest aspirations – loving families, faithful marriages, honest livelihoods, safe communities, and care for the needy – we begin to understand that these goals require lifelong commitments that in reflection cannot be satisfactorily explained in terms of our taking these upon ourselves. There is a sense that these are ultimate concerns – concerns that seem rightly grounded in a reality transcendent to humanity.
As I’ve said in previous posts, from a personalist perspective, transcendent experiences address us as persons, asking us to freely dispose of ourselves in accord with the values revealed and understood.
Humans experience their lives as containing inherent meaning, purpose, and direction. We are capable of experiencing being commanded by something beyond ourselves, something that both speaks to our nature and is yet embedded there. In moments of quiet honesty, we find ourselves with a given orientation – and that orientation offers itself up as an approach to God.
God serves, therefore, as the focal point of our prayers, of our desires, of our better thinking – the context for human history, the goal of our religious efforts, and the ground of our spirituality.
Such an orientation offers the outline of a path away from the unfortunate effects of secularization – the tendencies toward nihilism and dehumanization – and provides an Archimedean point from which culture can be judged and renewed.
In sum, this decision-orientation overlaps with what the great religious traditions call God. Such analysis reveals the Divine to be the symbol-metaphor for ultimate values and meaning in all their dimensions. It connotes an absolute claim on our loyalty. It bespeaks a sense of trust and a claim on how we order our priorities and commitments. It points us in the direction of our lasting fulfillment.