Talking about God

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by Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle

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[Editor's Note] If you were to partake in a discussion like this in your church, where is it likely to go? And, would it bring people closer together or farther apart? Would God be thought of as "up there" or wholly other? What/who is God for you?

At my church, as at most, I would suppose, we offer a regular program of adult education. Over the course of time, I have led sessions on a variety of topics ranging from social issues to hot topics in the modern church ( e.g. same sex marriage, the death penalty, etc.) and, probably most frequently, adult forums dealing with reading the various books in the Bible. Parenthetically, I would note that in whatever church I have been, there has always been quite the interest in the Book of Revelation!

Recently I decided to lead a session in which we would simply explore the question of God. I told people as they came in that we were about to go on a roller coaster ride as my plan was not so much to give them answers about God but, instead, to try to pose questions that would encourage serious reflection and lead into meaningful conversation.

I have done this before with high school youth and adults and I have found it to be a really meaningful experience. I would encourage pastors and those who teach in local churches to do this. In encouraging you, I would stress that what I said previously is most important, i.e., trying to lead people into serious dialogue and inner reflection on this deeply personal topic.

While I am not posting the entire outline of my session here, in this brief space, I can offer you a quick overview:

  1. I asked people to talk about how they understand God…..encouraging them to consider specific questions: Is God a person? Does God have feelings? What do you think God does with prayer?
  2. I explained some of the traditional understandings of some of God’s attributes- omniscience (all knowing), omnipresence (present everywhere), and omnipotent (all powerful). I asked them what they thought of those and whether they saw any contradictions.
  3. I moved into some alternative views of God:
  4. Kushner—from When Bad Things Happen to Good People- a view that God does not really have control over human choices. This always leads into great discussions on free will and prayer.
  5. The notion of the suffering God and liberation theology’s sense of Christ in the suffering poor
  6. The understanding of God as ‘ground of being’ and some panentheistic thinking about God
  7. The notion that God created human beings in His (hmm) image and we have been returning the favor since
  8. I posed an amazing scenario (not to be described here) from one of the most amazing books I have ever read, Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking, a scenario which gets people thinking about where God was /is when tragedy occurs. This brief scenario is one of the finest discussion starters on the topic of God I have ever seen.

While this discussion could go on forever, we concluded with an exploration of the notion of God as mystery and what that might mean to us as individuals. I cited the quote from the priest in the film Rudy who tells a rather lost young man: ‘ There are two things I have learned in my life as a priest:
1.There is a God
2. I am not Him ( the priest’s use of gender, not mine!)

My bottom line in this is that the act of talking about God is really an important function of local church communities. I would even suggest that it could be incorporated dialogically into sermons. I try to show some of this in a book I wrote for Energion, So Much Older Then, a book of conversational sermons. If you get a chance, you may want to give it a look!

Click on a book cover to get more information on that book.