All things considered, I believe that I grew up with a relatively healthy concept of God. The God of my youth, the God that I was catechised into, was not unduly punishing, arbitrary or judgmental. He was omnipresent, so that all of our sins were noticed and noted. But at the end of the day he was fair, loving, personally concerned for each of us and wonderfully protective, to the point of providing each of us with a personal guardian angel. That God gave me permission to live without too much fear and without any particularly crippling religious neuroses.
But that only gets you so far in life. Not having an unhealthy notion of God doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a particularly healthy one. The God whom I was raised on was not overly stern and judgmental, but neither was he very joyous, playful, witty or humorous. Especially, he wasn’t sexual, and had a particularly vigilant and uncompromising eye in that area. Essentially, he was grey, a bit dour and not very joyous to be around. Around him, you had to be solemn and reverent. I remember the assistant director at our oblate novitiate telling us that there was no recorded incident, ever, of Jesus having laughed.
Under such a God you had permission to be essentially healthy. But, to the extent that you took him seriously, you still walked through life less than fully robust and your relationship with him could only be solemn and reverent.
Then, already a generation ago, there was a strong reaction in many churches and in the culture at large to this concept of God. Popular theology and spirituality set out to correct this, sometimes with an undue vigour. What they presented instead was a laughing Jesus and a dancing God. While this was not without its value, it still left us begging for a deeper literature about the nature of God and what that might mean for us in terms of health and relationships.
That literature won’t be easy to write, not just because God is ineffable, but also because God’s energy is also ineffable. What, indeed, is energy? We rarely ask this question because we take energy as something so primal that it cannot be defined, but only taken as a given, as self-evident. We see energy as the primal force that lies at the heart of everything that exists, animate and inanimate. Moreover, we feel energy, powerfully, within ourselves. We know energy, we feel energy, but what we rarely recognise is its origins, its prodigiousness, its joy, its goodness, its effervescence and its exuberance. We rarely recognise what it tells us about God.
What does it tell us? The first quality of energy is its prodigiousness. It is prodigal beyond our imagination and this speaks something about God. What kind of Creator makes billions of throwaway universes? What kind of Creator makes trillions upon trillions of species of life, millions of them never to be seen by the human eye? What kind of father or mother has billions of children?
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection