Thoughts on a lonely God

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Original artwork by Chris Johnston shows doubting Bishop watching faithful 'blasphemerI've always been interested in God, while wondering from time to time about the hard work involved in noticing all those falling sparrows.

My brother would like to be able 'to get his head round this God stuff,' as he puts it, while my middle son pondered these weighty matters at an early age. He was four when, drying dishes for me one night, he asked, 'Why did God make the world and us?' I nearly broke a plate while searching for an answer; in the event, he beat me to it. 'I think he did it because he was lonely.'

A priest of my acquaintance admiringly announced later that this was a very theologically sound statement, while I wondered about God's regrets. Perhaps creation in the form of Fair Isle knitting or some such might have been more satisfactory, when you consider the problems that the exercise of free will has caused throughout the ages. And we can never satisfactorily answer the thorny question as to why suffering exists. I, at least, have never been able to.

When it came to imagining or envisaging God, I was guided by the nonconformist hymn's notion of:

Immortal, invisible ...
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.

This idea seemed to be later confirmed during conversation with a devout member of the Greek Orthodox church: 'In trying to understand God, we are trying to comprehend the Incomprehensible.' And I'm not sure I've moved far from that position, despite the passage of time.

My grandmothers, however, fortunate creatures, did not worry at all about invisibility, and were always sure that God and they understood each other. They prayed as a matter of course, and were certain they received answers.

English poet John Betjeman wrote of the 'faint conviction' of Anglicans, and there has been discussion in the British press lately of the fact that western culture does not engage in religious fervour any more, and that this may be one more reason for general misunderstanding of Islam.

Many of us take the bits we want from our individual religions, and leave the rest, but obviously there are still some people in Western culture who have deep convictions. I've always thought that such individuals must occasionally experience dark nights of the soul, and now it appears that even the Archbishop of Canterbury admits to moments of doubt.

The latest apparently came while he was out walking his dog, when he said, 'Look, this is all very well, but isn't it about time You did something — if You're there?'

Great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (pictured) took a different view of the subject of God's presence. Welby's doubts were never his: for Kazantzakis, God was always there.

Much misunderstood by the Orthodox Church, Kazantzakis was once charged with blasphemy; one cleric thundered, the day after his funeral, that 'yesterday we buried the Anti-Christ'. Under pressure, the church authorities permitted a funeral, but refused to allow Kazantzakis to be buried in hallowed ground.

Instead, his simple grave is in the walls of Heraklion, and is surmounted by a cross that bears the famous epitaph: 'I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.'

But matters had never been as simple as the clerics thought, for Kazantzakis never stopped pondering a definition of God, and the nature of the human relation to God in all his life: he once defined God as being 'the highest circle of spiralling powers'.

Always idiosyncratic, he refused to be bound by the strictures of Orthodoxy. He viewed life, for example, as being a brief illumination between two dark abysses; during that interval, a universal harmony ought to be the general aim, along with a constant effort to adjust 'our small and fleeting life to God's'.

His views of salvation were also very different from those of the church. He thought that salvation was a two-way street, a matter of cooperation. 'It is not God who will save us — it is we who will save God, by battling, creating and by transmuting matter into spirit.'

And perhaps he, too, considered the possibility of God's loneliness, for at one stage he wrote: 'My God and I are horsemen: we ride and converse.'


Gillian Bouras

Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Original artwork by Chris Johnston.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, God, Nikos Kazantzakis

 

 

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Loved this, Gillian, thanks. I like the description of Nikos Kazantzakis as 'idiosyncratic', that's what I think the relationship between God and believer is about. I'm not sure if God is lonely but I'm lonely if I don't connect God into my little world.
Pam | 07 August 2015


Lately I've been thinking a lot about my concept of God, where it came from and why it is so different from that of so many good people. I suppose I must thank my parents and many teachers along the way that I see God as my dear friend who sometimes strongly disagrees with some of my ideas.
Margaret McDonald | 10 August 2015


Life's greatest adventure! I'm. happy to join the posse.
Patricia Taylor | 10 August 2015


