What God is, and is not!

From Rev Peter Beale

(Published in News First, March 2005 - monthly church newsletter, Warragul Uniting Church) 


Back in 1991 song writer Robin Mann wrote the words to God Version 1.0 which became a favourite at Uniting Church National Christian Youth Conventions 1993, 1999 and 2003.
In the form of a creed each verse expresses first what we no longer believe about God, then our experience of God in Jesus.
Here it is in full:

I don’t believe in a God up in the sky
who sits in heaven and never hears me cry.
I don’t believe in a God who’s far away—
I believe in Jesus living here with us today.

I don’t believe in a watchmaker above,
set this world going but now is not involved,
who from a distance is watching as we fall—
I believe in Jesus’ God, who suffers with us all.

I don’t believe in a God who keeps a shop,
who checks each item and puts a price on top,
who wants a dividend on each investment made—
God is always giving and refuses to be paid.

I don’t believe in a tyrant on a throne
who wants to punish us for every wrong we’ve done,
who keeps a tally of each mistake and crime—
God wants to have mercy on us each and every time.

I don’t believe in a patriarchal chief,
a judge who never had mercy on a thief,
the lord and master who must be waited on—
God is mother-sister just as much as father-son.

God is beside us, God has no other home,
no other family, we are God’s flesh and bone;
he-she is with us and with all humankind—
loving his creation always occupies her mind.


For some of us these can be confronting lyrics. For many others they can be liberating. In the February issue of News First I wrote ‘The events on December 26th make it clear that God is not some kind of “cosmic puppeteer”, pulling the strings of the world, and either causing pain and suffering on the one hand, or comfort and protection on the other.’

Exploring what we can no longer believe about God is confronting because it can demand that we let go of long held beliefs that may have nurtured our faith all our lives, and perhaps the faith of countless millions over several millennia. This can be especially frightening if we have no new understanding of God to hold on to, with the result that we cling even more tightly to the old. This is the cause of the growth of so much fundamentalism in religion.

When we think about what God is or is not, we need to bear in mind that the way that humans have understood God has evolved over time. The images of God in the Old Testament show a progression from primitive faith in an angry supernatural Being able to control the forces of nature to punish the deserving, through belief that a covenant with God could be made to ensure divine protection and security, to the more mystic understanding of God as not apart from creation, but in all of it.

In the New Testament these images of God are completely overhauled by Jesus. For Jesus, God is not concerned with the keeping of purity codes designed to appease supposed vengeful anger. Jesus explained that God does not express anger by destroying people in natural disasters or the wars of nations. Jesus revealed that God is, however, concerned with justice for the oppressed, freedom for the captive, sight for the blind, food for the hungry, and full acceptance for those who society would reject.

Jesus revealed a God who is closer to us than we dare imagine, who calls us into a relationship of such intimacy that Jesus would refer to God as Abba, the Aramaic equivalent of Dad. Jesus revealed a God who is the source of love, empowerment and healing, seeking wholeness in all human beings.

The apostle Paul said to the people of Athens that we live and move and find our being in God. God is source of being out of which our own sense of being has emerged. As such we are spiritual beings able to discover a oneness with all of creation, and embrace eternity.

John was able to say in his letters that God is love. To love is to know and experience God. This is the heart of what it means to be human. Life in God’s Spirit draws us to love and draws us into God.

As we approach Holy Week and Easter, let’s no longer view Jesus’ death, nor sing of his “blood”, as a sacrifice required by an angry God to cover over our sins, or as a ransom, or earning merit. We must let go of these images. Jesus’ death was an act of pure love coming from the one who was the most fully human person (truly made in the image of God) that ever lived. He died as he lived, seeking wholeness for all human beings, and now lives in us that we might do the same.