Like many of us, the religion-scholar and popular author, Karen Armstrong, spent decades waiting for God. Raised a Roman Catholic, God remained a shadowy figure even as she sat through countless sermons and countless catechism classes. God, described to her in abstract terms, meant little to her. God existed—of this, Armstrong was certain, at least on an intellectual level—but God remained out of reach, too remote to become a reality for her.
Armstrong has more patience than the average Joe or Jane and so she continued to wait for God. She was convinced that if she kept up her efforts to find God, she would eventually be rewarded by a vision that “would transfigure the whole of created reality.” To prepare for this vision, she joined an order of nuns.
Armstrong never did glimpse “the God described by the prophets and mystics.” She suffered from what some call “spiritual dryness.” Except that she’d never been blessed with a period of spiritual wetness to help her through the dryness. Unable to maintain the status quo, she decided, with regret, to abandon the religious life. Soon, her belief in God’s existence slipped away.
Although she’d stopped hoping for an encounter with God, Armstrong maintained her academic study of the history of religions. Ultimately, the research that went into writing her bestseller, The History of God, put her in touch with clergy from the three “religions of the book”— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Several of these rabbis, priests, and Sufis offered her this advice. “Instead of waiting for God to descend from on high,” they suggested, she “should deliberately create a sense of him for” herself.
Reflecting on her many years of waiting (in vain) for God, she realized that she’d always looked for God who, she’d believed, existed “out there.” But God wasn’t to be found “out there.” God wasn’t an ordinary object like a glass or a plate or a table. God wasn’t an object she could pick up and examine.
She wrote that, in hindsight, the rabbis, priests, and Sufis would “have told me that in an important sense God was a product of the creative imagination, like the poetry and music that I found so inspiring.”
They would have encouraged her to stop looking for God “out there” and, instead, to find ways to make God a reality for herself. Also, “A few highly respected monotheists would have told me quietly and firmly that God did not really exist—and yet that ‘he’ was the most important reality in the world.”
Must something exist to be real? Tough question. Lucky for us that Armstrong likes brainteasers of this sort. After pondering the question, she decided that she could set aside the question of God’s existence. By setting aside that question, she freed herself to create a sense of God’s reality for herself. She could even make her sense of God the most important reality.
Hallelujah. Her wait was over. She had finally found God.
To recap, Armstrong ended her wait by changing the question from “Must God exist to be real?” to “How can I make God real for myself?”
Here’s a note of concern, though. Armstrong’s God is no doubt as lovely and gentle as the poetry and music she finds inspiring. But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) for the rest of us, are checks needed on the sense of God we create for ourselves? How do we put a damper on creating a sense of God Who looks like a green-eyed spaghetti monster? The part about the green eyes is too over-the-top for an acceptable God, don’t you agree? Seriously, how do we put a damper on say, a sense of God Who looks the other way when we make promises we don’t intend to keep? Or worst, Who orders us to harm or kill others? Here, the September-11-2001 terrorists’ God comes to mind.
Reference: Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993).
William Mc Dowell said:
Who orders us to harm and kill others. For a start it is not god, who we believe if he does exist is a god of love, so who does that leave Karen, who else in this world of ours would harm us and others. Those who do not believe in god, blame him for everything, for they believe that the buck stops with him. For after all he can stop evil with the drop of a hat and put everything that is so wrong with us humans, which is true, he can do all these wonderful things, but he does not. So you have got to ask yourself, Why? And when you find that out, you will see god in a hole new GOD.
Clues, Start with Adam and Eve and move down through the years of stories, it’s all there for you to see, why god is powerless to help us at the moment. But then he did say that we humans would be blind and deft to his word.
Search and you will find, for time is near, for god has taken of our blinkers to see.
Robin Edgar said:
Sorry William but your “God of Love” does not align very well with observable reality. Watch a few wildlife programs and then come back here and talk about your “God of Love”. Engage in a cursory overview of human history and then tell us all about your “God of Love”. If Karen Armstrong and others want to make God in *their* image aka imagine a God that fits in with their desires aka *wishful thinking* about God they can do that but the imaginary God that they created in their minds almost certainly will not align very well with the God that really exists. . .
People need to stop creating an imaginary in quotation marks “God” in “their image” as it were and start responsibly dealing with the image of God as God actually is.
“The part about the green eyes is too over-the-top for an acceptable God, don’t you agree?”
Is the part about the purely *symbolic* total solar eclipse “Eye of God” aka “Sign in the Heavens” too over-the-top for an acceptable God? If so, all I can say is take it up with the God aka Creator of the Universe who is actually responsible for designing and creating that readily perceivable cosmic symbolism which has significantly influenced humanity’s religious beliefs and practices in the past. It’s here (and has been for millennia). It’s just a bit queer (in the original sense of the word). Get used to it. . .
Of course something must not ‘exist’ to be real. If you make God a reality for yourself, however, the whole God-thing becomes a purely psychological issue and I am not so sure if that conclusion would make me happy…