What Will We Do with God?

Reverend Brian J. Kiely, Unitarian Church of Edmonton, September 10, 2000

Message to: God.com

Dear God, Well, here it is, the start of another church year and, silly me, I have decided to lead off by talking about you…whoever or whatever you are. Now, if you are who some claim you to be, you, in your all knowing wisdom, will know that this presents something of a problem for me, since, after all, I have been at best, wishy washy on whether you are out there or not.

Indeed, I have gone all the way from capital T True capital B Believer, albeit when I was too young to know any better… to complete atheist…back in my 20s when I thought I knew more than you anyway. Pretty big pendulum swing, don’t you think? Nowadays, as I imagine you also know, the pendulum swings a much shorter distance. On one end it reaches an intuitive sensing of your presence, which may just be an emotional longing for you to be there and for there to be purpose and order in the universe… and then it swings across to the other not very extreme end of pure simple I dunnoö agnosticism.

So here I am, a religious leader, supposedly one familiar with the study of you and usually expected to be able to discuss your godlike self with some degree of conviction, and I am set up to preach a sermon on the likes of you for, well… a bunch of headstrong Unitarians. To be utterly and completely honest God, I haven’t got the first idea on a.) whether or not you exist and b.) if you do exist, then what your nature might be. This is the crux of my preaching problem, Your Omnipotence, and one I wouldnt mind your help with, if you have a few moments to spare.

I can be reached by phone, fax, letter, e-mail, or a parting of the clouds if you’re in a more dramatic mood.

Yours, not quite faithfully, Brian

* You’ve got mail!

Dear Brian, I’ve chosen e-mail to reply since, oh I don’t know, it’s so contemporary. I would have called your cell phone, but you don’t have one, tsk, tsk. I’ve generally given up on the parting clouds and hurling thunderbolts thing, partly because it’s a lot of work but mostly because it’s lost it’s effectiveness thanks to Steven Speilberg and all those special effects geeks. Did you see A Perfect Storm ? Geez, those guys did a better job on the storm than I did on the original! if, of course, I am capable of that sort of weather management…

Actually, I’m kidding. I never really did any of that water stuff, either the stirring up of or the parting of. That was mostly the work of the Biblical PR Department. You know back in those ancient days before the Jesus flap, they didn’t have phones or movies or even novels as you know them today. Those dramatic images were the special effects of their age used to move the story along and to underscore significant points more than anything else… kind of like these Industrial Light and Magic folks do today. I mean you know George Clooney didn’t really go down with the ship, right?

The point I’m getting to (if indeed I exist as a conscious entity and this isn’t the product of your own feverish brain, Brian)

Anyway, my point is that every culture and time has their own way of expressing their thoughts about me. And they all wonder, in their more hesitant moments, if they’ve got it right. I have developed one strict policy, I never tell anyone who or what — or even if — I am. Perhaps your intellects are too puny to grasp my true magnificent nature. Or maybe I’m just some great fraud like the Wizard of Oz. Or maybe I’m not really here at all, and you have all just made me up to suit yourselves. I’m not telling.

I will say, that I have had eons of entertainment from you people. I’ve been cast as everything from blood thirsty baby-eater, to loving mother to stern judge to partisan army general, to a whole pantheon of males and females with all kinds of characteristics. Sometimes I feel like a dress-up doll — like Ken or Barbie. You guys just put on the clothes that you think are right.

None of that bothers me much, in fact it’s kind of fun to see what you come up with. You humans are — all in all — a pretty entertaining species, at least compared to say, a codfish. But boy, some of you could use a sense of humor. That John Calvin guy couldn’t get a joke no matter how many times I explained it to him…. and your Michael Servetus wasn’t much better!

The catch is that sometimes those overly serious types start dressing me up and then proclaim the image of their mind as absolute fact, handed down to them directly by me. Well as I said, I never tell, so they didn’t get it from me, and my minions are unbribable, so it didn’t come from anyone in this realm. Nope, those dress-ups are products of your human brains, but some of you figure that if you yell it loudly enough, people will believe you, and many do. As that famous Universalist P.T. Barnum once said, “Theres one born every minute.” , although between your population explosion and network television it’s more like every 10 seconds these days.

The really sad part is that these too serious ones use their beliefs to divide instead of unite. Just look at that Cardinal Ratzinger fellow this week. He’s the one who is supposed to keep Catholics in line, the party whip if you will. He jumped back 100 years this week again proclaiming Catholicism (Roman variety) as the One True Faith and ordered Catholics to stop thinking of Protestant churches as legitimate religions. God knows what he thinks about the Buddhists! Well, actually I don’t know what he thinks, but I can hazard a pretty good guess.

It’s people like him that use religion to start wars in my name and kill people. That’s just sick and it’s not very fair to me. But I suppose it’s understandable if you buy that Biblical stuff about the plagues and floods I was supposed to have caused, not to mention the firebombing of Sodom and Gomorrah. For the record, I had nothing to do with that. And while Iæm setting things straight don’t pin all those sexual and dietary laws on me either. I’m with your old Prime Minister Mr. Trudeau on that one. To paraphrase, God has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.

Morality has a place there…but that’s another notion that doesn’t belong to me. You guys make the moral rules, not me. It’s just that a few of the more self-righteous of you proclaim them in my name to give them more weight. You know, I think I could do well in a slander suit against them.

