America viewed from a New Zealand Perspective

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 26 November 2003 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


Buddhists tend to think of God as a manifestation of creation; Christians think of God as separate from creation. Do you understand that distinction?


The first thing that I would say is that both answers are quite inadequate. So are all human attempts to describe the Being of God. To be able to define God seems to me to be a deep human yearning that frequently overpowers human rationality and causes people actually to believe that they are able to do just that. Volumes line library shelves in which human authors have described what they call "the Doctrine of God." Nothing could be more pretentious than the claims those books make.

To talk about the nature of God is an exercise in human folly! No one can tell another person who or what God is. All any of us can ever do is to tell one another what we think our experience of God has been. Even then we must face the fact that we might be deluded. Our knowledge of God is limited to our experience and to share that experience is the extent of our ability to speak of the nature of God.

Let me illustrate that by saying Christians have historically defined God as a Holy Trinity. What they are really defining, however, is not God but their experience of God. We cannot say that God is a Trinity, since no one can say what God is. That is not within the human capacity. We can say, however, that our experience of God is Trinitarian. There is an enormous difference.

The Buddhist tradition sees God and the world as a single whole. The Western tradition sees God and the world as separate, but seeking to be at one with God. That is why ATONEMENT is so central a Christian concept. Both are expressing a truth about the way they have experienced life. I suggest that adherents of both traditions walk their separate paths with integrity and find their unity only when each path leads them into the wonder of God. I find it of interest that mystics, both Christian and Buddhist, tend to use the same language, but it is the language of silent adoration. Perhaps the clue to the truth of God is in that reality.

-- John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply