are you there, God? What do I call you?

Who is God? Or the better question may be, who do you imagine God to be?

I have a new favorite book, and luckily for me, it is required for my class, so I will most likely finish reading it. It is called Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, by Ann and Barry Ulanov. It’s possibly the most personally impacting book I’ll read all semester. One idea I’ve been chewing on is that we all have “god-images” based on our early experiences. I know, I know: many people could rattle off a list of adjectives for what God is “supposed” to be like, or what they have been taught in church that God is like. God is merciful, God is just, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. God is good. God is loving. But what is your gut reaction, your first instinct, when you think about God? When you start to become aware of that, you can start to look your God (or perhaps I should be saying god) -image in the face and see if that’s really a true image of God.

So I started thinking. What do I really think about God?

Granted, I’m still trying to figure that out, and being in seminary sort of compounds the problem (though I was already good at compounding it before). I am theistic. I believe in a personal God who is still connected with people in their day-to-day lives. I believe God answers prayers. I don’t know why he doesn’t answer all prayers. I would like to know why, but I believe that there is an answer somewhere even if I am never given access to it, and even if the answer does not play itself out in this lifetime. These are things I must believe to try and hold the idea of suffering in this world together with the concept of a loving God who can interact with humans.

So with these nice mental ideas about God packaged up, I should be all set. But then why do my emotions betray me?

I don’t think I was spanked much as a child, but I have a clear memory of being afraid that I would get an unexpected spanking once when my dad walked by my backside. I still experience that feeling of wincing and dread sometimes when I think about God.

For instance, if things are going well for me, I rejoice but I also dread the moment that the other shoe is going to drop and my happiness will come crashing down. As if God was sitting up there plotting new ways to take away my joy.

When I pray for something, I still think I need to do something to deserve it. And I experience the feeling of “why would God want to give something to you?” Especially when I consider all the suffering in the world, where I wonder why God – whoever God is- is not giving relief and happiness to those people.

Apparently, buried beneath my beliefs that God is all good and loving, lies a belief- or a feeling- that secretly, God would really like to trip me up and see what happens. And that God either doesn’t like to or can’t remove suffering from others. The idea of that God scares me.

What do I do with these ideas about God? Does believing them in my gut really make them true?

My reading has been stirring and shaking my thoughts, with some productive ideas resulting. I would like to share:

“In prayer we must begin where we are, with the images of the divine that we project and find ourselves projecting onto the unknown… One of the first tasks in prayer is to face the process openly, to notice what images we have of God and to welcome them into our awareness.” (p. 29)

STOP PRETENDING. I really do not have it all together with my images of God. But God, whoever God is, already knows that, and God knows that my human limitations make me unable to really know God. And that somehow, that which makes me so human and limited also makes me so lovely in God’s eyes.

The beautiful thing about recognizing our projections– the images and faces that we put on God– is that in doing so, we are discovering more of our own core. There is less that separates us and the divine, because we start to see past the false images and walls between us. “Those images and names that entrap us will be loosened… [we will] bring our primary selves right up to God’s presence” (p. 33).

Wow. What an amazing idea. That by simply owning up to part of who I am, I can become closer to God.

Can I trust that if I face my questions openly and without fear, an answer may begin to emerge that I couldn’t even imagine before?

Care to join me in this? What are some of the ways that you think of God, if fear, shame, or denial did not keep you from expressing your real thoughts?

3 thoughts on “are you there, God? What do I call you?

  1. yes, I notice that when I am really needing money and my fears surrounding not having enough drive me to pray about it, the same thoughts that you described run through my head as well. Why would God give to me when there are children starving in third world countries? Then I remember that we are suppose to pray the will of God and I ask; Will it benefit God if I have more? Well, He has said that He will take care of my needs but maybe not give me abundance. I find that my income usually does pick up at such times. Nobody leaves a pile of cash on my doorstep but because it is on my mind so much, I try harder to generate income and guess what? I generate more income. As far as feeling like God takes away from us to humble us or whatever the reason might be, I have wondered if maybe they should have included Job in scripture. If that doesn’t give people the impression that our suffering maybe doesn’t matter much, I don’t know what would. As far as suffering goes though, I have always felt that we are being tested to see what we will do in the face of suffering, as Job was. All of our suffering may be spread over a lifetime while his was concentrated into that one segment of his life. Sometimes the people that you percieve are suffering the most due to poverty and all that goes with it, or disease seem to have joy that I dont have in my life because I spend my days chasing after the wind and feeling trapped by an illusion that I have to live a certain way. A lady that I take care of with Lou Gerigs cannot move a finger to help herself. She is on a vent to help her breath and has a G-tube to feed her and a urinary catheter. She said to me yesterday, “I’m so glad that all I have to do is lay here and God takes such good care of me. I would not want to be out there running around trying to make a living like you are.” She credits her disease for having drawn so close to God and says she can’t wait to die and be with Jesus. It makes ya wonder who is suffering the most. Do we all get our fair share? Maybe instead of asking for anything of a physical nature in our prayers if we just ask for the spiritual gifts; greater faith, peace that we bring with us, pateince, wisdom etc. Do you think we could ever get enough of those things to realize that we already have all we need and are exactly where we are suppose to be?

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Christine. I remember the first time I thought about this and how eye opening it was (and still is). I am fortunate in that my own father while an appropriate disciplinarian, also is extremely attentive and compassionate so I felt like his own influence in my life was a decent proxy for a Heavenly Father prototype. I also have to share that for the longest time as a kid, the image of God in my head was a giant shining and rotating golden quarter with both sides showing George Washington’s profile! I think this must have been formed early on when learning of GW’s moniker as the Father of our Country and some aspect of Jehovah’s shekinah glory as described in the Hebrew Bible.

  3. Thank you both for your comments! Josh: I am also grateful for my father’s deliberate attempts to play and be with his children during our growing up years. I feel like that certainly helps provide the foundation I also feel that God is interested in me and cares about me, and is a good God. I hold what feels like two irreconcilable views about God at the same time: the God that might hurt me and the God that cares deeply and would never hurt me. But those images originated in the same person (theoretically). I think it’s a matter of bringing the unconscious images to the light and starting to make them examined or conscious theology, instead of allowing our unconscious images to inhibit a real relationship with God! And I like your image of the spinning coin, haha.

    Karen– I appreciate your thoughts and struggles with similar type of thinking! I definitely think there are different types of suffering. Wasn’t it Mother Teresa who said that we need to have more compassion on the rich, because they are suffering in their isolation and don’t even know it?
    And I try to/ would like to try to pray for the spiritual gifts over the circumstantial needs. But sometimes I get scared to do that, because I know that it’s hardship or risk or something else uncomfortable that causes character growth, and even though I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine, it’s like standing at the edge of a pool and knowing that to do what you need to do, you’re going to have to jump in- all the way!

    Another thing I’ve been thinking about (thanks greatly to a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp) is counting blessings in the smallest things in life, which lead us to being able to count everything, even when it doesn’t seem pleasant, as a gift. Definitely working on that…

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