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Who is IT?

Several times a week, I visit Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Fisherman's Wharf is the most visited tourist attraction in the city. However, most San Franciscans wouldn't go there unless they had out-of-town visitors who wished to.

I call it "crazy pants." The Wharf is shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. It's overwhelmingly noisy, partly from the crowds and more from the uncountable number of street performers. Most of them feel obligated to be electronically over-amplified. It's just darn loud!

I don't go there as a tourist but as a tour guide. I'm obligated to visit with my guests; otherwise, I wouldn't. On the other hand, the Wharf always offers a vast and interesting petri dish of human behavior to study.

On almost every visit, my guests and I pass two young would-be Christian evangelists. And, of course, to be heard above the roar of activity, these street preachers are also over-amplified, to the point of auditory pain twenty-five or thirty yards distant. So what?

Well, today, my message concerns their message. Both young men preach of an angry, vicious, vengeful, selfish God. Shouting, exhorting, and threatening, their notion of God requires our submissive obedience, or He will see that we burn in hell for eternity. And every time I hear them, I ask myself, "Does that sales pitch actually work?"

Even if I considered repenting my sins and taking Jesus as my savior, their pitch wouldn't call me to the altar. Their idea of God strikes me as a myopic disagreeable idea of the Christian God and His benevolent son Jesus. Theirs is an incredibly cliche rendering of the Old Testament Iratus Deus, the angry God. Indeed, I feel the young men are projecting their own anger into the passing crowd.

Recently I found an article entitled "A Proper Concept of God," by R.L. Wilson.[1] It is one particularly worth reading. The first line snagged me immediately.

"One thing working at a Christian apologetics ministry for nearly 40 years has taught me is that your idea of who God is, what He is like, is very important." [2]

Wilson speaks from a Christian view, but the point is universal. Wilson cautions against a one-dimensional view of God. My feelings regarding my young evangelists are elegantly condensed to the second sentence of Wilson's article.

"If you think of Him only as the vengeful God of the Old Testament who went around smiting His enemies, you are hardly going to go to Him with your problems or admit your failings."

Wilson goes on:

"If you think of Him only as a loving God, you will become bitter at the slightest problem that comes your way.

If you think of Him only as a holy God, you will not want to approach Him unless or until you "clean up your act" on your own.

If you think of Him as only a merciful God, you may choose to ignore your own sinfulness, assuming He will not care what you do.

Do His omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence make you uncomfortable?"

Wilson seems to echo the notion that God is not a one-dimensional mirror but a prism with an uncountable number of facets, far beyond our human ability to grasp. German theologian Rudolf Otto called it the Mysterium Tremendum and described the great mystery as numinous, having "divine power."[3] [4]

My spiritual mentor came from a Christian upbringing but spent 33 years of her adult life teaching from the non-Christian perspective of Japanese Soto Zen Buddhism. Yet, as a westerner teaching westerners, she often invoked theistic expressions to sharpen her points.

Soto Zen adherents emphasize meditation to shed body and mind [human ego] and meld with that which is greater than our tiny selves. Soto founder Kigen Dogen expresses it better:

"Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things." [5]

My teacher described the unity of all things as "the Lord of the House," or that which is "Unborn, Undying, Uncreated, Undestroyed." [6]

"God, according to Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, is beyond full comprehension by humans; has an endless number of virtues; takes on innumerable forms, but is formless; and can be called by an infinite number of names thus 'Your Names are so many, and Your Forms are endless. No one can tell how many Glorious Virtues You have.'"[7]

Any idea of the Mysterium Tremendum will be an infinitesimally minute facet of what IT is. That fact should spur us to sit and meditate, ponder and pray, wonder and consider, to humble and be grateful. Once again, in the words of our Christian friend, R.L. Wilson:

[Y]our idea of who God is, what He is like, is very important."


[1] I couldn't find any information on Wilson specifically. Still, many essays under that name are posted on the John Ankerberg Show website.

[2] 1 Peter 3:15 gives a good definition of apologetics: "[Be] ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you."

[4] Coincidentally, the Great Plains Lakota people's word for the sacred or divine is Wakan tanka, sometimes translated as "The Great Mystery."

[5] Dōgen, also called Jōyō Daishi, or Kigen Dōgen (born Jan. 19, 1200, Kyōto, Japan—died Sept. 22, 1253, Kyōto), introduced Zen to Japan in the form of the Sōtō school (Chinese: Ts'ao-tung). He combined meditative practice and philosophical speculation.

[6] Houn Jiyu Kennett (Jan. 1 1924--Nov. 6, 1996).

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