But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
Hey. It works for me.
GOD appears to an ancient man in the form of a burning bush--a bush which is in flames but is not consumed. I dig this mythology, don't you? I mean, what better metaphor for the source of all creation than a natural phenomenon which sends forth energy--light and warmth, the stuff from which life comes--and yet does not destroy?
Cooler still is the name of this phenomenon: I AM WHO I AM (which, for you Hebrew scholars out there, can also be translated as "I am what I am" or "I will be what I will be."). God is. In fact, God is the sum total of all is-ness. This is what I mean when I use the word "God." I am not speaking of some force external to myself and the universe which we all inhabit. I do not see God as some old man up in the clouds. I am speaking of existence itself.
(Even if I have illustrated this post with a picture of Michelangelo's God from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. What can I say? I just like the picture!)
Confused yet? But think about it. I'm no physicist, but I remember enough from high school to know that all matter, be it a star in the heavens, a rock, a tree, or the wonderful confection of elements which make up your fantastic brain, Dear Reader, is composed of atoms. These atoms are themselves made up of sub-atomic particles--infinitesimal sparks of who-knows-what kind of energy which combine and relate to form all that there is. To me, this says that all creation is, as the Greeks liked to say, homoousios--of one essence, substance, or being. And I like to call this essence, substance, or being "God."
This is not to say, however, that all things are God. A really smart guy named Marcus Borg likes to use the term panentheism. By this, Dr. Borg suggests that all things are in or part of God. God's nature is therfore encompassing all that is. We would not, for example, worship a tree as God or as one god in many. Rather, we would see God--as the good folks in Alcoholic Anonymous like to say--as the "higher power" which is manifest in the tree but is also infinitely beyond the tree as well. This would also mean that each of us is part of God.
(To get a much better grasp on this I recommend you see Dr. Borg's book The God We Never Knew. I'm not sure I'm doing a very good job of explaining it myself.)
Even a really, really smart guy, Albert Einstein, although opposed to the notion of a personal God, was willing to use the word "God" to mean "the orderly harmony of what exists." By such a definition, I would say that it is impossible to say that God does not exist, as God is the very nature of existence itself.
Some months back I heard a National Public Radio interview with the energetic British atheist Richard Dawkins. In this interview Dr Dawkins actually conceded to Dr. Einstein's definition of God, but added that he doubted Einstein's god was what most of us had in mind when we used the word "God." Dr. Dawkins went on to express his belief that "God," the external super parent, was the result of human imagination. He concluded that this "God" had to be at the end of all creation after matter had evolved into an organism sufficiently advanced to actually have an imagination.
Now far be it for me, a simple parish pastor from Philly, to debate the brilliant Dr. Dawkins; however, I can't help but feel that there is a slight hole in his logic. A phenomenon may exist well before we are aware of it. God as the creative force of all existence was on God's way to creating me long before I ever came into being. God, as I understand God, is the beginning, the source, and the totality of all creation.
This definition, of course, leads us to the ultimate religious question: How do we relate to God? If we reject the idea of God as a being external to ouselves and the universe and see God as "phenomenon of existence," haven't we turned God into an "it?"
Perhaps. Still, I can't quite let go of the notion that God encompasses consciousness, awareness, feelings, etc. That means God encompasses all things which make us human.
What would happen to my own sense of being if I started to relate to the connecting force of all creation as "You?"
Glad you asked. Now, mind you, this has nothing to do with physics, logic, philosphy, or anything else. It's just the way I feel. When I contemplate existence itself, the totality of the universe which includes my own self, the wonder and the mystery of it all, and I think of it as "You," I feel a physical presence with me even when I'm completely alone. Sound crazy? Maybe. But when I think of what I call God as "You," I feel God's arms around me.
Okay. So I'm a religious guy and I can't resist the temptation to anthropomorphize just a little!
In any event, we can't really have a discussion about God unless we can agree on what the word means to us, can we? I've slogged through my complex and doubtless too verbose explanation. What about you? Please feel free to share, and thanks so much for stopping by.