The Bible says that humankind is made in the “image and likeness” of God. Has this led us to extrapolate back in our desire to try to understand what God is like – but in doing so, have we actually created God in our image and likeness, albeit somehow ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ and more ‘perfect’? If God has created the universe, and is supposed to be powerful, loving and in control, then how can such an Almighty Being allow so much suffering in the world, which no good person would allow if he or she had the power to change things? Based on an idea of God being a substantive being or entity, somehow like us, we are justified in saying, as so many people do, that we cannot believe in or trust or love such a God. God created in our image, whilst it may help to a certain extent, just isn’t good enough. And yet, I think this is what most people living in a monotheistic culture, including myself, use as their model, which is then either accepted or rejected, depending on their experiences.
I have been pondering if it’s possible to think and reason without language, without using words. If it isn’t, then we are limited in our imagination and understanding by our language, despite all our efforts and longings. It is obvious that many animals can think and plan, and yet they don’t appear to have words as we know them. So are there other ways of communicating and experiencing, understanding and knowing, which work without language, fit in with our experience of science, the world and creation, and will help us to ‘know’ God? Are we missing something significant in creation, in the Biblical story and in other religions?
Rather than thinking of God as being basically human in nature, with supreme all-mighty powers, does it make more sense to see God as being Relationship? The whole of creation, from the atomic level to the cosmic level, could be said to be about relationship, to exist as relationship. The Christian understanding of God as Trinitarian is essentially about relationship rather than substance. You don’t actually need to use words to be in relationship. “Actions ‘speak’ louder than words.”
The word ‘being’ is a verb, but has been turned into a noun. Have we turned God into a noun, a powerful one at that? Relationship is a much more open concept, one which is more to do with verbs, such as moving, flowing, giving, receiving, loving, being, living – and also suffering, being vulnerable, having humility, letting go. All of these verbs can be seen as the Biblical story unfolds, revealing God as somehow existing as relationship, which is expressed by Christians in trinitarian language as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we see this pattern of relationship reflected throughout creation, at every level, fitting in with scientific insights and understanding as well.
Death is built in to creation. At first, that seems like a design fault. But when you stop and think about it, I think it really is the only way that there can be growth and change, development and evolution – the only way for new life to emerge. It is not without pain.
Relationships involve and include openness, risk-taking and vulnerability. In any relationship, including the Trinitarian Relationship, there is suffering, along with all the other attributes and blessings. I think that understanding God as Relationship reveals that God is profoundly present in all suffering, actually living with is and experiencing it. He is not outside creation, controlling it and deciding who and what will suffer and who will be spared. He is participating in creation, and showing how being in relationship strengthens and renews and gives new life, even in and through suffering.
I choose to understand God as being All-vulnerable rather than All-mighty.
I think the concept of Relationship being at the core of the universe and all that is in it also helps me understand better what sin is, both personal and corporate. It is about breaking various relationships, about being separate – separate from God at the core of my being, separate in some way from others, separate from the rest of creation. This causes suffering within me, within others and within the world. Acknowledging God as Relationship in and throughout the universe, and Jesus as showing us the Way, is the first life-giving step towards restoration, reconciliation and renewal.
We are indeed made “in the image and likeness of God”. Recognising the centrality and power of Relationship will help us become more fully human and therefore more God-like.