What Do You Mean When You Say God?

I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others, which had been recommended to me by several people, and which I have now been recommending with others.

There is a lot worth chewing on in the book, which recounts Brown’s experience teaching Religions of the World to undergraduates in a small liberal arts college in the south, as well as her own journey in exploring other faith traditions.

One of the questions she asks her students is “What do you mean when you say God?”  The question takes them aback, she writes, because their initial assumption is that they all mean the same thing by God.  “God is God, right?”  But their consideration of the question helps them see that our answers to that question – even when the “our” is composed predominantly of Christians – can be wildly different.

It is good to remind ourselves that we tend “to use the word [God] as if it were made of steel girders instead of silk netting, but when we compare what we have caught with it, the divine array confounds – even in a class of twenty-five undergraduates.”

When I meet new people who come to me for spiritual direction, one of the first questions I explore with them is what their image of God is.  Perhaps a better first question is: What do you mean when you say God, even if an honest answer to that question is not a solid one.

It is a good question to ask yourself.