A Name By No Other Name
What a fun project it would be to poll 200 people to answer that question! Based on my own spiritual journey and my work in spiritual care and comfort, I can offer some ways that people may answer:
My Heavenly Father.
All knowing, all seeing, ever present.
Although that final one does not hold true for me, it is still hard to write, and perhaps leaves me with a touch of sadness. Sadder still are those who once believed in a loving God, but who now reject God.
For those who no longer believe in God, saying God’s name (outside of its use inside everyday language as a descriptor of feelings, ranging from swearing to the popular OMG) can often invoke feelings of rage, betrayal, bitterness — and everything in between.
Oftentimes, the answer lies within one’s religious experience, which portrayed a judgmental, condemning God who was to be feared lest your life be met with great suffering and calamity. In this system of belief, God is seen as a stern male parent who thrives on worship and praise, which assuages God’s anger and minimizes the chances of wrath being directed your way.
That may seem far-fetched for some who may be reading this who were not a part of a patriarchal religious system where God was portrayed as a male father. Many who embrace this Christian belief find comfort in the visual image of a God as the all-powerful God sitting on His throne in Heaven, twisting knobs and pointing fingers to invoke His will on earth. In this ideological framework, God is not only active, He’s capable of answering prayers on a whim, ranging from curing the deadliest of illnesses to rewarding you with the perfect parking space.
Having witnessed miracles in my own life and in the lives of others, there is room across the thousands of beliefs swirling in this big bucket of Christianity that allows the mysteries of God to be present here. Sadly, however, humans who hijack the unknown ways of God to control others is one of the top reasons given by those who now reject God — or consider God dead.
I get it. I’ve experienced many “God told me …” statements followed by a judgment of my character or an action I was to do, which, in my experience, always benefited the one speaking God’s prophecy. Hearing one pastor inform a family member that their child would miss the blessings of God if they weren’t in church was one of the last proverbial straws that finally had me accepting this intuitive spiritual call to leave church.
After navigating my own religious trauma where I rejected the use of God’s name because it was bound up in those experiences, I can say there remains hope of untangling the universal, mystical and loving God from a toxic experience of God. In essence, there is a dying that occurs. This dying is a sacred release that can heal your religious wounds with a spiritual balm. Once this healing takes place, God returns.
Now no longer bound by the restrictive confines of just one belief system, God becomes less about controlling others and more about existence in the inner self.
That is all. It’s a complete sentence. It always has been.