God Between Us

My onetime roommate and friend Shawn came to visit Ottawa a couple of weeks ago. I know a few Shawns, and more than one of them have been my roommate. So, to be clear, I lived with this Shawn for six months just prior to moving in with Brigitte, and immediately before the COVID epidemic began. Shawn is now a long haul trucker, working mostly in the United States. In any case, when Shawn comes to town we usually find a place to play pool, and to talk.

On this most recent visit, we got to talking about faith. Actually, that’s not so rare. We often talk about faith. In this instance, we somehow got into talking about God as an active and intervening force in the world.

I don’t believe in that kind of God. I spent a lot of time trying to explain my conception of God to Shawn, and thought it might be a challenging and ultimately rewarding exercise to attempt to write it out. So, here it goes…

I believe that God is…

LOL. It is easier to say what I believe God is not. I do not understand God as a single “being” or entity, and certainly not the construct of an elderly bearded white male that was “created in our image” by a patriarchal European church. God is not a game player, setting up a chess board and moving its pieces around in some form of long term strategy to win souls (though it does make a good song).

God is more than that.

My conception of God is shaped by feminist and process-relational theology, with a strong underpinning of liberation theology (thanks, Dad). I’m not an expert in any of these things, but I know just enough to be dangerous and arrogant.

That’s a joke, by the way, even though I am fully aware that I often do come across as arrogant. I fundamentally don’t believe that you need to be an expert in something to be informed by it, and even more so when that comes to thinking about your own faith beliefs. I also don’t believe that my interpretations of these theological frameworks is dangerous to anything except the already failed theologies of “traditional” Christianity.

I have long held in my head a quote that I attribute to Stephen Hawking, but which, of course, I can’t locate right now. My memory is that “it’s possible that a God may have existed at the creation of the universe, but there was nothing for that God to do.” For most of history, God was the explanation for that which we didn’t understand — the literal Deus ex machina of the entire human story.

God does not need to be, should not be, the causal force for things which we can explain through science. Attributing actions to God which are explainable by natural interactions of physics, chemistry, biology, or any other realm of science is, in my opinion, a disservice and an insult to God. Where we hold to ancient patterns and beliefs that ascribe agency to God for things for which there is no need of God’s agency, we trivialize God and our own faith.

God is more than simply the target of our blame for our lack of understanding.

So how does feminist/process/relational/liberation theology shape my idea of God?

First… God is not static. The God that existed (maybe) at the creation of the universe is not the God that existed yesterday, and is not the God that exists today. God changes, and evolves. I think the idea of God evolving is actually entirely consistent with the biblical stories (which are not stories about God, but are stories about human relationships with God!).

As (another) quick aside… any biblical literalists who would want to argue on the idea that God is growing and changing must concede that that rainbow promise after the flood in Genesis is evidence of God’s mutability. A decision regretted. A new covenant formed (yes, I know the rainbow isn’t the new covenant, but it was certainly a new covenant). The biblical story is alive with the shifts and changes of God’s intent for and relationship with humanity.

Of course, as I said, I don’t believe that the biblical stories are actually stories about God. They are an abbreviated history of the attempts of (some of) humanity to understand and relate to God.

That is the second point… God is in relationship. God is in relationship with humans, with creation, and with Godself. Again, this assertion reinforces the idea that God is not static, as it is impossible to be in relationship with something or someone without being impacted and changed by the relationship. Equally importantly, God is inextricably embedded in relationship, whether by God’s choice or by God’s nature (the reason is irrelevant).

Third, God yearns for the best in all of these relationships. God desires mutuality, recognition, respect, justice, equity/equality, and love.

So what do I believe God is? God is presence.

God exists in the spaces between. Wherever two or more are in relationship, God is present within that relationship. Not in the people, or things, but in the potential that exists between. God is not “the relationship”, but God is in every relationship. When the relationship is hurt, God suffers. When the relationship is embued with mutuality and love, God rejoices.

And I want to be clear… this isn’t just relationships between people. It is relationships between all things: the roots of the plants and the soil; the sea and the sands; me and the rock that I am skipping over the placid lake; my dog and his bed.

This gives rise to an approach to life that honours God. By honouring our relationships with other people and the world around us, and by calling on others (especially including our political leaders) to shape relationships of equality, mutuality, respect, and love, we contribute to God’s joy. Where we fail, and our relationships are hurt, including in environmental disasters, war, and social violence against vulnerable communities, God suffers. God’s pain infects us, and we are called to bring those relationships back to a place of safety, respect and love.

IF you’re wondering where the liberation part comes in… sometimes the only way to bring a relationship back to equity and justice requires a significant change in the relationship — even to the point of severing what currently exists.

I could go on (and often do), but I’ve said enough for now. That’s my faith, in a nutshell. I’d love to hear your response… or your own nutshelled faith.


One response to “God Between Us”

  1. Shawn Richburg Avatar
    Shawn Richburg

    Reading through Leviticus numbers and Exodus, I believe God should apologize for writing this drudgery. I would agree with you that the stories that we read in the Bible are our relationships with God, or how we relate to God. Job is a prime example of how we misinterpret what God has done or why is God‘s doing this because in Job there is no reason for what has happened to him, and God does not explain himself to her us. We are left to interpret his actions.
    Thanks for spelling my name correctly. Thanks for letting me see that you contemplate more about our relationship even after the pool cues are put down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *