We are told (in the bible – Exodus 3) that almost 4000 years ago Moses asked to know God’s name. Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’ and they ask me, ‘what is his name?’ what shall I tell them?” Moses pleaded with God.
The quest to know God is a perpetual human struggle. It is not any easier today than it was for Moses. God’s response to Moses was, “I am who I am…Tell them, I am”. Today we have various doctrines and creeds in attempts to know God. None of these are any easier than “I am who I am”. The Christian doctrine of Trinity and affirmations like the Nicene Creed are as mind-boggling as I am who I am.
Even the idea of God as a Father has come to be seen by many as an archaic patriarchal mindset so flawed that it does not come close to revealing God. Many of us can recall Sunday School mental images of God and of Jesus and the two could not be more different. Then you have the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost (in some Anglican traditions) and the puzzle is complete.
I grew up in a village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. I remember, as a child, my parents and their generation prayed, often facing the mountain or their eyes looking up into the sky. They knew God but they never attempted to define linguistically who God was. There were no doctrines and no creeds; these came with Christianity and the Church. In the eyes of this new way, the old folks’ expression became superstition to be fought against. As I and my generation grew up, we knew God as defined in the Catechism and the books of the Church.
It seems to me that God is a mystery. God cannot be defined with a universal language because there is no universal language. All attempts in that direction have raised more questions than answers. And when I think about it, my ancestors experienced God as strongly as anybody can. For them it was experience that was important not knowledge.