Sep 182012
 

Much is made of the idea of a ‘personal’ God in Christianity.  The idea of God being a person, or a unity of three persons, has been with us for so long, and has been so adamantly preached as the key to having an acceptable experience of and relationship with God, that some Christians consider it among the worst sacrilege and blasphemy to speak of God in any other way.  Even so, this is precisely where the Spirit has led many Christian mystics.   It seems to me that this is part of why some Christians have a hard time understanding Christian mystics, let alone recognizing us as ‘good’ Christians.  In this post, I hope to show how, in their most authentic love of God, mystics can embrace other ways of relating to God.

There are lots of traditional biblical arguments for why a Christian could adhere to that “old time religion” in which God is conceived of as a superhuman Father, one who thinks and feels like humans do, whose mind works pretty much like a human’s does, but is different primarily because He is all-knowing, infinitely intelligent, and infinitely wise.  It’s easy to see why this anthropomorphic way of thinking about God is commonly offered, and has at times been brutally enforced, as the only truly Christian way to think and speak about God.  After all, it is the language the Bible itself most commonly uses.  The teachings about God attributed to Jesus are presented in such terms, and then the writings of the Apostles, especially Paul, further speak of relating to the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit in personified terms.

The question that arises for some of us is whether or not it’s necessary to take all that anthropomorphic language literally.  Is there no room in Christianity for people who find such language to be poignant and inspiring, yet also humbly acknowledge that they find it alone inadequate for the Supreme Being, the very Source, Creator, and Sustainer of Existence Itself?  At times, Christian authorities of various sorts have not only answered that question with “No!”,  but they have been willing to destroy lives over the issue.  Why is that?  What are they afraid of?  Where is the definitive Biblical statement that no other way of thinking about God is acceptable to God?  You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist.  There is no “shalt” or “shalt not” with regard to anthropomorphic theism.  In fact, it seems to me that the scriptures offer many opportunities to not be limited to that way of thinking about God.

Is “Person” a Fitting Term for God?

It is interesting that the English word “person” is taken from the Greek prosopon, which originally meant a theatrical mask. The prosopon represented the role, and would obviously have never been confused with the actual actor.  According to Thayer and Smith’s lexicon, in the New Testament prosopon refers to:

1. the face
a. the front of the human head
b. countenance, look
i. the face so far forth as it is the organ of sight, and by it various movements and changes) the index of the inward thoughts and feelings
c. the appearance one presents by his wealth or property, his rank or low condition
i. outward circumstances, external condition
ii. used in expressions which denote to regard the person in one’s judgment and treatment of men
2. the outward appearance of inanimate things

We can see that the word always refers to an outward, worldly, or superficial appearance, not the essence of something, which fluent speakers of Greek, like Jesus and the New Testament authors, would have known.  In many English versions of the New Testament, this word is translated as “person,” and one of the most common contexts is when it is said Jesus and God do not regard the persons of human beings (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21; Galatians 2:6).   To my knowledge, only once is the word prosopon used in reference to God/Christ.  It is in 2nd Corinthians 2:10 where Paul speaks of forgiving others in the person of Christ, which is to say that in such moments the believer’s presence to others is a mask of the Christ within him or her.

In all of these cases, the wording emphasizes appearances, masks upon something more essential, central, and real.  For me, this leads to a theological position that I find very reasonable: When I think of God in anthropomorphic terms, as if a person, then I am looking at a conceptual mask that helps me relate to God in a way that can be very meaningful and helpful, yet can nonetheless sometimes prevent me from experiencing God more directly and more fully.  Said another way, a mask can be very attractive, fun, informative, challenging, even threatening, and somewhat revealing in all of these ways, but if I want to get to know more about who or what is behind the mask, then sometimes I must be willing to let it fall. This is a point where great Christian mystics like St. John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart enter the theological discussion.

Mysticism and the Trans-Personal Perspective on God

This willingness to let go of the masks and simply open to the Ineffable Mystery of God is one way that Christian contemplative mysticism differs from other ways of relating to God and Christ.  This does not mean that Christian mysticism is about giving up faith in God as very much alive and present in and around us.  In fact, for many of us, letting go of the masks of personhood for God has made it easier for us to relate to God as Life Itself, as Love Itself, as Truth Itself, as Reality Itself, but a Life, Love, Truth, and Reality that isn’t limited to our human experiences and understandings; God’s transcendence is revered as much as God’s immanence.  A great number of us even continue to speak to God, about God, and of our relationship with God, in very personal terms.  In my own case, following in the footsteps of greater mystics, I write poetry addressed to God as the Beloved.   I bear witness that it is very natural for some of us to express our most intimate thoughts and feelings about God in such human terms.  Just as we anthropomorphize God by imagining God’s mind to be human-like but with infinite knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom, we also personalize our experience of and relationship with God by likening it to the most rewarding human relationships infinitely magnified.  We simply don’t have a better single way to communicate so much of our relationship with God than in these very personal terms.  Yet among the challenges of a trans-personal mysticism are (1) that we don’t forget it is symbolism to speak of God as a person, (2) there are other symbol systems with their own value, and (3) even the most complete, all-encompassing, and complexly detailed conceptualization falls short for the Infinite and Eternal One.

