Why God Is Like a Wet Bar of Soap

A story by Chuck Fager

Once there was a girl named Guli, who was seven, and she had a brother named Asa who was five. Every Sunday, Asa, Guli and their parents went to something like a church, only they called it a meeting.

At the meeting, Guli and Asa often heard the grownups talking about God, and this made them wonder. So one Sunday while they were driving home after meeting, Guli said to her father, "Daddy, what's God?"

"Uh," father said, "I'll tell you later. Right now, uh, I'm--I'm driving."

At dinner that evening, Guli asked again. "Will you tell me about God now, Daddy?"

"Yeah," said Asa, "I wanna know about God too."

"Uh," said father again, "I'll tell you later. Right now I'm, uh--I'm eating."

After dinner, Guli noticed father sitting in his favorite chair, with the Sunday paper on his lap and his eyes closed. So she tiptoed over to him and whispered in his ear, "Daddy, can you tell me about God now?"

Father's eyes popped open and he almost jumped out of the chair. "God?" he said, "did you say God?"

"That's right," said Guli, "you remember. God--the one theytalk about at meeting all the time."

"You really want to know about God, do you?" he asked.

"Yes, dad," Guli answered patiently, "I really do."

"And me too," said Asa, coming up behind her. "What is God?"

"Uh," said father, "well, that's a good question, it really is. But I can't tell you right now, because--because right now I'm reading, reading the paper. I'll tell you later." He picked up the newspaper.

"DADDY!" shouted Guli and Asa together. "You were NOT reading. You had your eyes closed. And besides, it IS later."

Father frowned a little and looked at his watch. "I guess you're right," he said, "it IS later. Well, if you're sure you really want to know about God, then I better tell you. At least I'll try. But you have to understand that it isn't easy."

"Why not?" asked Guli. "Grownups talk about God at meeting all the time. It seems easy enough there."

"Maybe so," father said,``but it isn't easy here, and that's because--" he stopped for a moment. "It's because," he said again, "--It's because God is like a wet bar of soap."

"A wet bar of soap?" Asa repeated. "Dad, what are you talking about? It isn't bath time yet." He looked at Guli. "I think dad's trying to kid us again," he whispered to her. "You know how he loves to kid us."

"Well, no, I'm not kidding," father said, "but I do need to explain. And to do that, I'm going to need some help from that big book over there on the bookshelf. Asa, will you go get it, please?"

Asa carried it over. It was thick and heavy, with a black cover, gold on the edges of the pages, and a shiny red ribbon hanging out the bottom.

"I know what that is," Guli announced. "It's the Bible."

"What do you need the Bible for, Dad?" Asa wanted to know.

"I need it because there are a lot of stories in it about God," father said, "stories from long ago about people who God talked to and people who talked to God."

"Does it tell about God being a wet bar of soap?" said Asa suspiciously.

"Well," said father, "not exactly, but--"

"Then why do you need to look in it?"

"Because," father answered, "it tells many other things about God, which will help me get to the bar of soap part."

"Okay," said Guli, "like what, for instance?"

Father started turning the pages of the Bible. They crinkled a little. "Well, let's see," he murmured, "Oh yes, it says here that God is the one who made everything and everybody." [Genesis 1.]

"How did God do that?" Asa wondered.

"I'm not exactly sure," father answered. "But it says here that God just said for things to be there and they were there." [Genesis 1:3.]

"Hmmm," said Guli, "God must be pretty big to be able to make everything."

"Is God even bigger than a dinosaur?" Asa wanted to know.

"Yes," Chuck answered. It says here [2 Chronicles 2:6.] that the whole world and the sky and everything above the sky isn't big enough to hold God."

"Does God look like a dinosaur?" Asa went on. "Are there pictures of God in that Bible, Dad?"

"Well, yes and no," father answered. "There are lots of word pictures, but no pictures you can look at."

"What's a word picture?" Guli asked.

