I’ve written about God being indescribable and, in essence, unknowable. The Bible, however, does have a bit of fun with a God who has legs that enjoy a walk in the Garden of Eden; cheeks that can feel a cooling breeze; and arms and hands that can do a bit of pottery, ribcage surgery and dressmaking. He also seems to have vocal chords and ear drums, enabling him to talk and listen to Adam and Eve. Getting a bit more serious, however, the Bible later says that, “God is spirit”.
Spirit is non-physical – no legs, arms, hands, vocal chords or ear drums. Spirit is invisible and so cannot be described, but only imagined in word pictures, or images. It’s like science books picturing an atom as a nucleus made from protons and neutrons, with electrons circling round it. Science now tells us, however, that an atom doesn’t ‘look like’ anything at all. It’s a form of energy, and energy, like spirit, is invisible and intangible. It can only be ‘described’ in the language of mathematics.
We human beings, however, aren’t too keen on what’s invisible, indescribable and unknowable, and so we have our religions which, drawing on our powers of imagination, supply us, in their ‘sacred’ books, with word pictures and images. This is NOT to say that these ideas and images have no underlying reality, but only that that reality, whatever it is, entirely transcends our efforts to ‘describe’ it. Similarly, the fact that atoms don’t actually ‘look like’ our pictures of them, doesn’t alter the fact that we’re made of them!
What then can we say about God? The answer has to be, whatever we choose to. What matters is that we fully understand and acknowledge that these are our beliefs, not facts. They cannot reasonably be regarded as conveying absolute truths which decide eternal destinies, and which therefore must be adopted by everyone else, willingly or otherwise. Those who differ from us can never deserve to be attacked by word, knife, gun, or bomb, as a suitable introduction to the everlasting torment already awaiting them.
I like the refreshing approach of the Buddha – ‘here is what I have come to understand, but don’t go along with it on my say so. Try it out for yourself. If it works for you, hold on to it. If it doesn’t, find something else that meets your needs.’ And once we’ve found whatever that is, and are happy with it, because it makes a positive contribution to our life and to life in general, then if someone else has different ideas, we’ll have no need to be upset or offended, fearful or angry. We’ll be ok, and they’ll be ok, and the world as a whole will be a better, happier, safer and more peaceful place.