Thursday Reflection: God? “God” Who?

“You don’t have the name of God in here!” She was as determined as she was confident.

Marian, our Administrative Assistant, was handling the situation quite well. Marian was willing to take the literature the woman was offering; but she was also making a counter-offer. She had given the woman a United Methodist pamphlet that describes some of the ministries of the United Methodist Church.

I was just getting to the church. As I walked down the hall to my office, I heard this conversation, and even without seeing, I knew what was happening. I confess I was sorely tempted to turn and leave the way I had come in. My better angels won the day, and I reluctantly inserted myself into the mix. Marian is usually happy to see me when I come to work; but on this occasion her reaction at my presence seemed to be a cross between heightened joy and deep relief. It took a while, but we finally managed to bring the conversation to a conclusion. But the woman’s statement has stayed with me.

There is plenty of debate about God and abortion; God and racism; God and sexism; God and fundamentalism. Critics of Christianity look with disdain at the expectation that followers of Jesus would believe such things as the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Resurrection. And how can we rationally defend the doctrine of “Incarnation” – the notion that in Jesus of Nazareth, “God is with us” in a distinctive and defining way?

All of these are important. They deserve the attention they get. There is one other debate that surfaces that gets plenty of press, and then dies down until the next debate. That is the debate between science and religion. This may be the most important debate of them all. In fact, this may be the underlying issue fueling all the others.

Just who is the “god” everyone is talking about these days? Who is the “god” people of faith are defending? Who is the “god” atheists are attacking?

In the midst of all the talk – and blogging – is there any consensus on exactly who – or what – we are referring to when we talk about “god”?

When Jesus was alive, there was general agreement on the who of God. The prevailing world view allowed for a deity (or deities) to live above the dome of earth’s atmosphere. Mysteries abounded regarding the weather, birth, fertility, the harvesting of crops, etc. “God” was not a crutch or an “opiate” as much as God was the best available explanation for the world as it was. The weather is capricious. Giving birth is treacherous. Divine nature was not a reflection of life’s uncertainties; it was the cause. The search for an explanation resulted in what is referred to as “Divine – Earthly Retribution”.

The question was: “How do we mitigate against divine unpredictability?” In the main, the answer was: “Offer sacrifices.” 

Our 21st Century world view is very different from that of the 1st Century. We no longer can situate God as the ancients did. And it really isn’t enough to say: “God is Spirit.” What does that mean?

About that woman who came in to the church office the other day … In hind sight, perhaps I should have invited her into the Pastor’s Study, let her sit down, and consider with her just who or what it was she was truly looking for. God? “God” who?

(More on this later.)


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.