Images of God

I love watching my grandchildren grow into adulthood, particularly observing them as they begin to think for themselves. They like to make radical political and religious statements that, in their minds, are going to shock grandma. It rarely does. That is what living a long life does to you. Or it should. I can say at 70 that my shock boundary has moved out so far out that sections of it have fallen off a cliff somewhere.

But perhaps I am a unique grandma. I am a liberal when it comes to politics and religion. My emerging-adult grandchildren never expect that. I abandoned the tendency to see the world in black and white so long ago that I can barely remember. I held onto it long enough to do some damage, though. My grandchildren’s parents have had to struggle to find freedom from some of the things I taught them. I have forgiven myself, though. I had to struggle to find freedom to think for myself when I was young, too.

One of my granddaughters is a blogger and every so often I like to check in on what she is writing. Earlier this month she wrote a piece on reimagining God.  As a member of a twelve-step program, I have learned to use the phrase “God of my understanding” or “My Higher Power”. A shock to many people who come into the rooms, it seems ridiculous to create your own image of God. I mean, God is God, no matter what one thinks, right? Coming up with an image of God on one’s own seems a bit presumptuous. But, as I have listened to people given such freedom, I noticed that almost without exception, the God people imagine is loving, forgiving, and non-judgmental. They choose an image that they can hook their wagon to. For some this was a difficult shift. They had to let go of images that they grew up with. But those images had been a block to their recovery. I know it was for me.

I am reading a book, Tomorrow’s God, by Neale Donald Walsch. Walsch suggests that the world needs a new image of God. “Tomorrow’s God”, he writes, “is without gender, size, shape, color, or any of the characteristics of an individual living being.”  I have already found this God, but I can attest to how difficult it is to stop the old images from bombarding one’s consciousness. The images of God that I grew up with were other people’s imaginations of what God might be like. And being ego centric, most images looked pretty human. It is backward, really. We should be trying to be more like God than making God be more like us.

Walsch wrote, “Tomorrow’s God talks with everyone, all the time.” My granddaughter wrote, “(a) question that has troubled me was, ‘Why would a loving God communicate with only one small group of people on the entire planet?’ ” I wrestled with this very question when I was her age. I had to reject that exclusive God, too, or I would be believing in a God with less compassion than I myself had. What I am learning now, in my old age, is that while God talks to everyone, not everyone listens to  God. On the other hand, in the communities of Yesterday’s God, we were not taught to listen.  Today, I have learned to “hear” God’s voice in the world around me. I sense messages from God coming from the squirrels and birds that inhabit my yard, in the distortions of the reflections on the river’s surface, or in the whisper of the wind. God’s messages become even clearer as I listen to the wise words of my fellow earth-travelers.

A third thing Walsch says about Tomorrow’s God is pretty radical: “Tomorrow’s God does not require anyone to believe in God.” The necessity that one must believe in God in order to be loved by God is challenged when one gets to know people who don’t believe in God, or at least not the God we believe in, and yet we find them lovable. We may even find them more lovable than so-called believers. One is faced with the same I indicated above: Is God less lovable than I myself am? If I can accept unbelievers, surely God can.

I don’t know what my granddaughter will come ‘round to in her search. I do know that for most of us, letting go of the old has to happen to make room for the new. I will be watching.