How do we talk about God? How do we talk to God? Who or what are we supposed to have in mind when we pray?
A question I have been asked frequently lately, and a question that is very much part of the current climate in the Church where many have moved away from old traditional images and ways of addressing God, but have difficulty finding new and helpful images that correspond with the new insight they have gained on their faith journey.
The image of God as a bearded old man on a cloud or of Jesus as a lovely gentle featured Caucasian male have for many lost their relevance or credentials. Some may find it difficult to think of God as a person at all. And what about Jesus? How does he feature in our faith practice?
How do we think and talk about God appropriately and in a way that is theologically sound and at the same time true to our time and our needs? Is there a way? Or are we perhaps better off just giving up altogether, and referring to God as "some thing" or "energy" or other fairly non descript words of that nature?
The Bible has gone through some 6000 years of God images and addressing God and talking about God. In those 6000 years a myriad of images and ways of speaking about God have passed have passed in review. Some images have stayed through the ages, some have only surfaced every now and again, on particular occasions or in specific times.
There are a couple of things however the Bible has always been very clear about : Whatever or whoever we call God, he, she or it is something that is concerned with all people and the whole world. God is not limited to a particular group, nor is God bound to particular people or restricted to certain individuals. And he, she or it, in whatever way we chose to talk about God, is relational. God is something or somebody that wants to relate and connect to people and is involved with their life. The God of the Bible is not impassive or remote, but personal. God is a somebody not a something.
Also: God is not only something that is inside us, but God is also outside us, working independent of us in the world. In other words: if we give up on God what we call God will not die as a result of it.
The New Testament tells us that the best way to know more about God is through Jesus Christ, both because Jesus was the very image of God, and because in the relationship of Jesus with God we were shown the ultimate relationship God will and can have with any human being. A relationship so strong its love conquers death.
Those are the basics for the way Christians talk about God. Any imagery or talking about God outside these parameters is not scriptural, not biblical and belongs to another realm of religion.
So: Gods concern is for the whole world. And: God is relational, God seeks to connect and be involved in what goes on in the world and those who inhabit it.
And more specifically Christian: When we look at Jesus Christ we see God in his actions as well as in the way he related to God in his life.
That said the question remains how we relate to God and what imagery is appropriate to be used in our day and age when we talk about God. How do we translate our experiences of God, our ideas about God in language that will be satisfactory and helpful?
One image I have found helpful (and it may not be for others) is to compare God to a power grid. A power grid is something we are all aware of, is all around us, can be connected to in many different ways and will be supplying power at many different points at the same time, translating into many different actions, and be experienced in many different ways.
For me that is a reasonably adequate way of describing God. But how is a power grid personal? How does one relate to it? And if God is to be compared to a power grid, how does Jesus relate to that?
We can probably all imagine connecting to something like a power grid, but an "energy" or a "power" remains pretty neutral and doesnt have a "face". In our Christian faith it is through writings of the Old and New Testament and Jesus Christ in particular that a face is put on to this "power grid" and we get to know God as a somebody rather than a something. Somebody with personality, with characteristics, somebody fuelled by a certain drive, with a specific purpose and direction.
God, as we meet him in scripture is not neutral, not just a power or "an energy", but a power and energy that is intentionally directed towards love, peace, wholeness and justice. Love, peace, wholeness and justice it will share with anybody who connects to it. When Jesus walked the earth that power grid pulsed in him in a most extraordinary way: in him people saw crackling charges going back and forth all the time to such an extent that his life radiated with God.
And that, according to the Christian faith tradition is where the holy Spirit comes in. It is the crackling part of Gods energy, the little blue sparks that will jump of the power grid here and there and connect even outside the places where people are "plugged in". The Spirit is where God connects in Christ, through Christ, takes shape in Christ, and where the power starts to jump outside the confines of the grid or even those who are connected to it to dance across and touch aspects of life that arent or werent connected to it.
Describing that mysterious aspect of God that goes beyond what our images or understanding, what even the life of Jesus Christ did contain. Spilling out into the world and changing it, always connected to and fuelled by love and a desire to heal and bring peace and justice to the world.
This "energy" does not run out. Contrary to normal power grids it does not get depleted when more people connect to it, on the contrary, it gains power and momentum, but is not dependent on people for it.
At Pentecost we celebrate that that power invites us all to tap into it. And that even where we may be hesitant, it will try to find us, jumping from heart to heart, from inspiration to inspiration, from life to life, changing the world as it goes along. Endeavouring to touch everything in its path with that power which we call God, which has love as its hall mark and is driven by a profound desire for wholeness, peace and justice to take shape in the world.
A power we can relate to, and which relates to us, which becomes personal and seeks to touch us and change us by filling us and surrounding us with love.