What Is the Nature of God?

John 1:1-18

What is the nature of God?

At some point, a Christian has to ask this question, and it is impossible to answer without speaking vague impressions and metaphors.  God is my father, but He is not in a technical sense.  God is love, but that does nothing to describe Him in any sort of concrete way.  Christians live their lives firmly believing in God without a clear definition of what God is.

Contemplative Living

What is God?

For me, the opening lines in today’s Gospel are the most difficult to comprehend in the entire Bible.  I am aware that many people view this gospel as the beginner’s manual for the Christian faith, a sort of grammar book for the religion.  However, my mind has found the book perplexing.

This is how a typical reading of the passage goes: I can grasp that there has always been “the Word,” the greatest of all messages that God wants us to hear.  It makes sense that “the Word” has always been with God, and I can even understand the notion that “the Word” was God because, well, it’s God’s message, right?  Still, it is awkward to see these elements described as separate yet one in the same breath.

This is when I usually begin to over-think the text.  If “the Word” is a metaphor, then the entire passage is pretty much a metaphor, and if the entire passage is a metaphor, then one has to question how real any of it is.  How could anyone claim devotion to a work of fiction?

The mysteries of the Christian faith spin my mind in circles, but with the confusion comes a strange sense of peace.  The sentences read like lines of poetry, and although poems are fictional works, to me they are more real than other kinds of fiction.  This Gospel is real in the same way a song is real: I can remember the rhythm of the words, and they are easy to repeat.  I can believe that the words have meaning–despite the fact that they border on meaninglessness.

What is the nature of God?  If the opening passage of the Gospel of John is any indication, God is baffling and loving at the same time.  This is a paradox, but just because my mind cannot fully comprehend the words does not mean I cannot feel what is at the heart of them.  This is the only passage in the Bible that I can read aloud and genuinely feel love burn deep inside of me.

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Diverging Views, Yet One God

Mark 6:53-56*

Most of the Christians I know accept that God exists, and they are unlikely to ever change their minds on that matter.  Ask them for a more specific detail about their faith, however, and you will receive many different answers.

Do you believe in angels?  I have asked this question to just about everyone I know, and some of the responses have rendered me speechless.  One devout Catholic–and when I say devout, I mean someone who goes to church every Sunday and regularly volunteers for various parish duties–laughed and declared that angels were irrational nonsense.  And what about the biblical passages that mention angels?  Literary devices, of course.  It was not the response that I anticipated from this individual.

Another question that has yielded a variety of answers is whether or not you believe in miraculous healing.  In other words, can praying to God heal someone of an untreatable medical condition?  Answers have ranged from “Of course.  I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe in miracles,” to “Of course not.  Science has disproved miraculous healings.”

How can people who believe in God possess such different views?  My guess is that it all depends on one’s personal experiences.  The person who rejected the existence of angels probably received little help from others: if you see few people who assist those in need, then you are likely to have a difficult time believing in angels.  Those who accepted the concept of miraculous healings likely witnessed someone recover from a bleak health condition, and those who rejected miraculous healings probably witnessed someone succumb to a health condition.  Experience seems to have a major impact on our capacity to believe.

So what can we say about the people at Gennesaret in today’s reading?  They know about Jesus and His ability to heal the sick, but most importantly, they believe that Jesus has the ability to heal.  Their past experience of watching Jesus heal has made it easier for them to accept that the sick will indeed be healed.  Other parts of the Gospels show us that not every community accept Jesus’ miraculous powers, but I cannot imagine that the doubters are doomed just because they cannot believe at one point in time.  I also cannot imagine that the people at Gennesaret will live perfect lives because they accept Jesus.

Our different views only prove that we are individuals and that human beings have been designed to be different.  I do not see this as a problem–not as long as we all accept that at the heart of our differences is God’s undying love.


*Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Getting Started Journaling

Many of my students and colleagues ask deep questions about my journal writing—how I got started, what I write about, how often I go back and read the old entries, and the ever famous question about whether I intend to publish them. Their questions always lead back to the idea of how they could get started. They wonder what they would write about. They face anxiety over the idea of a blank page or a blank book. The beauty of journal writing is that it is whatever you want it to become for you. It is unbelievable freedom that need not be anxiety provoking at all! The blank page or the blank book is a most sacred and safe place you could imagine. There is no judgment. It is a space for authenticity and honesty. For me, it is prayer.

There are infinite ways one can go about starting the process. It begins with picking a book or paper that feels good to you. What size feels good? Do you want full-size pages? Do you want a smaller book? Do you want lines or not? And if you like lines, do you like them wide or narrow? Some people don’t want a book at all. You can just pick loose pages! The idea is to find whatever feels comfortable to you. And pick a pen or pencil that feels comfortable. Whatever you select, especially if you are just going to use loose pages, I urge you to commit to not throwing away anything you write. Those words are a precious, authentic part of you that deserve a life and a space and a voice.

Deciding where to begin is overwhelming for many people, but the key is to begin with whatever feels comfortable for you. One idea is to start with a type of spiritual biography. What has your spiritual path been to this point in your life. What major paths have brought you to where you are right now? After that, you might want to begin daily reflections of your activities. Many people incorporate a gratitude and prayer aspect. What were the highlights of your day? What are you most grateful for that day? It doesn’t have to mean your day went well at all. But can you turn those trying events into something for which to be thankful? Can you write out your prayers for the day? What do you need God to help handle? And believe me—God can handle whatever you write. If you are angry about something, then by all means, just get it out on the paper. If you are scared about something, just get it out on the paper. If you are celebrating something, then make sure to incorporate those blessings!

Another idea is to start with a devotional book. Read the little devotion each day, and respond with whatever comes to mind. What kinds of connections can you make to your life? The Monastics have a rich, deep history of doing this with Scripture. Read a small section of Scripture. You can go with the Daily Office or wherever you want to focus. Spend some time reading that passage or meditation. Sit quietly for a few moments reflecting. Then begin to record your response in your journal. This is your safe and sacred space. There is no judgment. What kinds of connections come to mind? What phrase or idea resonates with you for some reason. You don’t have to be able to explain why—just write that you feel a powerful connection. Does it bring up questions? Does it give you assurance of God’s love? This is your space to just let go into your thoughts.

Once you get into the journaling, always remember that it will take on a life, a process, of its own. That is the beautiful part of journaling. There is no wrong or right way to develop an entry and a process! It is just your sacred, prayerful space. Happy journaling!