Rethinking ‘God’ (3) ‘Body or Spirit’

In the 3rd post in this series, it’s time to consider how we might re-think ‘God’. The traditional view is that the Bible tells us everything about him that we need to know. The problem with that is, that the Bible’s picture is inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory. 

On the one hand, God has a body like yours and mine, which is perhaps unsurprising since we are made “in his image” according to the book of Genesis. He takes a stroll round the garden of Eden ; Abraham walks and talks with him ; Jacob and he have a wrestling match ; Moses and 70 others “saw God, and then they ate and drank together”. Some would say that this is figurative language, not intended to be taken literally, but the Law laid down by God himself for the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) is very much ‘down to earth’. “You are to have a place outside the camp where you relieve yourselves. Carry a stick as part of your equipment, so that when you have a bowel movement you can dig a hole and cover it up .. because the Lord your God is with you, in your camp” and, quite understandably, doesn’t want to have to keep wiping his shoes.

On the other hand, and to the contrary, the Bible tells us that “God is spirit”. Now whatever ‘spirit’ is, it isn’t physical. It doesn’t go for an evening stroll. By definition, it’s immaterial and invisible, with no tangible existence in the space-time world. It’s therefore beyond the power of any of us to describe. Whatever we say can only be an opinion or belief, not a fact or ‘truth’. If only the cacophony of competing religions would take that to heart, and replace their dogmatism with pragmatism. 

Rather, then, than describing ‘God’, the Bible describes how a particular group of people believed they experienced God, and how their ideas about him evolved, over a period of more than a thousand years, and throughout all the radical changes that took place in the fortunes of their nation. That’s given us a very wide-ranging library of books, with a mixture of myth, legend and folktale, of law, narrative and poetry, and of the epic, tragic and erotic. It’s a masterpiece, even if some of its contents are flawed and/or fabulous, that contains richly colourful and dramatic material, from the intellectually and emotionally inspiring to the morally shocking, that is of the greatest historical, religious and cultural interest and importance. I have no regrets about having studied it, and continually turning its pages, for over 50 years. There is always so much more to be discovered, or re-discovered.

As far as the ‘description’ of ‘God’ is concerned, however, given the above mentioned limitations of the Bible, are there any other sources that can supply us with, if not with descriptions, at least some useful suggestions or ‘pointers’? I think there are, and in my next post, I’ll take a look at some findings of analytical psychology ; our experience of works of great Art ; discoveries of modern science and neuro-science ; and the rediscovery of Panpsychism. 

‘Speak to you soon,’ as the saying goes …..   

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