An important take-away from that last point is that what we know, or think we know, about God is transcended by what we don’t know.  To realize union with God more fully, which is the definitive aim of contemplative mysticism, we must therefore surrender to the Unknown, and we do so through the practice of unknowing. We open ourselves to the immediate presence of God freed from our beliefs, hopes, and expectations about how God “should” be present.  We let go of all words, all images, and all feelings that might arise, understanding them to be parts of a mask we put on God.  It isn’t that we are striving to attain some state of mindlessness, but rather that our awareness sinks down into the purest depths of mind where, if we are so graced, we might realize deeper union with its very source and essence, which we call Spirit, or God.  Likewise, we are not trying to eliminate all our beliefs and hopes so that we walk around in a self-induced state of agnosticism and apathy, but rather remind ourselves that our beliefs and hopes are bound to be inaccurate reflections of even greater truths.

The Existential Challenges and Rewards of Unknowing

At this point I want to address why some people are resistant to letting go of anthropomorphic theism as the only way to think about God.  I believe the short answer is fear.  We fear that it’s unacceptable to God.  We fear it will open the door to delusions or demons. We fear that people who are important to us will be uncomfortable with us, and even ridicule or reject us.  We fear we will lose a sense of confidence and direction about what is meaningful and important in life.  We fear that we will lose something that has given us comfort.  We fear that we will have to admit that we no longer think the way we once thought.  We fear that we will lose our sense of who and what we are as spiritual beings.

I think that last fear penetrates very deeply into one of our most common psychological struggles, which is facing the fact that we don’t fully know ourselves.  One of the great revelations of depth psychology is that, as with an iceberg, there is more to the human psyche beneath the surface of consciousness than above it.  If we aren’t aware of most of our own souls, how can we begin to know even the tiniest fraction about God?!  And beneath all of these fears, perhaps we can see the more basic fear of uncertainty, of the unknown, and our insecurity about simply being in the midst of forces and events that are beyond our ability to anticipate, control, or even fully understand in hindsight.  In fact, many of us have been taught that among the essential purposes of religion are comfort and support in the face of all the fear and uncertainty in life.  When fear and uncertainty are major engines for one’s religious beliefs and attitudes, and especially if one is in denial of them, then the idea of unknowing and embracing God as the Great Mystery can sound like the exact opposite of what one needs.

In my own case, despite having grown up in the Church and practicing a fairly devout mainstream spirituality, and perhaps even as a result of doing so, by my mid-20s I became aware of how much I had been in denial of my uncertainty.  One day, as I drove north on I-35W to go to class at UNT, an epiphany came to me about the extent to which I had been either fighting or fleeing uncertainty with so much of my spiritual life.  For a moment I sat there wondering, “Okay, so now what?  I’m really freaked out about how much more uncertain I am than I ever realized.  What am I supposed to do with this?  How do I do anything without some sense of certainty?”

Almost immediately I saw the image of a toddler boldly living life, unencumbered by uncertainty, and instead fully immersed in the adventure of simply being.  That’s when it not only became okay for me to be uncertain, but I began to see how uncertainty can be transformed into mystery, mystery into freedom, freedom into gratitude and joy, and all of it into love.  That’s also when my understanding of “faith” began to transform from a specific unchanging set of crystallized beliefs into something much deeper and more basic, something more about the simple will to live and to love, and the trust that anything worthy of the name “God” would understand and accept me even better than I understand and accept myself.

Finally, I want to clarify that I am not saying letting go of a strictly anthropomorphic theism and practicing contemplative mysticism is necessary in order to be a “better” Christian, or a happier soul, or a more loving human being, or whatever.  Far be it from me to prescribe what another soul’s relationship with God should or shouldn’t be.  All I can assert is that this is how it has worked out for me and some others, that it is an authentic experience and expression of Christian faith, and to describe some of its demands and rewards.

Agape

  36 Responses to “A ‘Personal’ God?”

  1. David left this comment on the Activity page of ChristianMystics.com, and I’ve taken the liberty of moving it here.

    Chuck-
    I would suggest, since what we are talking about is the image of God, not the character or nature of God, then we all agree on one image, once and for all. I propose we ditch all previous constructed metaphors and use a universal that we can all agree on, one that every single human being can identify with, no matter what their race, gender or age. I boldly put forth the new metaphor for God…..THUMB.
    It is perfect. Our thumbs separate us from all other of God’s creation because we truly have the only opposable thumbs on the planet. Some primates come close, but we’re still tops in true opposability. We avoid the gender problem forever because the word thumb is gender neutral; thumb is neither male nor female. To a Coptic Christian female praying in Egypt that the storm of violence pass her by, she could imagine a woman’s thumb, to the uptight, white Anglo-Saxon protestant male, it is a WASP thumb. To the ancient African American grandmother or Asian grandfather, it is an African American or Asian (both aged) thumb, respectively. To the person who has lost their hands in a horrific accident then, ….oh, crap. That’s not gonna work there is it? I guess we will all just have to struggle and embrace the God we have come to know, as God has revealed Gods self to us each individually.
    Rats! For a second I thought I had a breakthrough there; Thumb knows I tried!

    -Dave

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for the comments. You made me laugh and sigh and think. 🙂

    “I guess we will all just have to struggle and embrace the God we have come to know, as God has revealed Gods self to us each individually.”

    Yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at, too. Even so, sometimes I think a bigger struggle is to fully embrace another who relates to God differently. Some of us also feel challenged to not assume that the way God has revealed Godself to us is the end of the story, that we have arrived at the one and only way we will understand and relate to God from now on.

    Thanks again!

