What do Young People ‘Hear’ When You Use the Word “God”?

When you hear the word “God” what comes to mind?

What concepts or images do you immediately associate with the word God?

First let me say this – we need to define the word “God.” Not everyone who uses the word “God” uses it to mean the same thing. In other words, when we do all talk about “God” (a rare event in secular Scotland) chances are – we are not all meaning the same thing.

Over the years I’ve discussed this question with literally thousands of young people. The answers are fascinating. Upon being asked – “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word God?” – some of the most common answers have been –

  • Sky
  • Cloud
  • Old man with a beard
  • Church (Building/service)
  • Religion
  • Belief
  • Non-existence

This is all very fascinating. I’d be intrigued to try this out with a hundred adults and see if the results are any different. I have a sneaking suspicion that they would not be any different.

What does this mean though? What does it mean for Atheism? What does it mean for the Christian faith? Quite simply – it means that the church has a bit of a job to do. If the church wants society to trust in God, again, then the church needs to start meeting people where they are at in their understanding.

If the church just assumes that anytime it talks about God that people get what is meant – the church has missed it. Instead of asking the atheist to reconsider his or her rejection of God, it might be worth asking the atheist “what God do you not believe in?” If the answer is “cloud”, “Old man in Sky” or if “God” is simply a synonym for “belief” then the door is open for further dialogue.

We can’t presume that people will interpret the word “God” through a Judeo-Christian framework anymore. We must start at the beginning and lay the foundation of the Judeo-Christian worldview. In other words, we can’t just talk about God, we need to explain what sort of God we are and aren’t talking about.

Believe it or not – catechisms can be of help here. Why? They define God.

Q: What is God?

A: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

We need to introduce people to the concept that “God is a Spirit”. We need to challenge the materialistic and naturalistic worldview which claims – “matter is all there is” and remind people that coinciding with the natural world is the spiritual world.

We need to tap into spiritual needs of the culture. They are all around us. The Ultimate Questions are the deep questions that affect all people. Secularism may have caused some to bury the questions, but they are still there – and they pop out occasionally. We see the deeper question emerging in Politics, Science, the Arts – anywhere there is people. Here’s one example from Sam Sparro’s ‘Black and Gold’

Cause if you’re not really here

Then the stars don’t even matter

Now I’m filled to the top with fear

That it’s all just a bunch of matter

What sparked these lyrics? Sparro – not a Christian – tells us.

This debut UK chart single for Australia born and LA-based singer and songwriter Sam Sparro captured a moment of existential crisis. He recalled to The Guardian February 8, 2008: “I was feeling totally lost. I was making cappuccinos when I felt I should be onstage singing. That track came from looking up to the stars and seeing myself as a tiny speck in this infinite solar-system.”

Sparro explained to MTV UK News that he didn’t spend too much time writing this song: “I wrote it in 10 minutes. It just came to me one night when I was feeling lonely and wondering if God exists. I picked up a pen and the first draft of lyrics is what is on the radio!”

Deep down people still need to know answers to the questions, “Why am I here?”; “what happens when I die?” and “Is there a God?”

It’s exciting times to engage with mission – let’s bring “God” back into the conversation.



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