God can’t be named or defined

As Christians, we are taught that God is a trinity — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But who or what is God and how does one define it?

On the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo depicted God as a white-haired and bearded muscular man. That image, combined with anthropomorphic mentions in church throughout my youth, and still today, of God’s “face,hands, feet and heart,” influenced the way I envisioned God for most of my life. That is, as a kind, caring, but powerful man.

I may have broken the second commandment unintentionally by creating an “idol” of God I could easily comprehend. In my simplistic thoughts, I was “here” and God was “there,” separate and apart from me. He was an external being living beyond the clouds who I could access by prayer. And, like many Christians, I looked skyward when addressing God. However, as I progressed on my pilgrim’s journey, this concept didn’t last.

I continued to examine the various ways the Bible describes God: as a rock, a shepherd, and a stronghold among many others. Additionally, God is mentioned several times in the feminine. These descriptions are, of course, metaphorical and open to interpretation. But such thinking could (would) even make God’s “understood” gender, a male figure, a metaphor also. My thoughts quickly blurred and created other questions. My idea of God varied so widely and frequently that I soon abandoned this approach.

Jesus said, “God is a Spirit (John 4:24), light (John 1:4) and, of course, love (John 4:16). These more abstract descriptions satisfied me on a deeper level. I was sure I had found a way of thinking about God that would carry me through the rest of my life. It didn’t.

To complicate things, but eventually leading me to a new paradigm, in Exodus 3:13, Moses asked God, “What is your name?” God replied, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.”

This short answer has created long discourse. Translations of these three simple words differ widely. Although there are a number of others, four respected Hebrew to English interpretations are:

I Am Who I Am.

I Am Who I Shall Be.

I Shall Be Who I Am.

I Shall Be Who I Shall Be.

These translations not only differ, but are mutually exclusive. Their meaning has been and will be discussed for, well, eternity.

As I continued to ponder this, that’s when it hit me — God cannot be named or defined. To do so in any way, small or large, immediately places limits on God, removes God’s wish for ambiguity and reduces the vitality and richness of God.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tse states that, “the Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao. The Name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.” Despite my being a Christian, this esoteric Far East philosophy began to make sense to me. God is ineffable.

As Christian theologian Paul Tillich suggests, I now think of God as the “ground of my being.” I was born into God and I will die into God. Though very real to me, God is no longer an external, supernatural, or an identifiable being to be accessed with my selfish personal requests. Neither contained by nor favoring a single religion, true God exists beyond all Gods.

Difficult as my journey was, today I think of God as a presence within the deepest reaches of not only my life, but all life. By His own words to Moses, or as He said in Isaiah 55:8, God is to remain unknowable except as a great and awesome mystery.

I’m comfortable with that.

Tom Bresko, retired from Mill Creek Metro Parks, is a Christian on a spiritual pilgrimage.

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