"A word picture tells what something looks like with words, so you can see it in your imagination," father answered.

"Why aren't there any real pictures of God in the Bible?" Guli went on.

"Well for one thing," father answered, "the Bible says that "'No one has ever seen God'" [John 1:18.] So if nobody ever saw God, what would they have to draw a picture of? And it also says that God is not just big and powerful, but also mysterious. God even hides a lot. [Isaiah 45:15] In fact, even God's name in the Bible was kind of secret and mysterious."

Now Asa was getting interested. "A mysterious secret name?" he said. "What was it?"

"I'll bet it was Fred," said Guli.

"That's not mysterious!" Asa shouted. Father was turning more crinkly pages.

"Let's see", he said. "Here it is. The name is: I Am That I Am.[Exodus 3:14] Yes, that was it."

"I what that I what?" said Guli.

Asa shook his head. "Guli, now I know he's kidding us again," he whispered. "Dad, why are you always kidding us? I Am That I Am is the dumbest name I ever heard. What was God's name really?

Father shook his head. "No, son," he insisted, "I'm not kidding this time. In the Bible, God's mysterious name really was, I Am That I Am. He read some more. "Oh wait a minute, it says here at the bottom of the page that the name might also be some other things. One is: 'I will be what I will be', or 'I cause to happen that which happens', or a bunch of other things."

"Now I don't even know what you're talking about," said Guli, "and I'm in the second grade. That Bible isn't any help."

"Oh yes it is," father replied. "Because this is the part where the wet bar of soap comes in."

"Oh sure," said Asa, "I suppose it also says there that God's name could be 'I Need a Bath When I Need a Bath'?"

"Well, no it doesn't" father said. "But think for a minute: Do you know what happens when you're in the tub and you see the soap in the water and you try to grab it?"

"Sure," said Guli, "it usually slips right out of my hand."

"That's it," father said. "That's the clue to the mysterious part, about why God seems to have different names. It's also why there are lots of different word pictures of God in the Bible, because just when you think you know God's name, or where God is, or what God looks like, God slips away like the bar of soap, and ends up somewhere else, looking like something else.

"Does it really say that in there?" Asa asked, leaning over to look at the page. But since he didn't know how to read yet, he couldn't be sure.

"Just about," father said. "It says that God is very different from what we might think. So different in fact that two or three times in the Bible people said they didn't know how to describe God at all." [Isaiah 40:18; 46:9.]

"But you said there were lots of word pictures in the Bible," Guli put in, "what are some of these word pictures of God?"

"I'm glad you asked," father said. "In some word pictures, God is very fierce, and speaks out of a dark cloud with thunder and lightning and earthquakes, shaking the ground and scaring all the people half to death. [Exodus 19:16-19; 2 Samuel 22:7; Isaiah 29:6.] Can you imagine God that way? And some more word pictures show God as an angry warrior, fighting bloody battles and killing people God is angry at all over the place."

"That sounds pretty scary to me," said Asa.

"To me, too," Father agreed. "But then in other word pictures, God is very quiet and gentle, and speaks softly with a still small voice in people's hearts.[1 Kings 19:11-13.] And some show God as a shepherd, a kind person who takes care of sheep and lambs and protects them from harm. [Psalm 23.] There are pictures that even show GOD as a lamb, small and harmless." [Revelation 5:6ff.]

"But how could God be big and fierce and noisy, and small and quiet and gentle all at the same time?" Guli asked.

"Well," said father, "the true answer to that is, I don't know. But that's where the wet bar of soap idea comes in. All these different things, being fierce and gentle, loud and quiet, and big and small, they're all part of the way God is sometimes. They're like pieces in a puzzle. Each one is real, but none of them is what all of God is like."

"I don't get it," said Asa.

