God Questions, God Names for Believers and Atheists Alike

Some of the most important questions anyone can ask in their life are these:

In this excerpt taken from the Q&A following Carl Sagan’s 1994 “Lost” Lecture: The Age of Exploration, Sagan answers “Who is God to you?”

Who is God for you?  Whether you are a believer or an atheist or someplace in between, whether you worship divinity or reject divinity, who is the God you worship?  Who—what—are the gods you reject? 

Another question that goes with them is the following:
How has your understanding and experience of God evolved over the years?  From childhood to adulthood for example?  From times of joy to times of darkness and depression?  From youth to middle age to elder age?  From parent to grandparent times?

If “all the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves,” as Meister Eckhart teaches us, how has our understanding of ourselves evolved over the years and under evolving circumstances?  And how does one—our understanding of God—mirror the other—our understanding of ourselves?

God as Flow: Mountain stream on the way to Khoiyachara Waterfall, Bangladesh. All rivers in the nation have been granted the same legal status as humans. Photo by Mashrik Faiyaz on Flickr.

How has your spirituality, that is your living from your depths and not from your surface, evolved?  And how has your understanding of God evolved with it along the way?

We have seen how the Bhagavad Gita tell us “God has a million faces.”   St Thomas Aquinas, medieval theologian and mystic, goes even further.  He says that “every being is a name for God!”  What follows from his statement is that there are multiple trillions upon trillions upon trillions of names for God.  Countless creatures–therefore, countless faces, countless names. 

But at the end of his statement he adds that no being is a name for God because “God surpasses all things.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. xxvf, 155-157. 

And Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations on Creation Spirituality with Thomas Aquinas, pp. 182f. 

And Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas, pp. 79-84.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: A panoramic view of a vast, sculpted area of gas and dust where thousands of stars are being born has been captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Full image and caption Credit: NASA, N. Walborn and J. Maiz-Apellaniz (Space Telescope Science Institute), R. Barb`a (La Plata Observatory, La Plata, Argentina). On NASA.gov.

Queries for Contemplation

How many names for God do you like working with?  How have they evolved—if at all—through your lifetime and your life experiences?  Do you also interact with the nameless God?

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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5 thoughts on “God Questions, God Names for Believers and Atheists Alike”

  1. Avatar

    In the video clip that was included in today’s DM, of Carl Sagan’s question and answer dialogue, he made the statement, “The names for God are not an aid to truth.” In the rest of the DM, the argument is made for the opposite of this statement, that in fact the many names we identify the essence and presence of God with, do lead us to discover truths, not only about God, but also ourselves, and the all and the everything of creation.

    The question that follows is, why is this paradox being presented? Is it to make oneself question what one believes, in order to evolve one’s concept of God beyond beliefs? Is it to demonstrate that God’s essence and presence and the truth of this must be provable and if not provable, then not namable and if not either of these, then not believable?

    Yet, often God is named as the Great Mystery, and that this Great Mystery desires to make its essence and presence known. Is this knowing offered, the reality of infinite truths of this Great Mystery… whether namable or provable or not? Are these infinite truths being revealed in order to awaken and expand our consciousness of this Great Mystery, which requires a level of faith, hope and trust in not only the unprovable, but the unnamable as well?

    Is the paradox that you present, being used to demonstrate that there are no absolutes when it comes to the infinite truths about the presence and essence of this Great Mystery… but that this is rather a continuous unfolding of the journey into a relationship with this Great Mystery, whom is unnamable and unprovable, based not on belief, but rooted in faith?

    All of the questions that have been presented in today’s DM, has led to a response of further questions. In all honesty, I wish I could say that I enjoy living the questions, in the tension of the paradoxes, but the truth is I prefer searching for and hopefully discovering some of the answers, that give me some sense of stability, certainty, meaning and purpose.

    Perhaps today’s DM, is really an invitation to surrender to the unknown, the unnamable, the unprovable, the journey into the Great Mystery… without all the questioning and the searching and seeking to discover the answers, the long saught after truth… and to simply be present to this presence and essence, and the reality of this knowing, offered through relationship with this Great Mystery within the all and the everything of creation, which includes myself.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You write, “All of the questions that have been presented in today’s DM, has led to a response of further questions. In all honesty, I wish I could say that I enjoy living the questions, in the tension of the paradoxes, but the truth is I prefer searching for and hopefully discovering some of the answers, that give me some sense of stability, certainty, meaning and purpose.” I hear and am sensitive to your concerns. Perhaps this simple example might help. Years ago I was involved in examining a candidate for ordination into the ministry in the United Church of Christ. When the woman, being examined was asked to share her views on the trinity, she simply said, “Why limit God to three?” By this answer she was saying that there are infinite aspects to God and who God is, so there will always be different ways we envision the Divine…

  2. Avatar

    No words can adequately describe God, yet a single word might suffice: One. Some people call God omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent; some mystics speak of the One underlying the many, the Real within all and beyond any of the apparent real.

  3. Avatar

    Before we leave the theme of ‘God Names….’, I wanted to share a beautiful Psalm 100 from my meditation yesterday from Nan Merrill’s “Psalms for Praying”:

    “Sing a joyful noise to the Beloved
    all peoples of the earth!
    Serve Love with a glad heart!
    Join hands in the great Dance of Life!
    Know that the Beloved of your heart
    is the Divine Presence!
    Love created us, and we belong to the Most High;
    expressions of the Creator’s Divine Plan.
    Open the gates of your heart with gratitude
    and enter Love’s court with praise!
    Give thanks to the Beloved,
    bless Love’s holy Name!
    For Love is of God, and lives
    in your heart forever,
    With Faith, Truth, and Joy, now
    and in all that is to come.”
    Alleluia! Amen! ❤️?

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