    Agape,
    Chuck

  3. Hi Chuck,

    That was a wonderfully clear and eloquent explanation of some of the essential understandings of “Christian contemplative mysticism”. Actually, I’ve never heard that term used. You may have just coined a new phrase. I have struggled with trying to make a connection between the contemplative life and Christian mysticism. The way you phrase it makes much more sense to me. Thanks for that!

    I have always held the opinion that it is none of my business how individuals understand and relate to God in their own unique spiritual journeys. I have no idea what that is supposed to look like for each person. Conversely, it is no one else’s business as to how I understand and practice my own spirituality. It is helpful to understand different views, but if one finds “heart” in their own brand of religion or spirituality, then they are compelled to follow it. I don’t think that is every Christian’s position.

    In a sense, I think Christianity is polytheistic, each of us calling God by a “thousand names” and understanding God in a thousand different ways. If God and Truth are one, then how can that be? I can’t even attempt to answer that question without first rejecting all of my human conceptions about God. Not every Christian sees the need to do so. As you mentioned, Chuck, they may even believe it would be wrong to do so.

    You mentioned freedom in your post, Chuck. If my understanding and relationship to God is to define itself as reciprocal freedom, and I think it must, I need to destroy the box that contains God. This is where I find the heart in my spiritual life, but it is not where everyone else finds it. Let it be left to each of us according to our own gifts of grace and understanding without judgment.

    God’s Peace.
    Steve

  4. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful reflections.

    You’re right that it did in fact just occur to me to specify this way as “contemplative mysticism.” As I’m sure you know, the Church traditionally distinguishes between apophatic and cataphatic categories of prayer and theology, with the apophatic being the quiet contemplative way. But the cataphatic also has its own kinds of mysticism, of seeking to realize greater union with God, which are about immersing oneself in one or more attributes of God. I am speaking cataphatic language when I speak of God as Love, and when I write love poems to God, but these actually happen within an apophatic context for me. (I hope I have been thoroughly confusing here! 😛 ) In short, the contemplative apophatic approach to mysticism reveals to me that no words, no images, no feelings suffice, yet I find myself nonetheless moved to express the thoughts and feelings that do arise in the wake of unknowing.

    Finally, I love what you said about reciprocal freedom in your understanding and relationship with God. I wonder how much we fail to see the extent to which we assume control over what God is and is not allowed to be in our lives, and I wonder how often we do that by, ironically, trying to build up God’s image in some specific grand and glorious way.

    Agape,
    Chuck

  5. Chuck,

    Wonderfully said!

    From your blog quote: “At this point I want to address why some people are resistant to letting go of anthropomorphic theism as the only way to think about God. I believe the short answer is fear.”

    Fear does have a strong impact. Admittedly I was in fear for a long time and did not conceive of God as actually being “loving”. In my epiphany/vision when I saw the hands of God squash the demon but with arms open wide for mankind, my fear left.

    Perhaps it has to be an epiphany for each individual person.

    In my anthrop-mysticism clinging to my “old time religion” I recognize Jesus as God having come in the flesh. Since He said, “if you’ve seen Me, then you’ve seen the Father”, then I tend to consider Him “human-like”, perhaps in flesh and blood terms but even more because He was/is full of the Holy Spirit.

    If God is a loving Father and is Love and Love casts out all fear then why are “we” afraid?

    The consensus of those who saw Him firsthand indicate – they “touched” Him, ate with Him, saw Him, and probably even observed He had to evacuate His “humanly” system on occasion; and, they too recognized Him as being not only flesh and blood but something more.

    To be in His presence then must have been full of wonderment (John 21:25 Amplified: And there are also many other things which Jesus did. If they should be all recorded one by one [in detail], I suppose that even the world itself could not contain (have room for) the books that would be written). To be in His presence now is a furtherance of mysticism, contemplation, and even something more.

    Perhaps due to the finiteness of what we might conceive Him to be, He shows up in that way as a “comfortable personification” to “us” (individually) whether it be an anthropomorphic conception or something else. The distinction of terms I do have hesitation with “The Great Object”, the Great Pumpkin, The Great Easter Egg, the Great Box, or whatever, but I am relaxing a bit.

    And in such communion we do exactly that – commune with the Great I am.

    When I was younger I used to contemplate that perhaps what I see is not what you see, that perhaps my green is your red and even considered writing a little science fiction tale about that. Now I see theories dealing with quantum particles and string theory relating the same idea. In that then, your God may not be my God, but then again . . . : )

    Peace
    Fred

    • Thanks for the poignant comments, Fred!

      “perhaps what I see is not what you see, that perhaps my green is your red… your God may not be my God, but then again…”

      I hear you, brother! 🙂 I’m mulling over an idea for a new blog post that connects with these thoughts.

      Agape,
      Chuck

  6. Hi Chuck,

    Admirable post on an exceedingly challenging subject. I’d agree with you that the primary resistance to seeing God in any way other than a personal, human-like God is fear. But I tend to frame that fear into a fear of losing control and knowing not Who can rescue one when control is lost. I’d even hypothesize that the angry responses received by those who see God differently is founded upon this fear more than any other. It is as if one were to say, “Don’t you dare take away my Father God, for if you do, I’m not sure I can survive in this life.” We can consider, for example, that when one might be choosing to relinquish control previously found through addiction, one’s “first step” is to “trust in a higher power.” If this “higher power” is some nebulous, invisible, force, then how is one to take a “first step” at all, let alone a twelfth? As humans, we naturally wish to relinquish our lives into a powerful and loving Father figure.

