Thursday, March 16, 2006

God imagining God's self to us

Paul made a good point in his comment to my last post: what do I mean by "God imagining God's self to us," and where did I get that from? I kind of just tacked that onto the end there and didn't explain very well (because I gave myself a blogging time limit and it was about to expire! =) So I'll see if I can explain it here.

I think "God imagining God's self to us" is a bona fide Cherice-ism, but it does have some influence from other theologians and the Bible. At first I thought of us imagining what God is like, but then realized if we're doing that, we're just making God into who we want him/her to be. But if God is imagining God's self to us, we can get a picture or metaphor for who God is that comes from God. It may be difficult to discern when it's me imagining and when God is imagining to me, but hopefully with practice and trust we can figure it out at least some of the time.

One of the ways many people think of the "Image of God" humans are said to have is that our creativity is the way we are like God. It is a way we connect with God, and a gift of God's character that only humans (at least of creatures of the Earth, as far as we can discern) have been given. I even read a book last term that suggested that creativity is God (written by a former Mennonite, now a philosopher of religion) called "In the Beginning...Creativity," by Gordon Kaufman. It was an interesting hypothesis, and I agree with him that God is the essence of creativity, but God is also personal, an actual being--not just a vague concept of creativity. But his idea is helpful: through the medium of creativity we can know God better, and our creativity is an important way that we are like God.

This week in systematic theology we read part of Sang Hyung Lee's book "The Theology of Jonathon Edwards." I didn't really expect to be a big Jonathon Edwards fan, after reading "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in high school American history class, but apparently that's not his normal theology (that was more influenced by George Whitefield and the revivalist preachers--it was Edwards getting on the bandwagon of popular religion). Anyway, what we read for this week had to do with Edwards' idea of creation. It would take too long to explain how he got to this point, so I won't bore you with a recapitulation of Lee's recapitulation of Edwards...but suffice it to say that Edwards thinks that because God's essence is about relationship and self-communication, one of the major reasons that God created the universe was to communicate God's whole self in time and space.

What this has to do with the topic of God imagining God's self to us is that Edwards sees God doing this self-communication as a repetition in time which happens through the human imagination. God obviously does not repeat God's self in actuality--God is not creating another God. But what God is doing is revealing God's self to us, and through our perception of that in our minds, through our remembrance of God's revelation in our imaginations, God is repeated in time and space and able to communicate God's self only through the perception of intelligent beings that are other-than-God. God's actual self is still the same and another actual God doesn't come into being, but the idea of God is KNOWN, and it is this knowing which is part of who God is in the world.

So that's one basis for God imagining God's self to us. God "needs" people to perceive God through our minds and imaginations in order for God's self to be communicated (at least God set up a system that requires people, although there probably could have been other ways for this to happen). If people only perceive God in the forms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is God able to fully communicate the fullness of who God is to us?

Another foundation for this idea is imagery in the Bible. There are plenty of examples of God utilizing people's imaginations in order to impart truths to them they probably would not have thought of or grasped otherwise. The parables of Jesus are a good example of this: Jesus often prefaced his parables in Matthew, Mark and Luke by saying, "The Kingdom of God/Heaven is like..." Many times an explanation for the parable's meaning is not given, and the hearer is forced to think about--to imagine--how the Kingdom of God could be like a man with two sons, a woman who lost her coin, a shepherd, etc. How do these metaphors help us see a bigger picture of who God is?

In these parables Jesus shows us examples of people similar to the experience of those who would be listening to him. Are we still supposed to use those examples only as we seek to understand God, or are we able to follow Jesus' example and see metaphors for God in the people and situations in our own culture? Might God continue to use our imaginations to show us who God is like that connects with our own experience?

Other examples from the Bible include those who had visions of God or God's word, like Isaiah seeing God in heaven and volunteering for the mission as God's mouthpiece to Israel, or God asking Abr(ah)am to count how many stars there were in the sky or sand in the sea and to imgaine that God would make his descendents as numerous as they; God telling Elijah that God was going to show God's self to him and Elijah imagining God was in the earthquake or wind or fire but God shows up in the still, small voice in Elijah's mind; God using the analogy of Hosea's marriage to Gomer to show Israel a metaphor for their relationship to God; and many other examples I won't go into now.

The Elijah story is important because Elijah tried to use his own imagination to guess what God was like, but God showed up in a way completely other than what he'd expected, but completely recognizable as God. This is good news because if we wait long enough, our own active imaginations will let go, and God can come through as God is.

As a modern-day example of this idea, the other day my husband told me about a vision he had where God showed him an image of centeredness that he wouldn't have thought of on his own. He tried to hijack the vision, trying to guide it or guess where it was going, but when he allowed God to imagine God's self for him he received a vision of God unlike his own imagination, although incorporating his own experiences and knowledge. This new idea of God was completely Other from himself and his own thoughts, and yet completely intimate and integrated with who he is as an individual.

So I think God uses our imaginations to help us understand more about who God is. Sometimes we get in the way and try to decide who God's going to be, but our imaginations can be an important tool to help us see God in new ways. I think it's important to be held accountable by the Bible and our communities to make sure the images we receive are consistent with God as revealed through history and to others, but at the same time, I think God shows us God's self in ways that are uniquely important for us specifically and don't necessarily fit very well into historical molds. This is not to say that God will be vastly different from the God present to others in history, but that the image we receive may be different from any we have ever heard of before (such as F/friends of mine who have received images of God as the Holy Goose, a guy in Converse, a cat, a butterfly, etc.)


Lovin' Life Liz said...

I like your 'Cherice-ism' :) A few Sundays ago in meeting for worship I had an image of God. I often get 'humorous' images of God as I think God has a good sense of humor at times! My image was a spirit moving through the meeting 'opening the top of people's heads' to see if He could find any thoughts towards Him. Might be random/strange, but this occorued during centering.

cherice said...

That's a great image, Liz! I too think God has a sense of humor, and works with our humor to bring new truths to us. Thanks for sharing that.

Robin M. said...

On humor: have you ever seen the book by (Friend) Elton Trueblood called The Humor of Christ? It helped me to consider that maybe, in some of the passages that seem most odd, Jesus was kidding or being ironic. And that was part of his appeal to the people around him.

In meeting for worship last week, I had the question arise about a personal God. This is not at all a certainty for me, as I am more used to God being not a personal being. But I spent some time considering what would it be like if I accepted that God could have a personal face? It might be more like a facet that God could turn to me, rather than a human face. It might be more like the interfaces in antibodies or fatty acids - that have specific receptors that only fit specific hooks. Maybe there is a Godhook that fits my personal receptor, that would be perfectly suited to my condition. It is not impossible that an infinite God could have a personal face for me, a means for me to interact with God in a way that makes sense for my limited human understanding. A danger would be in thinking that the face(t) God turns to me is the only face(t) of God, the right face for everyone to see.

But the words that rushed into my mind when I asked the question, "What would it be like if I accepted that God could have a personal aspect for me?" was "I would be right there waiting for you." A little too glib? Maybe. It was spooky.

Paul said...

So I'm drawn to ask, why does God image God's self to us? What's the point of all these different images people receive from God?

It makes me think of what I recently read in Richard Rohr's book, Job and the Mystery of Suffering. "God allows us to know him only by loving him. God, in that sense, cannot be "thought." pg. 141

All these images...all for the purpose of being invited to love God?

And for me, the way God imaged God's self through Jesus is the image that speaks most deeply to me.