The problem with God

27 June 2022

"I've long had trouble with God." Not my words, though I share the sentiment. These are the words of Karen Armstrong, former nun and now an acclaimed theologian and expert on world religions. She was interviewed for The Tablet, following the publication of her new book "Sacred Nature".

However, I also have problems with God, if by God is meant a supreme being beyond human imagination and beyond definition, the creator and sustainer of everything around us and beyond us. This God is described in the Bible and other holy writings as one who intervenes in human affairs, but at the same time cannot be persuaded or influenced by human effort or plea. Nevertheless this somewhat distant God is worshipped in a myriad different ways across this world. The story of Jesus is seen as bridging the gap and bringing a remote God into everyday life.

For most of my life I have given the nature of God little thought. In part, this is because I have been leading worship for many years, using words and phrases familiar to church-goers. The notion that we can bend the ear of God by our praying is a deep-seated reality for many people, although somehow we don't really expect a direct answer. We pray for peace in Ukraine, but we still expect the war to continue.

Karen Armstrong, in this account of her interview, spoke of our broken relationship with nature. A quotation from the article: "Disaster is looming because we have taken nature for granted, seen it as a resource and commodity rather than something alive, spiritually, psychologically and sensuously." Karen Armstrong wants, as the author of the article put it, "those brought up in the Judaeo-Christian tradition to change their mindset, and rediscover a lost sense of God as there in every blade of grass around us, that every inch of land is holy."

What I think this says to me is that we have allowed our understanding of God to be over-influenced by our post-Enlightenment scrutiny on how things happen, how things behave, how things affect us. With our scientific curiosity we want (need?) to know the answers to our how? questions, and in that questioning, we have found the answer to "Who is God?" in an over-literal reading of our holy books. It is easy to imagine such a God, to address our prayers to such a God, and even to ask difficult questions when such a God fails (in our view) to intervene when the need is obvious. We do indeed create God in our own image.

This emphasis on how we have lost sight of God in nature is profoundly obvious and simple. But what jumps at me off the page is my / our reluctance to recognise what I can only describe as sacred mystery, the sense of the beyond-and-greater that infuses every breath I take, the undercurrent of life itself that is beyond the here-and-now and speaks of holiness in new ways.

Common to every human being on the planet is the ability to wonder, although for far too many this ability has been buried under the practicalities of survival. For those of us who have the freedom and vision to see beyond the headlines, let us look and see into the gift of life itself - all life, not just human life - because there we will glimpse the nature of the God we yearn for and search for. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, wrote of God as "present everywhere in everything", not a being but rather "being itself."

Back to Blog index  

Back to Revolution