When I was in sixth grade we learned english grammar — how to speak and write according to commonly accepted rules. One of the basic things drilled into us was how to identify the different “parts of speech” — the role that words play in sentences. Two of the most important parts were nouns and verbs. As I remember, there were two types of nouns and many different types of verbs. The two types of nouns were common nouns — the general name for something, like dog or game, which were never capitaised — and proper nouns — the name of a specific person, place or thing like Jim or America, which were always capitalised.
That’s where I got into difficulty (“Even in the sixth grade!,” my wife just remarked). I asked my teacher, “Is God the specific name of God, so that’s why we capitalise the G? Or is God a specific thing: the eternal being?” My teachers didn’t want to engage in this linguistic and perhaps philosophic discussion and said, “Just capitalise the G!” I actually didn’t think much more about this until yesterday, when I was typing one of my posts and I capitalised the G by habit. Suddenly, all those youthful questions emerged again, and almost made me dizzy. What is God? The Hebrews who wrote the Bible used Yahweh. Jesus used Father, as a name. So God must be a specific “thing” to be capitalised. But then I remembered that God isn’t a thing among all the other things that exist. Hmmm. I almost said to myself, “Just capitalise the G!”
The problem of God
It seems more appropriate to say what God is not:
- God is not a thing
- God is not a spirit, some “super angel”
- God is not nothing
I can sympathise with athiests. They just say God doesn’t exist so who cares. [Do they still have to capitalise the G, to follow common usage?] That’s the easy way out. We Christians have a more complex set of ideas to deal with. I remembered that Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14:9] So that solves the problem, for us. Jesus has “seen the Father” and tells us that He (Jesus) is like the Father. But this raises another problem. Jesus said that to his friends when he was present in the flesh. Is Jesus still the same person now? Does he look human now? Suddenly I was out of my depth. Paul says that Jesus was the “first fruits” of the resurrection, and that “we will bear the likeness of the man from heaven” when we are resurrected. [1 Corinthians 15:23, 49] But we cannot understand what that means, because we cannot see God, which is what Jesus is. So, in the end, t seems as if the problem of God persists, even for believers.
God is a not a noun but a verb!
Suddenly a way out of the problem I had created for myself occurred to me! God is not a noun! God is not a Father either, or any other created thing we know. Jesus was using very simple metaphors to reassure his friends before his death. He didn’t mean “Look at me. God has a beard and wears sandals.” [Although, at that moment at the Last Supper, he did.] Jesus was saying, “You know what I do and how I think; that is how you can understand God. God thinks and acts like I do.” “God” is a verb.
It’s OK to imagine Jesus or God looking a certain way — as long as I also imagine that my imaginary person thinks and acts consistently like Jesus while he was present in the flesh. That is the crucial point. God didn’t pretend to think and act one way as Jesus in the 1st Century, and now thinks and acts a different way in the 21st Century. We can get caught up in mistaken notions like Jesus being a 1st century Jew, with a very different way of thinking and acting than a modern man. In a way that is true, but in essence it isn’t true. Jesus and God are eternally the same, consistent and dependable in their thinking and acting.
So, as a brother or sister of Jesus, it doesn’t matter how I look. It only matters how I think and act. I am a verb too, and the verb that is me will continue forever, no matter how I look in the future, after my resurrection.