What does the God of Christianity look like? What do Christians think about God? It might not be what you expect.
An old man with a long, grey beard who lives in the clouds. Over and over again with this old man and the clouds. Let me be clear: WE DO NOT BELIEVE IN AN OLD MAN IN THE CLOUDS.
Before I get started, I need to warn you that I am about to try to explain the unexplainable. This is going to be really confusing. The rest of the videos in this series will be easy to understand, but trying to explain this will give us all a headache. This will either make sense or it won’t, but if you are having trouble, just skip to the next video. It’s not your fault, I’m not even sure I’m explaining this well.
In the last video, we looked over other ideas of where the universe comes from, and found the central idea to actually be quite simple. “The universe has always been here, nobody knows why.” Monotheists have a different answer, we believe the universe had a beginning, and will have an end. There may be other universes, and there are even other forms of existence so different that I would hesitate to even call them universes at all. There is a nearly endless possibility of what can be, and no reason why they shouldn’t be. But I get ahead of myself.
For this video, I’m going to take the views of the monotheists I know best, Christianity. I think Judaism is similar, and I’m pretty sure Islam is not so similar, but I’m going to stick with what I know on this one.
The first thing I want to make very clear, is Christians do NOT believe in a physical God. God has no body of any kind. (Well, Jesus makes that confusing, but let’s put that aside for now) Here is another point that is often confused, God has no time either. He is eternal, or, timeless. That means he does NOT go on forever and ever, because forever and ever means time. We believe that time too is created by God.
In fact, I’m not even really fond of the word God. When I say God, you automatically get all sorts of ideas in your head that we really don’t believe at all. Let’s change the word a bit, let’s call it, “Prime Mover” or “Power behind the Universe”, or my favorite one of all, the description it gave us itself, “I am who I am”, or “Existence Itself”. I know, that sounds even more confusing, but making this simple enough to explain to children is exactly what gave us this “man in the clouds” image.
God is Simple, as in undivided and unchanging, but trying to understand him is not simple at all. He just is, and always has been. He is not material, not bound by time, not bound at all, just is. Not was, not will be, always is. He IS existence. Here is where things get really weird. When I think of “existence”, it doesn’t seem to have any personality, it is like a cold, mathematical formula, this exists, that doesn’t, 2+2=4, and water boils at 100 degrees celsius. Existence is just a fact, a thing to know. But the power outside the universe that holds creation in being tells us it is not cold or static, but actually has actions, has preferences, has personality. Notice, this is not something I could figure out on my own. We only believe this, because it told us something about itself, not because we think it should, not because we are trying to personify natural phenomena.
Okay, let me step back, because I know this is getting hard. Christians believe that God is the prime power behind all things, that permanently exists by it’s own nature. All moments in time are for God, right now. He has no before, no after, just eternal being. It is unchanging, all-knowing, and eternally powerful. It is completely unmoveable, and yet moves everything. All things that exist are held in existence by it willing it to exist. And it has something like a mind, in that it chooses, has preferences, and has personality, but it is nothing like our finite, time bound mind, it is eternal mind.
Not an old man in the clouds. God is the very action of being, vibrant with action, but without moving.
I know this is not what you expected, and probably not what you asked for. It has been this way for us humans forever, so we write in stories ways to explain him that are simpler for us to understand, but this is simply not understandable by us. It goes way beyond our capabilities as humans to imagine this thing I am describing. We cannot do it, we can only make poor metaphors, and hope it helps. God is not describable with human language, not unlike how an earthworm can’t explain what it’s like to fall into a black hole. There is just no frame of reference we have that can help us understand. Even something as simple for God as timelessness is impossible for us. We can and should try, but we will fall forever short.
We have one great consolation though. This power outside the universe tries to bridge the gap for us, to communicate with us. For some reason of its own, it wants to be known, and what it says about itself and about us is more shocking than our revelation of what God is, and we will watch that story unfold in our next session.