Do you believe in God?

Day 3 of #MonthOfMinistry

A big question. The short answer is “no”; a longer answer depends on (1) what do you mean by “God”? and (2) what do you mean by “believe”?

Of course, this is a really big deal for many religious people, particularly many Christians and Muslims, for whom belief in God is an essential part of salvation. I remember in my early days as an evangelical Christian, it was stressed that this was really important, and that was a problem, as to be honest, I didn’t really “believe” in the way people around me seemed to.

Icon of Julian of Norwich

I struggle with the idea of God as a person, a powerful being who creates the world and perhaps intervenes in our lives. What I do value are ideas of deep interconnectedness, of what Buddhists call “emptiness” or what theologian Paul Tillich calls “the ultimate ground of being”.

Or as the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich puts it:

There is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.

I think “god” might encompass all these ideas, but that word is already so overloaded with meaning that I tend to avoid it, while trying to remain open to the fact that it is powerful and precious to many people.

There’s also the question of “belief”, which nowadays we usually take to mean that we assert that something has an independent existence in the world, or that we accept an intellectual proposition as empirically true. But, as writer Karen Armstrong points, when the Bible was first translated into English in the 17th century, out the word “believe” (related to “beloved”) meant something more like “to prize, to value, to hold dear”.

Ultimately, says Armstrong:

Believing in God is neither here nor there. You have to make that belief work for the world. Christianity is about looking at other people’s point of view. It’s kenosis, or emptying of the self. It means you have to dethrone yourself from the center of your world and put others there.

My friend Penny Stone has made a beautiful musical arrangement of Julian’s words:

Icon of Julian of Norwich is by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM.

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