I was raised in a very narrow fundamentalist protestant sect within which God was addressed directly in ex tempore prayer (even if in formulaic Shakespearean English - lots of "Thee", "Thy" "dost" and so forth - and no wonder with our reading of the King James Version that Shakespeare in my middle school years was so easy to read and/or listen to - while many of my class-mates complained loudly about its incomprehensibility - or so they said). He (sic) was real - whether Father, Son or Holy Ghost. (I vaguely wondered about this Trinity of "beings" being described as monotheistic. But the Son of God had been made Man and that figure was easy to comprehend - his blue eyes and blondness - knocking on that door to one's heart - made it that much easier, too. Clearly pictures of Him in books did not constitute "graven images"!) Prayers were answered - or not - and if not, then reasons were sought - perhaps selfishness being the primary block. It was a "simple" faith - most of the trappings of conventional Christianity pared away - no distractions or as others might have thought - symbolic aide-mémoires. Even the "Priests" whom we called Shepherds: i.e. Pastors - dressed as if sober business persons. Women eschewed jewellery adornment - and make-up - unless of the subtlest shade though most did not follow the US/"mother church" dictates against wedding rings. What all this had to do with God was not all that clear - but Biblical verses were always invoked to reveal God's intent for our modern times. But I grew up and and tertiary studies revealed other ways of reading the past - especially of understanding the great schism of the Reformation. Lecturers made no allowance for "tender" (or maybe "tenderised" minds) but laid it out straight - shockingly so for me, initially. And life in all its kaleidoscopic richness burst around me and I entered the world of deeper thought and reflection - along with observation of my betters within the church - when suddenly I understood that with the hypocrisy of "do what I say" rather than "do as I do" that my betters in the Lord were merely fellow-travellers - themselves walking in the dark. I made a formal severance and emerged into the light of the "dangerous" World (that which I had long been told to be in but not of) and found my own path of enlightenment. That was 47 years ago. Other religious philosophies I have read widely about, lived alongside. I see a kind of godliness in many of them, indeed in many of the people who follow those pathways. Whether Christian or other - those with written scriptures or not - and with interesting/intriguing experiences associated with at least one of those - I cannot say other than that there are things on Earth for which I can find no rational explanation. And that about sums it up. It is always good to read such discussion - this wrestling with the deep imponderables of our existence and our ways of seeing The Divine Originator. Thanks, Gillian. I'm joining Kazantzakis and the Other Horseman on their ride - I really like that image!
Jim KABLE | 10 August 2015


He/She so loved the world regardless of our philosophy
marlene | 10 August 2015


It is good to read that out of the mouths of babes great truths may be revealed. It is good that a child should ask questions such as: 'Why did God make the world and us?'. It is also good that the child answers the question in accordance with his/her experience of life up to that time. In later life as an adult when by a stroke of good fortune (or as a blessing) he/she experiences the rapture of human love, he or she might dare to say: God was so bursting with Love within a Trinity of persons that God could not constrain that Love and so did something extravagant. Any man who out of love for his wife has bought her an extravagant gift will know (in the faintest of perceptions) what that means.
Uncle Pat | 10 August 2015


Great article. Agree with your priest friend's comments about your son's theologically sound statement. I am a priest also ...so I like "theologically sound" particularly when it is confronting.....seems to me that's what ...the juxtaposition of theological & sound are all about Also think that +Justin does us Anglicans proud in admitting that his faith is not perfectly formed. He must be glad he does not have to be infallible as well as a Patriarch. Think you are so very right about Kazantzakis, the Last Temptation is a holy work as well as a blasphemous one. he invites us to believe that Jesus is truly human and not just, I say it again; 'just' divine! Excellent
Stephen Clark | 10 August 2015


To me, the doctrine of the Trinity dispels the notion of a lonely God. Three divine intimate lovers, united infinitely more than the most intense human friendship could possibly attain, yet still distinct in that fundamental unity. For ever. Surely this is the antithesis of loneliness. Thanks Uncle Pat, too, for a lovely image.
HH | 10 August 2015


Most of us who grew up in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s were influenced to some extent by conventional Christianity. I do not think that was a bad thing. Your son's take on the Almighty - basically that God wished to share himself and his bounty with others - is, as the Orthodox priest said, very theologically sound. From the Christian viewpoint the life, death and resurrection of Jesus would be God's ultimate intervention in human existence. That life was not without considerable pain: God did not "magic" it away. The great Western Christian mystics, such as St John of the Cross, went through long periods of personal and psychological suffering, which, paradoxically, led not to a mental breakdown, but to a real, as against academic, understanding of what life is really about. Their positive influence on religion was immense. I see Kazantzakis as, to some extent, a Christian mystic in that sense. It is possible he did not, in this life, make full sense of its paradoxical nature. Few of us do.
Edward Fido | 11 August 2015


While loneliness can be an attribute of the human condition I am uneasy about applying this to 'the un-caused Cause of existence'. However I have a strong inkling that God may be 'pure love', trending towards 'an omega point in humanity' and who knows in what other omega points of life in the universe. I do believe our universe and existence is stranger than we can possibly conceive. Kazantzakis is an interesting character, and a mystic no doubt. Mystics often make us uneasy by thinking beyond Our comfort zone.
John Whitehead | 14 August 2015


Gillian - you have a very wise son! Theologically speaking he answered the greatest question (Why?) in line with the greatest considerations of the Vedic Rishis, the Sufis, the early Christian Mystics ... what's the lad doing now???
Zoé | 17 August 2015


God created the earth and humans so He could love us and we could love Him back.
Stephen Nicholls | 30 November 2016


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