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Vague God

The definition of “God” is something that I’ve seen debated and discussed quite a bit. There’s the Biblical god (both Old and New Testament versions), the deist god, nature’s god, and scores of others. They range from strict “holy text” depictions to vague and nebulous “universal energy” concepts. Christians of most stripes usually go for the Biblical depiction, though I’m sure there are exceptions.

I came across an editorial by Lisa Earle McLeod titled The Vague God of Your Understanding Is Good Enough and was intrigued… somewhat. Summarized, her premise seems to be that even though people wait too long to ask for divine help, hard times bring people to their knees to pray, and even though you might not have a great grasp on what “God” is, whatever you understand it to be is good enough.

That’s meant in a good way and her tone comes across as such. I read it as something very searching and very humble… in that your search for the divine is very personal. I like her tone and can actually relate to some of her examples, but as I’ve become more and more educated about religion and the supernatural, there are some things to which I take exception.

Around age 13, when I first decided that I didn’t believe in a god, it was mostly out of disdain and apathy. It wasn’t worth my time and effort. In times of teenage trouble, I did “fall back” to prayer a few times, but the more I learned and the more I thought, the less it happened until one time in my early 20’s, when things in my life went horribly wrong, the idea of praying for help seemed absurd.

So when Ms. McLeod says…

People say there are no atheists in a foxhole. I would also say there aren’t too many atheists during an economic collapse or when your kid gets really sick or when your car flips over in a traffic accident and you find yourself lying bruised and bloody in a ditch.

There’s nothing like a big problem to bring us to our knees, both literally and figuratively.

…I have to take exception, but only for myself. I can’t speak for others because I know that in my own past, it happened. It happened before I had solid reasons for not believing. It happened before I had applied serious critical thinking to the issue. Since then, it has not happened, whether good times or bad.

Ms. McLeod continues.

A quick trip to any hospital chapel and you’ll find people who aren’t even sure they believe in God, praying with all their hearts promising to do anything if only the Almighty will intervene and help their loved one get better.

I’m not sure how she knows this. Perhaps she interviewed all the people praying. I’m skeptical and suspect that this is pure conjecture on her part.

I have to wonder what would happen if we prayed for answers when things were going well.

I don’t have to wonder. Based on historical evidence, the same things would happen regardless of whether we prayed or not… in the same way that things remain unchanged when we wish upon a star or pull the petals off a daisy, saying “She loves me. She loves me not.”

But vagueness and confusion about the source need not stop you from tapping into it.

Here’s where definitions come into play. If by “the source,” she means the Biblical God, then reality will stop you from tapping into it. If by “the source,” she means “your own inner strength,” then she’s absolutely correct.

Call it hedging your bets if you like, but people generally feel more peaceful when they believe in something larger than themselves. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers.

I believe in something larger than myself, but it’s nothing supernatural. I believe in people. I believe in my friends and family. I believe in love and kindness and generosity. I believe in rationality and the scientific process. I believe in reality. And knowing that I don’t have to have all the answers is comforting. I agree. But I’ve never thought that I needed to know all the answers. I don’t see how any rational person would think that.

To be honest, I’m always kind of envious of people who claim to know exactly what God looks like and what he thinks about everything.

I feel no envy toward them. I feel either dismay, pity, or fear. People who make those kinds of claims are irrational at best and delusionally dangerous at worst.

It’s like my friend’s church says, all you need to know about God is that it isn’t you.

And thank heaven for that, because wouldn’t it be awful to believe that you were supposed to handle everything alone?

It certainly would be awful to believe that you had to handle everything alone. That’s why it’s so important to have family and friends… strong social ties that you can rely on when things become unmanageable. There’s nothing supernatural about a friend who will listen to you… or a family member who looks out for you… or a doctor who prescribes the correct medicine to cure you… or a teacher who can educate you… or a mentor who can open your mind.

Ms. McLeod has some wonderful sentiments in her writing, but I wonder if “God” could just as easily be defined as “people.”

There are atheists in foxholes and there are people who get through tough times not with a primitive reliance on the supernatural, but with the help of their friends and family… the help of things real.


  1. Lisa McLeod says:

    Maybe God is the people around us.

    The mind is a complex thing, perhaps primitive reliance on the super natural is the only way some people can digest the idea of being part of something bigger than themselves.

    They can’t see God all around them because they are too busy finding fault with other people.

    Think about it, if people had to accept that God was coming to them in the form of their fellow humans, it would be a lot harder to make the case for Holy Wars.

  2. Dan says:

    That reminds me of the Robert Heinlein book “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The main character starts a religion where “God” is everyone. They greet each other with the words “Thou art God.”

    It’s a rather nice thought. 🙂

  3. Neece says:

    I think I really must explore this issue, because I think it’s weak to pray when things get really bad. Thanks for writing a great article and for bringing this issue up.
    As an atheist, I agree with you. I have gone through tough times since I realized that there is no god, and I have never once considered praying to some invisible man in the sky out of desperation.

  4. Truth seeker says:


    God is sovereign creator of heaven and earth. He revealed Himself in His Word. He is in control and does His will. God is holy and man is sinful. In order to be in right relationship with God we must repent of our sins and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross in our place. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus died for us so that we could be reconciled to God. God knows our thoughts and examines our hearts. He knows if you believe in Him or not. When we die, we will each stand before God in judgment. Those who have humbled themselves before God will inherit eternal life. Those who have rejected God or denied His existence will be damned for all eternity. Don’t believe the lie that God does not exist. He has revealed Himself in His creation, the world and universe, and in our hearts and minds. If you truly ask God to reveal Himself to you, He will. Scripture says if you draw nigh to God, He will draw nigh to you. Jesus said, if you deny Him in this life, He will deny you before the Father. I encourage you to humble yourself before your Creator God before it’s too late. Answers to this life and all eternity are found in His Word. God bless.

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