    When I began to view God beyond what you and many have called the “anthropomorphic” perspective, I also prayed, “God, I still need you to be my Father. Never quit being my Father.” The blessing in mysticism is that we can start seeing the Divine as Father, Mother, Spirit and Much More, but this often takes a “dark night” of releasing our views of Father alone, for Father is truly comforting.

    Blessings to you and and all, and David, LOL.
    Karina

    • Hi Karina,

      Great reflections! In my experience, anger is always, always, a secondary emotion, with fear the more basic one underneath, whether we are conscious of it or not. We don’t get angry about things we don’t perceive as some sort of threat, and the fact that we have perceived something as a threat is itself the beginning of fear. Anger is simply the “fight” option in the fight-or-flight response to fear. So one of the things I find most telling is the anger that arises in people when their concepts of God, good, and evil are merely questioned by someone else. I’m not talking about person B overtly suggesting to person A that his or her beliefs are faulty, but person B merely being open in questioning whether or not those beliefs work for him/herself. Of course, the real challenge is not simply to be aware of and compassionate toward that defensiveness in others, but also in ourselves.

      That’s one reason why I love your last paragraph so much. 🙂 In your commitment to be as intelligent as you are in your faith, you have not denied the feelings and needs of the helpless little child who is always a part of you. You allow yourself to be a whole human being, responding to the Spirit with every part of who and what you are, loving God, as Jesus taught, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Thank you so much for sharing that! 🙂

      Agape,
      Chuck

      • Thanks Chuck. Since the “like” button is finicky, I’ll be more “personal” in my thanks, as I appreciate your warm comments. I’ll add another “like” to your recent comment too in response to Fred about the many ways you’ve come to relate to God. 🙂

  7. Chuck – your post was awesome. Loved it.

  8. Chuck,

    Another great post that helps explain the Christian mystic perspective. This has always been a hard subject to tackle. I have a few mainstream Christian friends that have questions about the mystic perspective of God and I am going to refer them here since you have done such a eloquent job.

    A few observations of my own:

    If God were really personal, at least in the way that we understand it, God would certainly be limited, wouldn’t he? And that would no doubt contradict much in the scriptures. I think this one point alone is enough to make the deep thinker open to types of Christianity beyond the traditional God concept. I think your post here has proven this quite adequately.

    Thanks for this!

  9. I came to Christ in 2007 after hitting bottom. Yes I am what they call a born again. Before that I was an atheist. I was spiritual, but just didn’t believe or agree with the Christian view of who God was. Then God spoke to me while I was in a jail cell. Spoke to me out loud. Woke me up literally. Said “I still love you”
    Since then I’ve turned to Christ gone to church and all that. Recently earlier this year I began to have doubts about the church and fundamentalism. Questions arose and I turned back to Taoism. Reading Taoist literature, God was saying to me “I’m right here” I turned to esoteric christian literature even though the church elders looked at me askance, and He was there saying “Yes I’m here too.” I found a book on Christian Mysticism and felt the veil being torn away and He was saying “I’m here too”
    A thought occurred to me which I shared with my wife and pastor. Basically I realized that If one has a personal relationship with God then God will hear them regardless of whether they are Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. It is the relationship that is important. My pastor and wife, didn’t agree and I learned to keep my thoughts to myself until later.
    It brought me full circle and helped me greatly in my understanding of who God is.
    I have been able to lay aside some of my fears, and let go. That is the only thing standing in the way of ourselves and true understanding. OURSELVES. God is within just as Jesus and Paul spoke it. It requires us to step out of ourselves, and LET GO. Let go of your fears and worries and preconceptions, attitudes, and all of it. It takes a lifetime. It requires discipline and selflessness.

  10. Dominic’s quote: “I came to Christ in 2007 after hitting bottom. Yes I am what they call a born again. Before that I was an atheist. I was spiritual, but just didn’t believe or agree with the Christian view of who God was.”

    From time to time I have to settle down and think back of my roots as well as I observe those around me. My sordid past haunts me on occasion; however, in realizing who I was, I too was searching and so is everyone. Searching not only for answers but also searching for a Someone. And in finding that Someone many people questioned me. Many who found fault with me have long since gone and I had to learn to forgive them and forgive myself. Some of those were my closest loved ones, but I had to let them go with what they thought and trust God with His walk with me. At times, I even questioned myself.

    I realize in order to love someone and actually show God’s love for the unlovely, the arguably skeptical, and all the rest of the icky attributes of humanity, I too am them.

    There’s a song by Sidewalk Prophets which quickens to my thoughts called “You Loved Me Anyway”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9ICt1FFTwo

    Here is an excerpt from it:

    I am the thorn in Your crown
    But You love me anyway
    I am the sweat from Your brow
    But You love me anyway
    I am the nail in Your wrist
    But You love me anyway
    I am Judas’ kiss
    But You love me anyway

    See now, I am the man who yelled out from the crowd
    For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
    Yes then, I turned away with this smile on my face
    With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
    And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
    So ashamed of my life, my life, my life

    But You love me anyway
    It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known
    Yes, You love me anyway
    Oh Lord, how You love me

    Notice the part in the last stanza: “It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known.”

    I am that person in the song and for some confounded reason I cannot stop sinning but it is refreshing to know I can confess and:

    Concerning forgiving: Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

    And:

    Lamenations 23:22-24 The Message

    “GOD’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
    They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

    And 1 John 1:9 Amplified:

    “If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action].”

    Without love we’re lost. No matter how many prayers I pray, if there is not love incorporated in those “words” then it really doesn’t matter. Granted, God is going to do what He’s going to do with or without my “words”, but for some strange reason He allows me the privilege of participation. I do not claim to know why, that is one of the great mysteries of who He is.

