Atheism and putting God away: the end and the beginning of Faith

I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe in the question: “Is there a God?”

~ Bill Moyers

As I grow older, I find so many of my beliefs have been left behind me somewhere along the road. At this stage I am not sure what I believe anymore, whether or not God exists or whether Christianity is true. But I do believe in the question,” is there a God?”.

Inside me there is something reaching for something more… than this.

Some days I don’t have any answers, but at least I still have my questions. Nietzsche had a God who died, Kierkegaard had a Christendom that needed to be attacked and for many of us, the idea of the God of our childhood evaporated somewhere along the road to getting older. But does this mean the end of faith?

In the same way that Jesus spoke in parables to help us understand the Kingdom of heaven, is it not possible that the scriptures speaking of God the Father are simply images, parables, to help us try to understand God? They are necessary pictures, but they are not the reality of God themselves? That this is only the beginning?

If we stop at the symbol that points to God and mistake the symbol itself for God, do we not miss everything? We were meant to go in the direction that the signpost was pointing and not remain at the signpost itself.

This idea of forsaking the idea of God in order to find God can be found in the writings of the theologian Paul Tillich, who wrote of searching for the God above God, or the God “beyond God”.  For Tillich proofs of God’s existence were worthless, since it is incorrect to think of God as a “Being” in the same sense that other beings exist.   

If God is a being, even the highest being, then “he” is not the Creator, “he” is not God. God is beyond being.  If we conceive of God as as a *being*, the heavenly ruler, the Father, then we risk losing the notion of God. In a sense the atheists are right. God doesn’t exist. Not in the way that other creatures or other beings exist; after all how could God create himself?  God is beyond existence. 

It is might be incorrect to think of God as God the Father, or God as “Lord”.  God is better conceived of as the “ground” of Being.  Thought of this way, perhaps God is beyond all of this.  Beyond God the Father, beyond concepts of Lord and King. These signs merely point the way. As a species we tend to want to make God human, all too human.

Sometimes a healthy dose of atheism is needed to find God. There are points in your life when you only get a sense of who or what God means to you, when you experience His absence. Put another way, this is the God that Jesus was addressing in the Gospel of Mark, when hanging on the cross he cried, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.

The belief in God as a sky god, a tribal deity or a heavenly ruling, may very well be limiting and reduces God down to something we can put our arms around. Perhaps personal God we were taught about growing up is merely is the symbol of a deeper reality – a symbol pointing through to a deeper, more mysterious God. The road to God continues past the first road sign.

In losing God, we might just find God. After all the crucifixion came before the resurrection.

In such a state the God of both religious and theological language disappears. But something remains, namely, the seriousness of that doubt in which meaning within meaninglessness is affirmed. The source of this affirmation of meaning within meaninglessness, of certitude within doubt, is not the God of traditional theism but the “God above God,” the power of being, which works through those who have no name for it, not even the name God.

– Tillich , Systematic Theology Vol. 2 , p.12


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