Cartoons can tell you a lot about the way people look at the world, including how they feel about God. A friend of mine once had a cartoon in his office with a picture of God sitting at a computer. On the monitor was an image of a man about to walk under a ladder; on the ladder a couple of other men were trying to get a piano through an upstairs window. As the man approached the ladder, God’s finger was hovering over a button on the keyboard marked ‘Smite!’
I also remember the BC comic strip by Johnny Hart, in which one of the characters looks up to heaven and cries out, “O God, send me a sign!” In the next frame a lightning bolt comes down from heaven and strikes him with an enormous “ZOT!” In the final frame, the charred and blackened figure looks out from the cartoon strip and comments, “God’s got electric signs!”
We should not assume that when different people use the word ‘god’ they are all talking about the same thing. A university chaplain told how students would often come into his office and loudly proclaim that they didn’t believe in God. His response was invariably, “Tell me which god you don’t believe in; I probably don’t believe in that god either”.
Over the next few weeks I want to say some things about the god Christians believe in. Yes, there’s only one god (that is one of the beliefs Christians have about God), so technically all monotheists (those who believe there is only one god) believe in the same god. But we don’t all believe the same things about our god, and it’s naive to say that this is unimportant. For instance, I think it makes a huge difference whether you believe that your god is pleased with you when you commit mass murder in his name, or whether you believe that he wants you to love your enemies and pray for those who hate you. So if we believe in God, it matters what we think God is like. In fact, it will change the way we live our lives.
Christians, like their Jewish ancestors in the faith, have always answered questions about their god by telling a story. If you had asked an Israelite in the 8th century B.C., “Which god do you believe in?” the response would probably have been something like, “The god who brought us out of Egypt (and by the way, he told us his name is Yahweh)”. And if you had asked a Christian in the first century AD the same question, the response might well have been, “The god who raised Jesus from the dead”. Both answers, you see, tell stories about what God has done. Christianity, like Judaism, is a narrative faith.
The stories these people used to answer the question not only told them about their god; they also told them about themselves, and their place in the world. Sooner or later, all of us look for a story that tells us how we fit in. We want a story that will help us find answers to questions like, “Why am I here?” “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” “How do I know what is right and what is wrong?” and “How is it all going to end?” I have heard these questions described as “God-shaped questions”, because Christians believe there is absolutely no way of answering them adequately without including God in our answer. The story that helps us find answers to these questions turns out to be the story of God and God’s dealings with creation. This story, in its Christian version, turns out to be something like a play with six acts…