Objectifying God

Why might objectifying people be considered a harmful thing to do? Perhaps it is because we are such a consumptive people that we are bound to consume what we perceive as objects. This is seen clearly in the example of men objectifying women and in turn pursuing them as something to be consumed or used. Many criticisms of industrialization made the argument that man, in a factory, becomes a tool or a gear and ceases to be a man. They would argue that men are discarded and replaced like a gear but in a much deeper way they are made less human by the very process of such mindless and repetitive work. They are stripped of freedom and creativity and reduced to a cog in a machine. In our best moments we are able to look at people and see dignity, worth and being. We know that people are not objects among other objects and that  they are something special. They have value beyond any function that they may fulfill. 

How might we objectify God in this way as well? Is God used and seen as an object to be consumed by us? Do we allow religion to be just another thing that we add to our repertoire of the stories that we tell about ourselves? Is God just an object among other objects? Many churches do seem to be selling a product. A god who will make life better and never let you down. The god you need and want. I see beautiful people in beautiful buildings telling beautiful stories in an effort to sell this object called god.If we are able, in our best moments, to see people as special beings with freedom and value I have to imagine that we are capable of at least seeing God in this way as well. We see people as beings that have worth and dignity and we try to have relationships with them as another. In our best and most intimate relationships we allow people to be themselves fully and we make ourselves vulnerable to being impacted and even hurt. Does this same posture apply to God? If there is a transcendent, creator God of the universe wouldn't He be the ultimate Other? The Other with the power to undue us. Are we even capable of opening ourselves up to this awesome and terrifying presence? Would I not be undone by the realization that in the presence of this Otherness I am fully exposed and known. Would I not shrink back as I do in most of my relationships and flee from vulnerability in search of safety.  The reality of this encounter cannot be overstated and I cannot imagine a sales pitch that would make it appealing as an object. It is not an encounter with an object which we could use or consume but a presence by which our very selves are consumed. 

If faith is the word that we use to describe the person engaged in encountering the reality of God I cannot imagine it as anything other than a word that means being grasped. I am not so sure that God is the object of our faith as much as I feel like an object in His grip. The traumatic experiences of my life are all that I can point to as analogy. It is in extreme pain and loss that I have experienced a power that overtakes me in the same way. When one suffers grief they often lose all concern for those things that normally preoccupy our minds. We are usually concerned with many day to day concerns of life that pertain to social, personal or professional realms of life. In the grip of suffering though we are no longer concerned with these mundane issues. Suffering somehow functions as a sobering force that drags us into a new consciousness of priorities. Traumatic experiences are themselves an encounter with a power that is greater than ourselves. No matter how much we protest or grit our teeth we are not able to shake its grasp on us. Suffering and grief can take any of us captive at any moment. Perhaps it is right that trauma is the most analogous experience since it is often the result of opening ourselves up to be vulnerable to another person in relationships. How much greater might the power of God be? How much more might his grasp transform us? How much more vulnerable are we in such a relationship. God cannot be made into a commodity and any talk about 'god' in this way is nothing short of idolatry. Deuteronomy, when discussing idolatry, reminds the reader that "God is a consuming fire."  

Speaking of statements about God I can't help but think of how many ways the very word god has been used. Martin Buber has pointed out that the term "God is the most loaded of all human words." No word has been so misused and defiled or cherished and honored. Men have killed for it as well as died for it. There is no comparable term to use for ultimate reality and yet it has been so often used to cover up the very worst in men.  History has been full of ideas about God as well. The Greeks said the 'divine' was immediately present in the world which was substantially different than the Creator-God of philosophical theology under the influence of Christianity. Aristotle would argue that god is that end toward which all reality is striving. Kant saw god as guaranteeing the moral law and happiness. The god of Aquinas was said to be apprehend-able by reason while other thinkers would argue that God was ineffable. Heidegger would describe god as the supreme Existent which upholds reality. Throughout all of the ambiguity it seems that the underlying theme is that God is that which determines all of reality. Our deep drive to pursue and 'know' God is motivated by profound and unshakable questions. Kant laid them out very well: 
What can we know? Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing? Where does man come from and where is he going? Why is the world the way that it is? What is the ultimate reason and meaning of reality? What are we to do? Why do we do what we do? To whom are we responsible? What deserves contemt and what deserves love? What is the point of loyalty and friendship? What really matters?  
We cannot, nor should we, forget these central and ultimate questions. The challenge with theology itself is that it is our attempt to grasp that reality by which we have been grasped. We turn God into an object of our study and strive to place him within the realm of our reason. Theology is important and it is risky. It can be an exercise in loving God just as much as it can be an idolatrous objectification of God. Tillich would later argue that theology is to be spoken in response to these ultimate and existential concerns and questions. Theology is a fine way to make sense of the concerns that grip our hearts and minds. These questions and anxieties are uncovered when one is overwhelmed by God, suffering or any power greater than ourselves. Theology is for man to get a grip on himself more than it is to 'know' God. We should never think that our theology can make God known or seen by us for this was the very sin of carving images to make God seen, or grasped. God will not be made into a ideological object any more than He will be made into a physical object. It seems that the only real kind of knowledge that we will have of God is the kind of knowledge we have of water when we swim. God is not an object to be studied, grasped or used but a supreme and ultimate reality in which we find ourselves immersed and overwhelmed. 

If ever, in theology, we are to mull over and study a concrete idea or object it might be thought to be Christology.  In Christology, however, we find yet another circumstance in which we ought not objectify. We find a personality, the man Jesus who is said to be the image of the invisible God. He is a revelation of God in whom we find much spoken as an answer to our deepest questions. God forbid we think that we grasp Him any more than the disciples who obviously never seemed to get Him either. His life was wild and provocative to all. His being stands as a challenge to every idea that claims to grasp God and it also beckons us deeper into that overwhelming unknown. We are gripped by Wonder that calls us forward and also by a Love from which we cannot escape. Perhaps it is when we open ourselves to His fierce and loving presence that we come into another kind of knowledge and reason altogether. It is not so much a conclusion as it is a rapture. I cannot describe this ineffable light and yet I cannot stop trying to describe it either. I can tell you though that no object or idea which can be grasped, used or consumed can ever compare with the fire that consumes all objects and ideas. That very fire is consuming my self as well.