The God problem can be thought of as the-way-to-think-about-God-problem. The problem is that we know what we are supposed to think about God, but we cannot think about God the way God has always been thought of, yet, we don’t know how else to think about God. It seems to us that our only recourse is to ditch the whole idea of God and make our way alone.
We certainly cannot think about God the way orthodox Christianity has always thought about God: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes, Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, thy Great Name we praise!” The God we have been told is God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omni-present, Omni-everything, Almighty, All Powerful, All-everything, ruling over nature and history, setting the stars in the heavens and the planets on their course, causing nations to rise and fall, arranging and ordering the events of our lives over the generations and throughout the ages, down to the touchdowns we score and the parking spaces we find. Praise God! Amen!
This view of God comes to the forefront in the miracle stories in the Bible. The stories of Jesus calming storms, exorcising demons, curing the blind, the sick, the deaf and the lame, feeding the five thousand and raising the dead all stand as proof that his authority comes directly from God. God has placed the divine seal of approval on Jesus, and everyone should therefore, listen to him. However, these signs of the power of God working through Jesus actually point to the Achilles’ heel of God.
All of the reports of God’s almighty power expose the truth of God’s weakness, fragility, impotence and vulnerability. In spite of the mighty displays of signs and wonders, nothing changes. For all of the stories of the absolute control of the Absolute through the scope of the Bible, there are other stories there of God’s failure and abject inability to have things go God’s way. The power of God is trumped, again and again, by the greater power of the people’s disbelief and lack of faith and refusal to cooperate with God—to the everlasting chagrin of God.
It is an easy thing to recount the places in the Bible where the power and authority of God are negated by the power of the people to not see, not hear, not understand, and not care about God. Adam and Eve are sent out of Eden because God cannot secure their faithful alignment with the design of creation. The world is destroyed with a flood because God cannot win the hearts of the people. Israel is abandoned to Babylon for the same reason. It appears that God can only threaten people with death and destruction if they do not “turn and obey,” or promise them rewards and pleasures if they do.
Jesus can raise the biologically dead, but cannot raise the spiritually dead. He can restore sight to the physically blind, hearing to the physically deaf, but he cannot do anything with those who are spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus can exorcise evil spirits and demons, but he cannot exorcise the spirit of disbelief, the demon of faithless living. Examples abound: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” “A prophet is without honor in his own country.” The story of the rich young man.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” “Where is your faith?” Jesus stands at the door and knocks. The coup de grace comes with the realization that if God cannot forgive our refusal, our failure, to believe in Jesus and sends us to hell in punishment for our sin, then the power of sin is greater than the power of God. Hell represents the complete failure of God. And we cannot avoid the conclusion that, for all the pomp and show and beating of the drums, God is powerless, helpless, fragile, vulnerable, and dependent upon the protection, cooperation and compassion of human intermediaries—like a baby in a manger, a man on a cross.
The idea that we are in this together with God—the idea that God is in this together with us—in an interdependent, mutually beneficial relationship, for better or worse, from this time forth and forevermore, to death and beyond, is much more in-keeping with our best guess about the structure of the inner world than the idea of God as a spiritual being apart—The “Wholly Other”—who tries to get us to be as God wants us to be or else, as Revelation and other portions of the Bible depict spiritual reality. God as the “still, small voice,” as the “impulse to good,” as the creative muse, as the ever-present possibility of grace that must be birthed, and nurtured, and brought forth into being through our way with ourselves, each other, and the world is much more akin to our experience of God than God as the master and commander of the universe, the wheeler and dealer of all that is, the Lord of nature and history and the ruler of nations and individual lives.
Thinking of God as an idea, an urge, an impulse that can be nipped in the bud—as an endless supply of direction, and comfort, and encouragement that can be disrupted and lost in our anxiety and fear of the unknown—as a constant presence calling forth the best we have to offer—as the silent source of all those wonderful old values that have always served as the heart of all that is human—suggests that God is the weakest force in the universe. And, the most persistent.
