Judy Roitman, guiding teacher of the Kansas Zen Center and a member of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center:
When my son was about 5 or 6, his Hebrew school class drew pictures of God. Most of the kids drew (or tried to draw) a man with a white beard wearing a long robe. But my son drew the sky, the sun, grass, trees and flowers. “Where is God?” I asked. “Everywhere,” he answered.
While the Torah speaks of God sitting on a throne, and of human beings made in the image of God, traditional Judaism, like traditional Islam, does not encourage pictures of God. It even forbids speaking or writing the name of God except in prayer — that’s why when Rabbi Teichtel writes for this column, he writes “G-d.” God is beyond human definition. How could you possibly picture what God looks like?
In Buddhism there is nothing resembling a notion of God. But human beings want to have someone to turn to, and so a huge panoply of beings — buddhas, bodhisattvas, asuras and so on — arose. But these, while supernatural, are contingent beings; to many Buddhists, they are more like abstract principles. They are not God. That’s why they are so easy to picture.
My teacher, Zen master Seung Sahn, used to lead retreats at Gesthemane Abbey. When he did this, he never used Buddhist terminology. In that setting he spoke freely of God. He understood that what the monks called God was universal, no matter what name you gave it. Like my son, he understood that it was in the sky, the sun, grass, trees and flowers, in cars, lawn mowers and high-definition TVs. There is nothing that does not have it. You don’t have to picture it. You just have to look.
— Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at email@example.com.
The Rev. Gary O’Flannagan, pastor, Cornerstone Southern Baptist Church, 802 W. 22nd St.:
This is an interesting question. As a born-again Christian I take seriously what the Bible says about God, and many times God is described in the Bible as having eyes, hands and arms. This is called anthropomorphism, the attributing of human characteristics to God.
The Bible says in Exodus 33:20 that God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then in Jeremiah 29:13 we are told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Jesus, the son of God, once said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).
So how do I picture God? God is a loving father and creator who seeing us our sin, seeks to redeem us first before condemning us. I see God as pleased, happy, sad and, at times, angry. God is pleased when we seek him, happy when we give him our very selves, sad when we reject him and his son, Jesus, and he is angry when we misuse his name.
I see God in his people as they obey his commands and teachings and strive to live their lives honoring him. I picture God waiting for me every day to spend time with him, and I picture God eagerly waiting for the day when I will finally see him face to face. Jesus said something that I believe is very profound and helpful in picturing God. In John 14:9, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus Christ, who is discovered in the pages of the New Testament is a living picture of God. Are you seeking God? Then seek Jesus Christ and you will find God.
— Send e-mail to Gary O’Flannagan at firstname.lastname@example.org