What is God – Part 6 – God as a Metaphorical “Helper”

(See below for links to parts 1-5)

Before addressing this new topic, let’s take a moment to review where we have been.  Some of you will see God as a purposive entity, one who monitors events in our lives and acts accordingly.  I, and probably some of you, think of God as a metaphor to help us explain and, possibly act upon, our experiences of transcendent mystery. So far, we have talked about metaphors of God as “Creator,” Almighty, Shaddai, Source, Mind, Will.  And we have explored images of God as “Holy,” Glory, Kavod, Harmony.

Certainly one of the most famous statements about God, the 23rd Psalm, repeatedly evokes metaphors of God as Helper, our shepherd, a companion who stays with us in difficult times, a protector against evil, a strength that comforts, a host at an overflowing banquet.  No wonder that we turn to such metaphors at times of great loss.  They suggest that, in the midst of painful tumult, in our struggle to regain our balance, we are not alone, and we don’t have to walk alone.  We will be led beside still waters.

Another common reference to God as a Helper is as our Parent.  “Our Father, our King,” we pray each year.  I mentioned in the first of these postings that Roger Rudich, our former Temple President, had a significant insight when he suggested that, because of the rather poor parenting I had received as a child, maybe God as Parent might be “just the thing.”

What a powerful metaphor, that there is some force in the universe that provides for us the unconditional love that parents are supposed to offer their children.  Paul Tillich, a Catholic theologian and religious existentialist, said that God is that force within the world that finds you acceptable, even in the face of the abundant evidence that you are not acceptable.  If “home” is where they have to take you in, then God is the force that loves you, whatever happens.

I have “tried on” this idea.  (After all, if you don’t believe in God as an entity, then it won’t help to imagine a transcendent Parent.)  But if I were to take the position that God exists within the love and justice in the world, that God is a part of everything, then I could believe that everything might actually love me, unconditionally.  The first time this thought occurred to me was at a Friday evening Service.  I laughed out loud with the joy it brought me.  I don’t always feel this way, but it is grand feeling to strive for.

When I and a number of other congregants set out, a few years ago, to search for metaphors for God, the largest category was as Helper: Shepherd, Parent, Guardian, Reservoir of Love, Partner, Co-worker, Refuge, Shield, Rock, Salvation, Friend, Gardener, an Answer in times of trouble.

We, of course, all need help at times.  What a reassuring world-view, that there is a Source of Help, a fountain that replenishes the best instincts of our friends and neighbors, as they reach out to us in those times of need.

Dan Swartzman has been teaching in our Adult Education program for many years.  Dan is a professor at UIC, where he teaches ethics, law and nonprofit management.  He and his family have been members of Temple Sholom for 23 years.

For part 1 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/07/what-is-god-part-1/
For part 2 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/05/30/what-is-god-part-2-is-god-a-person/
For part 3 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/14/what-is-god-part-3-god-as-a-metaphor/
For part 4 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/06/28/what-is-god-part-4-creator/
For Part 5 go to http://www.sholomchicago.org/2013/07/12/what-is-god-part-5-you-are-holy-because-god-is-holy/