Freeing God

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, February 2, 2024

To some extent, we are all ‘growing’ God, stuffing his mouth full with ideas, themes, and theologies, fattening him up with a storyline we believe to be true . . . For good or bad, we are all molding God to reflect our own personal, American interpretation of Christian faith.

—Matthew Paul Turner, Our Great Big American God

At the recent confirmation service at our church, when the congregation affirmed through a blessing of covenant and received into membership some of the young people in our community, the confirmands gave powerfully wise and thoughtful statements of faith. Their diverse and imaginative conceptions of God, the divine, and humanity continue to speak to me and challenge me. In response, I’ve been revisiting my thoughts about God. To whom or what am I referring when I think and talk about God? Is the God of my understanding solely a reflection of my wishes and ideas?

My first foray into theology, or God-talk, happened as a toddler. I cannot remember the age, but I remember the exact words of grace the adults around me taught me to say and how proud and confident I was in reciting them: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.” And I can say without hesitation that I have never felt as secure about who God was than when I first learned to say that prayer. It would be easy to dismiss that feeling at that time as the innocence and naiveté of a child uninitiated in the complexity of life. And yet, I suspect it comes closest to experiencing the fullness of God that I think I have ever felt. To what extent do I carry and testify to a God that brings that kind of connection to others?

I’ve since come to understand the experience of the fullness of God as that feeling of knowing that there is no part of the Divine presence to which we do not have access or are not a part. That all that we are and hope to be is connected to the One in whom we live and breathe and have our being. It is that moment, often all too rare, when we do not feel alone or disconnected because our existence is bound to others and all that is. As adults, as people of knowledge and awareness, this feeling is a rare experience, and saying “Good is great; God is good” just doesn’t seem to work as effectively. What words, practices, and rituals can restore that feeling of the bigness, fullness, and accessibility of God for all people, no matter who or where they are? Our young people offered us the gift of revisiting, rethinking, and reconceiving the God of our understandings. If there is the possibility of experiencing the fullness of God, perhaps it will come from freeing God from what we’ve created. May it be so.