Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Self-Disclosure of God and Me # II

And now, how to know what to say next? What does God self-disclosing have to do with me self-disclosing?

Well, this is a complex endeavor for one poorsoul, with only one muddled lifetime to sort and display. Any one detail about me, by itself, is as likely to mislead as to clarify. What complexities, then, does God face?

"Hi, I'm God! We need to talk!" Hmmm, that's not it -- But how can God best start Divine Courtship Behavior? Not born anyplace, doesn't have a favorite team, doesn't do anything for a living. "Lord of the Universe"? -- too many contemporary readers are inclined to respond, "Get out of here, you Imaginary Creep! I wouldn't like You even if I believed in You!"

That, as it happens, is basically how I thought about God through much of my childhood, from then into early college.

My mother, whom I didn't respect, had grown up among the Mormons, had left them, believed in "a Supreme Being" but didn't think God wanted anything from people except for us to be painfully self-sacrificing in an annoying sort of way. My father was a flat-out atheist who'd enjoyed singing, as a child, in a Methodist church. Therefore they sent me to the nearest one, every Sunday.

No 'Sunday school' -- This was straight into grownup church, sometime fairly early in my elementary grades. I rather liked it, still fondly remember mumbling along to songs like 'Old Hundred'.

Hearing about "The Flood" was exciting, but that "fire next time" sounded scary as well. At the time I was also reading  my father's set of popular science books, had read that the sun would bloat up to swallow the Earth in about 7 billion years, found that even more worrisome!

But the Bible! My parents kept one in their one small bookshelf; and at some point I got into the book of 'Revelation'! God throwing fiery rocks out of the sky! Dead lambs walking about. Creatures made of eyeballs -- which could symbolize some interesting things, but I just imagined myself living as a sort of mobile tapioca pudding, which sounded downright unpleasant! And that curse at the end, against anybody daring to add or subtract one word from the book! [If only I'd known about the sort of copyists a writer had to deal with in those days, I might have been more sympathetic, not been so upset.] Mostly, it was the bits about people having to stand around praising God forever, without even a bathroom break -- Those were terrifying!

But I liked what I heard in church, about God making us all "in God's image."

What did that mean? We were all different, said the preacher. Male, female, big, little, fat, skinny, dark & light... but all these were "made in God's image." That image, he said, must be "a spiritual image." What we look like 'inside', what it is that lives, thinks, feels and all -- That's what God looks like!

It's clever to reverse this, to imagine that people have created [an illusion of] God in our own image. This image, of course, would be an illusion, not a working model of God.

The truth of it?-- People do have great difficulty disentangling whatever is actually there from whatever they've imagined. If God didn't want to be known, the effort would be futile -- and even so, it's been a persistent struggle with human presuppositions.

We've been given good metaphors. What? A 'metaphor' isn't 'a pretty literary comparison'; it's what a mathematician would call a 'mapping' or a scientist would call 'a model'. It doesn't give direct knowledge; to be useful at all a mapping has to be smaller than a country, can't show every loose pebble, has to be 'less than" but must mirror some significant structure of what we're studying.

One major metaphor -- that "People are made 'in the image of' God." The other one: that we're God's 'children.' This one is really tricky to examine!

"Children." We are "like" our parents, sometimes painfully so. There's supposed to be an affectionate relationship. We're supposed to develop into distinct people, characterized by our varying talents and by whatever things we come to love for their own sakes, not just self-assemble into dutiful robots.  And we have to start out less than complete, relatively helpless and confused. Examples from the animal kingdom even suggest: The more helpless in the beginning, the greater the potential!

People will assert ourselves, will sneak into attics, will find interesting and dangerous new toys and playmates. We will rebel, try more or less consciously to run away from home, will make mistakes and feel guilty.

And above all, whatever mistakes our own parents will have made -- will cast their shadows on our images of God.

That has been occurring for thousands of years, and is very much evident in those works various peoples call "Scripture." And such works also represent how God has self-disclosed -- and been necessarily misunderstood -- in human history through the present.