"God as I understand him"

by Ruth Rosen

I've been listening to the radio far more often since receiving my recent birthday present to myself: a compact table-top radio/cd/alarm clock. And so it was that I heard a personal essay deemed important enough, or deep enough or who-knows-what-enough to be read aloud on National Public radio.

"I do not want to be a God-fearing man," the slightly southern sounding drawl intoned. The man went on tell how the religious institution in which he'd been raised was ruled by fear. He used words like "sledgehammer" and "intimidation" to describe his experience. He recalled how he'd been "disfellowshipped" as a teen, after having premarital sex with his girlfriend. He'd been offered the following choice: announce to the congregation that the behavior was a sin, repent and be forgiven, or leave the church. He made his choice, and has since gone on to discover "God as I understand him."

As this man explained (I am paraphrasing but this is pretty close) "I talk to God as I understand him every day, and though he does not answer, I know that he is there. I am not afraid of him. He does not condemn me. He fills me with peace and joy. And so, rather than the God I was told I should believe in, I chose the God I could believe in."

While this man came from a "Christianized" background, I have heard or read testimonials by people who have left their synagogues for similar reasons. After all, the God whom many people don't understand, the God who actually wants to have a say about our personal lives, did not originate in what is commonly known as the New Testament. Everything we learn about him there is built upon and expanded from the Hebrew Scriptures.

"God as I understand him" is extremely popular, in part because he does not talk back to us. Just plain God who revealed himself in the Hebrew Scriptures (and has lots to say about things we might feel are none of his business) would probably not win an election on any conceivable ticket. But then he doesn't need to; he's God.

Many insist, "No one can know the truth about God," yet God claimed through the Jewish Scriptures, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

The catch to the "all your heart" part is the implied willingness to give up our favorite past times or prejudices, should they turn out to be, for reasons that we may or may not understand, contrary to or offensive to God.

God doesn't expect us to be perfect. But He can't forgive us if we think we've done nothing wrong, and we can't understand what's right or wrong if we treat God as the divine re-enforcer of our own choices.

"God as I understand him" has no actual power other than what we choose to impart from our own understanding. The real, all-powerful God whom we don't always understand says his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9) He is holy as well as merciful, righteous as well as compassionate. He is good and just and absolutely wonderful.

If you are interested in God as He understands Himself, why not pick up a Bible . . . and ask him to help you read it with an open mind.


Heidi said...

Thank you for this insightful dissection of the phrase, "God as I understand him." I have heard the same phrase from my agnostic and atheist friends. Your entry approaches this complex notion, created by doubting hearts, in such a wonderful way. I plan on commiting this to memory and using your points the next time the discussion comes around!

falantan said...

I as a muslim also agree with what you said in the final passages. We (sunnis) believe that God is not knowable to us without His help. We don't think that we can understand God independently of His guidance.

It is coined as one of the sunni muslim beliefs as "We only describe God as He described Himself, and we only name God as He named Himself."

I also think the phrase "I do not fear God." no matter what it is followed by is extremely arrogant. I have every reason to be afraid of God. God has all and every power over me, and I have no power over God. more over I am ever shortcoming in obedience to God, therefor I have every reason to worry if God is pleased with me, and on the other hand, I hope and trust in God's mercy and infinite forgiveness.

I also think it is very arrogant to think that we "can" fully understand God. to "understand" something is to encompass it completely and discover all its mysteries. which also means to have a sort of power over it.

To think for one moment that we have that kind of power over God is sad.