Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Midweek Musing. One, Three, you me – on worshipping the One / same God

Recently I saw a conversation - or debate - arise on social media forums in which it seemed some Christians were concerned about something like the conflating of the 'Triune God' with 'Allah' of Islam.

I am wondering, do we not have to conflate all Gods together as one?*

Otherwise, it seems to me we are affirming that there is more than one source of life and hope and healing.

Or, we pursue an arrogance that claims 'we' (whichever 'we' we are) have the only one right system of thought, sacred story, naming and knowing of God among all the various human traditions.

At the risk of censure as a heretic, I simply cannot espouse such arrogance that claims to know God: the sort of arrogance that names God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit** full stop, You're in a box, and we have control. In the Judeo-Christian scriptures there is a thread woven of questions and doubts, absence, distance, ultimate not knowing of God. Even the humans allowed to see God have God mediated – they see the back of God walk by or a cloud or a bright shining light, they hear a voice, they spend time with a human incarnation of God. The point is we do not know. What we do know, we know in part.

My experience of humans, creation and the Divine suggests to me that one Source of Love provides the spark for all life. So I don't want to suggest there is more than one 'God'. I am happy, however, to acknowledge that there are myriad human traditions within which various culturally appropriate stories, rituals and systems of ideas have developed to help humans express, explore and encourage encounter with the Divine and invite that encounter to transform their lives towards hope, love and mutual wellbeing.

From Jim Palmer Facebook page

I am preparing Paul's letter to the Romans for oral performance in March, as part of my PhD studies. Learning chapter 6 my mind riffed off Paul's words into this pondering:

I feel as though I can speak these words not as exclusionary – Christ is the only path – but as if to say this is the path we have chosen, this is how we understand ourselves to be in relation with Holy One, how we experience the Divine and fulness of life.
Having read new information on the Muslim perspective on Christianity (Ralston's article, link below), helps me to situate a Christian understanding within the myriad traditions among human groups seeking to name experiences of the Divine, and come together with others to share those experiences, for humans are instinctively relational beings.
So the fracturing of groups is hurtful and disappointing (I'm thinking of inter-denominational splits), but if it follows genuine attempts to maintain harmony, perhaps the relationships can only endure through distinction? Division would be a harmful and negative, judgemental and diminishing distancing of 'us' and 'them'. Distinction can remain, for we are allowed – we must – differ in order for the body to be whole and healthy. But our ideas of what 'wholeness' means might need to change - not the same, not all together in the one boat, but fully human. 
So the Christian church needs varying expressions of Christian spirituality and practice, with denominations and variety within denominations; the congregation needs its individuals with their varying gifts and abilities; humanity needs its varying religious traditions because the Divine is so vast and mysterious. How can one path possibly be the only path? We better understand the Divine when we look through the kaleidoscope of perspectives, enable the different colours of your faith to bring out the best in ours, to create together that ever-changing, fluid, beautiful picture of the Sacred we adore.  
Is a fear of 'conflating' all the ideas of God into one, a fear that God will be diminished, adversely affected? Lovely that we care about how God is. But maybe a bit naive, or worse, putting ourselves above our human station. God is bigger that we can possibly imagine, so do we not think God can look after Godself?

Perhaps fear of 'conflating' ideas about God is fear of a lack of control, insecurity about our own state before God, a lack of trust in God that betrays an overinflated trust in human thought.

Following my own ideas about God to their logical conclusion, through my immersion in the story of my faith tradition, I see that God is One (as Paul says in Romans 3). Therefore, in my understanding, all the various names and understandings of God must represent a different perspective of the One God.
And I see that humans are not divine. And it is together that we are the image of God – not individually, not some humans without others. All. Together. Each of us with a spark of the Holy One within us. When I remember this, see this, I can let go of dogma as a tool for division, and celebrate the divine spark within you and the stories, rituals and ideas that help you to nurture that spark of Love and Life. Then that gift of love for you will be what helps me to nurture the divine spark within me.

Conflating the Triune God with Allah indeed. What an insecure, fear-driven human concern. Rather than looking at human structures of thought and religion, and the differences between them;

Look at God. Look for God. Look towards God. 

and watch your human fear fall away

* Joshua Ralston of the School of Divinity at University of Edinburgh writes a much deeper, more theologically robust response to the issue for ABC Religion, perhaps rightly suggesting that the question of whether we are worshipping the same God across different traditions is not the question or the conversation to be having. Worth a read.

** As I have written elsewhere, I find a naming of Holy One, Holy Three as Creator, Wisdom, Spirit more open - to the feminine as well as masculine, to mystery and wonder. Follow the 'Trinity' thread for more.


Heather said...

Thank you for this, Sarah.

The emphasis on "right belief" as a primary feature of religion (without the seeing of the Divine expressed in everyone) creates division and fear. It is important to maintain the idea of respect for others as also containing the divine spark. It is useful to recall that the Divine Mystery, the One which we seek to worship in love, is a much bigger "Thing" than that which our thoughts can contain.

It is timely indeed that we remember to avoid the arrogance that comes when we forget that we do not know everything about that which is, in the end, not fully knowable by any one person.

Glenys said...

So much I'd like to say!
One of the abiding things from my study all those years ago is that God is always so much more and can't be pinned down by our own limitations.
All goodness comes from God however incomplete or marred by our humanity.
Recently there have been challenges in our church to tell our stories of faith. And I thought of you. I will be preaching Jan 31 and talking about sharing our faith in a respectful dialogue. That's how we need to be concerning those of other faiths or understandings.
I was reading an old book by JB Phillips about communion. Although quite a definite Anglican he finally says we mustn't look down on others who do things differently as though we were condemning them to an inferior communion experience.
Also reading Philip Yancey (love that guy) 'Disappointment with God' which clearly shows it's OK/common to find God silent or distant. We all struggle along together to connect with God in whatever way we find the expression of the Divine.