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I grew up in a family that rarely mentioned God. My dad was somewhere between an Atheist and Agnostic and my mom might have attended a Lutheran church as a kid. I’m sure it surprised them when at the age of six I decided to go find God. That quest which began as a solo, 6:00am excursion to a neighbors house has been a lifelong journey down more paths than I can list. The lost boy within me has now grown up but the quest still continues. Burning questions, searching, followed by some form of consummation.
As science explores what might be a “God” gene, I still wonder what activates this quest in some people, and not in others. Most “sheeple” simply join the rank and file of the religion of our culture of origin, each with it’s version of God. For the modern world, science has become our default belief system. Most people just sort of “do their own thing” when it comes to God which I find fascinating. The diversity of experiences means the word God becomes nebulous if not meaningless. Are we left to just skim over the deep water of our lives?
So who or what is God? What more can really be said about this fundamental question that comes to all of us? At our core we all form some type of theology.
Theology and humanity are coextensive. John Calvin said “Without the knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.”
It’s not enough to ask the question anymore, it’s so tired and played out. Those who have an answer are usually way too certain of their particular recipe. I’ve learned that God is far bigger than our theological categories and frameworks. Zeal for God can sound like an infomercial, and we intuit when we are being sold a religion and NOT God.
No wonder the world steps back. Religion has become the foster house for the homesick. For some it’s Hotel California.
We need a new question.
To find it, we have to get away from our formulas, theories and dogmas. This is harder for the deeply indoctrinated, but try nonetheless. Paul’s approach to the God question is really good. Try and hear this story as though you know nothing of God:
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus (A rocky place outside Athens where philosophers and teachers would gather), said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Acts 17:22-28
The new question isn’t concerned with what we know, but how we know it.
How am I experiencing this moment?
The question “What is God?” drives us outward and unfortunately backward into a two-story narrative where religion controls the truth claims and makes the power plays. “Who am I?” gets us closer but religion gets nervous with that one. The new question accesses our present inner awareness to that “something more” which everyone intuits but skims over.
How can we go deeper with the undefinable? The unknowable? Knowledge is great, but it’s not experience. Each expands the other.
Certainly scripture reveals much that we CAN know. But it’s vague about “how” we should know it. Like many people of faith, I had sequestered the experience of my boyhood awakened heart within the confines of my cognitive “figure-outer.” Head space is NOT the only way to know. The bible beckons us toward something much more intimate than data acquisition.
Is that you? Do you have a lot of information about God but little inner experience? Are we self aware or skimming? Has our ego incubated our inner pharisee who masquerades as our self? Who is God without the external descriptors and frameworks? Who am I without external descriptors and frameworks? These questions untie our moorings causing us to drift in a sea of experience, anecdote and ambiguity. It’s an anonymous Cloud of unknowing.
This series will explore the framework of Paul to uncover his alternative orthodoxy. The best theology is not solely a cognitive attestation to the ideas of our preferred team, or cultural institutions-that’s religion. Paul points us to a living experience that is echoed and shared by those in history, in scripture, which is seen in and through and beyond everything.
The new question invokes a theology for everyone. It humbles us to learn that the altar of the unknown God is found (in some measure) within us all. It’s ground zero for the discovery of God and the discovery of ourself.