“God” is a metaphor for “Life”


“God” is a metaphor for life. It’s the short-hand way to refer to nature, to existence, consciousness, to “the human experience”, to what it’s like ‘to be’. It’s the name for whatever it is that science governs, for ‘the Universe and everything’, for reality.

You know when they say “life can be cruel”? — this is a figure of speech, of course. Life is not literally “cruel”; cruelty is a human, or animal, attribute, and life is not a human or animal. But it’s just a phrase, a short way of saying that sometimes things in life turn out in a way that, if it were directed by a human or animal, would imply that the human or animal directing it are “cruel” in some way. But of course there is no human nor animal that is “directing” this show that we are all part of. As far as we can tell, it just seems to “go”, without any director. And yet, there clearly is some show, and it seems to be governed by some rules. Now these rules can be described in various ways, and they can be researched in various ways. One such way is what we call “science”, which is a very useful way, and has produced gizmos from airplanes to penicillin to the internet and it is quite nifty.

But anyway, back to “God”, back to noticing we are alive, back to being aware of death, to appreciating what we have, while we have it, to acknowledging that we are part of something larger than us, that has begun before anyone thought of us and will continue after all have forgotten us. And so you should not take this concept, the anthropomorphization of God, and interpret it literally. That does not make sense. If someone says ‘the sea was angry that day, my friend’ — it does not mean the sea was literally angry. The sea does not have “emotions” like a human does; but the waves were high and heavy and we summarize this by poetically referring to the sea like an “angry human”. Similarly, God is ‘just’ and ‘merciful’ as long you obey its laws, simply because Life is this way. If you obey the “laws” of life, then life “treats” you kindly; if you “disobey” laws then you will be punished. Which kicks off the endeavour of researching, discussing, documenting and sharing what exactly are these laws. And on this topic — what are the laws of life/God — much effort is spent, in studying religion and studying science and other research ranging from that done by the individual learning to govern itself to the society and humanity at large learning to govern ourselves. We find ourselves disagreeing with our own self at the level of the individual — should I eat that cake or not? — and of society at large (e.g., Judaism or Christianity or science or what?).

But for the clarity of the discussion, it is important to understand the terminology that makes sense when discussing God. When reading the ancient texts, be it the Hagaddah of Pesach or The Sermon on the Mount, we would benefit from understanding God as a shorthand way of saying Life. Or perhaps a better explanation would be “everything”. Or nature, existence, physics. Any of it and all of it. After all, God is everywhere and in everything and is all-knowing, always was and always will be. At least as far as we can tell. Do you see what we’re saying? This is not a metaphysical claim quite as it is a translation between religious-speak into science-speak. We all observe and acknowledge we are part of something larger, and that there are “rules” that we can either obey (think physical constraints or morality) or ignore and suffer the consequences. And the consequences will come — physics/God does not forgive. It just does what it does.

Now, it will behoove us to remember that the scientific revolution is approximately 500 years old (when Copernicus published his work proving the Earth revolves around the sun). That is not a long time. Science has done a great deal for us then and continues to do so every day. Science is God’s work, in the sense that it is a fantastic tool, strategy, framework and community for us to figure out and share the rules of the world, which are by mere definition the rules of “God”. Before science came along, we had to figure out things “the hard way” and pass the hard-taught lessons from generation to generation. This is the context in which traditions of wisdom such as “Judaism” gained popularity and traction, and later Christianity. Around 1500 years after the Jewish thinker Yeshua/Joshua started a tradition which broke off of Judaism (which would be known after the influential Yeshua, perceived as the Messiah, as Christ-ianity, which comes from the Greek word of ‘annointing’, which is the act of marking the Messiah), we discovered a much better way of figuring out the ‘rules’ in a way that allowed us to generate electricity and modern medicine and put a man on the moon. Science has been fucking amazing. But there are ‘verticals’ of life yet untouched, those areas which we so far have decided “immoral” to figure out with science, such as the well-being of human individuals and groups. These verticals — how exactly to live a good, rest on the wisdom collected over the years. How to live a good life, for an individual, a family, a community, and a nation — these rules are hard to come-by. How do you conduct a science experiment on “what rules make a family stay together”? How do you scientifically test “what behaviour makes a community stay united and safe for millenia”? 2,100 years after Yeshua and 600 years after Copernicus, we still do not have ‘scientific’ experiments on this, although we do have collected histories which are useful as well. What we do have — and take it as you will — is the collected research of various traditions, passed on down generations. If you’ve ever tried to pass something from or to someone from another generation, it is… not a trivial task. The gap in world-views can be difficult. Times change, people change, children ignore their elders.

Except when they don’t. Because it turns out, that some concepts do survive down the ages. Some concepts have been around for thousands of years. This does not mean necessarily they are good ideas, of course. Bad ideas can persevere as well. But they merit listening to, out of interest if nothing else.

Science, capitalism, and the industrial era are all a few hundred years old. The information age, which people under 20 will take for granted, is a few decades old. Judaism has been around almost ten times this length — 3,500 years. Empirical evidence might show that it is a damn good system to keep together a community through the ages.

There is no metaphysical claim. No leap of faith. You don’t have to believe in a dude in the sky, and I personally do not. Thinking “God” is a human or has human characteristics is missing the forest for the trees; it is interpreting a metaphor literally. That is silly. There is no reason to believe an intelligent being is “managing” or “created” everything, but there is every reason to observed said everything and marvel in how amazing it is. “God”, as in the world, is great. Loving “God”, as in loving everything, will lead you into Heaven (which is what Yeshua was talking about, but that’s a different matter). It makes no sense to say one “does not believe” in “God”. It’s like answering someone who says “the sea is angry today” by saying “I do not believe in the sea”. Disbelief can be entertained as a philosophical argument, but as a practical matter, it is far more useful for us to discuss how to deal with the sea than to deny its very existence. The same goes for Life, or as the religious texts call it — God.

Some might argue that this theological interpretation is just “my own”, as in belongs just to the author of this text (Sella Rafaeli). I do not agree with this, and I would claim that this is the mindset that was held by Abraham, by Moses, by Jesus. I would claim that reading any religious texts with this understanding, will help the reader understand the meaning intended by the author, and that the words will appear crystal clear. This is truly the way to see God as God is — not a man in the sky, but the Reality within which we all are.

Worshiping God means Appreciating Life which means having a good time and enjoying yourself. Why would you want to do anything else?

— — —

(comments at sella.rafaeli@gmail.com)