Amanda grew up in religious home.
Her religion nudged her toward a career in social work. But five years in, realizing the gap between need and resource, she was pretty demoralized. Imagining the future, she saw herself either becoming jaded, or leaving the career all together.
We talked about her sense of loss, giving up the dream of making a difference in the world.
Something she said made me ask about her religion. She mentioned how God had disappointed her. When I asked her to say more, it was like a dam burst. Like many, the God she’d grown up with was Our Father in Heaven.
“Honestly,” she said, “God sucks at this father-in-heaven gig!”
She told me about the suffering she saw every day. As she talked, she kept coming back to how God didn’t work for her anymore. Her Heavenly Father was standing by while his children were hurting. The premise of a good god had been unraveling for a while.
I’ve been with God’s children. On my side of town, there is no loving father protecting. There’s no caring father providing. If there is, he just stands by while people suffer unbearable loads. They get cancer, get shot, lose their kids, lose their lives. Horrible things happen every day, and this Heavenly Father just lets them.
After she had vented a while, she got quiet. And after a bit, I spoke up.
You know what. You may need a new god.
In fact, if not — you might consider atheism. (I think she was surprised. I am a minister.)
We talked about how “god” is a code word for a Reality too big to contain in thought or word. So when we try, all we have are metaphors. God is not a father, nor a mother. God is not shaped like a human at all. God doesn’t have thoughts, or make plans the way humans do. Those are all limited metaphors that point us toward experiences of something bigger than we can contain.
Religion often gets stuck in one metaphor or another. But if God is the metaphor, when it breaks down, God breaks down too.
What I Learned
Any metaphor we use for God, will draw us toward some spiritual experiences, and repel us from another. Metaphors are by nature, limited. But they’re all we have.
As soon as we say “God is,” whatever we say next — is wrong!
The spiritual tradition offers us a rich variety of metaphors, but every one of them is incomplete at best, helpful on one context, harmful in another. So, we need to develop the agility to jump seamlessly from one metaphor to another, and not get overly attached to any one of them.
Here’s one I’ve found helpful. God is a verb.
With that metaphor, I spend less energy trying to define God and more trying to experience an action word. When loving is happening — god-ing is happening. When peace-ing is happening — god-ing. Kindness-ing — god-ing. Nobody told me that in Sunday School! But seeking Divine experience in that framework has been enlightening. It has opened a broad swath of spiritual experience I’d never had.
Our metaphors for God shape our experiences of the Divine. The more metaphors we use, the wider our experience.