The Mystery of God – Part 3
Text: John 4: 24
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
Over the past few weeks we have been exploring some of the mysteries of God and looking for ways to help us unravel some of that mystery. One of the ways we have increased our understanding, or perhaps become more comfortable with the mystery is by looking to our natural world for some clues. I have made the comment that I believe much of our natural world reflects what I called the personality of God, or reflects certain character traits of the Divine that in turn help us move closer to a fuller understanding of the Divine.
Often the mystery of God comes to us in the form of a question; last week we looked closely at the question of why bad things happen to good people. I hope our exploration of that question was meaningful and helpful for you. Today, I want to explore another very common question and that is “who is God” or perhaps more accurately, “what is God”?
I do believe our natural world holds some clues that will help us answer this question, but before we look at the natural world I want to take a minute and analyze the question itself. There is an old saying that you shouldn’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer. That is particularly true, I believe, when we ask this particular question; there may be answers to this question that challenge us in a number of ways.
For example, I think that most of us would agree that God as creator is an image that we are comfortable with. We believe that the creation of the universe and our planet was at some level divinely inspired, and I would agree with that assessment. On the flip side of that “God as creator image” must also come the realization that the presence of Christianity is just a blink of the eye in terms of the extent of time we are exploring.
Let me put this into perspective for you. If the history of the universe were to be compressed into a 24-hour day, the presence of humans on this planet would take place in the last second of the last minute of that 24-hour day. Most of science agrees that humanity is between 6 and 8 thousand years old. So if we look to Christianity as being approximately 2,000 years old, that means Christianity has been around for the last 1/3 of the last second of our 24-hour period of time.
For me, that begs the question of what we should use as a reliable source for understanding God. Do we use something that has known God for close to the entire 24-hours or do we use observations that have been made in the last one-third of the very last second of the 24-hour period? Obviously, the more reliable source of information would be those sources which have been present with the Divine for the greatest length of time. This is one of the reasons why I believe that perhaps our natural world holds more answers to our questions about God than we may have originally thought. Our natural world has known God for a much greater length of time and perhaps reflects to us a more accurate reflection of God than does any human observation. Even with human sources, the particular and unique Christian perspective is just a newborn infant by comparison.
So as we analyze the question of “who is God” or “what is God” I think it is important for us to resist the temptation to define God in uniquely Christian terms. I believe it is a much better form of analysis to remind ourselves that God is far beyond mere Christianity and that our faith tradition of choice, that Christianity, is just a lens through which we view God.
Following that metaphor for just a minute, we can certainly acknowledge that a lens can change our perspective of what we view through a lens, but it doesn’t change what is. In other words, I have a number of lenses that I carry with me when I go out and about to shoot photographs. This is a picture of Yellowstone Falls that was taken through a long lens; some refer to this type of lens as a telephoto lens. It brings the image or the subject up close; similar to what a pair of binoculars does for you. Here is another photograph of Yellowstone Falls taken from approximately the same spot, but with a wide-angle lens. These are two very different representations of what I happened to see from exactly the same place.
What I want to point out is that just because we happen to be looking at Yellowstone Falls through a telephoto lens doesn’t mean the rest of Yellowstone Canyon doesn’t exist. Can you imagine what a photograph of Yellowstone Falls might look like taken from a satellite orbiting the earth? That would be a different perspective still, and yet the actual falls and canyon would not have changed. This is what I mean when I say that Christianity is a lens through which we view God. If you change lenses, you may see more or perhaps less of God than you did before. That is also the reason I believe it is not wise to look to Christianity as the sole definer of what God happens to be. Without multiple lenses, and without the experience of having been around for the full 24-hours of our metaphorical history of the world compressed into a single day, we cannot possibly receive an accurate image of God from such a limited perspective.
When we ask the question, “who or what is God”, if we are truly seeking an answer to that question, I think we must be prepared for that answer to challenge any notion we may have that Christianity is the single source by which to know God. Christianity is a lens through which we view a particular perspective of God, and that part of the answer can be challenging for some of us to come to terms with. Many of us have been taught that Christianity worships the one true God and all other representations of God are false. For me, that is simply not the case. The fact that much of Christianity seeks to define God in that manner is one of the primary reasons why I deem Christianity to be an unreliable source of information when we seek to answer our question. Christianity may offer some information and perspective about God, but as a single source, it is, at least for me, an unreliable source of information. God is simply bigger and much older than Christianity.
Another way of looking at this question would be to use the analogy of a 3-year old child who is just learning how to talk describing his or hers elderly great grandmother. There would be some useful information as our child described the elderly person. But we also recognize that the 3-year old perspective would offer just a small fraction of a true reflection of who this person actually is. If we wanted to get to know this great grandmother, we would need to talk to other people who had a different perspective. Getting to know God and getting to an answer of our question is no different. We need to seek other sources and other perspectives.
That is why I have chosen the scripture from the Gospel of John that I read at the beginning of this sermon. By defining God as a spirit, it grants us the level of flexibility required to explore all our sources of information as we seek to answer the question; “who or what is God.”
So far, I have yet to even begin to answer that question; but I will give you a preview. Next Sunday we begin the Advent season. I will be drawing from our natural world and using examples from what we know about light as we welcome the Divine into our midst. So the short answer to our question is God is light. If you want to know what that means, you’ll have to come back next week, because we are out of time.
Go in peace, Amen.