As far as I understand it, the idea of God being an old man with a beard who smites people either because of his own capriciousness or at the request of others, is held by two belief extremes; the atheists who think that all Christian see the Bible as being literally true, and the fundamentalists who actually do see the Bible as being literally true (please see note below). Both of these conceptions are damagingly limited. I know that when I was an atheist, I certainly assumed that any belief in God involved a ‘him’ to start with, with human characteristics. Because of course we would have to label something as transcendent and ephemeral as the life force of the Universe in those terms. We humans are not very good at getting our head around things unless we can label them and put them in a box, are we?
I think that how we each define God probably says a lot about how we see our faith, too. My own view of God has changed hugely over the last decade or so. And now I’m probably most comfortable than I’ve ever been with my conception of God; that of, ‘I don’t really know exactly…’.
There’s a quote which I can’t remember exactly (please let me know if you do) which says something along the line of the people of the old days were smart enough to understand that the Old Testament was allegory and myth and story, but today we seem to have gone backwards and we have groups who believe that it is literally true. Sounds like is could be Spong. Or Rohr. But it’s not how the OT was intended to be read.
I think the reality of God, the he/she/it is too tricky for us to get our head around, so we have to tell stories and invent out own parameters to understand it truly. So using a female pronoun is just as valid as a male pronoun, because it’s all a construction anyway. ‘A force that emits love’ probably isn’t catchy enough to get converts. My favourite phrase is Ruach Elohim which is more the spirit, or the breath, of God. I think it’s beautiful.
But there are probably as many conceptions of the universal life force that is ‘God’ as there are minds on the planet.
What do you think of when you think about God?
Note; In the comment section, Ruth asked an important clarifying question that brought to light a problem with how that sentence could be interpreted. My usage of the word THE (the atheists, the fundamentalists) was meant to imply that not ALL people within those groups think that way. If I’d meant ‘all’, I would have said ‘atheists’ without the qualifying ‘the’. But I can completely see how it could be read in the other way, and thank Ruth for bringing it to my attention.