As far as morality goes, all the universe does is send out some general guidelines. You guys have to interpret them, and you sure have come up with some interesting twists over the ages. What was that Victorian thing all about, anyway? Never have got a handle on that. Oh, and by the way if you read those last sentences as me claiming to be the force of the universe, well, don’t. I might or might not be. As I said, I don’t tell.

So, does that answer your questions, Bri?

Your friend (maybe), God

Dear God, Thanks for your prompt, if only marginally helpful reply. If I have it right, you’re not even owning that the reply came from you and while you told me a bit about what you’re not and what you haven’t done, you haven’t told me anything about who you are or what you do…and the sermon is Sunday! I’d like a little more clarification, if you please.

Confusedly, Brian

Dear Brian, I was looking at your hymnbook today…by the way, it’s a refreshing change from some of the relentlessly turgid hymnals I’ve seen. There’s a reading you might want to look at… number 611 from the Bhagavad Gita. Here are a couple of snatches,

I am the Self that dwells in the heart of every mortal creature: I am the beginning of the life span and the end of all… I am the mind; I am consciousness in the living. I am the knowledge of things spiritual… I am the knowledge of the knower… There is no limit to my divine manifestations.

Now I suppose you’re going to claim…maybe even whine a little… that there isn’t much specific in that passage, and there isn’t…. but that’s the point. Think about it!

Yours, God

Dear God, Thanks for the tip on the reading. I’ll use it. Maybe it will strike the right chord for someone out there, but to me it seems, well, kind of large and amorphous and non-specific. Do you ever get specific about anything?
Brian

Dear Brian, Nope! Keep thinking. Use your natural — perhaps even God- given thinking ability!

God

Dear God, Now you’re starting to sound like my mother and that’s just creeping me out! Okay, what I’m getting is that our human concepts of god are too limiting for whatever you might or might not be. That any attempts to define and therefore limit you are ultimately doomed to fail and might even provoke your witty scorn.

So I guess that leaves us religious liberals with just a couple of options: 1. We can deny your existence. We can deny you by saying that no self-respecting deity would allow as much evil in the world as we see around us. But I guess that argument is predicated on the existence of the Biblical God who takes sides and intervenes in our lives. Even though you seem to be talking to me, you’re pretty clear that you stay out of our affairs. The other reason to deny you would be because you are too vast for us to grasp. Thinking about you strains our brains too much, so let’s forget the whole thing. But it’s too hard isn’t really a very satisfying reason to deny you. Option 2 would be to allow for the possibility of your existence, but to give up our obsession with defining, particularizing and limiting you.. Now that option would take a lot of work. For one thing it puts the responsibility for our lives back squarely on our shoulders, and that’s pretty hard when we’re alone and need help. Not having a God…or even a higher power, would play havoc with the 12 steppers whose path to healing involves surrendering to you. Some of us need to make an act of faith, and God? You’re the object of that act. What do you think about that? Are we just wasting our time?

Helplessly, Brian

Dear Brian, Good! Now you’re nearing the crux of the matter. What’s more important about this act of faith? The act itself or the object of the faith whether that be me or a parent or a spouse? Surely you have read enough psychology to be able to connect those dots!

God

Dear God, Okay, I think I see where you’re going. The need to believe, to have faith is a key part of our human nature. Without the acts of faith, it’s hard to generate hope in ourselves. And when we’re feeling hopeless, it’s also pretty hard to love anyone…even ourselves. Am I on track?

It would follow that our need creates you, that we need you more than you need us. To approach you in humility is not so much to acknowledge your godhead as much as it is an exercise in admitting the limits of our own powers. By giving you a name and ôdressing you upö as you say, we’re really admitting that we’re not gods ourselves, that sometimes we need help, that sometimes we need to believe that there is something greater and more eternal than our merely human selves. How am I doing? Curiously, Brian

Dear Brian, You’re on the right track. Maybe that’s why I come in so many shapes and sizes and cultural variants, because I am the product of your need. And of course, once you get that far, to the realization that your act of faith is far more important than my existence, then who or what or if I am become questions that rapidly fade in importance.

I know you are aware of that relatively contemporary school of thought called “Process Theology”. They have gotten imaginative enough to suggest that you humans are co-creators with God. They suggest that whether or not I exist, my work of creation could not go on without your active participation. That’s the most enlightened idea I’ve heard you humans devise in some time. Of course, I wonÆt tell you if itÆs right or not…that’s just my fickle way. But it is an elegant thought, that beings and their divinities are interdependent.

Of course it’s not entirely new. Go look at the Greek stories and how humans were integral to the sagas of their gods. I won’t tell you who or what I am, but I will allow that I would be nothing without you.

Well, Brian, you have posted a sermon title of “What will we do with God?” The answer is as always. You’ll invent me, dress me up, deny me, praise me, hate me, work with me, work against me, think creatively about me, and think about me not at all. You’ll curse me and desperately call my name in foxholes . And through it all, I will remain distant and mysterious. And that’s a good thing, for as much as you protest against them, you humans love a good mystery the same way a dog loves a bone. It gives you a spiritual thing to chew on.

As ever, God

Dear God, Thanks. This was helpful…. even if it wasn’t you who was answering me. Brian

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