    As a born again Christian, “Baptized in the Holy Spirit”, delivered from at least four demons (yes, even after I received the Holy Ghost), and many other forms of debauchery and uncleanliness (I use quotes simply because there is some argument concerning “baptism and filling” and how can you have a demon if you were filled with the Holy Ghost?) I don’t know, go ask God. Peter seemed to have a problem with that too.

    I welcome you.

    I, as a person may not agree with everything; however, as a person you are a part of the thing called into existence by the Great I Am and therefore seem to qualify as the recipient of God’s all encompassing love, the most inexplicable and profound kind that I cannot manufacture but still have privilege to share.

    All I can add is just be in love with God.

    In the book of John 6:26-71 Amplified it is very strongly put how God works in our lives.
    I quote this part:
    66 After this, many of His disciples drew back (returned to their old associations) and no longer accompanied Him.
    67 Jesus said to the Twelve, Will you also go away? [And do you too desire to leave Me?]
    68 Simon Peter answered, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words (the message) of eternal life.
    69 And we have learned to believe and trust, and [more] we have come to know [surely] that You are the Holy One of God, the Christ (the Anointed One), the Son of the living God.

    So, keep producing that carbon dioxide the plants love you for it : )

    God has a great sense of humor, and He keeps telling me, “quit taking yourself so seriously, Fred, and enjoy Me, trust Me, I am who I am.” Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, He strikes a match and lights the corner of the blueprints on fire, then laughs as I feebly try to resurrect the ashes. Then, He takes my hand and tells me, “It’s okay, we’ve got more important things to do, like showing love to all those Christianmystics.com folks.”

    Peace
    Fred

  11. Hi Chuck,

    I find it interesting that in the Book of Revelation (1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6) there is reference to the “seven spirits of God”. The possible interpretations vary.

    I suppose it’s just me, but as far as an anthropomorphic “personification” of the term “God” I have to refer to what I consider the source, the cornerstone of my faith, Jesus. And in so doing question why there would be a consideration of something other than the attribution of “Father”?

    If the quotes are correct and He is quoted always referring to God the Father as “Our Father who art in Heaven”, “My Father, if possible, let this cup be passed away from me.” “Father, why have you forsaken me?”etc. along with making pronouncements that He is the “Son” of God, then where does it stack up?

    The Trinity being what They are, ha (isn’t that an anthropomorphism of the highest degree) then how is it we are supposed to pray to a “whatever” or have a loving relationship with a great “unknown”. Therein lies the mystery I suppose.

    Is it then a question of God can be whatever He wants to be or we can conceive of Him whatever we want to conceive Him to be?

    Another dilemma that I will simply have to address with the Great Pumpkin. I’ll see Linus and you in the cornfield or the pumpkin patch.

    Peace
    Fred

    • Fred,

      First, I’m absolutely fine with your understanding of the Bible, Jesus, and God. My point is not to convince you or anyone else to think or feel other than you do, but to provide some insight into a way of relating to God that some of us find ourselves moved to do. If I have given offense in the process, then please forgive my insensitivity. Also, please understand that I am not saying I have forsaken relating to God as Father, but that I have instead opened to relating to God in other ways as well, including Holy Spirit, Son, Mother, Friend, Creator, Healer, Teacher, Truth, Life, and Love Itself.

      Second, it may sound to you like my use of terms such as the “Great Mystery” points to something cold, distant, unlovable, and, judging from your comments, apparently as farcical and ridiculous as the Great Pumpkin, but I hope you can allow for the possibility that for me and others it does not. This phrase communicates the deepest respect, humility, wonder, and awe I can express in two words. It certainly has its own limitations, just as any other term or title we might place on God, but is hardly trivial to me.

      Agape.
      Chuck

  12. Chuck, if I might step in. From my reading of the early mystics i have come to see God as something unnameable. A frequent word they use to describe God is ineffable.
    “incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible: ineffable joy. ”
    To me that describes our Lord. It opens the door and allows us to take the blinders off and seek God in places we wouldn’t think to. It’s sacred, hidden mysterious, mystical. It requires turning inward, turning away from the world. Letting go of who we think we are according to this world.

  13. Hi Chuck,

    Oh no, no, no, don’t take it as if I was offended. I was just continuing the discussion. Unfortunately, the tone of writing can take on a mystic of its own and come off sounding worse than it is. That’s why I’m always apologizing. It’s difficult to say in a nice “writing tone” way” I see what you mean, but . . .

    So, please don’t think that I was offended. I do appreciate everyone’s search for God in their own way. I may not agree with certain aspects, but certainly this site is a wonderful experience in itself and as I learn more and more about mysticism, I am not one of the silent one’s and am very outspoken.

    I appreciate as well, the tackling of deep thinking topics and subjects and if I come across as not knowing what I’m talking about – that’s probably true, ha. My ignorance is bliss; however, I do have a tremendous love and respect for all of you. I think it’s great we can converse virtually and we are so close spiritually we can almost touch.

    So, in some small way, I hope my reflections and experiences are more beneficial to someone and less intrusive or hurtful.

    Yes, I jest in using the Great Box or whatever, and I do try to interject a little humor – that’s just me. I understand a lot of folks take this sort of thing very seriously and it is serious. And at times I’ve risen up only to be slam-dunked. As you’ve said, “that’s okay with God”.

