The past few posts have comprised a series of reflections on Divinity and the possible meanings of God. My approach has assumed that there is a God, but my thinking is such that the God I tend to affirm is not the God common in today’s popular culture.
I contrast my thinking about God with the distorted image of the Divine that I call “Santa God”. I use the term “Santa God” to speak about immature notions of the Divine in which the super-sweet, super friendly God spends all his time watching us humans, looking to reward good boys and girls, while punishing the bad boys and girls.
Many people worship Santa God, that is, until Santa God fails them a few times too many. And Santa God will fail them, as all idols are bound to do.
Santa God can’t save their sick child, or won’t help them obtain a desired job, or doesn’t intervene to save a troubled love relationship, or seems to refuse to heal an ailing relative – you get the idea. Further, Santa God ends up looking like a complete contradiction when one ponders things like earthquakes that kill thousands of people while they sleep.
So, what kind of God do I affirm?
I affirm a God of mystery, a God that I find in the patterns of goodness and order in the universe and nature. I affirm a God that is relational, but perhaps not a person, or who is beyond personhood; more like a force or power or collection of such. I affirm a God who is infused throughout being and can be seen through the cycles of nature – birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth. Above all, I affirm a God who is the fulfillment and apex of goodness, life, love, and beauty.
Is that vague enough for you?
My God is intentionally vague because I find the succinct, clear, wholly knowable Santa God to be a false God. And I read the scriptures maturely, understanding that I am engaging sometimes Iron Age texts that employed allegory, myth, symbolism, and forms of narrative and history that we don’t use today. And I further understand theology to be a speculative art, not a science. And finally, because I believe humility is an essential epistemology virtue for theology.
I pray daily and engage in liturgy almost weekly. I pray for the healing of loved ones, for peace, for insight, for the safety of family, for strength, and so on.
I believe prayer is a worthwhile endeavor that changes us and opens us to new possibilities.
Prayer is an expression of the heart and a channeling human intention. Prayer provides inspiration and orientation for the human spirit, focusing our highest hopes and desires and sanctifying them.
Prayer is not the manipulation of the Divine or a plea to Santa-God, who rewards his good children with gifts. Prayer is not magic. Honesty and realism urge practical and natural solutions to life’s problems without reliance on miraculous solutions (if miracles, commonly understood, exist at all).
Prayer’s power can orient the human soul and harness the energy of thought; it is not radical reality twisting, the world is not easily subjugated to our will.
Prayer is personal and therefore not predictable or formulaic. Prayer’s effectiveness can only be fully evaluated by the individual(s) involved and no one else. Personal experience is irreducibly individual, and in consequence, its record is inescapably anecdotal.
As Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Prayer may not bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city. But prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”
I affirm the God who waters arid souls, mends broken hearts, and strengthens our will. And the God I meet in such prayer is one that I will continue to wrestle with, and change my mind about, and turn to as my days pass.