Last week I listened to a panel discussion about God, sponsored by Notre Dame College’s Abrahamic Center. A Jesuit priest, a rabbi, and a Muslim were to answer three questions, but never got beyond the first one, “Who is God?” Their talks and the discussion that followed provided much rich food for thought. In this post I share some of the information and insights gathered there. You might find them as stimulating as I did.
The rabbi began by pointing out that naming animals was the first thing Adam was told to do. Names reveal people, and our names for God reflect what we think of him—like El Shaddai, the almighty one, or God of Hosts (a military title). A name for God in the Bible is Elohim. This name is mysterious because it is composed of a feminine beginning and a plural masculine ending.
God’s name as he revealed it to Moses was YHWH. Hebrew has no present tense. God was saying “I will be that who I will be” or “was.” He is the eternal one. The four letters in this Hebrew word are soft—like a breath. In Genesis, God brings Adam to life by breathing into him. Breath equals life. We share God’s divine life.
What distinguishes human beings from animals is not just a thumb or a larger brain, but the desire for more. This is an indication that God exists.
There is a human need to know God. The Muslim woman referred to a story about a man searching for God. He considered the stars, but they disappeared. He thought of the moon, but they too disappeared. Then he wondered if the sun were God, but that also disappeared. He looked for something that wasn’t transitory. God is eternal. He was there forever and will be forever. That thought is mind-boggling. God sends messengers to guide us to understand him. They come under different conditions and to different people, but their message is the same.
We give God names based on our experiences. Muslims have 99 names for God. Yet none of the names capture precisely who God is. Words are limited. They cannot express the total reality. We call God spirit, but who knows what a spirit really is? As the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides observed, the only thing we can say is “God is not . . .” To know God we must get past the words.
God is incomprehensible, a mystery. We know him only as far as he reveals himself, which he has done in Scripture and through certain prophets. This is believed by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. As the Jesuit noted, Christianity goes a step farther and holds that God made himself known to us by becoming a human being like us. Jesus is the face of God. What God is like is further conveyed by parables that Jesus taught, like the prodigal son and the good shepherd.
All religions are monotheistic, believing that God is one. The Hindus, for example, have hundreds of “deities,” but these are only manifestations of the one God Brahmin. Christians believe in one God who is three Persons. To say God is one means God is unique, integral.
The Jesuit mentioned that God is a personal God, not a force. Jesus is close to us, with us, Emmanuel. God is love and we identify with one we love. So the Word became flesh. Jesus is the face of God. He showed us how to be human. Jesus also told us to call God Abba, which is comparable to Daddy. At the Last Supper he said he was a Friend.
(The next two discussions are March 30 and April 6 from 4:30 pm to 6:00 in the Great Room of Notre Dame College. If you live near South Euclid, Ohio, you might plan to come.)
Who is God for you?
David Haas, ClearFaith Publishing, 2016, $20.00
David Haas is the composer of a great many of the hymns we love to sing. Appropriately, he is now the author of a collection of prayers that has grown out of his love of the psalms. These ancient prayers express the gamut of human emotions and have the underlying theme of trust in God. Haas has taken all of these 150 psalms and after much reflection has rewritten them in whole or in part and has sometimes interpolated them to include his own thoughts. His paraphrases are not rooted in theology but spring from his heart. They are simple and intended to be used to cultivate the reader’s reflection and stir up love for God. The prayers lend themselves to both personal and communal prayer.
In the back of the book are several helpful indexes. One is a detailed list of topics and situations when the prayers can be prayed. This is followed by a correlation of the psalms and liturgical seasons, feasts, and sacraments. Then there is a calendar of saints and other people and the respective psalm that is fitting to pray on their day.
People who like The Message Bible will like this new presentation of the psalms.