I enjoy discussing books, and I only read books that are either personally recommended to me or catch my interest when I browse through Publisher’s Weekly, so I happily took the book back with me.
I finished it about a week ago. Yes, the writing was terrible. (I would like to personally strangle Young's editor, actually, for not forcing him to cut every other word in that book. The overuse of modifiers even within the first five pages puts even JK Rowling to shame.) But I have not read such a unique, well-stated, anti "religion" religious book in a very long time. And it got me to think.
In the meantime, I had unwittingly ordered Angry Conversations with God from the library. I had noticed this book in Publisher's Weekly, and since I'm always on the lookout for interesting memoirs, I had listed it in my To-Read section on Goodreads.com. For whatever reason, it came in to the library just as I was finishing The Shack, so I started it right then.
The timing could not have been more perfect. Isaacs does exactly what I've always wanted to (but never realized I wanted to) do: she speaks directly to God in a fictionalized medium and, through her own imagination, forces him to speak back. In this way, she creates her own conceptualization of who God is.
Between reading Isaacs' account of "couples counseling" with God and Young's fictionalized characterization of the Holy Trinity (a big black woman, a middle Eastern man, and an ethereal Asian woman, if you were wondering), I am compelled to consider my own conceptions of God. I was taught to believe in a triune God, or the Holy Trinity, so I'll address him in three: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In simpler terms (and the ones I tend to use), these would be God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I'll start with God.
God is definitely the most confusing one of the three, probably because I've been given impressions of him by three very different religious groups of people: Presbyterians, Catholics, and Jews.
From the Presbyterians, I was taught that God gracious and loving. He's just sitting there waiting to forgive you. You screw up, but then you say sorry and everything's okay again--kind of like the perfect parent. He's also an ideal listener, and even though he doesn't always give you what you want the way you want it, he knows what's best, and you just have to suck it up when you don't get things your way, because again, like the perfect parent, he's going to be right in the end. But you can talk to him whenever, wherever, and he’s always interested and available. Because, of course, he’s God.
From the Catholics, I was taught that God is one big finger-pointer. This time, I guess, he’s is the parent who's always yelling at you for things you didn't even do. Adam might have been the one who was banished from the Garden of Eden, but it's your fault! You're imperfect, so you had better feel guilty all the time. And not only guilty, but inadequate. As a sinful human, you are so imperfect that you're not even allowed to speak directly to God—you have to tell you dirty ugly sins to a priest, who apparently has at least one up on you. He then whispers all the awful things you did to the Big Guy, who then doles out the punishments, which the priest then relays back to you. Unfortunately, by the time you get through all of your ritualistic Hail Marys and Our Fathers (also known as penance), you'll probably have sinned again. So basically, we humans are constantly pissing God off. And we’d better be afraid, because if he gets cranky, God can just flood us off the face of the planet or send us to burn in hell for eternity. Sounds like a nice guy.
So Presbyterians gave me the Nice Dad God who listens and forgives. Catholics gave me the guilt-inflicting, punishment-doling God. Jews gave me the God of Rules. Catholics might have a lot of rituals, but Jews have the monopoly on rules. Just start with the Ten Commandments: who can possibly follow those without screwing up? Then move on to everything from keeping kosher to keeping the Sabbath . . . . Jews showed me a God of nitty gritty details, a God who knows and keeps track of every little thing you say, do, think, or feel. God might have a universe to manage, but if he can micromanage my eating habits down to what dish I use to serve my food, then he clearly knows me inside and out. Jews gave me God the Helicopter Parent.
So to summarize, I have this weird conglomeration of God ideas all mixed together: the gracious, generous, friendly, ever-present God; the guilt-inflicting, you're-never-good-enough God; and the you-cannot-escape-from-my scrutiny, rule-writing God.
As confusing as this conglomeration is, I still find God the Father the most comfortable figure of the three Holy Trinity identities. Maybe that's because everyone wants to believe a comforting father/friend figure is out there listening to our every gripe. We all wish we had a dad who could swoop in and fix every problem we encounter. And when we experience inexplicable joy, we need someone to thank.
If I had to pick one overarching identity for God, I’d say God is a listener. He doesn’t necessarily act in response to everything we tell him (maybe because it’s not his “will” or whatever), but I think it comforts everyone to pray. It makes us feel less alone—and loneliness is a perpetual human condition that everyone fights.
Coming Next: That cross-bearing, now-you-see-me-now-you-don't guy Jesus, in God Stuff: Part II.