What is God? Old Dude with Beard or Unifying Force of the Universe? (or both)

An enlightened priest I know (he’s almost ninety, sharp as a whip, and says whatever he believes, even when it goes against the Pope’s latest encyclical) defines God as a kind of love-energy that surrounds us.  Stephen Hawking says that God is the name people give to the reason we are here (which is a great definition).   He goes on to argue that the reason we here “is the laws of physics.” So God, according to Hawking, is physics.

Hindus, despite what we’ve learned on the Simpsons, believe in one enormously huge and all-powerful divine entity, Vishnu.   But they use many different smaller gods as a way to represent His/Her different traits.  That way they don’t always have to say things like “one enormously huge and all powerful divine entity.”  I think it’s a great idea—a variety of gods—since many of us in the west have gotten stuck in the old-guy-with-a-big-gray-beard rut.  So who is God, really?

God is love?  God’s name cannot be uttered?  God is a jealous?

In Islam, a picture of a God, or any saint for that matter, is forbidden, perhaps partly because of the problem we have in the west of getting stuck on pictures.  Once you see a picture, it’s hard to get over it.  Thanks a lot Michelangelo.

Buddhists don’t even bother with God.  Buddha said it was not a question worth asking because it could not be answered.  He focused on the day-to-day problem of suffering.  And look where it got him:  total enlightenment.  Go hang out with some real Buddhists (not just friends who read Buddhist books) and you’ll freak out over how happy and relaxed those dudes (and dudettes) are.  Maybe God is for the birds?

Would George Burns just settle this once and for all?

The problem starts with the words we use.  And the words we use are always only the words we know and the words we grew up with and the words are culture taught us.  To talk, and fight (and sometimes kill) over the words we use to describe God and our varying techniques for worshipping him has been a global pastime for centuries.  People beat each other up over their choice of football team, so when God is brought up, it can get really dirty.

The problem is escalated quickly with this strange notion that when it comes to God, we need to agree.  We’re fine with disagreeing over football teams (sort of) and favorite ethnic foods, but for some reason, when it comes to God, we want sudden unanimity.  Has that ever existed for anything?  Let’s get over that.  We don’t have to agree.  As the old Monty Python skit aptly put it: “Oh God, you are so enormously huge.  Gosh we’re all really impressed down here.”  We are so impressed that for years, decades, centuries, millennia, we’ve spent much of our free time trying to come up with a working definition for the BIG THING that we all WHORSHIP/FEAR/VENERATE when we go to CHURCH/TEMPLE/MOSQUE.  We’ve got some good ideas in place now:  physics, bubbling love force, life energy, great mother, the Big JC, Bearded White Dude in the Clouds.  A wide range.  How fun is that?  It’s just like the evolution of grocery stores.  Thirty years ago you couldn’t find tofu.  Now my super Target has five different kinds.  South America and Asia have their own aisle.  This should make us happy.  Variety.  Nobody needs to be in a panic over what to cook tonight.  Nobody should worry about what to pray to—you can pick from any aisles.

So let’s not get bent out of shape over all these varieties of Gods.  Let’s get excited.  How many of you would want to be defined in once sentence.

-You know Bob?

-Bob, yeah, he’s my real estate broker.  He’s great at selling homes.

-No, Bob’s my gym buddy.  We play ball together.

-No, I’m pretty sure he’s my real estate broker.

Now if these two guys had been talking about God, they’d be getting ready to disembowel each other at this point.  But because they’re talking about Bob, they just nod and smile and enjoy this new revelation about their real estate broker / basketball buddy.  And Bob is just a dude.  Shouldn’t God get even more leeway?

God might be a little bigger than one book or church.  He might be your personal Jesus—but he might also be Stephen Hawking’s physics manual and my priest’s bubbling energy of love and the Buddha’s Dharma.  Why do we try to limit God when we should be adding daily to His resume?  Oh, He’s a white guy with a beard and a bubbling love energy force.  Super cool.  I knew God had it in him.  What a Guy!  Oh, He might have feminine traits you say?  He’s a She?  Okay.  I suppose Bob, my basketball buddy gets kind of prissy about his socks matching his belt, so why can’t God be a little quirky too.

Let’s give God a little more breathing room.  We are one species on one planet with one set of vocal chords and a smattering of words and grunts we’ve cobbled together into a myriad of different languages and cultures.  Personally, I have trouble talking on the phone and walking at the same time, how am I suppose to conceive of the great, super big divine being while eating brats and watching The Office?  The more input and ideas the better.  The more nuance and subtlety, the better.   The broader the definition the better.  Let’s put it all on His resume.  We can take the part we like the best, but we don’t have to dispute everybody else’s perspective.

Give up limiting God to one set of rules and die to the idea that you have to know the answer to everything.  You’ll be glad you did.