Not too long ago, I wrote a post on a study that discussed the prevalency in our culture for people to image God as a sort of cosmic do-gooder. This God keeps his distance, except when you want something from him. This God's foremost concern is that we are happy, but beyond that we don't have much need for him. I'm glad to report that my youth this past Sunday demonstrated that they have a much more nuanced understanding of God than that.
We began the evening by inviting the students to go out into the church building and find some object or artifact that might in some way symbolize or represent some part of their understanding of God. The results were as varied and diverse as the students in the group. Some of the objects the students shared included:
- A plant, representing the way we experience God in nature.
- A microphone, to show the way God "speaks" through our lives.
- A portrait of Jesus.
- A toy hen, symbolizing God as "creator."
- An offering plate, symbolizing God as one who gives.
- A chair, representing God's support for us.
- The toy game of Operation, symbolizing God as healer!
Later in the discussion, we looked at a series of scripture texts to consider how our ancient spiritual ancestors experienced God and how they symbolized God. We looked at texts that showed God working through people (Exodus 3:7-10), God as working through the elements of nature (Exodus 13:21), God as immediately present in times of troubles (the Psalms), God in feminine imagery (Luke 13:34 and various passages in Isaiah), and God as love itself (1 John 4: 7-13).
As we read through each passage, students wrote words or images on a large sheet of paper that they felt reflected the way God's nature was described by the author of the text. We compared these images with an earlier discussion about differences in opinion about how God's power is manifest in the world ("over and above creation" as opposed to God "working through the created order"). As opposed to a common view that God is faraway, watching over us, here were biblical texts that argued for the immediate presence of God in the world all around us, even in one another. Here were texts that argued that God is beyond mere "super-beingness". God is part of all there is, yet beyond all there is (e.g. panentheism). Given all this, we pondered the benefits of putting a moratorium on using exclusively masculine descriptors for God for awhile and instead embracing the great varieties of ways God is spoken of in scripture. In addition, we challenged each other to find opportunities in the coming week to be open to God's presence--in nature, in times of trouble, in love, and in each other.