Updating One’s Map of [God]
I ran across something in my class reading the other day that struck me as interesting. While it wasn’t quite the author’s intent, it is very easily applicable to spiritual development with the changing of a word or two. I’ll quote a paragraph nearly in its entirety, only I’ll replace most instances of “reality” or “world” with God. It becomes rather poignant.
Peck explains why so many people encounter problems with their map of [God]. First, human beings are not born with such maps. A great deal of effort is required to construct a moral and cognitive map of [God]. The more we are able to perceive and appreciate [God], the more accurate our map will be. peck maintains that many people are unwilling or unable to expend the time and energy to make necessary alterations to their [God] maps as life continues to unfold. Because the world and our place in it are constantly in flux, we are required to revise our worldview continually. When we are children, dependent on our parents for safety, [God] looks one way. During the adolescent quest for identity, [God] looks quite different. When we are preoccupied with the tasks of early adulthood, [God] looks different yet again, and so it goes throughout life. We are continually forced to increase our understanding of [God] or be left with an outdated and inaccurate map. … clinging to an outmoded view of [God] is a source of psychological misery and much mental illness.1
Our understanding of who God is must change through life. I’m wary of his use of the term, cognitive, because our map of God is not merely intellectual. It is narrative, emotional, and instinctual as well. We navigate our relationship with God on multiple levels, but we must be willing to allow our map of Him to change, just as we must allow our maps of other people to change. Not, of course, so much that it conflicts with grounded theology, but there’s more to a person, to God, than doctrine. And sometimes, our map of God actually conflicts with our doctrine, and we don’t even realize it! A willingness to allow change is necessary for continued growth and flourishing relationship.
1. James Gollnick, Religion and Spirituality in the Life Cycle (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 153.