"Well, let's listen to some more word pictures and see if that helps," father said, turning some more crinkly pages. "Here are some: there are pictures that show God as a glorious king, way up in the sky someplace, sitting on a throne that's so bright you could hardly stand to look at it. [Ezekiel 1:26-28.] But then there are other pictures about God being like an ordinary working man, the man named Jesus, who started out as an ordinary carpenter, and nobody special in his country." [Matthew 20:28.]

"And there are a lot of pictures that talk about God as being a he, a man. But there are some others that show God as being a woman. In one of these, God says she cried out like a woman who was having a baby and was feeling pain. [Isaiah 42:14.] In some others, God is like a mother hen, who shelters her chicks under her wings to protect them." [Matthew 23:37; Psalm 57:1.]

"And when God created people, God seemed to be both a man and a woman at the same time!" [Genesis 1:27.]

"Maybe so," said Asa, "but I think God was mostly like a boy."

Guli shook her head firmly. "Uh-uh," she said. "I'm sure God was more like a girl. What do you think, dad?"

"Uh, well, uh," said father, "--I guess I think the Bible picture is probably right, when God was like both. But you know," he said quickly, "there are pictures that talk about God as being, not like a person at all, but more of a thing: Such as darkness, or at least hidden in darkness. [Psalm 97:9; Exodus 19:9,16ff.] Or like light, a light that shines in everyone [John 1:8f.] The light picture of God is one we talk about a lot at meeting. In other pictures, God is a rock, something solid, something you can stand on or hide behind. [Psalm 18:2.] But then God is also said to be like the wind, blowing here and there in a way that you can hear and feel but that nobody can see or hang on to." [John 3:8.]

"Now I think I'm beginning to get the idea," Guli said. "That wind picture makes God kind of like the slippery soap: you can't hold on to the wind, and it's hard to grab wet soap. So in these Bible word pictures God is hard to hold down."

"You got it," father said. "I knew I had smart kids."

"Yeah," said Asa, "but this is all talk about God in the Bible. What I want to know is what you think God is like, Dad."

"I had a feeling you'd get around to that," father said. He thought for a moment, then he said, "I think God is real, and something of God is in all these Bible word pictures. But I also think God is more than all of them, in a very mysterious way that I can't figure out any better than the people in the Bible could."

"And one other thing it says there that is very important to me is that God is love." [1 John 4:8,16.]

"I like that picture, too," Asa said.

"There's another thing," father went on. I think that what you learn about God for yourself is more important than what it says in the Bible or in any other book. But as much as you learn about God, there's still a lot more you don't know, that's still mysterious."

"How do you learn about God?" Asa asked.

"Talking about God the way we're doing is one way," father said. "Reading the Bible is one way. And listening quietly for God in meeting is one way."

"Do you really hear God in meeting, dad?" Guli asked.

"Yes, sometimes, at least I think I do," father answered.

"But it isn't always words. Sometimes it's in the sound of wind, or even a little like thunder. It can be mysterious."

"Just like in the Bible," Asa said.

"Right," said father. "But there are lots of other ways too. In fact," he said, "right now, I think maybe--" he stopped and closed the Bible with a thump. "I think maybe the best way for you two right now is to get upstairs and take your baths."

"AW, DADDY!" Guli and Asa cried out together. But father shook his head and pointed toward the stairs. "It's late," he said. "So off you go." They tramped up the stairs dejectedly.

But they weren't sad for very long, because they really enjoyed their baths once they got started. Guli went first, and then father heard Asa splashing around in the tub. In fact, father soon heard Asa splashing so loudly that he decided he'd better go and see what was going on.

Coming up the stairs, he heard Asa shouting, "Guli, I've got him, I've got God! Nope, he slipped away again. Come here, you silly soapy God, you! I'll get him yet."

"Oh, Asa," Guli called from her room, in her most superior big sister voice, "God isn't a him, it's a her."

Father smiled. Well, that wasn't so bad after all, he thought. And maybe they are beginning to get the idea.

Just then Asa called out, "Guli, how do you know God is really a her?"

"Easy, silly," Guli answered. I just listened quietly, and she told me."