    I still believe very strongly He is using this site and a lot of great things have happened and are happening and will happen.

    I find you, Ulyses, “C. M. Gregory (took me six months to figure out CM might not be his initials, ha), Chandra, Katrina, and everyone else astoundingly profound in education, backgrounds, spiritual growth, and love for God.

    So, if I come off too strong (and I have to admit I was caught off guard the other day as I was trying to edit my post when Steve was reading it), then I apologize.

    I like to clarify where I stand so at least allow someone the benefit of the doubt to disagree if they desire to do so.

    Last night I was reading from St. Theresa’s writings on the mansions and found it rather peculiar that she states, “Someone as stupid as myself” in various portions. Granted the time period, the culture, the Spanish Inquisition, and several other factors are built into the problematic efforts to remove herself from such elements so she can convey to her reading audience the evidences and spiritual aspects of becoming familiar with the inner mansion where God meets a person.

    In like manner without the error of false humility – how stupid I am as well to even write about God. Who am I? What have I to say? And who cares anyway?

    With that stated, I have one slight problem with the mystics – if nobody says anything then nobody learns anything. If we keep it all to ourselves then what’s the point. Better to never be a mystic or a contemplative and instead turn to offer the hand of love to one that is broken.

    I sometimes wonder and think, those guys must think I’ve really lost it with his talk of demon possession and dreams, etc., but it’s true. It has happened to me. Thank God, I was delivered, I have had angelic encounters, healings have occurred and I am like Andrew, from the book of John 1:41 – “He first sought out and found his own brother Simon and said to him, We have found (discovered) the Messiah!—which translated is the Christ (the Anointed One).
    I’ve been around the block a couple of times and realize there’s a lot more to God than I know. To equate it to a scientific sort of understanding, the singularity and the event horizon of the black hole is just a cushion to appease our minds of the unknown. What really happens is on past the other side of the black hole in another dimension that we obviously can’t see. God is not only there but He is here at the same time.

    Perhaps the new pink is green. I know an artist who is color blind and I went to classes with him. At first I did not know he was color blind and someone viewing his drawings would never know either. His drawings are magnificent, the colors are exactly correct with vast amounts of hues, tones, gradations, perspective, proportions, and other elements and principles fully understood and established in the spectrum of art. He has to realize that brown is actually green, that blue is actually red or some other hues are different than what others see in the world. Still, every drawing he does is one that wins awards and is proudly exhibited.

    What does that mean when applied to God? Simply because I make my statement of belief does not restrict God. The box theory as I’ve indicated and others in past postings does not apply to God – He keeps escaping. If I come across as if “I’m right and you’re wrong” then perhaps the kitchen has caught on fire and I’m too blind to see the facts.

    It’s not so much that I see you as wrong and me as right (you in the general sense of the all inclusive ‘you’); rather, I see there are differences but also see you (in the personal view of ‘you’) as a person that God loves and in that understanding I can reach out and show you love as well. In addition, it’s seem pretty obvious to me that YOU LOVE GOD (whoops, does that come across as yelling?).

    So, I guess you’ll just have to be patient with me as I muddle my way through this. I’ll tone it down a bit or at least try to, maybe just one liners : ) In the meantime, I’ve let out a great deal of carbon dioxide and the reptiles in the outer court of the first mansion are not happy.

    With peace
    Fred

  14. Sort of how the Taoists say “The tao that can be named is not the tao.” or something like that. Right on!

  15. It is definitely an interesting shift to see people opening up more to the idea that if you can talk about it, point at it, say it or write about it in any DEFINITE terms: it ain’t IT! Haha! That’s been my experience. If I had to throw in my 2 cents I lean more towards an impersonal God that doesn’t dole out wish fulfillment or take prayers of petition to be a top priority…of course that is just based on life experience. Other people say might say the exact opposite based on their mileage. But regardless, it doesn’t have to mean anything more than simply an observation. If I look at an elephant from the front end, and you look at it from the rear end (as the blind man metaphor goes) we’re going to be explaining two completely different things. We’ll both be talking about and describing an elephant, but different aspects of it…not the complete picture.

    With that in mind, one of the blessings that has come about my practice and my path has been to not be very impressed by an idea simply because I think it’s true, or because it makes rational sense, or because I observe it personally. As the Buddhists may say “neti, neti” or “not this, not that”. Once you get stuck in a limited way of thinking about God you’ve stopped moving along the path and settled with a certain interpretation. Which is totally fine, people do it all the time, and if God doesn’t see fit to make you re-evaluate that understanding or challenge you to move past it…well…God Bless you. I wouldn’t dare evangelize someone see what I see because if they are ahead of me on the path it would pull them behind, and if they are behind me it might scare them to death or worse. But it just seems that a constant in life has been whenever you get comfortable with a certain state of mind…that will change. At least until at least it doesn’t, and then you can say you’ve been where Bernadette Roberts, and St. John and St. Teresa, and Buddha and all of them claim to be.

  16. Hi Jeff and Chuck and others,

    Yes, I agree to a point, a definition of terms is sometimes necessary; otherwise, I admit I get confused. I don’t expect every blog or every discussion to have a vocabulary list. And I do find my understanding of something may be very different with others’.

    The homeschooling for my edumucation is slow.

    As I’ve found myself struggling with understanding what was meant by St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and others, many of you have pointed me in the right direction – THANK YOU. Steve’s continuance in revealing more and more about this fellow St. John of the Cross has been wonderfully received by me. Chuck’s guidance to other sources is richly received as well. And all the resources on the site are a treasure trove in themselves, thanks C. M. Gregory.

