The Apostle John had an amazing vision of the risen Christ in all his glory. But not many of us have seen a vision of God as John did. Instead, we can be tempted to project our understanding of the world onto how we view God. Caroline Bell talks about how moving to Moroto, Uganda, has shaped how she sees God and his character.
I grew up in a Christian family and, from my earliest days, my understanding of God was shaped by the Bible. I believed God is both a God of love who is approachable and intimately involved in our lives, and a God who is holy, who we should fear and revere.
However, it would be naive to think that my British culture has not influenced how I understand God. As a generalisation, I think we emphasise God’s love, forgiveness and acceptance and I see my own struggle to hold the truths of God’s love and closeness, and his holiness and ‘otherness’ together. These truths are not mutually exclusive, but it is easy to focus on one to the exclusion of the others. We value knowledge, understanding and discovery, which encourages me to search the Bible and grow in my understanding of God. However, we often overlook or minimise the spiritual realities of life. As a consequence, I find myself underestimating God’s power and provision, resulting in self-reliance.
In contrast, a traditional Karimojong worldview believes that God made people, but the reason why is unknown. This is reflected in their word for God, Akuj, which means ‘beyond our understanding or explanation’. After creating people, God’s involvement in life between birth and a natural death at a good age is limited. Older people may use the greeting enwaka which means ‘may we hide from God so that he doesn’t take our life’. The Karimojong more inherently see the spiritual dimension of every part of life. This is expressed in their traditional rites and practices, including sacrificing at shrines in order to avoid offending God or the spirits. Among believers, I often see a greater dependency on God and recognition of their need for his involvement in their lives.
Living in another culture is a wonderful opportunity to have a new and different perspective brought to bear on my cultural understandings and beliefs. It exposes assumptions I don’t even realise I make. At times this is unsettling and uncomfortable, but it is a gift that reveals a deeper richness and depth to truths about God which I have believed for many years. It is a privilege to join with my Karimojong brothers and sisters to celebrate our amazing God and grow in our understanding of who he is together.