The Eastern Mind #4 — The Nature of God

If I asked you, “What is God like?” — as a westerner you might answer something like this: God is love, God is all knowing, God is all powerful, etc. These truths we espouse about the nature of God are certainly true, and I pray you believe them to your core. But they all have one very important connection that needs to be pulled apart — they are all abstract, conceptual, and philosophical.

They are ideas, and this is how we describe God. That doesn’t make these ideas wrong at all. They are all quite right. However, this does present a potential issue. Once we make a philosophical assumption about God, we must then enter into real life, and we must make real life fit into our philosophical assumption. This leaves us with all kinds of questions.

For example, if God is all knowing and all powerful, then why do people starve? Why are people taken advantage of or abused by others? We must defend a conceptual idea or a thought that becomes muddy and even more abstract. This prepositional way of interacting with God forces us to defend ideas and concepts even when experience clearly seems to contradict the idea (at least on the surface). And yes, it is our task to mine deeper truths out of this experience about how an all-knowing and all-powerful God interacts with the world. But what if we didn’t even need to have that conversation?

If we asked an easterner the same opening question, we would hear very different answers. They might say something like, “God is a rock,” or “God is living water,” or “God is an eagle’s wings.” While this sounds like it isn’t all that different on the surface, it can make a huge difference in how we engage the God conversation in our culture.

Anchoring God to a concrete picture gives life permission to disagree, and yet we can still hold to how we see God. When difficult circumstances rear their ugly head, God can still be a rock, even though I wonder if He really knows or understands what is going on. In fact, my conviction that God is a rock may very well be the thing I need to get through the challenging circumstance.

I am not saying this changes the prepositional truths we hold to so tightly. All I am saying is that the eastern mind doesn’t need to prove a preposition, because from the beginning the way they talk about who God is rests in concrete word pictures, not abstract ideas that must be proven. And these pictures are rooted in experience. I know God is a rock because I have experienced Him as a solid place in my life that never changes. And I have heard the testimony of my friends and family, as well as the stories of those who have gone before us. I have felt the reality of the world blowing up around me, and having a solid rock to anchor my life to made all the difference in my weathering that storm well.

You can never take that experience away from me. I know God as a rock even when we wrestle with these hard questions of why things happen the way they do and how we are supposed to respond. We should wrestle with these things because the goal of our journey with God is not resolution, but tension. This is foundational to our understanding (and discussed in a previous post).

The thing to keep in mind is that because the Bible is eastern, it is not written to defend prepositional ideas about God. While we can point to passages that allude to these truths we deduce about God, we will not find many passages that directly state the character traits we believe about Him. And that is okay.

Those word pictures used to describe God may be far more useful and profound than we might have initially thought.

May we experience God as the rock in our storms, the living water in our deserts, and the eagle’s wings that carry us. May we be shade in the deserts of others as we see these word pictures take root in our own lives. And may we tell a powerful story of who God is, because future generations will need those stories.