Riopelle smallWhat do you think God is like?  When you think of God, when you pray, when you come to church – who do you see?  Jesus? Spirit? a creator who looks like an old man with a beard?  Or do you just think of a force for good – not a person at all,  just something.

The world is full of preachers and religions telling us who God is.  God is Yahweh, Jehovah – God is Brahman – God is Allah – or today, God is Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Preachers and religions tell us that God is good – or God is just – or God is merciful – or God is a great judge – or God is a friend, or a lover or shepherd or tower of strength.  Some preachers tell us to be afraid of God – for our God is like a consuming fire.  Some preachers tell us to obey God because God will judge each person according to their deeds. Some preachers tell us to be children, because God is a father, or to be sheep because God is a shepehrd.   Some preachers tell us not to worry because God will forgive us and put our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west.

So who is God ?  Who is your God?

In the Garden of Eden God is a big man who walks in the garden in the cool of the evening.  Adam and Eve can talk to him, and see him, and hide from him.  By the Book of Moses God has become the God of Israel – a mighty warrior who will fight other Gods and defend his chosen people.  Think of David and Goliath. By the Book of Isaiah there is only ond God – and God is the great Creator of all people, whether they know it or not – God’s ways are unknown and unfathomable.

By the time of Jesus God has become the merciful and loving Father of the parable of the Prodigal Son – and later will become God the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But for most us God is what we were taught when we were young.  In the enlightenment years of the 17th and 18th century God was the distant logical clockmaker who set off the world to follow Newton’s laws – and has left us to run our course.  The Church responded with the great evangelical revival  of Methodism – emotional, yes, but also methodical in discipleship.

In the moralistic and empire building 19th Century God is the headmaster of a boys’ public school – fair, strict, moralistic with a high sense of public duty.  God encourages us to defend our country – and empire – and God tells us off and punishes us for our bad behaviour.  God never smiles. The Church responded with the Oxford movement and anglo-catholicism – a strong sense of God’s awe and majesty, and our duty to serve – our obligations.

I suspect that in the first World War, God died.  As thousand upon thousand of young men went over the top and were blown to pieces God stopped answering people’s prayers.  By the second world war – the bombing, the holocaust – God was finally buried as either impotent or heartless.   The church responded – eventually with a new religion of personal relationship.  God is our close friend, the person we talk to, our companion on the way.

As we move into our own generations – boomers, Generations X, Y and Z – God is either superfluous to our needs – we can get on very well without God – we are in control of our own lives.  Or – for generations X, Y and Z  God is real, but no one religion has the monopoly – we believe what we feel, what we see, what we experience.  God is as much inside us as in the sacred texts of world religions.  And for some God is no more than a good luck charm.  A thing we touch or talk to, or ask for what we want – like touching wood, or not walking under ladders or making a wish when we blow out our birthday candles.

God is safe – benevolent – quite likes us most of the time – and will do magic if we treat God nicely.

But none of this will do.  None of this is good enough.  God the old man, the nationalistic warrior, the headmaster, or the good luck charm. Or God the kindly father who always forgives or the shepherd who always comforts us  – whatever evil we do or throw at one another.  None of this will do.  It is all make-believe to make us feel either better or worse depending on our background, upbringing, culture or temperament.   God cannot and will not be put into a box.  God cannot and will not be understood by us – whoever we are.  God cannot and will not be tamed by us into a cuddly teddy bear to make us feel safe at night – nor can God be painted up into a terrifying monster filling us with fear.  God is unknown, unknowable, ungraspable, incomprehensible. uncreated, unlimited, eternal, infinite, almighty.

Which is why I put that painting by Riopelle onto the pew sheets this morning.

Which is why I put that painting by Riopelle on the pew sheet.  It’s got a bit cut off, and you can’t see the colours.  But here’s a real picture which I took as I stood before it in the art gallery.  It’s about twenty foot accross and ten foot deep.   I think it’s just meant to be an abstract painting – but when I saw it, I saw God.

There are some obvious reasons :   It’s three parts but just one painting.  The three squares are similar but they are all different. They stand apart and yet they are obviously just one painting and they are linked by a sort of power surge moving back and forth between them.  One of them is fiery red, one of them is earthy green, and the central one is all colours and none – a sort of greyish blue.   The two on the outside reflect the shape of the one in the middle – and all around them is light.   It is a painting of God the Holy Trinity.

But above all it made me see God because I can’t work it out. I can’t make sense of it, however much I try.  It is just what it is, and it defies me to understand it – to be able to give a simplistic answer like it’s a picture of a man and woman looking out of a window….  Like many good abstract paintings I found that I wasn’t looking at it, it was looking at me – and saying :  – understand me if you dare – imagine that you are clever enough to work me out – if you dare…. but you will not..  the painting said to me ‘I am what I am’  and I had heard those words before.

and so on Trinity Sunday 2017 – a world full of turmoil and violence, a world of religious preachers and teachers who are sure of their faith and will condemn, and reject and even kill those who don’t believe.  Rejoice that you do not understand God – and never will.  That God is always beyond our grasp – and that our goal in life – as a rabbi once told me – is not for us to understand God, but is for us to to be understood by God.  To be challenged by the painting of God the Holy Trinity -  which says to us :  I know who I am – I am what I am – but who are you?

The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington