Talking to God

A blind date with eternity

By Gerald Alper

Full disclosure:  I am not a theologian or metaphysical philosopher. I merely take seriously the claims of those who believe they have contact, can talk or are in regular communion with the presence or spirit of God. What I say is primarily based on the thousands of clinical patients I have seen over the past thirty years. And what I have seen are patients who—while talking with their deepest feelings about God—seem utterly and only human.

So what does it really mean, from a human perspective, to attempt to have a relationship with a supernatural being? What cannot be ignored is that a relationship with a deity is a relationship with a being you never see or experience in any of the ways you can interact with everyone else. It is a relationship in which—although every aspect of your self or soul is known in advance—you cannot know (and are considered presumptuous to even try to guess) a single thought or feeling of the Other. Not only is there almost nothing in common, there is an infinite developmental divide separating the believer and his or her God. Is is even possible, therefore, to empathize and with whom?

Consider this: other than the gift of life, nothing more is to be required from God. Although prayers can be offered, no demands can be made. A believer, traditionally, is to be faithful to only one God who, however, is free to have a similar relationship with billions of others. There can be no direct expression and interchange of emotion and, of course, no simple, sensuous (tactile) comforting.  This relationship is one of searching rather than having. Not surprisingly, love for a being as hidden as God is expressed—not in spontaneous interacting—but through meditative acts of worship.

Or consider this: does any benefit or growth come to God from his seemingly passionate involvement with human beings? Does he ever express needs or only demands? Can it be that God may want but, does not need the love of people? Does the essence of a Divinity allow for a sense of humor?

Why does the Bible portray two different Gods with two different personalities? The Jehovah of the Old Testament expresses, anger, rage jealousy, a desire for vengeance. He renders judgment, expresses fierce disapproval and savagely punishes enemies. By contrast, the God of the New Testament emphasizes love and happiness. Especially interesting, however, are the emotions and states of mind that the Bible does not show God as having; indecision, doubts, vulnerability, anxiety, fear and happiness. Does such a God have an unconscious? And if not, as I think it is suggested in the Bible, can he still experience shock, surprise or relief?

Such a god is depicted as self-contained, grateful to no one or nothing; masculine in gender, as Father or incarnated Son, but without a specific sexual identity, character or personality. He is not only never ill and never tempted—except for his brief sojourn as Christ on earth—but is presumably immune from disease. Other than his original struggle with Satan, he does not experience conflict. Such a God is squarely beyond the pale of human experience. In spite of which the initiate is taught there is no such thing as honest skepticism. There is only belief, a state of grace, or the mortal sin of the atheists’ despair. The initiate cannot disbelief, must love and cannot abandon the practice of the religion that has been passed on without incurring a formidable punishment.

But perhaps the greatest question of all is—how can someone love God while simultaneously dreading him?   Is it possible to love God without fearing him at all?  Can it ever be appropriate to be angry with or to express anger at God? Is it possible to have a close relationship to Him and yet be independent of his approval? Can someone, who’s been deeply religious, suddenly initiate a divorce—perhaps a trial separation from God—without incurring a divine retribution? Can a person, other than praying for help, request (say for the purpose of clarification) some autobiographical information concerning God? Is it even possible to have a non-reverent or a playfully irreverent, relaxed time with one’s Deity? Or can one acknowledge God’s omnipotence and yet, however so irrationally, quarrel with particular instances of its manifestations?  How then, finally, does one challenge an infinite being? (And yet, of course one does by defiantly insisting on one’s right to think small—that is to be, narcissistic.)

Lastly, the question maybe asked— if the quest is seemingly so unattainable why do we pursue it?

To which my own answer would be:  there is more to life than the pursuit of a tensionless nirvana on earth.  There is a recognition of the tragic dimension of life. The need to appreciate the poignantly transient nature of everything we most value.  The sense that it is the guiding meaning we either construct or find that makes our lives worth living.

And there is the primal, physical yearning—regardless of whatever may actually be out there—for a spiritual connection to a cosmic other.

The above ideas are developed in considerably more detail in my new recently published book, God And Therapy. What We Believe When No One Is Watching (IBooks, Alper).

Published January 13th, 2016

Gerald Alper is an internationally recognized psychotherapist who is the author of 20 books.  These include besides the celebrated Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Patient, The Paranoia Of Everyday Life, The Dark Side Of The Analytic Moon, The PuppeteersThe Elephant In The Room: The Denial of The Unconscious Mind, and more recently the just published God And Therapy: What We Believe When No One Is Watching (I Books, Alper). He's been a Fellow of The American Institute of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis since 1985, a reviewer for The Journal of Contemporary Psychology, a contributor of articles and essays to leading professional journals, a frequent guest author appearing on public access radio programs throughout the United States and Canada.  His classic paper, A Psychoanalyist Takes the Turing Test, was included in the 2004 pioneering interdisciplinary anthology by Italian neuroscientist Franco Salzone who brought together seminal papers from both psychoanalysis and neuroscience. He lives with his wife in New York, stays in close contact with his two grown sons who remain hunkered down in Los Angeles and has been a practicing psychotherapist in Manhattan for the past 25 years.