God, by contrast, is an experience, akin to our experience of beauty. Beauty itself never appears to us, but we find the idea necessary to account for our delight in the symmetry and form of certain objects and experiences: sunsets, symphonies, and sculptures by Degas. While different in many other respects, beauty and God are both qualities of our experience.
God doesn’t have to be a person-like being for us to take the experience of God personally. Our experience of beauty, for example, can be intensely personal – even if there’s not a person in site. We can feel soothed by the sight of a mirror-calm lake, or inspired by the sound of a thunderous waterfall, or diminished by the sound of a powerful thunderstorm. The same is true of our experience of God. God can be deeply felt, even if the experience isn’t directly mediated by a person-like presence.
When I say I believe in God, I’m saying that I believe in an experience that transcends myself in this place and this moment. I believe in an experience that intimately and extensively connects me to all that is – all that is present, as well as all that is past, and all that is possible. It’s the biggest conceivable experience – than which none greater can be conceived, to paraphrase Anselm – well worthy of being called divine.
If you look at the relationship from the divine perspective, however, you can see that we play a vital role as well. . . The only way God plays an active role in time is through us. Consciousness and choice enter the divine picture through us – through our consciousness and our choices.
To say that we are the presence of God in this world is not a metaphor. We are the face of God in this world, and God’s voice and hands. God changes outcomes in this world only as we change them. God is not an independent agent, in other words. God is dependent upon us. The active agency of the divine life emerges through our choices and actions
Guengerich, Galen. God (revised): How religion must evolve in a scientific age. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. pages 78, 79, 86, 88.
Galen Guengerich is Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City.