Who or what is God?



Funny how the lessons of life recur. We see them in one form, glean insights, and years later in a different guise. We build lesson upon lesson and are architects of sorts. From where do the raw materials stem? From where do the lessons which become our personal thesis arise?

When I was in my early 30s, I was called for jury duty. I lived in Illinois at the time and being called was simply the price of being a registered voter. It was a day away from work, probably nothing more. Before jury selection began, the judge asked everyone in the room if there was anyone who could not uphold the laws of the state of Illinois. Who would dare raise their hand to that? So no one did.

The judge then informed us we were there to be considered for a jury which could carry a death penalty. The room stirred, Illinois having no moratorium on the death penalty back then. A variety of emotions leaking from separate bodies as inhalation of air and squirms and eyes darting about. He asked his question again, and hands rose. I, being agnostic on the death penalty, sat with curiosity and watched as the judge interrogated the first person. “You said you would uphold the law?” “You have a duty as a citizen.” And on it went. The judge’s inquiry bordered on shaming, rooting out conscience from not wanting to serve. Finally, the person was dismissed. That was repeated for each person, and I was uncomfortable as an observer and thankful to not be under scrutiny. It never struck me as in any way relevant to me, though. I would never be selected and if I were, well, the law is the law for a reason.

But, as it turns out, a young, educated, liberal women whose personal hero was Ted Koppel seemed to be a good fit for this jury. Go figure. We were impaneled and sat through two trials. The first was the evidence, to determine whether or not this young, poor, African American male had stolen cash and was the shooter. We determined that he was.

Then came the sentencing phase. For me, the detachment and mix of boredom and excitement that had accompanied Phase One receded. Now, in the sentencing phase, I couldn’t sleep at night. I dreaded going to court. I couldn’t understand how anything in the world gave me the right to sit in judgement as to whether or not this man should live or die. “The law is what gives you the right” is what I would tell myself but I knew (knew to the core of my being) if nothing gave me the right, nothing gave anyone else the right either. Laws being a human construct are subject to the same logic. If an individual is not so empowered to make life and death decisions, neither can a collection of humans be justified. There was no branch to grab, because the only tree was the tree of life and those branches were all out of reach. “Wait,” I hear you say, “there is that other tree,” but we have been told not to eat of it, either. Nothing gave the State of Illinois the right to pass such a law.

In due time, the verdict was reached and my vote was inconsequential. Life went on.

More than a decade passed. When I had my spiritual awakening, I went on a quest to understand “who or what is God?” I read a great deal, prayed, had spiritual experiences, attended church, took classes, and talked to anyone who would engage with me about it. I even got a degree in theology. And after all these years I understand: there is no way I can know for sure how to answer that question. Sure, I have had moments of revelation, large and small, but they are personal. Sure, I have perspective on it, but that too is just personal.

Do I have a personal relationship with God? I’d like to think so. I find God at my dinner table, sitting around among my friend, trying to give me advice when I’m making decisions, with me at the death bed of those I love. I’m sometimes even aware of God when doing mundane things like driving or brushing my teeth. But people who perceive God very differently than I do would say the same.

“Who or what is God?” God only knows.