I’ll confess, it used to bug me. I used to run from the word God. I realize now that I was running from an old definition of the word God that no longer seemed true.
I grew up in the southern part of the United States amidst fundamentalist Christian faiths. I attended church up until I entered high school. The God that I was exposed to as a child was seen as this old man who sat upon his throne somewhere in heaven with Jesus and angels by his side. This God somehow caused the Bible to be written, and we were supposed to do what it said. I was told that all of us were born evil and we’re doomed to a fiery hell after death unless we “accepted Jesus” as our Savior, in which case, we went to heaven.
Over time, there were a number of things that made me question all of this. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the story I had been fed was a myth. Fueled by this disillusionment, I ran away from any organized religion which propagated this story. As I moved through college, marriage, children and career, my focus turned outward to worldly success and accomplishments. Off and on I found myself drawn to reading and studying other spiritual texts and spiritual practices such as meditation. As I grew older, these pulls became stronger. I came to the realization that material success was not the meaning of life. At that point, I moved more deeply on to my spiritual path. This led me to seeing God again, but not the old God that I ran from, but rather a God that was sensed as a power and presence that permeated everything.
At first, I avoided using the word God to describe this power. I used many other terms such as Spirit, Divine Intelligence, Infinite Love, etc. Ultimately, I healed the negative baggage that I held concerning the word God. Now when I use the word God, if I sense that my listener may be applying the traditional definition that I learned as a youth, then I will clarify my meaning. I also came to see the value in the Christian teachings of my youth even if they no longer worked for me. I now see how they have served and continue to serve humanity and honor those who feel called to that path.
Recently I wrote about “The Evolution of Consciousness, God and Prayer“. In that article I discussed how God doesn’t evolve, but that our view of God does. Numerous sources (such as Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory) point to the same reality. Humanity grows through worldviews (see the other article for details). I can see in my life a movement through the traditional view in my youth into the modern view in much of my adulthood and then on into a postmodern view and integral view as I have aged and hopefully grown wiser.
Change God’s Name?
Today I received my weekly e-mail newsletter from Bishop John Shelby Spong. Each week, he answers a question from one of his readers. This week, the question was in essence should we come up with a new name for God? The writer pointed out that the name God continues to hold a lot of old baggage, that it continues to be constantly misunderstood, and it appears so easy for us to drift back into the old language and the old images. He suggested we consider words such as “Love”, “Energy”, or “Life”.
In his reply Spong outlines essentially the same evolutionary process I described last week. If you’d like to sign up to receive his emails, here’s the link. He also points out as I did that our definition of the word God has evolved through time and continues to evolve.
“I do not believe that in the last analysis any human being can actually define or redefine God, whether we call God the Holy, the Sense of Transcendence or anything else, but I do believe we can experience this presence and I do believe it is real. When we experience this presence I know of no other way to describe it except as “God.” History teaches us that the word God is never static; it is always in flux and ever changing. I suggest that we not be frightened and allow that process to continue.”
So I ask you, does the word God bug you? If it does not, then I simply ask you to be clear on what the word means to you. If it does bug you, then I invite you to become more familiar with this expanding evolutionary process. Ask yourself why the word may hold any baggage for you, to explore those emotions, to work through them and to heal them. This is the evolutionary force playing out in your life right now.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!