Friday, May 13, 2005

Who Is God?

We live today in constant awareness of religious pluralism. We can no longer pretend that Christianity is the only religion on the market. Throughout much of the history of western civilization, when a person said "God" and the person's neighbor said "God" they could be fairly certain they meant the same God because they were both Christians. (Of course, there have always been non-Christians living among Christians, but in the past this was ignored due to the dominance of Christianity.)

This wasn't the case when Christianity was founded. For centuries Christians were a minority among people with a wide array of ideas about God. When a Christian in this setting spoke of God to a stranger, some introduction was necessary.

Today we live in a world where we are keenly aware of the plurality of religions. The question "Do Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe in the same God?" has become quite an important one. I think the answer must be yes, simply because there aren't any other gods around to be believed in.

But within the thought worlds of our individual religions, even though the answer may truly be yes, our proclamation makes it seem as if it were no. What we say about God only has meaning within the framework of our religious thought. And so when we want to talk about God, we must first ask questions. Which God do we mean? How do we recognize God? Who is God?

Previously I said that the God in whom we believe is identified by the community that has gathered to worship this God. But there's a deeper sense in which God is recognized by what God has done among us.

The Old Testament frequently refers to "the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt." Imagine asking an ancient Israelite, "Who is God?" Before a certain time, the Israelite may have answered "Yahweh is God" or later "The Lord is God." But still not knowing who is specified by this name, you might persist "But who is that?" And perhaps you would be told "He is who the He is" as the Lord told Moses. Still this isn't very helpful. Asking yet again, you very well may be told, "God is whoever brought us out of Egypt."

In the New Testament we find a similar identification of God "who raised Jesus from the dead." So who is God for Christians? As a first identification, we may say God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead. (Although Christians would also affirm that God is whoever brought Israel out of the land of Egypt.) Alternatively, Christians may refer to God as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Already in these two statements we see God recognized through Jesus, but the Christian experience goes beyond that.

Christians further recognize God as the one who is revealed in Jesus. What do we know about God? We know that we see God in the face of Jesus. But how do we see Jesus? Traditionally, Christians have said that Jesus is made present to us by the Holy Spirit.

So, for a Christian, identifying who we mean when by the term "God" has involved the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is reflected in the witness of the early Christian writings and it is reflected in current Christian proclamation about God.

Catherine Mowry LaCugna said, "The doctrine of the Trinity is not ultimately a teaching about 'God' but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other." This is an enormous concept which I hope to return to later. It's a perspective that we would do well to keep in mind whenever we talk about God as Trinity.

Continue to "Two Ways of Reading"
Go back to "Creeds"


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