A Portrait of God

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“Creative Commons Die Erschaffung Adams – Michelangelo” by Jörg Lohrer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“God doesn’t exist; God insists.” (John Caputo)

“The Creator of the galaxies lives, whispers uniquely good things about us in our hearts, and urges us to rise up and uses our freedom to become compassionate peace-makers in our world.” (Henri Nouwen)

“Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. It sneaks up on you. When you have a dream it doesn’t often come at you screaming in your face… Sometimes a dream whispers. … If you can listen to the whisper, and it tickles your heart, and you think it’s something you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is what you are going to do for the rest of your life. And we will benefit from everything you do.” (Steven Spielberg)

“What you have painted is not a portrait of God, but a proof of faith.” (Pope Julius II to Michaelangel, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”)


The history of humankind contains the stories of many attempts to paint a portrait of a Higher Power / Spirit / God(s) / Mystery / Eternal / The Holy Other / Thou. Upon closer examination those stories tell the manifold ways that people have held their faith(s). Early rituals to propitiate the gods that inhabited all aspects of nature paint a picture of the precariousness of life and the seeming harshness of nature. The individual Gods of tribe / city-state / nation represent the elevation of my / our identity over against the identity of our neighbors and rivals. The One God bears witness to an underlying desire / hope to unify people (ostensibly under my / our way of life).

The history of attempts to paint the image of God demonstrates one of our human foibles – namely, our inability to get beyond ourselves, unwillingness to accept the colors with which others paint, hesitancy to engage and incorporate the stories of others

Within our cultural traditions, our Jewish forebears began to articulate a broader concern related to the One God – namely, the care for widows, orphans, and strangers residing within the broader community. Yeshua refined that perspective by calling his followers to care for the poor.

This compassionate concern for those who exist outside the normal protective mechanisms of society helps promote the idea of a future reality that might not come until after death – the kingdom (reign) of God. This bit of realism recognizes the difficulties many / most human have with sustained compassion.

Our inability to sustain compassion and our reluctance to walking “with” the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers in our midst keeps us from embracing a picture of a God who loves us all, Yeshua who won’t choose between the “right” one and the “wrong” one. This resistance produces a dualistic dilemma that divides the world into “us” and “them,” “good” and “evil;” and ends with the projection of the idea of a future reality that might not come until after death – the kingdom (reign) of God.

The attempts to depict God often left the thinkers with a dilemma. On the one hand was that which drew them toward compassion, peace, and justice, resulting in community. That attraction was toward a better life. It had a positive valence. On the other hand, with a negative valence, was the draw toward power, privilege, and separation which produced empire. Many projected these twin attractors onto a cosmic screen – the ultimate battle (Armegeddon) between Good and Evil, between God and Satan. This cosmic dualism seemed to fit their experience of being torn between the twin attractors. Such a dualism made it easy to divide the world into the Good and the Evil. (And, of course, I / we were always to be counted among the Good, the Godly; and “they” were the Evil ones.) The question then becomes how can we move beyond the dualism without dissolving the tension.

One part of our cultural heritage saw another solution – namely that we all are a combination of good and evil, compassion and power, peace and privilege, separation and justice, empire and community. Sometimes one side of the equation is in ascendancy; sometimes, the other. The book of Job pictures The Satan as a member of God’s court – a heavenly advisor whose function is to question and test the commitment of humans – a task he does only too well. The portrait attempted here is that of an internal conversation within God that keeps Good and Evil in tension, in dialogue, without resolving the issue. The faith that is witnessed here is an inner spiritual dialogue that each one of us must maintain lest the tension be diffused and privilege and separateness power their way into our lives without much opposition. More particularly and more personally, the question is how am I to deal with that tension inside me? Can I pause long enough to engage the scariness my own inner dissonance, while recognizing that I have never been alone.

That inner conversation with the twin attractors is the event which harbors the name of God. Caputo is right, God insists / beckons / draws toward / calls. It is up to us to listen for the voice(s) that whispers from behind “uniquely good things about us in our hearts, and urges us to rise up and use our freedom to become compassionate peace-makers in our world.”

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