“Who is God?” This month’s question presupposes both liberal and conservative Christians believe God exists. Troll the Internet. You’ll find conservatives espousing the extreme argument that liberalism is inconsistent with believing in God. Some on the extreme left argue that conservative Christians believe in the Bible, but not in God.
Let’s start by acknowledging that liberal and conservative Christians share the belief that God exists. It isn’t the belief that God exists that separates liberals and conservatives. It’s our concepts of God.
Face it. Engaging in this debate is to be as “the six men of Indostan” of Indian legend. “It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined, who went to see the Elephant though all of them were blind.” Each touches a different part of the elephant, reaching a different conclusion about what it is.
“And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long, each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong’ Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”
The moral of the story? The poet said, “So oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween, rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean, and prate about an Elephant not one of them has seen!”
When it comes to telling others who God is, Christians should exhibit the humility that comes with knowing we are guessing. God created the ambiguity for a reason. Perhaps God wants us to search, dialogue, and guess.
Some liberal Christians take two paths to knowing God; understanding Creation, and following Jesus.
Liberals speak of the God of Creation, a significant clue in our endeavor to define God. What God created tells us a great deal about whom God is. God created the earth as a part of an imponderable universe. God created the skies, lands, and seas and placed on them the winged, finned, and four and six-leggeds. God then created humans with attributes necessary to fulfill God’s wish that creation be cared for, not exploited.
The God of Creation intentionally designed a radically diverse world. Parts of the earth were made to differ considerably from others assuring that not all peoples were the same. Skin color, languages, cultures, and religions differed. The way in which people lived and provided for their families grew out of the diversity, as did the differences in the way in which they came to understand God.
God didn’t expect the first humans would know all there is to know. God said, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Creation included mechanisms for evolution. Clues to God’s identity are in the complex human anatomy, starting with the mysteries of the brain and including the miracles of DNA and genes. Some of those genes make us short or tall, blue or green-eyed. Some determine our predisposition to addiction or mental illness. Others determine gender and sexual orientation. Differences. The Lord God made them all. That’s who we are because that’s who God is.
The second path liberals find helpful in understanding God is Jesus. Interestingly, people of all faiths somehow came to share a common understanding that we are to do unto others that which we’d like done unto us. For Christians, that teaching came through Jesus. Jesus is the way for Christians to know God. What do we learn about God through Jesus? We learn that God cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigners, heals the sick, accepts the rejected, cares for the widows and the orphans, shares time and meals with sinners, and will one day judge us for how we treated the least of these our brothers and sisters.
God did not create religion. In teaching us about God, Jesus didn’t divide the world into denominations and separate us by dogma. Humans did all that on their own. Thus dogmatic differences teach us about who humans are, but not about whom God is.