Sunday, December 11, 2011

God in a Box

“God made man in his image, and we have been busy returning the favor,” George Bernard Shaw quipped. As usual, he was right on the money. Take a look at scripture itself for all the proof you need. It is what the literalists like to do.

Adam and Eve chat with God as if he’s just dropped into the Garden of Eden for a fresh apple. It’s only when they disappoint God that he gets a bit distant with the progenitors of the human race. But not all that distant. He shows up to talk with the likes of Noah, Abraham, and even has a wrestling match with Jacob. Pretty chummy, our God.

More distance by the time we get to Mount Sinai and God’s encounter with Moses who comes down the mountain with a red face and two tablets of God’s laws, the first of which the Israelites are busy disobeying as Moses shows up, his face getting even redder. He heads back up the mountain to see if God is still hanging around in his box, there to retrieve a second set of laws.

Then we get God directing the conquest of Canaan, a thoroughly bloody campaign against otherwise unsuspecting and innocent people who have to be got rid of in favor of the ‘chosen race’. Right on. Let’s blame our greed and our desire to have other people’s property on God, which is exactly what we did here during the conquest of what is now the United States. Yep, God is just like us, greedy and bloodthirsty, and once more God fits into our human-made box.

But back to the Israelites. God begins to distance himself during the age of the prophets, a band of merry men who know God’s will although they don’t always confer directly with the deity, and who remind everybody else about how they ought to live. By the time the Israelites find themselves in Babylon, God has stopped visiting altogether, and a new and more spiritual vision of God has to be proposed. It was during that time that the Torah was assembled, the stories of the Israelite nation composed, and God’s worship re-established without the benefit of a central temple. When the temple was rebuilt, and the Holy of Holies installed (yet another box), presumably the yearly conference with God resumed, although there is no mention of those talks.

Well, you can see that you can follow this right into the New Testament where it is finally asserted that no one has ever seen God, but those who have seen the Son, have seen the Father. Finally, the ‘immortal, invisible, God only wise.’ But the box in which humankind places God, while getting larger, is still a box.

The church in the Middle Ages saw to that. Everything revolved around the earth, which by the calculations in the 19th century—somewhat removed by actual centuries if not by theology from the Middle Ages—was some 6,000 years old. Period. Created by God in seven days and that was that.

How nice it must have been to be born and live in such a simplistic and unscientific age when such facts were all anyone needed to know from birth to death. All you had to do was peer into the God box, and presto! there he was, just as you expected God to be.

But recently, I’ve been watching a program on NOVA that explores the theory of not one universe, but a mega-verse, many universes co-existing somehow and somewhere in space. Inside each one of these are the myriad galaxies and stars like the ones we see in our own universe, the one universe that the Prayer Book tells us that God is ruler of.

This possibility of a mega-verse may come as a shock to some who want to cling to the belief that God has only our universe to look after. It has been something of a stretch of faith for many to believe that God isn’t sitting just above the nearby clouds that adorn our own planet; now to have to go to the trouble of believing in a God who created more than one universe is, for some people, taking things too far. Haven’t we already expanded the box in which we have put God several times already? This really is too much.

I’ve had this sort of discussion with a relative of mine, a man who is a fundamentalist and a self-appointed preacher in his denomination. He used to entertain me with his theories of how dinosaurs could be explained since they aren’t mentioned in the Bible, which is, as far as he’s concerned, the inerrant Word of God. I can’t recall his crackpot ideas exactly, but their absurdity gave me hours of comical pleasure. He’s a ‘God in the box’ type, content to limit God’s power. Any assertion from me that if his God created this world, that same God could have created unimaginable others.

Advent bids us to prepare ourselves for the annual observance of the coming of Christ and the miracle of God’s love for us. By inference, the season also has us expand our vision, not only of God’s fathomless love, but of our own lives and how God’s grace works within them. I would suggest that if we believe in that love and that grace, that it isn’t a great stretch to believe that that same God created worlds upon worlds, universes upon universes, and that our human understanding, crippled by our limited capacities, is the only thing that keeps us from that belief.

Perhaps one day science will be able to show us even more of God’s majesty and power. But for now, we stand in awe of God’s greatness, ever expanding into universes beyond our ken, or our abilities to perceive even the smallest part of the mind of God. It is enough for us, abiding in God’s grace, to praise God ‘in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.’

Thus does science display for us even more of God’s handiwork, giving us an ever-increasing sense of wonder as well as heart-felt thanks to the God of love who, despite the work of ongoing creation on a cosmic scale that we cannot begin to fathom, dwells among us and knows us by name.

Robert Heylmun

1 comment:

sonia said...

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