God as ‘Life’ or God as ‘Love’?
By Rodney Eivers
It is clearly an ongoing struggle for many of us to redefine what we mean by God, given that we have to use that term at all. Some indeed would have us do away with the term God altogether and I have some sympathy for that road. On the other hand, at a practical level, e.g. in conducting services of worship, it is very difficult to get a handle on the metaphorical terms which have been suggested from time to time. Even Paul Tillich’s famous: “ground of our being” has failed to grab me with any significance. Indeed I still don’t really know what it means. It is very difficult to be more succinct when seeking to encapsulate our highest values, our loftiest ideals, our peak experiences and our areas of ultimate concern.
So I am tending to fall back on retaining the use of the term God and letting people define for themselves what they might mean by it. There is one area, however, where one can in a highly practical way equate a single common word with the word God. This is the one that Don Cupitt makes much of, “Life”. I think it is true that a great number of people in both the religious and secular world do equate these two words. Life is what is. An abstraction, sure, yet we can sometimes almost feel its effects as palpable.
Thus we can say, “God willing” and mean that it will happen if the breaks in life come our way. A child can ask, “Why do monkeys have tails and humans do not? We can quite logically answer, “Because God made us that way”. In other words, “that is the way life has developed, how it has happened”. This is very simple and honest.
Where I do have a problem in using God this way comes back to the issue that Hugh Mackay and David refer to. If God is “life”, God is not necessarily loving or just. As Jesus is reputed have said, “ God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust”
But to regard God as “love” or a “human spirit of goodness” is very much a part of my own worldview. I find it difficult to reconcile the two and have just about given up. It is a reason, for example, why I have not been convinced of Don Cupitt’s Solar Ethics as being the answer.
God as “life” and as “love” are incompatible. I have no satisfying answer so far and the best I can come up with is of two different gods. Or if we want to stick to monotheism we have a biune rather than a triune God – two persons in one.
Mind you I find this dualism fits in well with my day-to-day expression of Christian faith and living. The great commandment of Jesus thus becomes, “To love God (celebrate life) and to love one’s neighbour. (display the spirit of goodness in all our human dealings)”.