How My Understanding of God is Almost Completely Wrong (And Yours Is Too)

Today we had a discussion in our Christian Adult Education class after listening to a TED talk about the history of the universe (in 18 minutes). A lot was said, from pointing out the scientific errors (or glosses) in the talk to intelligent design to the question of whether complexity means more vulnerability. And how does that apply to religious institutions?

I wish I could say hilarity ensued, but it was pretty much each individual's belief of who/what God is. Words like "infinite" "omnipotent" "mystery" were shared. Vulnerability was pretty much seen as a "bad" thing (seriously, if there's another TED talk session we should watch Brene Brown), which it isn't, but that didn't even occur to me until after.

One of the points raised was that science asks the question "how?" and theology asks the question "why?" and each has its own set of tools and procedures for figuring out those questions. However, if you use "how?" tools to explain the "why", you're not going to get the right answer.

And that's precisely the problem with understanding God.

We start out with a simple statement: "God is" or "God is our God" or "God is One" or "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior", and then somebody has to go and ask: "Well, how does that work then?"

When someone tries to answer that, you get stuff like the Athanasian Creed. (My one comment in the class was this after Chris finished reading that creed: "There's a reason Athanasius was run out of town so many times.")

The problem is not whether or not God exists. (See. "God is" etc above.) It's the tools we use to answer the question "So who is this God anyway?"

As a scientist wouldn't use theological tools, we are using the wrong tools to answer the question.

So our answers are invariably wrong, or a little bit right, but certainly not 100% the complete answer. Whatever attribute we give God, whatever motive, that isn't God, or isn't all there is to God.

I am not even sure we have the right tools to understand who/what God is.  We have the tools to understand, comprehend and categorize our world. Our wetware can observe, comprehend, understand just about anything in this world (given enough training in a particular field) or even in this universe.

Scientific tools cannot explain the why of God. Neither, in my opinion, can our theological tools, because we are using the same set of wetware.  Our understanding is limited by where we stand in society, in society's make-up, in our baggage, in our intelligence, in our street sense.

God is outside these, but we persist on putting our understanding onto God, because we don't know of any other way, and so God is formed by a patriarchal, Middle Eastern, uniquely Israelite community. And God is formed by feminism. And God is formed by Greek-Roman society. And on and on...

These things that form our understandings of God are not necessarily bad. It is just that they result in a filtered response, and do not acknowledge other understandings. And even putting together all the understandings there are and understanding them will not give us who/what God is.

My understanding and your understanding is formed by our world. Which isn't the whole picture, just one little part of it.

We do have one tool that works. We have a soul/spirit/God-stuff/star-stuff/Spidey-sense that reminds us of God's presence and existence.

The closest we get to being right is this: "God is, and God is mystery."


  1. Indeed, our understanding of God is limited--I might even say woefully limited. And when we don't realize this limitation, but insist that our way is the best way, or the right way, or The Truth, we get really tangled up and alienated from each other (and perhaps from our own Selves in the bargain).

    But I truly believe that as long as we acknowledge that limitation and realize that anything we say about God is analogy, metaphor, a mere shadow of the Truth (whatever that may be), then we can go ahead and ask "Well, how does that work--at this point in my understanding?"

    Maybe that's the difficulty--we have to ask ourselves "Well, how does that work?" first before someone else surprises us with the question. Maybe that's what "doing theology" is.


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