A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 10 January 2007 0 Comments
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I subscribe to the teachings of Christ and regularly attend the United

Methodist Church. However, my question is this: Is "God" or "Yahweh" really

a defined word? Here is my reason for suspecting that it is not. "One" is

a pronoun. The pronoun "one" in the dictionary definition of the nouns

"creator" and "ruler" (one that creates/rules) - which is contained in what

the lexicographers allege to be a definition of "God" and publish in their

dictionaries - has never been assigned an antecedent and no antecedent seems

possible. If this is the case, then the alleged definition of "God" is not

a definition at all. You can't define a noun only as a pronoun with no

possible antecedent. That seems to be a language trick used in alleged

definitions of "God." Oftentimes, the word "spirit" is given as the

antecedent of "one." However, a similar question can be asked about the

meaningfulness of the word "spirit." Can you expound on this?


Of course God is not a defined word though many people seem quite sure

they know exactly what it means. My sense is that we can experience God

inside the limits of our human frame of reference, but no person can tell

another person either who God is or what God is.

To make people conscious of that, I ask whether or not a moth or an

insect can tell you what it is like to be a bird. Can an insect escape the

frame of reference in which an insect lives in order to describe a whole new

level of reality? Can a horse tell another horse what it is like to be a

human being? Can a horse step outside the realm of a horse's consciousness

to describe a realm of being they have no way of understanding? Can a human

being escape the limits of our humanity to describe God? What makes us

think God can fit into a human consciousness? Is that not why all our

pictures of God wind up being an expanded human being? It was a Greek

philosopher named Xenophanes who said, "If horses had Gods, they would look

like horses!"

Your exercise from the world of grammar may be reflective of the fact

that defining God is not within the capacity of our human competence.

True religion is always religion beyond propositional creeds and defined

doctrines. Creeds and doctrines at best point us to God. They never

capture God. That is why I believe that religion must always fade into

mysticism. It must move beyond creeds, beyond certainty and finally beyond

words. That is not an easy realization for many who use religion as a

security system and who need certainty for security's sake and who always

turn religion into idolatry.

I hope this helps.

John Shelby Spong




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