God Is God (Two)

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?

Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”

(Job 11.17)

 

When William Young’s book The Shack was published a few years ago, there was some fuss among certain conservative Christian communities, about the depiction of God as a holy trinity made of African American, cake loving woman (Papa), ragged mid-Eastern carpenter (Jesus) and mysterious, dancing Asian wind Spirit (Sarayu). “Non-biblical”, said some; “undiluted heresy”, imputed others. “Stay out of the Shack”, warned one agitated commentator.

 

What I think these reactions pertain to really are not so much to do with wayward authorship but with the shaking up of dormant prejudices and prejudgements in the offended readers themselves. Religious doctrine builds belief structures and patterns of thinking which are accepted or rejected, often, below the level of consciousness. The author was simply exploring creatively how God works in our lives and I think we can benefit from such shaking of faith language, which, if taken for granted, necessarily falls short of its intended usefulness. Young expresses all this when voice- of-the-text character, Mack, meets the triune God for the first time:-

“Thoughts tumbled over each other as Mack struggled to figure out what to do. Was one of these people God? … Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing. But two women and a man and none of them white? Then again, why had he naturally assumed that God would be white? He knew his mind was rambling, so he focused on the one question he most wanted answered.

“Then,” Mack struggled to ask, “which one of you is God?”

“I am,” said all three in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them” (The Shack, p. 87).

 

Does it really matter which name we ascribe to God, or whether we depict God as male or female, black or white, even visible or invisible? Surely, if one thing is clearly biblical and not non-biblical, it is that God is beyond and before all labelling, all doctrine, all religion, philosophy or language. What William Young, just like everybody else who has ever tried to speak or write about God, did in his book was try to describe the Indescribable! The same goes for the biblical authors and all the subsequent doctors of orthodoxy. That does not make such endeavour pointless.

 

On the contrary. Seen as art rather than crystalized and delineated truth, such work is spiritually valuable. It can help us understand that God is God. Our response to the Mystery that Is God is spent better not on cheap doctrinal crutches but in heart open prayer and with minds gracious to wonder and awe at the universe, in the knowledge that we are always in the eternal presence of the Uncreated One.

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~ by Fr Tim Ardouin on July 3, 2014.

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