In the introduction to his book What’s God Really Like? S. J. Hill tells the story of a student who announced at the end of a term in a class he taught, that she had discovered that God was cool.
I don’t know how you react to that, but the moment I read that line I knew that I’d be offering the author a contract to publish the book. I’ve long been annoyed by all the theological words we use to describe God, even when those words are true.
My question is this: Do we understand the words? Does “omnipotent” mean anything to me? Does “infinite?” One can get infinitely wordy and yet communicate very little.
What’s more, how likely are we to be attracted to a relationship with a God because of all of these ultimate words? It’s not that I do not believe God is ultimate. In fact, I like the language of Paul Tillich that God is our “ultimate concern,” and that making anything that is not actually ultimate our ultimate concern is idolatry.
This idea of ultimate concern leads to the claim that faith in God is something that involves and demands everything. To quote Tillich, “Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements” (Dynamics of Faith, Nook position 16).
Notice how I jumped into theological speaking in discussing this topic. I think Tillich is talking about a dynamic God, an exciting God, and I even personally love what he has to say about this God. But can we say this a bit more to the point?
A God who engages your whole personality, who is ultimate in everything, will have to be more dynamic than a set of theological definitions. God must be more than a collection of attributes. To be truly dynamic, the God we’re talking about here must be exciting, interesting, all-encompassing.
In a word, Cool!
Unless, of course, you mean something different than I do by “cool!”
In his little book Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job, Bruce Epperly notes:
Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim once noted that the most important theological question is not “Do you believe in God?” but “What kind of God do you believe in?” The author of Job would concur with Fretheim’s vision. Job is a God-filled book, reflecting the deep piety of its author and his main character. Like the Psalms, Job describes a faith for every season of life and shows that piety can be revealed as much in our questions as in our affirmations.Bruce G. Epperly, Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job, p. 8
Now who could possibly go to the book of Job to find a cool God? That’s a frightening place! A God who was involved in all that couldn’t possibly be cool.
Let me detour for a moment. I recall traveling with a friend who was not a Christian. We had a long time to discuss things. My son James had died only a few weeks before. After a considerable discussion of the nature of my faith, my friend said, “I so admire you for keeping your faith through all of that.”
I was a bit shocked. It was my faith that had held me together. I had spent much of that time with God, something yelling and screaming. Sometimes weeping. But also sometimes laughing.
The God that could ride with me when I had hours to travel to a speaking engagement while James was in intensive care is a God I can call cool. Yes, I can use terms like merciful, kind, compassionate, and loving. Those are all good. But the reality is more lively.
Until I read S. J. Hill’s book, I hadn’t thought of the word. I like it.
Bruce Epperly also comments that theology begins in the experience of disappointment and suffering (ibid, 3).
My challenge as we explore the nature of God is to connect that point of entry with discovery of a God whose personality is pleasing. Yes, a God who is cool.