Listening to Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations,” with leading spiritual teachers, I observed eight recurring questions Oprah asks of her guests. As I’ll likely never be a guest on Oprah’s podcast, I thought, “Why not write a series of blogs, based on Oprah’s questions?” This is what I might tell Oprah, if given the chance.
“What is your definition of God?”
Speaking from the burning bush, God identifies God’s self to Moses as, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14)
In other words, “I exist.”
I suspect Moses might have appreciated more detail. Yes. A burning bush and the voice of God are impressive. Yet, when he asked, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13), I think Moses wanted a good bit more than, “I exist.”
But, that’s the inherent challenge of defining God: anything anyone can say is insufficient. God is simply beyond definition, explanation, or quantification.
Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic wrote, “In order to find God, we must let God go” and “God is greater than God.” These seemingly non-sensical statements mean our limited, human understanding of God is insufficient. Whatever we mean when we say “God” is far less than all God actually is.
Yes. God is love. But, what is love?
Yes. God is good. But, what is good?
To even attempt to comprehend some measure of God, we must let go of all ideas, thoughts, assumptions, definitions and prejudices limiting our understanding of God. That’s really hard – if not impossible – for most of us!
My favorite word is “ineffable,” especially as it relates to understanding God. Something “ineffable” is beyond the capacity of words to explain, an image to convey, or the mind to comprehend. The ineffable is a mystery beyond explanation or rationalization. The ineffable is simply too far beyond a human’s ability to grasp.
God is ineffable. Even “ineffable” is an insufficient definition of God.
Yet, knowing anything we say is grossly inadequate, we say what we can…
God created, and is creating, everything in existence.
God is the “ground of all being.”
God is the one in whom we “live and move and have our being.”
God is love.
God is good.
God is beauty.
God is compassionate.
God is for us, not against us.
God is sovereign.
God hears the cries of the suffering, and moves on their behalf.
God is as close and intimate as the air we breathe, and more surpassingly vast than the entire created universe.
God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.
God is one. Yet, Christians also believe God is three. Three persons in one God. One God in three persons.
God is invisible.
God is spirit.
God is both transcendent and mysterious and personal and knowable.
God is eternal.
God is humble.
Ah. God is humble – a word not often associated with God. Humble.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
The one thing Christians say with absolute certainty and conviction is that the ineffable, invisible “I am” became human, as a Jewish man of first century (c.e.) Palestine, miraculously born of a virgin mother, lived an extraordinary life, murdered as an enemy of the Roman government, and defeated death – once and for all – by rising from the dead. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. When we see what he did, and hear what he said, we are seeing and listening to God. Nothing true about the character and nature of Jesus can be said that is not also true about God. And, vice-versa.
Jesus is the humble God, in whom, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell.”
How is that humble? It was not beneath God for the…
- Invisible to become visible.
- Infinite to become finite.
- Uncreated to become created.
- Divine to become carnal.
- Spirit to become flesh.
- Eternal to become temporal.
It wasn’t beneath God to come. It wasn’t beneath God to become a poor, oppressed, marginalized, vulnerable, kill-able human. It wasn’t beneath God to be rejected by the same people he came to save. It wasn’t beneath God to be misunderstood, and even falsely accused. It wasn’t beneath God to be rejected. It wasn’t beneath God to die a humiliating death.
Humble. God – the invisible, ineffable – is humble.
Ultimately, even the humility of God leads us back to where we began: God is beyond definition. Who can comprehend a God so great and so humble, whose greatness is humility?
It’s a mystery. “I am” is a mystery. Thank God.