The Most Basic Question

A wedding between words and pictures is not easily done. This is why I was delighted when I came across a magazine that was full of fantastic pictures and beautiful essays. The issue that I had in my hand was not recent, December 1990 – it even had a full-page advert of a young Martha Stewart promoting her magazine! What particularly caught my attention however was an illustrated article with the big intimidating title WHO IS GOD?

Realizing that people everywhere carry within themselves an impression of God, the editors decided to ask this straightforward question.

Among those who spoke were a housemaid in Beirut, a street criminal in Colombia, a Hollywood producer, a minister dying of AIDS, a rabbi and many more. They came from widely divergent religions and the God they worship goes by different names. Yet the God they portray is always a God who looks upon his creatures with understanding, and who has no trouble contemplating us!

“When I was young, I thought of God as a grandfatherly figure, which made God very accessible. Now inside me there is an almost imageless conception, a dark light, or a lighted darkness. I find God through the clues given in Jesus Christ – that God is caring and compassionate, that God has deep feelings about us. And God is always available.” This is Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking; in 1984 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the struggle to end apartheid.

Joanna Ashong was 18 when she flew from Ghana to Beirut. For many years she worked as a housemaid. “God is always happy, He likes places where there is happiness. When we don’t do what He wants, He gets annoyed, but he controls his anger. He punishes us, but when He sees it through, He stops. He loves everyone, even his enemies.”

“What most impresses me now is the mercy of God, His refusal to be shocked by anything I could do” states David B. David is the illegitimate son of a French tobacconist; he began stealing when he was 13, in his late teens he murdered a man during an armed hold up. “The God I know is a knowing but forgiving God. He can forgive all the more because He is nobody’s fool. I still feel guilty but I feel calm and serene about my guilt. I can face it because I know I am not alone in the universe.”

Kristi is a small boy from Iowa. “God makes the weather forecast. He gives us gifts like trees and the bushes and the green grass, but one gift he gave us that I don’t like is war…. Sometimes God is sort of not nice because one time He made this machine where you try to set it to grab the stuffed animal. He did not give us luck on that, and we spent four dollars for that. Four dollars in quarters just for that. And we did not get any stuffed animals!”

Jean Paul Kaufmann spent three years in captivity jailed by Muslim terrorists. Many times they threatened to kill him. “It was the second or third day, and I was sitting tied to a chair in a dark room. I felt in that solitude that I had no one to speak but God. I felt very close to Him then… In that prison I came face to face with God. I almost miss the luxury of that solitude now that I have been freed. I have nostalgia for that intimacy with God.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is a world famous authority on the Talmud, a compendium of teachings that regulate the Jewish life. His insights are interesting, “I cannot say I never rejected God. Indeed, there were years when I took no interest, and this is the greatest rejection, much more than hostility or lack of faith. But the world becomes too limited, too stupid without Him.”

“A person has the right, maybe even the duty,” he continues, “to converse with God, to ask for things and to come to Him with grievances. To say “You are unjust!” This is the right every child has, to come and to cry, “Why do other children have more?” Man is permitted to complain to Him; but it is impossible to judge him. It is funny, sometimes tragic, that a person who can’t make a correct account of his own reality – even cannot understand a simple mathematical equation – wants to understand the Almighty and judge Him…”

One final testimony. Stephen Pieters is a Presbyterian minister in Los Angeles who has aids. “In 1982 I went through my illness. I could not walk and my weight dropped to 125; I weigh 165 right now. I was feeling terribly alone. I’d wake in the middle of the night, drenched with sweat. I would think, ‘God, I have been you good and faithful servant. Why did you this to me?’ I cried and sobbed. It was like one of those dreams when you are falling, falling, and when you hit, you’re going to die. But I realized that God understood what I was feeling. God had not given me this. God was crying right alongside me. God was greater than aids. God heals.”


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.