    I admit, I might be the fly in the oatmeal at times, but my heart is sincere. And when I jump in the swimming pool with both feet and no parachute, yes, there’s going to be a big splash and others may get wet.

    My humor may seem at times a bit over the top, but I try to interject it especially with analogies to present a possible clearer picture, but not to offend.

    I laugh at and with St. Teresa’s statements of “How can anybody as stupid as myself offer any guidance on prayer.” Ha, well move over sister because I’ve probably got the number to the front of the line on just about every category of mysticism and contemplation.

    But, I’m not giving up. By the way, All this time I thought we were talking about a rhinoceros and not an elephant : )

    Peace
    Fred

  17. Well said.

    A few things which may be of interest to you:

    The Hindu sage, Sri Ramakrishna, was particularly known for his defense of both form and formlessness with respect to God. He had a unique ability to bridge the divide between the Hindu sects which worship God in the form of an avatar, or “chosen ideal” (Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, etc.), and the Advaita Vedantists, who might best be described as religious purists. Sri Ramakrishna himself honored God in the aspect of the Divine Feminine:

    “Mother, don’t make me unconscious through the Knowledge of Brahman. Don’t give me Brahmajnana, Mother. Am I not Your child, and naturally timid? I must have my Mother. A million salutations to the Knowledge of Brahman! Give it to those who want it. O Mother let me remain in contact with men! Don’t make me a dried-up ascetic. I want to enjoy Your sport in the world.”

    While he understood the avatar as a kind of window or door leading onto the wider experience of an impersonal God, he also considered it a way back; a way to anchor the deeper mystical experience in the world of form. This was not a linear, one-way ascent to God, but a process of attaining the divine vision and then coming full circle, in order to integrate the experience in the world. As the NeoPlatonist, Plotinus, expressed it: “Leave the Many, find the One, and, having found the One, embrace the Many as the One.”

    A Christian example of this might be found in the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. “A Testament of Devotion”, by Quaker Thomas R. Kelly, is one of the simplest, most lucid, yet lyrically beautiful explainations of silent contemplation found in the Christian tradition.

    From the book:

    “God inflames the soul with a craving for absolute purity… Boldly must we risk the dangers which lie along the margins of excess… For the life of obedience is a holy life, a separated life, a renounced life, cut off from worldly compromises, distinct, heaven-dedicated in the midst of men, stainless as the snows upon the mountain tops.”

    Another book I’d recommend is Madame Jeanne Guyon’s “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ”, possibly the most burned book in the history of the world (authorities went door-to-door collecting and burning copies of this book throughout France). Interestingly, Guyon considered herself a devout Catholic, even after being excommunicated and imprisoned by the Catholic Church. Her book is really a little piece of perfection.

    Quoted in the book:

    ‘The Spirit also helps our weakness,
    for we do not know how to pray as we should;
    but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us
    with groanings too deep for words.’
    ~ Romans 8:26

    ‘The Lord shall fight for you while you keep silent.’
    – Exodus 14:14

    ‘I will lead her into solitude,
    and there I will speak to her heart.’
    – Hosea 2:14

    ‘Put your confidence in God;
    remain quiet where He has placed you.’
    – Apocrypha

    Lastly, I would recommend a largely unknown classic, “Centuries of Meditations”, by Thomas Traherne, a Christian writer barely recognized in his own time. Traherne expertly announces the Kingdom of Heaven on earth:

    “Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven: see yourself in your Father’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.”

    God Bless!

  18. Thanks, PS! I absolutely love the literature of Vedanta, and the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta has been quite influential in my journey as a Christian. I’m also familiar with many of the other names and texts you recommended, and can second them enthusiastically. You contribution to the discussion here is appreciated.

    Agape,
    Chuck

  19. A ‘personal god’, to me, is just a redundant of all the personal pagan gods of Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and others. It’s idol worship mixed in with the one god, which I believe is to be an insult to the Creator. The One True God and his kingdom, in Thomas #3, is inside of us as well as outside of us; that when we come to know ourselves, we come to know the Father.

  20. RE: personal God, God as a ‘person’

    When referring to God I attribute words such as: Creator, Giver of Life, Heavenly Father, I AM that I AM, etc. All these descriptive titles come from the Bible.

    I consider the Bible to be the Word of God, and though perhaps there are minor mistakes, typos, or translations of a few verses, I believe we can embrace the Bible as God’s intended word to give us an understanding into God himself and his creation.
    [FYI — An enlightening discovery about the Bible produced by a Mind vastly superior to any man’s can be found at http://theomatics.com Please note, I have no personal or financial connection to that website.]

    The Bible says that man was made in the “image of God” and believers are called “children” of God. So, it seems that God desires a father-child relationship, and so he presents himself in anthropomorphic terms. Instead of imagining the limitations of an anthropomorphic view of God, should we not rather seek and contemplate this wonderful relationship that God himself describes in his Word?

    Most people’s views of God are influenced by the relationship they had with their earthly dads. That is probably why we eschew the idea of a personal heavenly Father though the Bible tells us it is so.

    We believers are the children of God. A kitten grows up to be a cat; a puppy grows up to be a dog. What do the children of God grow up to be?

    If God wants to be known as a “person” (Father), then that’s just fine with me. I find that my spiritual growth spurts often occur when I experience oneness with my Progenitor.

    Thanks for letting me participate in this outstanding forum.

