Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Concept of God

"A Mystical Morning"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

The other day someone asked me why I always put the word “God” in quotes in my blog articles. The fact is that I often hesitate to even use the word “God” in my writing, but when I do use this word, I always put “God” in quotes because I hope it may show that I am not talking about the name of some person – Mr. God, the king in heaven, Mr. God, the man who lives at an upstairs address.

I also put “God” in quotes to make the point that this word cannot possibly define who or what “God” is.

It’s interesting to me that when people talk about “God” they usually act like they actually understand what they are referring to when they use the word “God.” Nowadays I find that lots of people talk about “God” in the social media, believers as well as atheists and agnostics -  religious believers are generally quite sure about who “God” is and atheists are just as certain about who “God” is not.

I am reminded of something Saint Augustine once said many centuries ago:

In talking about God, if you claim to understand what you are talking about,
then what you have understood is not ‘God.’

Human beings use words and we rely on language to arrive at some sort of shared meaning in our lives, and so I suppose it is inevitable that we would use words about “God” to try to “get at” some idea of who or what “God” means. And yet I think it’s important to remember all our language about “God” invariably reduces and diminishes “God.” Our “anthropomorphic” language often turns “God” into a “man,” a superman but a man nonetheless, and our words generally reflect more of who we are than who “God” is.

And as I see it, it’s probably better to talk about “God” as “energy” or “abiding presence” or “universal love,” rather than using words like “king” or a “judge” or a “friend” when referring to “God,” but even those more cosmic and mystical words limit and contain that which cannot be contained in words or understood by ideas.

The truth is that you can’t really talk about transcendence, you can only experience it at some deeper innate level, and every human being innately knows something of “transcendence.”

I honestly believe that when people say that they do not believe in “God,” they are actually saying they do not believe in the “concept of God.” They reject the idea of “God” as a separate superbeing who creates and watches over and controls it all.  And yet, regardless of our beliefs and ideas, all of us beings are born with longing for transcendence – it’s in our DNA.  We all long to be connected beyond our own individual and isolated selves.

So we fall in love, we laugh with joy at the birth of a child and weep with sorrow at the death of a spouse, we write poetry, sing songs and and make beautiful art. We marvel at a mystical sunrise or gasp in awe at a night sky blazing with stars – we are “wired” for transcendence; and so in a very real sense all of us believe in “God,” even those who reject the concept of ‘God.’

Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko make this wonderfully poetic observation about our innate human desire for “God:”

The spiritual or mystical journey is the heartbeat of humanity,
always present even if hidden beneath the surface.
It is the most primal calling of every human heart,
The song of the soul going back to ‘God,
from the outer world to the formless Truth that resides within each of us.

Oneness is at the core of our being and within all life.
Each cell embodies and reflects its primal Oneness – the unity of being.
The journey home of the soul back to the Source is a journey back to unity,
to the mystical realization that we are the
Divine Oneness.


  1. I don't know anybody named "Transcendence." I know my wife and a few neighbors. I don't have a definition of them; and I don't know them like a subject I've learned or a book I've read; I have a working description of a 'that person there' nature; and some ideas I've learned & formed about what they're like, from what they've said and what I've observed in our interactions.

    I can't locate God so spacially, but the same kind of intersection of experience & third-party information is essentially the way a person knows God. At some level we know it's the same Life that makes us _living_, being "beings" -- but it's clearly more than just-me.

    Yes, there's a lot of information about God that needs to be thrown out, because God gets talked about very much by people who basically know God from hearsay. That doesn't mean that it's all worthless; much of that is child-level explanation given people by God, the-way-you-can-take-this-for-now introductory material. While it enlightens you, fine; and when it doesn't anymore, that's fine too.

    Now and then sheer existence is such a gas that I've overwhelmed with "Wow!" -- but that's not what God "is", you know.

  2. Thanks Paul...such a timely post for me. Yes, the 'concept of God' somehow gets in the way. I too have many moments of transcendence and long to be with people that want to share in the mysteries of life, encourage compassion and wake up to our interconnectedness. To help and support each other I guess. God is a word, but it does conjure up images formed during childhood that are difficult to shake off. Thank you xx