The God Who’s Always Known Me
I’m starting to work through Marcus Borg’s The God We Never Knew. It takes me a while to get through books like this, despite the fact that it’s only 175 pages, because it’s so hard to read without scribbling notes like “What are you thinking!?” in the margins. This morning I was only able to read about 4 pages.
Borg paints a picture that is familiar in it’s dishonesty. It’s not a dishonesty based on misrepresentation, but omission. He describes the “two different ‘root concepts’ for thinking about God.”
The first conceptualizes God as a supernatural being “out there,” separate from the world, who created the world a long time ago and who may from time to time intervene within it. In an important sense, this God is not “here” and thus cannot be known or experienced but only believed in (which, within the logic of this concept, is what “faith” is about). I will call this way of thinking about God “supernatural theism.”
The second root concept of God in the Christian tradition thinks of God quite differently. God is the encompassing Spirit; we (and everything that is) are in God. For this concept, God is not a supernatural being separate from the universe; rather God (the sacred, Spirit) is a nonmaterial layer…of reality all around us. God is more than the universe, but the universe is in God. Thus, in a spatial sense, God is not “somewhere else” but “right here.” I will call this concept of God “panentheism.”
Immediately upon reading this I felt sorry for him. He was raised in an environment that led him to believe that God was distant and unknowable, unapproachable, and unable to be experienced. Then, the only thing that he was open to was the opposite deception that God was not personal at all, but “a nonmaterial layer.”
The dishonesty I mentioned is in not including the third category that falls between the two deceptions (I recently learned that this is called a “false dichotomy”). That God is personal, supernatural, and wholly separate (“somewhere else”), while at the same time being Spirit, ingrained and involved in creation, and knowable by his followers.
He tells the story of how, when confronted with the proposition that God was both in heaven, and omnipresent, he rationalized out the omnipresence so that He could understand God being in heaven. It makes sense…he was 9. But his adult response was to run full-speed in the other direction, rather than to walk, reconciling his ideas of God with the God presented in Scripture.
He’s basically the cliche of the “new evangelical” or the “postmodern Christian” or whatever other term you have. He was raised in a conservative Christian home, and rather than struggle with the tough truths told in the Bible about who and how God is, he raised his voice and said, “I don’t like the way you think of God, it makes me feel small and guilty. God is here to make us feel good and happy!”
Have you ever noticed how if you ask a (theologically) liberal Christian how they came to believe what they always start by telling you that they were taught the exact opposite, and it didn’t make them feel good? Where did this idea come from that God is around to make us feel good, and happy and whole come from?
What about Isaiah 6:5? After seeing God’s glory in the temple he exclaims, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” He saw God and was frightened? He feared for his life (and probably his soul). This certainly doesn’t sound like the feeling people think they should get when they encounter God.
Anyway, I hope to get through a little more soon.