The Theistic God is Dead--A Casualty of Terrorism

The terrorist tragedy will help us step beyond yesterday's God, beyond pious delusions

BY: John Shelby Spong


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If God is real, then we must look to a new definition that opens up new religious possibilities. I find a doorway into this experience in what I call the minority voices found in our sacred writings. Among the people of the world there have always been those who are willing to probe new arenas and to develop different perspectives. They do not confuse their God experiences with the familiar God explanations of their times. So I probe those minority voices in search of a new God concept or metaphor, even a new pathway into the Holy.

The Jewish people seemed to know intuitively that God and the popular definition of God could never be identical. That is why they spoke so vehemently against idolatry. They understood that no human creation could finally capture the Holy: not idols, not words, not scriptures, not creeds, not theological constructs.

Furthermore, while the popular voices of the Bible spoke of the external supernatural God who did miracles, the minority voices spoke of God in impersonal images. They saw God in the analogy of the wind, which, like God, was formless, mysterious and unbounded. One experienced the wind--one did not define it. Its purpose was to animate, vitalize, and give life. This image of God is seen in the creation story where God creates Adam out of the dust of the earth, but Adam is brought to life only when God gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, filling him with God's breath, thought to be the source of the wind. Life, says this biblical insight, is itself the medium through which the holy lives. In this passage God is not a being, but the dynamic, emerging source of life itself.

This divine life force is found again in a story in the Book of Ezekiel. The Jewish nation has been conquered, and its people have been carried off into a Babylonian exile, ending its life. Ezekiel, in a dream, sees his now-deceased nation as a valley filled with dead dry bones. The question is asked, "Will these bones ever live again?" Then, in the dream, God blows the wind over the mountain and into that valley until it touches the dry bones. At that moment, the toe bone gets connected to the foot bone, the foot bone to the ankle bone, the ankle bone to the leg bone until all those bones stand up and come to life again. The life we possess, our vitality itself, reflects the vital life of God, this narrative says. God is the source of life.

God, as wind, is seen once more in the Book of Acts where the gathered Christian community waits in the upper room. Suddenly, that room is filled with a mighty rushing wind that calls these Christians into an inclusive vision not limited by tribal identity. This new humanity cannot be bounded. The God who is the source of life, this story says, does not stop at human security barriers. That wind, rather, creates a new God image, a life force flowing through the universe, embracing Parthians, Medes, Elamites and dwellers in Mesopotamia. When human beings live fully, this God becomes visible and real.

The Epistle of John says that God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God. Love comes to consciousness in the human experience. Love makes life possible. Love creates wholeness. When love is shared, life is enhanced, but when hatred replaces love, life is diminished. An even keener insight emerges when we reverse those biblical words. For if we can say that God is love, then surely we can say that love is God. This biblical insight proclaims that love is what God is. We thus make God visible, not by receiving an external revelation from on high, but by the human act of loving wastefully.

Once again, this minority voice is saying that God is not an external, supernatural being, ruling over human history. God is rather the power of love, which flows through each of us, calling us to life, inviting us to step beyond whatever binds our humanity, even if it is the old images of God.

In the rubble of the World Trade Center, we see the results when lives are lived in hatred--but we also see lives willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of other people, opening to us the wonder and awe that comes when the love of God is seen in human form.

Finally, this minority voice in the Bible describes God as a cold, hard, lifeless, impersonal rock. "God is our rock," the psalmist says. "There is no rock like our God." In this image, once again, God is not a being, but the unwavering foundation under our feet. As the late Harvard theologian, Paul Tillich, would say, God is experienced as "the Ground of Being," when we "have the courage to be all that each of us can be."

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