Modeling God

If there is one thing I hold dear from what I’ve learned in my first year in graduate school, it’s the language of models, whether these are theoretical or statistical models. I have not only found them useful to think about social science-y questions (which is, of course, the reason I learned them), but also for how I think about God. A model is not only a good representation of how we think something works, but thinking about models also gives an understanding of how we think about anything. As a “spiritual and religious” person, I naturally apply this framework to my understanding of God and how we can relate to Him.

The main lesson I draw from thinking in terms of models, is that it gives language to what I think is happening all around me. From the person crossing the street in a hurry (maybe they are late for an appointment?) to why we use our phones so much (is it the overstimulation of saturated color?). A model is a summary of a set of causal statements that help us make sense of something.

It’s what helps us navigate the world.

We need it.

But here’s the important thing: they are incomplete representations of the true phenomena they seek to explain.

We reduce an event or object to a set of characteristics we can work with. If we, for example, were to build a model of a skyscraper, would we include a sewage system and to-scale functional elevator systems? Well, it depends on what we are trying to model. You would include a sewage system if you were tasked with figuring out how that would work on that hypothetical (or real) building. You would definitely not waste your time with elevators since they are irrelevant for the task at hand.

Makes sense, right?

So it goes with any model. What are we trying to get at? … got it? That’s what we’ll include in the model. And this is exactly what we do when we think about God. We build models to explain the experiences we have that transcend the material world, or which include an aspect that is just beyond what we can describe. We find language, we find statements, we find analogies, things that can help us grasp our experiences with God.

We all have models of God. These may be models we inherited from our parents or grandparents that get updated with our own experiences. Sometimes we decide the models we were passed down simply don’t work. Other times, they just need an overhaul.

The other key point this suggests is that models tell you as much about the thing you are trying to explain/understand as they tell you about who build this model. They point to what we care about, the experiences that begged the questions addressed, the contexts, and, mainly, the assumptions (often unquestioned) that we won’t compromise on (our first principles or axioms).

So, our understanding of God talks about God, but it also talks about us. It talks about our  context, our wishes and hopes.

Having multiple, evolving models of God does not necessarily mean the thing we are trying to explain is not there or that God changes on a whim. The fact that multiple models exists and change says more about the ways in which we make sense of the world. Our understanding is finite and evolving, and so are our models.

At best, our models of God are true representations of just one aspect of His infinite character and nature.

What this means is not that we should stop talking about God, quite the opposite. We should engage in conversation of what this ‘thing’ we experience is, and we should do so with the most humble of attitudes.

Lastly, we should engage in these conversations with a deep awareness of what it is we talk about when we talk about God.

An Exploration of (My) Faith

As I have shared before with several people and also in this blog, I have struggled with my spiritual life for the past year at least. Lately, though, I have found belief in God itself to be quite a challenge. From beginning to question my beliefs and deconstructing my faith, I have come to a point where the idea of God just does not seem to make sense. But I have not given up, and I have decided to continue this struggle by engaging in conversation with others about questions of faith, spirituality, and belief in God. And, since you know I love podcasts, the product of this will be For Laypeople, By Laypeople.

Let me be clear: I am trying to hold on to God with everything I have. Losing my faith scares me to death. I want to believe in God; but I am struggling to do so. I love the Body of Christ, but I’m tired of sitting in the pews wondering why I’m there if I don’t feel anything, if half the time I’m not sure I believe in any of what the pastor is saying. I find the Christian story so fascinating and beautiful that I can’t get away from it, and I want to believe it and live it with everything I have and am. So bear with me.

I strive to be completely honest about my faith. I think it is important for believers to be open about how difficult belief can be. It is a scary thought, for sure, but there are many of us who have questions but don’t feel like these can be discussed among believers because they may challenge the very foundations of our faith. And so we hide our doubts and avoid our questions in order to fit in. We grow discontent with our spiritual lives and live out a lie, one in which we may ironically find comfort. But I don’t wanna live out a lie, so I will be honest, and I would be honored to get your honesty in return.

While I believe sharing our struggles is beneficial to the body of Christ because there is a lot we can learn from one another, I am hesitant to be this open when I know how some in the community might perceive my struggle. All I can say is there are people who sincerely and constantly yearn after God and can’t seem to find anything or anyone. The process is exhausting and support, rather than reproach, from fellow believers is crucial.

Lastly, I know nobody needs yet another podcast on faith. There are some great (e.g., The Liturgists) and not-so-great podcasts out there, but I think I do need this podcast myself. I need a space where I can talk openly about where my struggles come from, a space where I can engage with different perspectives and learn from them. And while this is a very selfish project, I hope you can find something useful in whatever conversations take place in For Laypeople, By Laypeople.

So, with that, here’s the first episode:

#024 – Trudy Holmes-Caines

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I sat down with Dr. Trudy Holmes-Caines before leaving Lincoln, Neb., and had a wonderful conversation for this podcast. She is a professor of psychology at Union College who came to the United States to pursue graduate studies. We discussed her life in Jamaica and how language plays a role in one’s identity, as well as how the immigrant cultures differ from the culture in their respective countries of origin.

#023 – Michael Paradise

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Before leaving Lincoln, Neb., for good, I sat down with Michael Paradise in his office at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church where he serves as the young adult pastor. I was curious to know what it is like to work with young adults and what made him want that job—it may have something to do with having a pretty wife.

After a fun chat, I left so he could continue eating pizza and playing worship songs on the guitar, which is basically his job description—according to him, not his employer.

#022 – Honest and Self-revealing

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Slade and I have been spending quite a bit of time attempting to read at our local coffee shop, but we just end up talking whenever we run into each other. We decided to talk for the podcast about some of the Christian books we’ve read—or more specifically, just me ranting about an “honest and self-revealing” book I read. Enjoy!

This episode contains some explicit language.

This was our new set up! How does it sound (and look)?

#021 – A Farewell

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After a few months without coming back to the studio, Slade and I return to say goodbye … kind of. Since the last episode, we have both been working on new projects: he’s launched a new blog called “The Obsessionist,” and I’m about to release a new podcast on Mexican politics, society, and culture titled “Independientemente.”

We hope to soon be back with new episodes for this podcast. So, as my English idioms fail me at the moment I turn to Spanish now: esto no es un adiós, es un hasta luego.