I can’t remember how I first met Jesse. But, our email dialogue and conversation over beer and dinner in Chicago was always a treat. I wish I had more time with him, but he’s in Chicago finishing up a Ph.D. in Theology, and I’m in Denver just starting a Ph.D. in Theology/Ethics. His reflection is thoughtful and honest, and I hope you’ll give it a charitable read.
Situating Jesse socially is the difficult part. But, some social signifiers are: Roman-Catholic Male , citizen of the United States of America, Primarily of Italian and Northern European Descent. He’s one of these guys who I’d want to be my best friend.
The prompt for my following reflection is “Who is god, and how do we know?” I hope that I have done some justice to both of these questions, and if I have not then please excuse me. I present to you my latest thoughts on these matters as I often find myself redefining metaphors and re-answering these questions as I move through life.
“Who is God?”
There are two poles, or images, of God that I vacillate between. The first is God as the unrequited lover. I imagine the heartbreak felt by God every time we turn our faces away from the outpouring of love and creativity which is God. What must it be like to be the one who tries to give oneself over and over to be constantly rejected? This is the God who feels our absence in God’s own life.
The second image that I have of God is that of Job. In this instance, the absence is that of a just and right God in our lives. I like the interpretation of the book of Job that describes the end of the book as a trial where Job is the plaintiff and God is the defendant. Job cries out, “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me,” and then again, “When I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came” (Job 30: 20, 26 NRSV). Job struggles to understand how one could even have a notion of a just and loving God amidst such unimaginable suffering. I think this is a struggle that should not be brought to an easy conclusion, or any conclusion…at least until death.
In the last couple of days an unimaginably destructive earthquake and its consequences have struck Haiti. I do not believe that God interferes with the daily events of the world in such a direct manner, but I still find myself yelling out to God “No…this will not be allowed anymore…you have to stop” in manner similar to Job. I have read accounts of this tragedy where people explain how food has lost its taste and how they feel as if all time has stopped. This has led me back to considering my first pole though. If I want to be in a relationship with God how can I describe God as completely other? Has my absence from this relationship brought about suffering for myself and others?
“How do we know?”
I’m not exactly sure how to respond to the question of “How do we know?” It can mean so many things from how do we know God is there, how do we know our descriptions of God are correct, or perhaps another entirely different question. No matter what the specific intention of the question, “How do we know?” is a question that looks for some sort of proof or substantiation. I know that I, along with many others, now speak of God in terms of lover or at least in more personal terms than lawgiver, judge, or sovereign. I think this shift is beneficial for many reasons but it makes the “How do we know?” much more difficult. One can at least seem to offer proof of a lawgiver by the laws that surround us. However, it is impossible to offer a proof of love. One might point out a “loving” act but it is impossible to prove that an act was truly motivated by love instead of some other intention. I do not think one can offer a proof for God through any metaphor, but I think the descriptions of God that employ some notion of love make the concept of verifiability so much more difficult.