The Question of a Lifetime
Many TV commercials end with a good question. One credit card company asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Another advertiser asks, “Are you paying too much for cable?” And many of us still remember with fondness the little old lady, staring at a competitor’s hamburger, and asking, “Where’s the beef?”
Questions are good. Why? Because good questions can lead to more knowledge. My students used to tell me, “Sister, you get more excited when we ask a question than when we give an answer.” True! And by far the most important question we ever ask ourselves is this one: Who is God? As Barbara Brown Taylor says in The Preaching Life, this question is “the question of a lifetime.” It is the question many of us ask ourselves again and again as we journey through life, always modifying our answer based on new experiences and insights that life gives us.
As children, many of us were taught a number of answers to that question “Who is God?” We learned, for example, that
God was all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving. But it didn’t take long for our experience to show us the inadequacy of those answers. If God is all-loving, then how could He (God was always a “He” back then—with a capital H), then how could He let my cat get hit by that car? And greater still, if God is all-powerful, then how could he let Danny Jack, a boy in my third grade, get killed by a drunk driver on a Saturday afternoon on Bishop Road? Why didn’t God grab the steering wheel and make that car miss hitting Danny?
Throughout my life, I have struggled to “define” who God is. At times, when confronted with particularly devastating news (airplanes crashing into twin towers or eight children dying in a house fire) I find myself saying, “If I were God, I would never have allowed that to happen!” Implicit even in that response is an important realization: Guess what? I am not God!
Even the attempt to “define” God is misleading. The word define comes from the Latin definere which means “to set a limit.” The answers to the question “Who is God” are “never big enough or never finished,” says Taylor. She adds, “God is greater than my imagination, wiser than my wisdom, more dazzling than the universe, as present as the air I breathe and utterly beyond my control.”
We who call ourselves Christians have some invaluable help to begin to ponder the question “Who is God?” For we have Jesus. And we believe that one of the reasons Jesus “came” to earth in the first place was to reveal to us who God is. And Jesus, while still inscrutable in many ways, makes this clear by his life and his teaching: God is a person who deeply desires a love-relationship with us, with me. And what kind of a person is this God? A God who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. A God who seeks out and rescues even one troublesome lost sheep. A God who forgives and welcomes back with open arms an ingrate of a son. A God whose love permeates the entire universe. A God whose almighty power is directed not toward control and domination, but toward love and union.
And Jesus showed us how we are to relate to this God. We are to call this God Father…Mother… Daddy… Mommy. We are to speak to this God without fear. We are to love others too, because every single one of them—no matter how annoying, unreasonable, or even apparently evil—is also a child of God, my brother, my sister. We are to trust this God always—even when our personal world is collapsing, our international world is in disarray, and nothing seems to make sense anymore. Jesus was never more trusting of God, of Abba, than when he was hanging on the cross on Good Friday.
This all takes faith, of course. Great faith. Faith looks the world square in the face—with all its light and darkness, joy and pain, beauty and ugliness—and says, “I believe…I still believe… Our God is a God of Love. And this God is calling me to put more and more love into my corner of the world.”
The song today celebrates the power of faith. It’s entitled “What Faith Can Do” and it is performed by the group called “Kutless”:
Has your answer to that question “Who Is God?” developed over your lifetime? If so, how did you answer that question earlier in your life? How do you begin to answer it now?
Anything strike you in this reflection or in the song? I welcome responses!
PS: I just got back from Green Bay, WI where I interacted Saturday morning with a wonderful group of people at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality. (I also saw deer, wild turkeys, and a sandhill crane on their lovely property!) Then I spent a week with the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Cross where Bishop Bob Morneau and I co-directed a retreat. It was a joy working with him. And the community of Sisters were beautiful! They were extremely warm, kind, prayerful, and fun! Thanks for your prayers!
I’m home for the next couple of weeks putting the finishing touches on my new book on hope. I “hope” I can finish it soon!
Beautiful reflection Sr. Melannie.
When things are going well, it is easy to ignore a loving God. I have found in tough times that God has become more real to me.
As I have grown older, it seems my image of God is more universal yet more rooted in Jesus. It is harder to pigeon hole God. Yoga has actually drawn me closer to God recently.
Good morning Sister Melannie,
Who is God? What a way to start the week! I like what Barbara Brown Taylor says, “God is greater than my imagination;” it links to your explanation of the actual definition of the word “define.” We can never fully imagine or define God. When we do we limit God. Can the pot define the potter? PS: a shout out to the movie “Jackie.” An angry and despondent Jackie seeks out a priest ( played be the late, great John Hurt), hoping for an explanation for her husband’s (President Kennedy’s) assassination. The priest’s wise counsel is worth the price of admission.
I’ve always imagined God as a father, but in my childhood, the result of my religious education was fear of God, and guilt for my trespasses. Through the many years of carrying my crosses, I have come to realize that God is like my own father was. He could not prevent my troubles, but he was always there to listen, console and support me. I miss my father, but I know that if God is like him, I haves nothing to fear.
God is Everything and Everyone to all of us. I have grown to love Him more each day, and to feel His presence.
I am especially happy today to read that you are writing a new book. I still read from all of your earlier books. Sorry I missed you when you were in Wisconsin.
God Bless you!
Who is God to me? He is the reason I have hope when life seems hopeless. He is the strength I have to face, endure and process through days that scare me witless. My father was emotionally absent and uninvolved with my well being. It’s taken most of my 64 years NOT to define God by “father” and to experience God ‘s presence in a myriad of other ways.
I’m told God is love, I’m not there…yet.
God is my light and strength and salvation as the psalmist reminds us… God is ever with me in joy, in sorrow, in success and challenge….
God is the stronghold of my life…
Thanks, dear Sister Melanie for your wonderful blog and the goodness of your life and for sharing the God within you…Who speaks so loudly to all of us. God bless…
God is everything and beyond my human mind and imagination. He requires great faith that sometimes ebbs and flows with life.
I sure needed to hear all this. I look around and see life in disarray and wonder why and wonder how to move forward. Faith in God that’s how…
Dear Melannie,…thanks for the beautiful reflection…it hits the spot where I am right know…FAITH is the way to god Faith in God is Joy…….
a long way from my childhood barganing days
A wonderful, thought-provoking reflection this week. This struck me most of all: Even the attempt to “define” God is misleading. The word define comes from the Latin definere which means “to set a limit.” How very true!’
I think as a child I tended to see God in everything, but as an adult I am much more cynical – I have trouble seeing God in many of His human-creations.
The readers responses are so interesting to me as well, and I really enjoy how the topic is extended and enhanced by their comments. I think we do try desperately to affix a definition on God based on something we can relate to … i.e. Father. But you remind us that ours is but a poor understanding and if we are diligent, prayerful and most of all – OPEN -we will gain a better answer to that question.