When we use words or nouns, they are just symbols that point to something. When I say God, I am pointing to any/all of the following things:
- Ultimate reality (Paul Tillich),
- Ground of our Being (Paul Tillich)
- The Beyond (Depth) Within Our Midst (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
- That Which We Take Seriously Without Reservation; our ultimate concern
- That which is really real
- That which is at the heart of things
- The ultimate meaning in our lives
I find this a pivotal passage because God is saying that he is “I AM” --meaning that God is “I AM-ness,” that he is “being” or even “being-itself.” I go on to interpret this to mean that God is the ground of (our) being or the deepest part of (our) being. If God is at the heart of our being, then God knows you better than you know yourself. And if God is Being than we are participating in God and God is in us!! God is in you.
So when I say “God,” I am pointing to this “ground of our being” or the ultimate reality in our existence. God is not an object ‘out there’ or ‘up there,’ but the ground of our being, the ultimate depth in our existence and the ultimate in our reality. God is not A supreme being but supreme being (-itself)!! So, I don’t need to prove the existence of anything, I just need to clarify that I am pointing to the depths of our being. That exists.
No sophisticated person has an idea of God as an old man “up there,” do they? If they do, those people will indeed find it difficult to prove their position.
Our Physical Life Is Ephemeral. Materialism Is A Bust
Physically, everyone of us is quite literally a cloud of protons, electrons and neutrons. That is 100% true. (Everything else is too.) And there are vast spaces between these whirring particles, so we’re literally ‘just’ a cloud of particles. We have mass because the particles do have weight.
And we’re hardly the same person that we were a few years ago. Most of our cells are being replaced, so we are literally not who we were 2 years ago. My old skin cells have completely sloughed-off and my skin is entirely new compared to 2 years ago. (It’s true that the brain cells are not replaced, but many are dying and other cells are then adapted) All of your hair is being constantly replaced with new hair cells. So, physically, we’re really in flux!! Everything about us physically is extremely transitory. Our physical being is so “shaky.” (And then we die which is really dis-integrative!)
But obviously we are more than clouds of particles. We are sentient beings (so are dogs and other animals). We have being, a soul or a “spirit.” We have depth. We build things. We think. We write. We create. We create meaning in our lives in relation to others. We read the teachings of Jesus and the Prophets who taught us what has ultimate meaning and what really matters. We rightfully point to Jesus as fully human and fully God...meaning that he supremely shows what it’s like to be fully “connected” to God (the Word became flesh), the ultimate reality of our lives and world. And this reality looks something like a passion for justice, a love and goodwill for others—especially for the rejected, the poor, the sick. In the N.T., love is the greek word agape meaning a goodwill (a will for the good) for all those we meet (including our enemies!). In fact, it is my personal understanding that God wills for the good for all of us!! God loves (agape) us! And when we physically disintegrate (die), it's likely that a part of the being within us continues in some way, but maybe not our self-awareness. But who knows??
Clues to understanding the nature of God, the “ground of our being” is also revealed by reading scripture but also studying great philosophers and thinkers, understanding great science, and reading great works that illuminate the really deep things of our lives. The more you know the better. This is the path to wisdom--not foolishness. Also, really great scientists, when pondering the profound depth of physics, or look out in the expanses of the cosmos, or look through the most powerful microscopes, sometimes perceive something profound and moving at “the heart of things.” Many have a profound or moving experience at those moments (religious experiences?). The same thing might happen to a great writer.
Wherever there is no God, there are only fools. It’s true because if you don’t know anything of God -- that which is at the heart of things or the really real, then you are going to be really lost and foolish. This is happening all over the place today, including universities where God is intentionally sidelined. Maybe these people have rejected religion because they think religion is based on a God as an old man in the sky “up there” or “out there.” We really need our religious traditions for answers to the question "what really matters?" But "traditional" or conventional religion may be unnecessarily alienating people from religion. We shouldn't teach children religious fairy tales in Sunday school since many of these kid's religious ideas never grow up.
There are very few real Atheists. The only true Atheists would be people who kill themselves. Apart from mental problems, killing yourself is the ultimate expression of your belief that life has no meaning or worth. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a statement that life has meaning. It’s worth getting out of bed. In a way, whatever people think has ultimate meaning to them is their God. For instance, extremely greedy people obsessed only with obtaining money have basically elevated money to a God. It animates their life just like God since it might really be their ultimate concern. And they might have a great deal of money, since it means so much to them.
Process theology, started by Alfred North Whitehead (a physicist and contemporary of Einstein), and expounded by John Cobb, Charles Hartshorne and many others, says that God, in addition to being ultimate reality is also the creative force in the universe that is pulling and tugging all things toward the “good.” He is the force in the universe who works consistently and persistently in calling/pulling all “entities” toward deeper/higher levels of existence. My understanding from Process Theology is that God is working in humans, persuasively and persistently in our hearts and minds to subtlety and consistently pull us toward a greater and profound existence –toward the good. This “tug to the good” can easily be ignored---and many do!