What God Is Not

May 18, 2008

John 3: 16-18

Fifteen centuries ago, St. Augustine, one of the great thinkers of our tradition, was grappling with the mystery of the Trinity. Augustine was trying to discover an idea or an image that would explain how there could be three persons in one God. As he strained to do this, he decided to take a break and walk along the beach of the city of Hippo where he was bishop. As he felt the warm sun and the cool ocean breeze, he noticed a young boy running back and forth on the beach. The boy had a small bucket and was filling the bucket from the ocean and running over and pouring it into a small hole which he had dug in the sand.

“What are you doing?” Augustine asked.

The boy stated proudly, “I’m taking all the water from the ocean and pouring it into this little hole.”

“That’s impossible,” said Augustine.

The boy shrugged and continued on with his play.

Then Augustine realized that he was that boy. He was trying to do the impossible. He was trying to take the infinite vastness of God and pour it into the small hole of his finite mind.

It is impossible for us to come up with an adequate image of who God is. Every attempt to do so will be inadequate. Every thing we say is but a glimpse of God’s real being. On the feast of the Trinity, I would like to explain to you how there can be one God in three divine persons, but I can’t. I would like to present you with a picture of what God looks like, but that is impossible. I would like to tell you who God is, but every effort I would make would be inadequate. So since I cannot do the impossible, I would like to offer you something else. Since I cannot explain to you what God is, I would like to preach on what God is not. God is not anything which keeps you from God. Any image of God which alienates us from God is wrong. God is not like that.

We call God, Father. But if we think of God as a demanding father whom we cannot please, we are wrong. God is not like that. Or if we think of God as an indulgent father who places no responsibility on us, who never asks us to grow or change or serve, again we are wrong. God is not like that. We call God, Son. But if we think that by calling God, Son, we are discovering a maleness within the Trinity, then we are wrong. Because God, Father, Son and Spirit is beyond any sexual differentiation or gender. God is not male or female. God does not have sexuality. God is not like that. We call God Spirit. But if we think that by calling God Spirit discover that God is illusive or unable to touch us in our lives, then we are wrong. God has the power to move our souls in their concreteness, to move us with the beauty of a sunrise or the depths of human love. Although God is spirit, God is able to touch us concretely. God is not illusive or aloof. God is not like that.

We call God, Creator. But if we think that by being creator God is so preoccupied with the running of the cosmos that God has no time for us, we are wrong. The same God that makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine is interested in our every need and our every joy. God is not too busy for us. God is not like that. We say that God is all good, all holy. But if we see God’s holiness as a means to keep us distant from God, we are wrong. Despite God’s supreme perfection, God, nevertheless, embraces us and calls us into union even with our flaws and sins. God is not too holy for us. God is not like that.

So every image of God which keeps us from coming to God is wrong. It is an illusion, an error resulting from our inability to see God as God really is. When we take away all of those obstacles and all of those errors, all that’s left is an invitation: Come to God. Come and share in the life of the Trinity. Come to a God who is beyond our ability to comprehend. Come to a love that is deeper than the ocean, a love beyond our ability to imagine.


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