What's Tony Thinking

Does God Exist?


Funny the things you remember. In the waning weeks of my ministry at Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu, an older couple in the congregation, Kimiko and Bunichi (more than half the congregation were Japanese American), took us out to dinner.

Kimmie had a question that she wanted to ask, but doing so was a little awkward for her. Her question was, “Tony, how do you describe God?” Or maybe, “Tony, how do you think of, God?”

I suspect she felt awkward because her question seemed so basic. The kind of question we may think of as “a stupid question.” So we don’t ask. But it turns out that often the basic questions, even those we might dismiss as possibly “stupid questions,” are some of the best questions of all.

If Kimmie had a hard time asking, I reciprocated by having a hard time answering. Which is also okay. I had no pat answer. I fumbled around a bit until I said the word “foundation.” “For me,” I said, “God is the foundation, the foundation of everything, of all that is.”

It may not have been a great answer, but it wasn’t a terrible one either. I thought of that dinner and conversation recently when I read a couple of columns by a psychologist/ theologian, Richard Beck, whose work I like.

Beck draws on Christianity’s mystics to say — paraphrase here — “If it exists, it isn’t God.” God, by definition, can’t be an existing object in the universe, because God is Existence from which all that exists comes. God is Being from which all being comes. So my “foundation” wasn’t far off.

Here’s Beck in a piece provocatively titled, “Atheism is Impossible.”

“There is a crude form of atheism. A simplistic version. This version of atheism assumes that God is some object in the universe like Odin, a giant teapot, or a flying spaghetti monster. In these versions of atheism, God is assumed to be some piece of furniture in the warehouse of the cosmos. A being among beings, a noun among nouns, an object among objects. And this version of atheism denies the existence of that object, that being, that noun. That if you searched the universe God will not be found. Therefore, God doesn’t exist. And this is true. Christians agree with atheists on this point. However, as I pointed out in my prior post, this vision of God’s relation to existence is a confusion. God doesn’t exist as objects exist.”

While Beck calls what he describes above “a crude atheism,” I suspect it is the atheism of many who identity as “atheists.” Having discovered that no one bumped into God in outer space, or that God is not an Old Man with A White Beard in the Sky, i.e. that God doesn’t exist as an object in the universe, they conclude that therefore, God doesn’t exist.

More from Beck:

“In my ‘How to Think about God’ lecture I introduce my students to one of the great insights of the Christian mystical tradition: God belongs to no genus. God is a member of no class or category. God transcends all concepts.

“Consider, I said to my class, the category ‘Things That Exist.’ We can list members of this category: dogs, cats, chairs, people, planets, computers, cars, quarks, black holes, even the universe. But then I write on the board ‘God.’ Can God be included as a member of the class ‘Things That Exist’? Recall, the rule is ‘God belongs to no genus.’ So, no, God cannot be a member of the class ‘Things That Exist.’ Which quickly brought my class to the apophatic conclusion: God doesn’t exist.

“By ‘God doesn’t exist’ we mean, of course, that God doesn’t exist the way objects exist, the way dogs or planets exist. God isn’t a noun. God isn’t a being among beings. God is, rather, the Existence that gives rise to existence. The Being that creates beings. God exists, but not in a way we can understand or fathom. God Exists, but doesn’t exist.”

This is why biblical faith is so strenuously opposed to making graven images, statues or any other object or representation of “God.” Moreover, no one sees God. In the Bible, Jews do not even utter the word, “God.” God is unnameable. “God” cannot be reduced to something that we can grasp, control or get our minds around. If we could wholly grasp, explain or understand it, then it wouldn’t be God.

While there is, and always will be, this essential unknowability about God, the biblical God is at the same time a God who reveals God’s self. God, we believe, is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, Mary’s boy, who was put to death by the allied powers of state and religion. But Jesus, too, is hard to pin down, as those authorities discovered on Easter.

Two final comments: if you find it hard to describe or explain God, don’t feel too bad about that. That may not be a failure on your part nor an indication of a weak or absent faith. It may actually be an expression of faith. The reticence of reverence.

Second, that there is that which is beyond our explanations, descriptions, comprehension or control is, to my mind, very good news.





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