    1 Corinthians 2:9-10
    9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
    10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

    • Hi Douglas,

      Welcome, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      You wrote:

      “I consider the Bible to be the Word of God, and though perhaps there are minor mistakes, typos, or translations of a few verses, I believe we can embrace the Bible as God’s intended word to give us an understanding into God himself and his creation.

      Thank you for beginning with this. Those words, “I consider” and “I believe”, rightly form your starting place for the rest of your views. Whether we say it or not, we all do this. As you have shown, it shapes everything else we believe about who/what God is, how we can know and relate to God, and what God wants or doesn’t want from us. One of the great things about ChristianMystics.com is that we all strive to remember that we all have this in common, and it enables us to meet each other as brothers and sisters even when we have significant differences in our views and understandings.

      So, I consider the Bible to be a reflection of the Word of God, which is, to me, the Living Logos within us. I therefore believe the Bible is as subject to human error as anything else wrought by human hands, yet I nonetheless respect your views and support you in holding them.

      In the end, what concerns me more than such differences is the degree to which our faith and beliefs ultimately lead us in the same direction, which is to love God with all that we are and others as ourselves.

      Agape,
      Chuck

      PS When I originally posted this reply, I addressed it to “David.” My apologies. David is one of our members who has been on my mind and in my heart a lot lately.

  21. Recently, I’ve been giving the idea of “God as person” a bit more thought. While the understanding of God categorically as a person seems naïve, I think there is some reason to understand God in terms of his relationship to our “spiritual personhood”, as the theologian Karl Rahner used the term.

    If we consider God as Ground of Being and ourselves as that which is “grounded”, it should be self-evident that there is a relationship between the two. This relationship may be between finite subject and the Absolute, but it is a relationship nonetheless. We limit God by anthropomorphizing him. On the other hand it seems to me that we limit God if we believe that the Ground of Being cannot communicate to our spiritual personhood in a “personal” manner. Indeed, all of God’s self-communication throughout the history of Revelation has been “personal”. Our individual experiences also bear this out by grace, in prayer, and through many other human personal experiences.

    It would be a neat trick to understand how God could have a personal relationship with his creatures, while maintaining a transcendental nature beyond the human horizon. But, how else could that communication take place with a finite human “person”? Talk about a mystery!

    Steve

  22. I have been told that in multi-god cultures/religions if a god can create, then that god is considered greater than the other gods. Apparently there is a pecking order among the numerous gods. Further, each god has a personality and a name.

    In the Hindu religion the god-population exceeds 300 million. I recognize that not all those gods have anthropomorphic qualities. They are all vain attempts to explain the many facets of nature.

    From my own experiences and observations I have seen that nature is a reflection or product of God’s [anthropomorphic] heart and mind. “In him we live, move and have our being.” We can learn about God through nature; however, nature itself is not God himself, just as a dream is not the dreamer. Therefore the worship of nature or its deities is misdirected and obscures the real God who is the Creator of Nature.

    Then there are those who so depersonalize God that to them he is only something like “The Force” or whatever. Meditation is directed toward a cosmic consciousness, a universal mind, all-encompassing power, etc. I believe that such depersonalization of God actually stems from an aversion to worship and give thanks to him.

    This scripture comes to mind …

    Romans 1:19-21 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
    20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
    21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    I think that our relationship with God as a person is essential to enlightenment. I don’t know how I could glorify and give thanks to a nameless phenomenon. Further, how could I truly love a cosmic consciousness. All humans can see that ‘someone’ was behind the wonderful work of art we call nature, the universe, the creation. And that same someone created us with the capacity to love him, but it is up to us to be willing to do so.

    • Hi Douglas,

      Please note that the original blog post doesn’t advocate for a complete and final denial of relating to God in an anthropomorphic way, but rather explains why some people, like me, do not relate to God in only that way. Please also allow for the possibility that somebody could have an experience of God that doesn’t make sense to you as something truly reverent, grateful, worshipful, and enlightening, but nonetheless is to them. Finally, let’s try not to get into judging each others experience of and relationship with God. That’s not what this community is about, although sometimes we slip.

      Agape,
      Chuck

  23. Hi Chuck,

    I think this blog is superb. I am glad God is able to accept us despite our inadequacies to equate in some way whether it is anthropomorphic or some other means. I think in the manner of love and compassion that Jesus set out to teach in being the “Good Shepherd” the means to convey to people what God is like demonstrated “God is love”.

    When He was baptized it was quite amazing to those witnessing the event that the Holy Trinity made Themselves known – A voice from Heaven, the form of a dove, and the Son.

    That to me is pretty much flesh and bones and spirit and something beyond my understanding.

    So, I am glad you have pushed the envelope, it has made me think deeper and even question deeper.

    I feel like I have to give a disclosure on my writings sometimes:

    1. I love you.
    2. I am not offended.
    3. If I dance with you I might step on your toes.
    4. Since we are on a website with the United States policies, then it is a free country and we can believe whatever we want.
    5. When there is a question, dismiss items 2 through 4 and refer to item 1.

    : )

    Peace brother
    Fred

  24. Hello Chuck,

    So, I was driving down the road during the weekend to deliver a TV to Goodwill and contemplating – probably not a good practice at the same time; and, once again your blog came to mind. The reason it came to mind was because of the song that came on the radio and it made me think of your remarks concerning poetry. So, as I listened it occurred to me about the anthropomorphic message contained within. Here is “You Are My Beautiful Sweet, Sweet Song” by Third Day.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t30VLEyrsPY

    Peace
    Fred

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