What a paradox it is to believe in something we have never seen. Isn’t seeing the means to believing? And pictures are thought to verify the truth of an event. That once was true, but pictures can be altered. Now a photograph of a family reunion can delete any member with whom there are bad memories. A picture remains, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
Non believers use the inability to see God as evidence that God doesn’t exist. For them seeing is a requirement for believing. They take images of God literally and don’t understand that the images we have created express a relationship not a visible Being. Since it is hard to have a relationship with an “it”, like a golden calf, we give God human characteristics to express the ways we experience God. If we think of God as a man with a long white beard, as some do, he is usually sitting on a throne in heaven directing the activities of the world while judging our moral behavior. Taken literally it is assumed that God is “out there” somewhere. But the astronauts didn’t find a physical God in outer space.
Theology recognizes that there are realities that we don’t see that are nevertheless part of human experience. These realities are expressed as verbs rather than as nouns. While we experience God as a loving father, mother, sister, or brother, God is not a human father, mother, sister, or brother. We describe God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in creeds, but taking that literally defies logic. What the explanation reveals is that God is relationship even within the Godhead. The realities of love, mercy, hope, courage, faithfulness, joy, peace, and so on are unseen realities that affect and govern our lives. Our ability to respond to these realities comes from within us and their budding comes from a source outside ourselves. We develop these qualities when we are in relationship with a transcendent spiritual source. We experience their reality especially when we are in relationship with one another as we experience love, mercy, hope, courage, faithfulness, joy, and peace.
One might ask, “Where do these virtues originate?” That in fact is as much a mystery as asking where the singularity at the beginning of the universe came from. At what point in space-time did the space-time curvature become infinite to create a “big bang”? Shall we assume that it never did? But we can’t do that since the universe is here and we are part of it. Perhaps it is easier to give God a new name — the original Singularity.
In his first letter, John knew nothing about “big bang” theories, which is science’s creation story. Rather, he describes the essence of a mystical reality. He writes that God is love, and that we will experience this reality as we love one another. He states the case that “No one has ever seen God,” but goes on to say that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:7-21)
While the reality of God is better understood in terms of relationship, we nevertheless use human images to understand their source. There’s nothing wrong with thinking of God as father, mother, sister, or brother. Your understanding of these relationships can make a difference, however, for good or ill, as you assign to God certain qualities.
When I worked in an inner city parish in Newark, New Jersey, I didn’t refer to God as Father. The majority of the mothers and children in that congregation experienced the father, or husband, as one who abandoned the family, who was often drunk and showed no love. What an image that would be to teach children about the nature of God. It does make a difference what our images of God are. If we choose to assign the best qualities of human experience to the ultimate Source, the name for God above all other names will be Love. This love originates from Mystery, yet it was seen in human form in a focused fashion in Jesus. Those who participate in this love discover that it surpasses the worth of material realities that we can touch, taste, see, or smell.
We may not see God, but we experience the Spirit’s mystical presence in daily life. All our language for God is inadequate, so we are left to describe this intuition of the Spirit with poetic language. Nevertheless, human experience and human consciousness suggest the existence of a transcendent consciousness that lures us to unity with divine Love. We acknowledge that reality just as we acknowledge the existence of the universe. Mystery is experienced in finite ways, which suggests that it is infinite without boundaries. Without adequate language to express this reality, we believe it to be true.