We should drop the awkward image of a supernatural Creator, not the reality of creation

For primitive tribespeople the whole of nature was pervaded by unearthly power. Gods and goddesses, elves, demons, gnomes, fairies, and sprites inhabited every nook and cranny of their forest. Keeping these ethereal beings happy was their main concern, especially the chief God or Goddess who was often believed to live on a high mountain.

With the rise of urbanised civilisations, religion too became more refined and sophisticated.

Starting from around 800 BC, thinkers in many countries revised their concept of God. Abandoning the crude "magical" ideas of the past, they formulated theories which recognised the absolute transcendence, i.e. the otherness, of the Supreme God. We find roughly parallel definitions of this transcendence in ancient China, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine and Greece.

This new approach led to what I will call the two-tier world view. In brief it comes to this: above our own, earthly world lies heaven, the world of God. God is imagined as sitting on his throne in his palace, high above the blue sky, surrounded by angels and heavenly beings who form his court. God is the architect who designed and created the earthly world. As its immediate ruler, he frequently leaves his mark on our earthly world by revealing messages and by dispensing blessings and curses, to help his friends and punish his enemies.

The God of the two-tier world is often referred to as the "supernatural God", since he inhabits the heavenly realm, the "super nature" that lies above ordinary nature. He is also known as the "interventionist God" on account of his frequent interventions in our world order - by revelations, miracles, providential care and so on.

Traditional Christian language presents God as such a supernatural God in a two-tier world. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament use this language. It is also the vocabulary handled in worship. God is addressed as the Almighty Father, Creator of heaven and earth, whom we beg to cast his eyes on us, his earthly children. God is thought to protect us from evil and shower us with blessings. He cares for us from his exalted position, above.

Now the use of such language is quite legitimate as long as we remember that it only expresses an image of God, not the actual reality. But until the beginning of this century most believers, including Christians, took the two-tier world and its presiding God literally, as if they expressed factual entities. The super world of heaven was assumed to be a real place outside and above earthly space. God was accepted to be a real supernatural Person, like us except that he was infinitely greater than us in every respect.

Everything that happens on earth was ascribed to a direct intervention by God, also disasters like plane crashes, earthquakes and wars.

It is the image of this supernatural, interventionist God that is largely responsible for our generation's reluctance to accept God (read: A.FREEMAN, God in Us, London 1993).

For we know now that the world progresses by evolution, without interventions by a supernatural Creator. Nor do we need an interventionist Manager God in our day-to-day lives. When farmland is dry we do not pray for rain, we install irrigation. When we run up a fever, we do not expect a miraculous cure, we call on a doctor. The supernatural, interventionist God is dead in our technological age.

But does that mean there is no God at all? Rejecting an image of God is one thing, rejecting the reality of God is quite another. If the two-tier world view is proving untenable, why should this disprove God?

The inadequacy of the supernatural God image shows that in the past we have underrated God. If God exists, he/she/it is totally different from our world. The new images that are emerging in contemporary understanding point in this direction. God is the God Beyond, i.e. beyond the supernatural God. God is the Ground of our Being, our deepest Self, the underlying Life Force that supports and embraces all.

The well-known artist Réné Magritte painted a smoking pipe, with underneath the caption Ceci n'est pas une pipe - This is not a pipe! When questioned about this, he replied: "You can't stuff tobacco in this pipe, so it isn't really a pipe at all. The image is not the thing it represents."

We should think of God as the creative force behind and in everything, rather than as a supernatural Architect or an interventionist Maintenance Man.

Next? Go to:

If it is true that we are being created in God's image, we have found the deepest source of our self-worth

Still the lake of your mind Think aloud in God's presence Talk to God by talking to friends Join a community of believers Make selfless love your highest priority Feel God's presence in all the love you meet


The text in this lesson is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.

The video clips are from Journey to the Centre of Love (scriptwriter & executive producer John Wijngaards) which was awarded the GRAND PRIX by the Tenth International Catholic Film Festival held in Warsaw (18-23 May 1995). It also received the prestigious Chris Award at the International Film Festival, Columbus Ohio, in 1997.