God is All

By Ellen Debenport
God is All

If I had one wish for the world, it would be that every adult reexamine his or her view of God at least once per decade. God may not change, but people do, and we outgrow our old concepts. The ideas about God that we held at six will not serve us at sixteen and certainly not sixty. Just as children may outgrow peanut butter and opt for spicy curries, we can assimilate more and different ideas about the universe and its workings as we evolve. ...

My childhood view of God was an old man in the sky, watching my every move. This God loved me, I was told, but this God refused to love anyone who didn't profess faith in Jesus and would send them to hell. And, by the way, God monitored my thoughts. I'd better be careful.

I simply didn't believe it, even in those early days of Sunday school. I'll always be grateful that the message of God's love was louder. I remember sitting in the church pew, so young that my feet didn't touch the floor, wondering what kind of God would condemn people to hell even if they had never heard of Jesus.

Yet at eight years old, I bravely walked alone to the front of my family's church in West Texas to profess my faith in Jesus, and on a Sunday night not long after, I was baptized. The silver-haired pastor put a handkerchief over my face and held my nose as he dunked me in the cool, chlorinated water of the baptistry. I did believe in the love of Jesus, but I also remember thinking, "I haven't done anything bad enough that Jesus had to die for my sins."

In college, I abandoned church and its teachings about God as I understood them. I couldn't pretend to believe anymore, especially having learned in my required religion courses that the Bible was written by human beings and that a number of books were left out. I was dismayed to hear that most of what we considered Christian teaching was devised hundreds of years after Jesus by councils of men with political agendas. I was astonished that the myth of a virgin mother whose divine son died and rose again was an ancient expression of the collective unconscious, long predating Christianity. Without the literal truth of the Bible stories, faith to me seemed a sham.

After college, I began to worship work instead. I spent 20 years without a spiritual rudder that might have guided me through early adulthood. By forty, I was professionally successful, financially secure and spiritually empty.

I know now that my story is fairly typical, except that the emptiness seems to be setting in sooner with each generation. Simple and concrete explanations about God wore out for me and, rather than investigate further, I gave up any semblance of a spiritual life. I wasn't aware of alternatives. I knew only the dogma of my childhood church—a set of rules that no one could meet except Jesus, who was considered divine and perfect—and given such an all-or-nothing option, I chose nothing. I had no concept of God for grownups.

God for Grownups

What would a God for grownups be?

First, one that meets us where we are and welcomes our questioning, growing, changing and doubting. The idea that God is made in humans' image is usually leveled as a criticism of religion, but what else could God be? Our human minds cannot conceive of All That Is, cannot encompass a universe of spiritual laws and dimensions that we only guess about. Our world religions are but feeble attempts to describe our varied experience of the unknown. God is understood as best we can, and we need a growing, malleable image of God that expands with each spiritual insight we glean.

Second, God for grownups has to be more than Santa Claus. The Ground of All Being surely is not making a list of who's naughty or nice and arranging eternal reward or punishment for each. This God is the creative force behind sweeping galaxies and infinitesimal life forms, of bewildering fractal patterns and perfect seasonal cycles, of mind-blowing beauty and pure potential, the oak tree in the acorn, the child in a microscopic twist of DNA. God for grownups is far outside the human pattern of thinking. Any limits to God are our own.

Third, most people want to believe that God is involved in their lives. Humans have always intuited a Presence they could not see, a silent source of guidance, wisdom and support—even love—and have sought throughout history to connect with this power. …

Descriptions of the divine force in the world have blossomed into a fascinating array of expressions through the world's religions, and they have changed over time. The Bible itself is the story of humans' developing concepts of God described in a range of ways, from a harsh judge to a mother comforting her child. Jesus introduced a personal, paternal God that he called Abba, the Aramaic word for "papa" or "daddy."

The Bible also reflects the expanding consciousness of human beings, which continues today. Our task is to nurture the evolution of our own species, which will naturally include a deeper understanding of how the universe operates and our role in it. Quantum science now accompanies us on the journey.

Yet we struggle with words adequate to reflect our experience of the divine, and we haven't even begun to realign religious language with the discoveries of science. We will never understand the totality of the divine, but it permeates our lives nonetheless. …

We have lived so long with our childhood idea of God as an old man in the sky, keeping books on our behavior or at the very least watching from a distance, that we may struggle to bend our minds around the idea of our oneness with Being.

Excerpted from Ellen Debenport's book, The Five Principles. Ellen Debenport is currently senior minister at Unity of Wimberley in Wimberley, Texas.