God Scrunching God’s Self Down

Shawn Tucker teaches Humanities at Elon University, and might contribute completely true, non-fake news stories to the Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer. He and his wife live in North Carolina and have four children. Read his recent guest post on Joseph Campbell here.

A few months ago I did a little activity that I called “40 Days with God.” The goal of the activity was to know God better. You know, no big deal. My approach was this: since metaphors are a big part of the way we understand the world and our experiences, I would develop and examine at least 40 different metaphors for God. Of course God is our Heavenly Parents, but I also explored other metaphors. One example is God is the sun, providing all of the energy and warmth that all of us need, and sharing that abundance with everyone. I thought about God as a new pair of socks that are right there when you need them, a pleasant surprise in your everyday life. I even thought that God, like socks, doesn’t mind that we don’t think about God all of the time. I thought about God as a perfect soccer pass, something perfectly timed, perfectly weighted, perfectly placed, and so well suited that it is breathtakingly beautiful in how it unlocks a defense. These were just 3 of the metaphors I came up with, and even though it was called 40 days, I only ended up with about 35 metaphors for God.

And there is a reason I stopped at 35, but let me use the Bhagavad Gita to explain that reason. In the Bhagavad Gita, toward the end, the hero, Arjuna, has a vision of God. The vision is quite literally overwhelming, as he sees a Being who has no beginning, middle, or end, and who is awesome in scale and power. At the end of the vision, Krishna returns to a form that Arjuna can communicate with. No, I didn’t have a vision of God’s many aspects and cosmic power like some Moses-meets-Michael-Bay thing. What did happen was I started to see so many aspects of God, so many wonderful, complex, nuanced, and awesome facets of the divine. I started to glimpse the smallest sliver of what God is like, and it felt like someone who had lived his whole life in a little sandbox and who was now standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

There was an unanticipated consequence that came with standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon that is God: it suddenly became hard to pray. It was hard to pray because there was just so much to God that I didn’t know how to address God. God just seemed so overwhelming. Of course God had time to hear me, to listen to even my petty concerns, but there was just so much going on with God that, like Arjuna, I felt lost. I felt like the vast, powerful sea of God had washed over me, consumed me, and had left me wondering which way was up. And in that state, so foreign and disorienting, prayer was difficult.

That was when I felt the need to make God smaller. Or, I felt, as I tried to pray, as if God had said that God would scrunch God’s Self down for me. I can talk with a scrunched down God, with a God willing to make God’s Self small enough so I can feel comfortable. Today, when I was saying my prayers, I was drawn back to the metaphor of God as my Heavenly Parents. I have two earthly parents who make it easy for me to imagine God as loving and patient People who find so much joy in me. My parents rejoice with me, and I have felt their hearts swell in love and compassion for me during my painful experiences. That they have wept for me makes it that much easier to imagine my Heavenly Parents doing the same. Those same Heavenly Parents love me enough to make Themselves small enough so that I can feel that they are real and approachable, so that, even though I’m puny, I can feel at home with Them.

Comments

  1. This idea of God being so big and incomprehensible that he needs (and wants) to scrunch himself down in order for us to get closer to him reminds me of the angel in Nephi’s vision in 1 Nephi 11 explaining about the condescension of God–Jehovah lowering himself to actually be one of us, walk among us, and minister to a lot of extremely flawed people so he could bring God’s love in a personal, palpable, miraculous form to the world.

  2. This is beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  3. Have you read Lauren Winner’s “Wearing God”? She teaches in your neck of the woods (Duke Divinity School) and is an Episcopal priest. This book examines several “overlooked” scriptural metaphors for God and places them in present context. It is a beautiful book that has altered my prayers and worship. I particularly loved the chapter on God as a “Laboring Woman.” (I first heard about this book in a Maxwell Institute Podcast interview.)

  4. This gives me a lot to think about. Growing up Presbyterian I often felt like God was far away and uninvolved, so one of the things that attracted me to the LDS church was the idea that God speaks to us.

    (Also, hello from an Elon alum! Long Live Elon!)

  5. I loved this. Thank you.

  6. This post was really uplifting and fascinating. Thank you! Really wonderful contemplation here!

  7. Jmgillins: excellent insight—thank you. God among God’s broken people is so moving!
    AP—Thank you.
    Sistersmith301: thank you for the book suggestion—I’ll have to check that out. That sounds like it resonates beautifully with my interests and experience.
    Lissa—It is amazing the difference that metaphors make in our view and experience with God. Thanks. (Also, when were you at Elon? I’ve been here since 2000. Do you ever come back? I love Elon!)
    Pokemom—thanks.
    John f.—glad you found it uplifting.

  8. Beautiful post and thoughts. thank you so much for writing.

  9. Oh my! I loved this in so many ways. Thank you.

  10. This is so good.

  11. Thank you for sharing this. Days later and I am still thinking about it.

  12. This is a great piece.

    Perhaps as our understanding increases, and our capability of comprehending God as He is becomes greater, He also expands Himself before us.

  13. Sandi Payne says:

    Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother scrunching down sounds like a big, needed hug! 🤗💕

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