My God is no genie
by Jesse Hove
Have you ever developed a deep meaningful relationship with a close friend or family member through a three-step process? Have you ever fallen in love following a pre-planned mathematical guide to the sexes? Probably not. Yet, this is often how we view God. The distant genie god, who if we rub his lamp just right will grant us three wishes and will finally bring us material happiness like wealth and social status.
Yet texts from various religious perspectives argue that God is not a distant superstition, but longs for an intimate encounter with us. Author and scholar Vamsee Juluri argues for the Hindu deities in this way:
“The gods of Hinduism have never been up there in some cold palace playing cruel whimsical games of fate with us humans. Instead, they have taken their place among us. They have let us call them friend, cousin, son, mother, teacher and adore them as such. For it is only in relationships that we humans adore, and it is only in adoration that we learn the lessons of the gods: to live in friendship with ourselves and others.”
When I think about my own life, this makes sense. The periods in my life when I have felt the most fulfilled have not been when I have had money, or when I have had a strong sense of independence, but when I have fallen in love with a person or a community.
The Bible also uses relational metaphors to describe God and his love. The texts describe images of marriages, lovers, and a father who loves his children unconditionally, but also disciplines to make them better people. Unfortunately, in a society where half of married people get divorced, and fathers abandon their children, these metaphors can be hard to relate to.
This is one of the reasons why I love Jesus. Jesus was forsaken by his father and so deeply wanted a relationship with humanity that he suffered greatly, so that in our suffering we could relate to him. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as sharing flesh and blood with his brothers and sisters so that he can “help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2).
I think one of the reasons why we don’t want to think of God as a person is because people are difficult to control. Try manipulating your friends or family with a cold calculated formula and see how it works. Yet we continue with the “do this and then do that” formula, expecting God to respond.
The reality is that there are billions of steps, we don’t know what the steps are, and steps are different for all of us. The sooner we come to this realization, the sooner we can more deeply direct our focus on relationships and communities. In my opinion, this is the best way to both show and experience the love, mercy, and transformation God has in store for all of us.