God is. And maybe that’s all.

“I AM what I AM…” (Exodus 3:14)

“I AM.” And that’s all?

God’s self-description seemed terribly incomplete to me when I read it in my Bible for the first time. In fact, I remember being fascinated that Moses didn’t ask for more details. If I had been Moses, I would likely have retorted: “YOU ARE what? What does that even mean?”

It wasn’t until several years into my spiritual journey that, for reasons I don’t remember, I spoke these words in second person and realized what they meant. Rather than “I AM,” I quietly whispered to myself: “God is.”

“God is.” Two simple words– A complete sentence that captures God’s existence, and God’s eternality… and God’s transcendence, and God’s ability to be a multitude of things to a multitude of people… Two words upon which God would later build an identity that could only be fully understood in light of experience. Only experience would give the Israelites the conviction to say “God is– the creator” and “God is– the provider” and “God is– present with us.”

I’ve come to understand that this is the way the relationship with God unfolds for a lot of people. God begins as the One who exists (or who is), whether we acknowledge such an existence or not. Before we even knew of a divine being, God was… and God will be long after we’re gone.

The God who is reveals himself to humankind experientially, and through those experiences, we develop language to explain our understanding of God’s character. Many of us feel loved when we encounter God, so we say that “God is love.” Others feel overwhelmed when encountering God, and consequently say that “God is powerful.”

People in non-Christian traditions that promote meditation are not put-off by the concept of God’s simple is-ness, nor are they offended by the possibility that we may have added God’s attributes. (I suspect they’re also more open to the possibility that we may be wrong about the characteristics we’ve assigned to God, but that’s a topic for another blog post). They view God as a presence that should be experienced, but not necessarily defined. In many of those traditions, practitioners believe that any words used to explain God’s nature will only fall inadequately flat. In their view, there’s no language powerful enough to capture such an Essence.

However in Christianity, we begin our explorations of God’s nature with language. We prize our theology so much that when we attempt to explain what it means for humans to be God’s people, we often forgo our experiences and begin with our doctrines. We say, “As a Christian I affirm this…” or “those who wish to have a valid experience of God must believe that” or “if you wish to join our movement, you must think thus-and-so.” We attempt to normalize a transcendent experience by shrouding it in words, and in so doing we stifle the many experiential possibilities that could exist for the love affair between humankind and the Divine.

I believe that like Moses, we must each come to know God as the “I AM…” That is, we must all learn the power of the inherent simplicity in: God is. We must experience God—and we must allow others to experience God. And then, we must allow them to define the meanings of those experiences for themselves. Each of us should be given the freedom to explore the possibilities of Whom and What God can be—even if those experiences draw us outside the realm of orthodoxy. And, we must be ready to embrace the fact that God is a variety of things to a variety of people… a Great Spirit that cannot and should not be bound or normalized by any human system.

And so, my words about God are fairly simple: God is… As for theology– well, let’s just say that I’m becoming very comfortable with the likelihood that all other words are only inadequate reflections of our experiences.

[NOTE: This post was my response to Tony Jones' challenge to progressive theo-bloggers... A great project that should happen more in the blogosphere. :)]

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9 responses to “God is. And maybe that’s all.

  1. I have long thought that there is a parallel between the Mosaic nameless I AM and the opening of the Tao Te Ching:

    The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
    The name that can be named is not the eternal name
    The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth

    That is, when you attempt to ascribe properties to the Nameless, you’re making a mistake.

  2. Pingback: A Substantive Post About God·

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  4. Crystal, thanks for this thoughtful, and yes, “substantive” post about God. I took the Tony challenge myself on my blog. Although I’ve been studying the Bible and theology for over 4 decades now (as an adult!), it wasn’t until fairly recently that I began to see how even ancient authors of Jewish tradition must have shared some of the views of God that we now consider “new age” or “process” (my favorite category, as you know). It is a self-serving (but natural) distortion of perception that people tend to read back into this early literature the kinds of perceptions they have taken on. Sure, it’s impossible not to at all. But any given tradition must be aware of its own evolution to work against this trend.

  5. Crystal, I like God as isness. And that would absolutely be more than sufficient to say of God. Yet, Jewish sources frequently translate God’s “Eyeh asher eyeh” (אהיה אשר אהיה), said to Moses at the burning bush, as “I will be what I will be,” not denying the isness of God but grammatically emphasizing the incompleteness of that isness, that is, the becomingness of God. In other words, in so self-identifying, God declares Godself to be the origin, the repository, and source of all potential or potentiality. This fits with the mythology. A God who precedes all creation is the potential of all that will become. A God who knows us in our mother’s womb is the potential of our becoming. The God of eyeh asher eyeh is dynamic. This God is the opposite of the unchanging, static God I was taught as a child, the same yesterday, today, forever. Eyeh asher eyeh can learn. Eyeh asher eyeh can repent. Eyeh asher eyeh can improve. Eyeh asher eyeh must change. It is, indeed, a fact, that anyone who reads the Bible sees God evolve. God has never been complete but always in the process of perfecting and learning how to be, ethically. God is eternally becoming God, the origin, repository, and source. God’s is never a wasness but a will-be-ness. We have absolutely no reason to believe that that process is ever complete. God is always on the horizon about to happen. God is the eternal anticipation met in dusk or dawn as the earth turns, shifting the eternal anticipation from east to west, leaving only a temporary illusion of isness in its wake as the anticipation of becoming sweeps on for what human consciousness might call “forever.”

    • Thank you for this well-articulated article Crystal. And well said NightPrayers. I wholly concur, having discovered “G*d is” for myself decades ago with the release of theology, words, experiences, and our human limitations as they pale and fail to convey that which cannot be named and the ever-changing process that will continue eternally. So glad to have discovered this blog. Looking forward to reading more.

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