During my 66 years of life, I never addressed specifically the question, “is there a God or is there not?” Even when I thought about religious ideas, I was not constructing a new religion, but rather, I was learning that the dogma of any Christian or other religious group is merely an attempt to express in words the elusive Truth.
One of the early influences upon my thinking was Eric Fromm: beginning with The Art of Loving, then The Dogma of Christ, and, in particular, his essay on Psychoanalysis and Religion. In the latter Fromm posits that a healthy religion is necessary to healthy mental, psychological, and emotional being. I have never lost that conviction; rather, it has informed my reading and my questioning.
I mentioned dogma: dogma is not the truth, but the crystallization of notions of truth and right living. We humans must use words. Likewise, any notion of God is insufficient to define or to find God. As an associate pastor preached, she learned in seminary that whatever notion you have of God, God is more.
When we consider any notion of life after death, words are also inadequate to describe it. Indeed, although we often hear of “near death experiences,” no one has actually died, the body decayed, and the spirit returned to tell of the experiences of the afterlife. There are dreams about the afterlife. Indeed, Heaven Is Real is about one child’s experience in dreams. The book and the movie can only be told in words and images, each of which is inadequate to present a humanly comprehensible view of whatever the is the afterlife.
That is even true of the Bible. As Moses Maimonides held, whatever we can say are the positive attributes of God, such affirmations are inadequate to describe God. If we use words, only a description of “negative attributes” can point away from what God is not toward the ineffable, inexpressible experience of God. That is what I understand Eric Fromm to say: the Jewish name for God, Yahweh, literally refers to a living God; not just “I am,” as the King James Bible recounts, but rather to the living God expressed as “I am becoming.” That is what it means to live.
Perhaps that attempt of human beings with concrete experiences and imaginations to refer to whatever being there is beyond death can be told best by a good friend. It was in our Sunday school class. She told of the death of her parents in an auto crash. Her parents were coming from a casino where they had enjoyed great success. My friend said that she imagined them in heaven, enjoying that experience. I responded, “I thought you did not believe in a literal heaven.” “I don’t, literally; but that is what I imagine.”
That may seem like a stretch for some, but in my Christian experience, it is common for people to tell of heaven as, for example, having“streets of gold.” Do they literally mean that heaven has streets of gold or is it an expression of how precious heaven, the afterlife, is? Is it any different than the jihadist notion of martyrdom by which one can sacrifice one’s life in jihad by killing others (infidels from there perspective) as well as oneself for which they are promised reward from Allah, such as many virgins in the afterlife.
You may notice that I have titled this Our Living God. I hope that what immediately follows may be inspiring to others of all religions or those claiming no religion . Here is my present challenge: to practice the presence of God.