Who is God, really? And how do we know who God really is? I drive frequently on highways dotted with billboards that tell me God cares mostly (only?) about my eternal destination. “Heaven or Hell?” the sign asks. A declarative sentence at the bottom reads: “The choice is yours.” I am invited to call a number for more information. I wonder how the people on the other end respond to those random callers. Maybe it is computerized like my insurance company’s help line. “For heaven, press 1. For hell, press 2. Undecided, press 3.”
In the highway to hell or heaven scenario God seems aloof, not especially interested in questions, conversation or relationship. Gratefully, this cosmic dictator of the afterlife is not the God I was introduced to as a child, and thankfully not the one I have come to know through a lifetime of church-going.
Who is God, really? God is like…. That’s all we can say. God is like this and not like that. Everything we say about God is proximate and filtered through our human limits and particularities. Nonetheless, this partial knowledge is accessible, formative and important. For me, God is like Sister Marie Horne, my elementary school art teacher. Patient, gentle, eager to see and point out the good in us, confident in the loveliness of all the renditions of the divine image inhabiting the earth. God is really like my first-grade teacher, Sister MacNamara, too. One who holds us accountable to high standards knowing we can do and be better even when we’d rather coast and stay comfortable.
Who is God, really? God is the One introduced to me through hymns and Scripture, the One, as we sang, who loves all the children of the world. The One who loves me this I know because the Bible tells me so. This love is not abstract. (Can love ever be abstract and truly be love?) Therefore, God really wants to know us and be known by us. The Word written and proclaimed tells of God’s majesty and glory, right alongside God’s intimacy and suffering. God really is present, speaking, acting, seeking us out. I know this because, yes, the Bible tells me so, but I know it through experience, too.
God really is the One who speaks and is still speaking. I do not share this often, but truth be told, the audible voice of God really spoke to me more than once. Those epiphanies came as if out of nowhere and dissipated as quickly as they manifested. But they were, I would bet my life on it, real and really God. Not only because my senses confirmed that holy presence, but also, and maybe more importantly, because the message aligned with the Word made flesh and the witness of Scripture and the affirmation of the Body of Christ. God really does not direct us to do that which is counter to the divine character of goodness, mercy, justice and grace, although those directives may very well upend cultural expectations and sacred traditions.
God really is good all the time, and all the time God is good. This common call and response can sound like a platitude, however, with a modicum of reflection and a dose of intentional remembering, I recognize this attribute of goodness is not tied to circumstances but rather foundational to creation, inextricably woven into the DNA of all that is, seen and unseen.
Who is God, really? God is all those far off “omnis” that tell of power and might and beyond our capacity to comprehend, and I give thanks for the awesomeness of God. If God is not all of those “omnis,” why would worship be our response? But most days, I cling to those aspects of God I can know. I do know the reality that God is not only beyond me, but also abiding with me and within me even when I cannot abide myself. God really does not abandon us. God really does work through us and despite us. God, the creator, longs to be in relationship with creation and works relentlessly to gather us in so that we can really be reconciled to one another.
Grace and peace,