Good Questions: What is God like? 

Reflections from Dr. Howell

To ponder questions like Why do bad things happen? or Is God in control? we need some sense of What is God like? With so many conceptions of God floating around, and granting that God is invisible and awfully quiet, who can be sure?

We may and should question ideas we grew up with or have overheard; we don’t really want to be guessing. Sigmund Freud wasn’t wrong: our vision of God usually is little more than the projection of our own cravings and needs. It’s worth noticing that a central thread of the Bible’s plot is the debunking of mistaken fantasies we carry about God. So, it’s instructive to sort thought what God is not. We might feel disillusioned by this exercise. But don’t we really need to shed our illusions to get to the real God?

Some tempting images of God include: God as black-robed judge, reviewing his laws, and issuing verdicts. God as a warm fuzzy blanket in which you can snuggle. God as doctor’s helper, summoned when health breaks down and medicine isn’t quite up to the task. God as energy drink. God as personal assistant. God as smiter: I love the Far Side cartoon, God at his computer screen watching a piano being hoisted outside an upstairs window, guy walking beneath, God’s finger poised over the “Smite” button. God as fix-it handyman. God as a protective bubble. God like Santa, makin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. God as genie, granting wishes. God the doer of little favors to make your life more comfortable. Each one of these has some fractional glimpse of what God is about. And each one diminishes God drastically.

A more philosophical approach might win the day intellectually, and still miss what God’s really like by a wide margin. We have all those compound words defining God: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, ineffable, immovable, immutable. Of course, for God truly to be God, all these adjectives must hold. But is God hidden behind a cloud of long, high-minded words?

Jürgen Moltmann (in The Crucified God) has suggested God is even better than all those omni-, in- and im- compound words: “A God who is only omnipotent is in himself an incomplete being… Omnipotence is never loved; it is only feared.” Only omnipotent?! God’s infinite, unlimited power is so great that God is strong enough to be weak enough to get involved in our world, to become vulnerable enough to risk God’s heart being broken, to suffer at the hands of the world God loved.

What is God like? God is love. Love is vastly superior to the omni-, im- and im- truths about God. Love, if it’s really love, never resorts to power. People love to say God is in control – a fiction we’ll get back to on Thursday. But love is never control, or controlling. If love tries control, it ceases to be love. When I told Lisa for the first time, “I love you,” I couldn’t manage or even guess what might happen next. I’d taken the fragile crystal of my self and handed me over to her. She could have said “You’re nice, but…” and dropped me to the floor, my self shattering into pieces.

We should expect the reality of God to make your knees buckle, and blow your mind! Here’s the mind-blower: the Bible offers the daring notion, the alluring possibility, that God, the God, eternal, so massive as to surround the universe, is approachable, and has approached us, as intimate as your own heart, as close as your next breath. God is love, maybe modified by the omni- and im- adjective, so Love never merely indulgent but always full of mercy, Love that isn’t helpless but transformative, Love that can never fail or end, Love that forges more love among the beloved. A personal relationship is not only possible but mighty already be happening – even with you?