We keep putting God aside looking for God. Ignoring God, waiting on God. Dismissing God because God is not the God we have in mind. And God will not go away. God keeps cycling back around, saying, “Can you hear me now?” God’s dwelling place is with the people. Not because the lichens wouldn’t be better company, but because the people have the capacity to know God, to love God, to be at-one with God. The people and God are one, or will be once the people let their ideas of God go, and allow themselves to be shocked and amazed, disappointed, astonished, confounded, and change their thinking about God.
In embracing God’s helplessness and vulnerability and becoming God’s protectors, God’s equals, God’s friends, and allowing God to be Wholly Other than we want God to be, we make an astounding discovery. The inner world is more than a match for the outer world. In casting our lot with the ineffable, the numinous, the voice, the urge, which, like Yossarian’s friend Orr, keeps coming back, and keeps whispering, keeps enticing us to leave behind the familiar routines and the comfortable surroundings of home, of our neighborhood, of how we have always done things, and thought about things, and believed things to be, and step without a map into the unknown wilderness, trusting that we will find a way, following a white rabbit, of all things, looking for the Holy Grail, when, Boom! as John Madden would say, we find that we have all that we need to deal with whatever comes our way.
Joseph Campbell would say, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” But, the hero was there all along, hoping to meet a Cyclops. Hoping Ulysses would be heroic before he needed to be a hero, and leave home, and trust himself, and more than himself, in the service of something he couldn’t begin to name. Here is the wonder, the miracle, the magic! In allowing God to be just as weak and impotent as God is—in allowing God to be nothing more than a white rabbit or a quiet whisper in the night—in trusting ourselves for no reason to the wisdom of the inner world, we find ourselves on an adventure that no one could imagine or believe. And, discover the invincibility and unassailability and Omnipotence of God, and meet God as the “ever-present help in time of trouble,” and become those who can “do all things through (the one) who strengthens us.” It’s all quite ironic, paradoxical, and contradictory, but true to the resilient nature of the Psyche.
Once we embrace God in God’s helplessness and take on the task of being God’s nurturers, on being the Mother of God, the mid-wives, the deliverer’s of God, so to speak, the door is open to making connection with images of the Psyche suggested by depth psychology. And, our work becomes that of integrating, aligning, the inner world with the outer world. This is the spiritual task, journey, path, quest: to bring forth what is within and express it in appropriate ways within the context and circumstances of our lives—to live increasingly in one world, not two—to bring the two worlds together, and live with integrity and authenticity as we express the truth of the inner world within the context and circumstances of life in the outer world.
This is not just idealistic, new age touchy feely sweetness and light fluff. This is Barack Obama taking the oath of office on Tuesday because for centuries there has been an intolerable disconnect between the inner world’s demand for harmony, and truth, and right living and peace and the outer world’s worship of the status quo and its disinclination to change the power structure or make uncomfortable those whose comfort restricted the lives of the masses. Truth will stand up. The inner world will not be denied. It will be exhibited in all levels of historical time. This is the essence of the Promised Land—inner becoming outer! And, we are its agency. We are truth’s envoys. We are the servants of the inner world’s urge toward integrity and authenticity. We are mid-wives birthing the truth of God into the world.
The Ancient Ones didn’t see God any clearer than the rest of us. They weren’t closer to God just because they lived a long time ago. God did not do things differently in those days. They could only see of God what their view of the world allowed them to see of God. We all fit God into our structure of reality, into how we understand things to be. We don’t get the benefit of knowing God as God is, but understand God as we are able.
The Ancient Ones could not see God through the lens of depth psychology. They could only see God through the lens of nature and history, and ascribed to God the qualities of power and control they imagined God to have. Our view of history suggests neither power nor control. We understand the forces of nature to follow their own “laws,” with no overseer to intervene or rearrange. And we know there is no rescue coming in the nick of time, and that we have to pay careful attention to all aspects of every situation, and bring the best we have to bear upon every moment, because we are God’s deliverers and what we do or fail to do impacts life for generations to come.