Excerpt from How We Imagine God Matters by Marcus Borg.
From beginning to end, the Bible is the “Story of God.” What we often call “The Word of God.” That’s a term I often use. But perhaps that language isn’t completely accurate. Why? Because the Bible is finally a collection of many individual narratives, many unique and shared experiences of God. The Hebrew Bible is ancient Israel’s story of God, and the New Testament is the early Christian movement’s story of God, especially as revealed in Jesus.
The Bible does not provide a simple answer, but instead imagines God in two very different ways that stand in tension with each other. On one hand, the Bible often uses personal imagery to speak of God. God is spoken of in anthropomorphic images as being like a person: God as king, lord, father, mother, warrior, shepherd, and potter, to cite a partial list. The sheer number of images points to the fact that they are metaphors. God is not literally any of these, but is like a king, like a parent, like a warrior, like a shepherd, and so forth. But when we take these anthropomorphic metaphors literally, we generate a way of seeing God commonly called “supernatural theism.” That is, we see God as someone “out there” who created the universe a long time ago as something separate from God.
On the other hand, the Bible also describes God’s relationship to the universe as “right here” as well as “more” than right here. This way of imagining God sees the deity as the encompassing Spirit: a non-material dimension of reality that surrounds us and everything around us. In this way of thinking, God is like wind, like breath. Imagine what “wind” meant to ancient people. They did not think of it as a material reality, as molecules in motion. Rather, they experienced wind as a powerful, invisible force. Breath is similar. It is an invisible life force within us. God is like the wind that moves outside of us and the breath that moves inside of us. We are in God, even as God is also within us.
How does one resolve the tension between these two ways of seeing God? I think it’s normal to personify God in worship and devotion. We address God as if God were a person; this helps us understand that God is not an “it,” not simply inanimate “stuff.” God is a presence, a “you.” But we shouldn’t take these personifications literally. When we do, supernatural theism is the result. God becomes another being in addition to the universe, separate from the universe, and far away.
So, it matters that the Bible also describes God as the encompassing Spirit. This way of understanding God does not create the intellectual problems generated by supernatural theism. Furthermore, this way of imagining God sees God as close at hand, right here, as close to us as our own breath. It sees the religious life not as believing in a God who may or may not exist, but as entering into a relationship with the God who is “right here.”