The God User Interface


NOTE:  I took this post down soon after I posted it because I thought it was rubbish, but I also put it on  a progressive Christian forum and it sparked a marvelous conversations.  So, I’m putting back up

In the book, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, the author states that he rarely uses the word “God” because it is a broken word.  It has been used and abused in so many ways that it is no longer useful or helpful when discussing the infinite being in which our Universe lives.  I would like to explore this idea; why it is the case and how we can move passed it.

We all know what a user interface to a computer is.  It’s the part of a computer system that we can see, touch, click, type, swipe, and speak to.  Every computer has an operating system that we can interact with through various apps;  on our phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops.

So why do we need a user interface (UI)?  Well, a computer thinks with zeros and ones.  Those are on’s and off’s.  It’s called binary.  Think “bi” as in bicycle. A pair of things.  UI software translates something that humans understand into something computers understand (one’s and zero’s) and vice versa.

Although the UI is part of the software, it’s really only the part by which we tell the software what we want it to do and by which the computer can tell us what it needs to tell us, but now how it is done.  Under the hood is where most of the computing happens.  Stay with me now!  What this means is that we can only use the computer in ways that the software’s UI allows us to.  And we can only use the computer in ways that the software is programmed to use it.  There are millions of interfaces out there which all serve different functions to meet our needs.

Are you still with me?  We’re getting very close.  This is where my computer science becomes a little inexact so that I can make my point.  There are infinite combinations of one’s and zero’s strung together, but a very finite combinations of the uses of a UI.  We will never fully realize the entire capability of a computer because it is limited to what humans can conceive.  There will never be a moment in which a software engineers says “Ok guys, we’re done!  There is nothing left that the computers cannot do!”  Perhaps you are already guessing what I’m about to say.  In my analogy, God is the computer.  God’s abilities, knowledge, qualities, forms, and interfaces are infinite and vastly incomprehensible.

I was born into a Presbyterian family.  I was given a particular interface to God; particular theology, particular beliefs, particular hymns, particular symbols,  particular names, particular buildings.  In college, I became a United Methodist and my UI shifted a bit.  In my 30s,  I began to meditate and study other spiritual paths.  I acquired and developed different interfaces in which to relate to God.  As an example, I learned that quieting my mind, I could experience God in a way in which I could not through worship and prayer. Meditation is an interface to God.

I hear people say that they can’t believe in God because they don’t believe in Jesus or Christianity.  They say it just doesn’t make sense to them.  It doesn’t work for them.  I also hear people say that God is so much greater than our way of relating to him/it/she; therefore, we should shed all of our names and traditional understanding of God, as perhaps Tolle is suggesting.

But the truth as I see it is that although we might glimpse the one’s and zero’s of God through spiritual/mystical experiences, in general we need a human construct, a user interface, to have a relationship with God.  And this is where we get stuck.

Think about the apps on your phone which you have deleted.  Why did you delete the app?  Perhaps it didn’t do what you wanted it to do.  Perhaps the interface was not user friendly. Now, because of this, did you ever throw away your phone?  No, you found another app which made sense to you.  You found a different interface into the same computer.

Over the years, my understanding of God and my needs of God have changed.  And over the years, my interface with God has adjusted given the changes in me, the old way of interacting with God doesn’t make as much sense to me.  God did not change, but I did.  God is still one’s and zero’s.

This idea will be rejected by many religious people; people who believe that there can be only one interface to God.  But the idea that there is only one way is losing traction, at least in America.  The SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) crowd it growing, and the diverse interface idea with it. The one size fits all God User Interface concept is shrinking.

If I believed that there was only one way of interacting with God, then I might not be a Christian today, because Christians can’t even agree with which God User Interface to use.  Do we go through Jesus?  Do we got through the Father?  Do we go through the God of Grace?  Do we go through the God of Judgment?  The God of Purity?  That’s just not the way I work.  I name God in the way in which I need God.  Did I need the guiding hand of a father.  The friendly companionship of a brother.  The comforting arms of a mother.  The infinite mystery.  A God of forgiveness.  These are interfaces to the same thing. And then there are those powerful moments in which God interfaces with me in ways I do not understand or would not have expected.

Also, I think that the world has fallen into the trap of thinking that God is the interface.  Remember how I said that the UI is just the part of the software we can interact with and that under the hood is where all of the real computing is happening?  God is infinitely greater than our understanding of him.  Just the word him here is a limited way of referring to God;   mainly limited by a lack of gender-neutral pronouns for another being in the English language.  And so we make God a male or a female.  God is not the interface we use to relate to him.  It is just the part of God that we can grasp with our human hands.

As limitless as God is, I do not believe he will be everything we want him to be.  He is not a random collection of stuff at our disposal.  God has some sort of fundamental character, the nature of which is subject to endless debate.  Just because I want a God who does my bidding, doesn’t mean I get it.  Ultimately, this is a poor interface which will eventually fail.  Where the God as a computer analogy fails is that the computer is a human tool designed to do what we want it to.  I do not believe God is a tool nor do I believe he is human designed.  That is my personal belief.

If the multiple God User Interface principle were  commonly accepted, I believe that there would be far fewer people who feel separated from God, or who cannot believe in a God at all based on God User Interfaces which did not work for them.  I will continue to play with this idea this Lent.  I will be examining my interfaces with God to see if there is a way to adjust my GUI (God User Interface) in a way that allows me to have a greater understanding and a fuller relationship with the infinite being which I call God for lack of a better term.

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