Often when theologians or pastors talk about how people view God and the ways we interact with God, they often focus on the idea that people create gods out of how they see themselves. I’m in the middle of listening to “Pete Rollins on God Part 2” on the The Robcast as I write this.
Yet I find this to be a limited understanding of the way a culture views God. Perhaps I just need more self-reflection, but I do not see God as a better image of myself, and it absolutely isn’t the image I struggle the most with. I often have seen God as a white man in the sky because I was listening to those preaching. So perhaps it is more accurate to say that many who pastor and preach, who teach God, will focus on God as themselves.
So the questions I have for myself are how do I see God? And what influence of that is from what I have been taught?
I would say that I have a few major pastors or preachers in my upbringing that encouraged my original view of God but also teaching new viewpoints, and also many other influences that challenge it or further affirm it. The “major ones” are not necessarily the most helpful influences, but also not necessarily the worst influences. But these are the ones I listened to the most.
Growing up Catholic, one would imagine that there’s a stricter view of God. I did. Distant, as the priests are from the community, God was not a personal relationship. God, of course, is a man and can only be a man. God is better than us. God is smarter than us. Talking to God is nerve-wracking, and many of us are not important enough to do it. God visits your classroom and you must greet him in a certain way, full of respect and fear. You are punished if you do any of this wrong, if you show any amount of imperfection. (I still fear authority figures, if you were wondering about the psychological impact.)
So it’s not shocking that the first time I felt any emotions when it came to God was never in the Catholic Church growing up (well, I suppose fear and regret are emotions) and I found it in a clubhouse at a protestant church during a youth group event when I was a teenager. I eventually developed a fairly good relationship with my youth pastor, who also later became the lead pastor. He was friendly, fatherly, and cared about me. This affected my view of God. God is involved in my life, asks questions about particular events that are happening, is invested. God tells me that he cares about me. God is no longer extremely distant, but closer. God became approachable. This was a huge benefit in my understanding of God. However, God was still intimidating and I was a little afraid. God was still fully man, and fully white, and fully privileged. But at least God did not call me out in anger and shame. God wanted the best for me, and that was why he created the rules that he did. It isn’t surprising that the friendship I had with my pastor directly influenced my view of God. I also allowed his teachings to influence my new views further, such as the importance of context, of humility, of starting over, of being wrong.
College was not as smooth because I lacked consistency. I had professors who challenged and retaught my views of God and Scripture. I read new books and had new thoughts, and my views of God had a slower change to them. God cared less and less about the particular views I held of Scripture or of Law, and more… about what, exactly? What is so important about my belief in Scripture or Law? Women began teaching me about the Bible and Scripture, but I dismissed their authority of Scripture. I listened to them as a teacher the way people must have listened to 13 year old Jesus in the Temple. Fascinated, but not as seriously as I would have another (in another word, as I would have a man.)
Then post-college, new doors would open up. My “teachers” were people I found on tumblr or on twitter. My teachers for who God is started to become movements like feminism and Womanism and Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ movement. It became less about Scripture and more about people, about compassion, about love and justice. I found Sojourn and my influences in who God is for teaching once again, in shallow ways, became a white, straight, man. But things have changed, haven’t they? When I realized one of the pastors was a woman, who taught and led with as much authority “as a man”, I resisted. But I had learned to listen better since college. And so perhaps God is not my teachers. Or perhaps God is all of my teachers. God is all nationalities and colors or no nationals or colors, all genders or no genders, all sexualities or no sexualities. And Jesus was, absolutely, not white. Perhaps God is inside each of us, and I’ve been too exclusive to only listen to a few men over the years. God is in them, but God is in the transgender Latina woman as well (maybe more clearly), and the rest of us. And perhaps God is not a Being with titles and labels, but the wind and the sky and the space between two people.
God has never looked like me until recently, but let me explain. I could admit that the God I see reflected in my world is one who fights for justice and the oppressed, One who hears the cries of the hurting. But if God is not a Being Themselves, then perhaps it is the God in me that must fight for these things. So in that way, if I also attend to the movements of love and justice, I become further like God. But the image of God is always in me, regardless of gender or sexuality or anything else. Sometimes I feel that God is more clearly seen in those who are oppressed or hurting. I see God less in the traits that my whiteness makes up, of the privilege I have experienced in this life and country because of it. I see God less in a private school education, in a college degree, in a good paying job. I see God instead in my own parts of me that often feel broken because I have been told that they are not the ideal: I see God, the God I am trying to understand and never will, in my gender, in my stuttering, and in the traits that have formed because of those things. I see God most clearly in my relationships with other stutterers, in our compassion towards each other. That isn’t to say that They/She/He does not exist in the other spaces as well. They do. But in those places, God is muddled all of the broken visions of who They are, taught by privileged priests and pastors to more privileged people. Because God is not a white man sitting behind an altar in a robe, as I grew up thinking. God is so much more.
What thoughts about God have muddled your understanding? Who do you think the Divine is?