A presentation on God’s being and his relationship to our universe and ourselves.
Differing theories from the world’s major religious systems, when reconciled,
provide an overall concept that seems to have credibility.
What is God? Essentially, believable theories about God’s being and existence are available! Firstly though, I think most of us know what God is not. Few would concede that he is an old white haired gentleman, dressed in wondrous robes, sitting on a golden throne up on the clouds. Simple views like these, left without intelligent alternatives, have severely impacted many a thinker’s ability to trust in his existence.
I must highlight, at the outset, that what follows in this article is a high level presentation on God’s being and its relationship to us human beings and our habitat, planet Earth. As implied, this article relates only to the ‘being of God’ and his relationship to the state of ‘our being’ as we human beings know it.
Again, as this article’s heading infers, I explain here “what God is”. As a Christian, I believe that Christianity itself can provide the best explanation of “who God is”. I mention more about this in the closing words of this article.
Theological issues – such as what we have to do to get to heaven after death, or even if there is a heaven at all – are only lightly touched here in this article, as and when necessary, and are largely out of scope. Please note that if you, the reader, simply wants to ‘test’ for yourself whether God actually does exist, I suggest you begin by accessing the article, “How to believe in God”.
2. CONFLICTING VIEWS
In the very early stages of my own faith journey, I decided that I needed to understand what God actually was. Maybe then, I could come to experience his presence; his being itself. (To read about the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this website please click here.)
Now we know the major religions of this world each have millions of followers. And, we should logically be able to turn to all of those religions for a common answer on, “What is God?” However, they don’t seem able to agree do they? In essence there are significant differences of opinion on the nature of God’s ‘being’. And other important aspects, such as what occurs to us after physical death, differ as well.
Serious conflict appear to exist between the two major camps – the “monotheist religions” and the so-called “pantheist religions”. (Explanations of these religious systems follow.) Polytheistic religions, those with multiple gods, often refer back to a single godhead in which the multiple gods are contained. The multiple gods are sometimes viewed, as within areas of Hinduism, as functional elements of the ‘One’.
In essence, the nature of most theoretical gods fall into either one or the other of the two opposing views that follow.
The pantheist religions – in which I include Taoism in its early form, much of Buddhism and some segments of Hinduism – have a very different viewpoint from mainstream monotheism.
3.1 God’s relationship to reality
Pantheists view God as the basis of reality itself. They, God and reality, are believed to be one and the same, as I will explain. This outlook is largely based on the mystical experiences (i.e. arising from religious ‘meditation’) of these religions’ founders.
In other words, everything is understood as having a one-ness with reality, and as such, with God. That is, God is totally present in this world, The term for his presence in that regard is “immanent”. And as such, God’s being is not separate from say the universe.
The most accurate way to describe God’s basis within pantheism, as best can be achieved with words, would be “pure consciousness”. Within pantheism, we might think of the world, indeed the entire universe, as the “mind of God”. God can also be understood as the “ground of being” itself. This is to be expected, on both counts, if reality is generated by a single conscious ‘force’.
3.2 Human relationship with God
Some of pantheism’s writings offer a theoretical state where, in very simplified terms, all living and inanimate things, although having a ‘visible’ individuality, are also One (i.e. God). In this particular school of thought it is reasoned that if ‘God is all of us’, and nothing more than that. As such the individuality we each seem to have is illusionary.
I do understand the basis of the reasoning, because it stems from meditative experiences (mysticism). And as explained in the article, “Analysing mysticism” I have personally evaluated those experiences for myself.
Some pantheist writings also promote the existence of a ‘world soul’ that contains the essence of every living being.
The planet Earth, indeed the entire universe, within these models takes on a whole new religious dimension. In pantheist systems of belief there is no God external to the universe, or (within most theory) even separate to ourselves, with whom we humans can enter into a personal relationship. If all of us, put together, are theoretically God then obviously we do not have anything outside of ourselves to pray to, or enter into a relationship with for that matter, do we?
I understand the logic behind the philosophy, and its relationship to mystical experience. Mind you, my other life and faith experiences say otherwise on this view. But, I shall also get to that later too.
The monotheist religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common heritage. (The basis of Christianity has been presented in the section, “Christianity explained”.) In essence, each of the three great monotheist religions maintains that there is only one god. There is also a very strong emphasis, within monotheism, on the ‘transcendent’ nature of God. Within the theology of all three religions, God is understood as all-powerful, all-knowing and beyond our ability to fully understand or experience him.
He then theoretically transcends us, our universe and even our ability to perceive him.
Many Christians also think of God as having an existence that is spatially separate from themselves. They believe he is in Heaven and they are on Earth.
Unlike pantheists, all Christians and other monotheists do agree that God and humans are separate beings.
4.1 Human relationship with God
All monotheist religions also believe that God is capable of, and wants to have, a personal ‘one-on-one’ relationship with every human being in this world. As a result, most monotheist followers tend to think of God as a ‘super’ person. The term, “personal God” arises from this outlook.
Somewhere about 600 BC, although it could have actually been far earlier, God orchestrated a particular verse in the Bible that obviously intrigues me. It provides some understanding of his actual being; his transcendence. And he did this via the name that he chose for himself there, “I AM” (as used in the title of the website). It appears as examples in the Christian Old Testament [Exodus 3:14) and is repeated again in a very profound manner within the New Testament [John 8:58]. The name implies that: he has ‘being’; he ‘exists’, although not in a physical sense like us. It also carries the connotation that he himself is ‘uncreated’ and ‘self-existent’. Essentially, he just is! “I AM” is a pretty impressive name alright.
4.2 God’s relationship to reality
When it comes to God’s relationship with our planet, many Christians, particularly fundamentalists, point to the Biblical Book of Genesis. And if that alone is taken literally, God created the world and has his own existence predominately outside of it, i.e. totally separate from it. Theoretically, in that view, the world generally continues to tick along quite well and independently without his help. This outlook is a very different view from that held by pantheist religions (and many moderate thinking monotheists, I might add).
In fact there are Bible verses, both in the Old and New Testament, that clearly indicate that we are continually dependent on God for our existences. They clearly mean that God is immanent, as well as being transcendent. I offer those Bible explanations of God’s relationship to reality – the universe and all that exists within it – under the next heading.
So, within monotheism, this element of God’s nature is termed, “immanence” (i.e. his presence pervades the entire universe). Remember, pantheism is all about that aspect of God. It does not include transcendence at all in its theology.
4.3 The Bible and God’s immanence
Firstly, I need to explain that the Bible’s Old Testament (before the Jesus bits) offers many explanations to us human beings through its ‘imagery’. So, bare that in mind, with regard to the following verses relevant to God’s immanence.
If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath,
all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust.
Do I not fill heaven and earth
[Jeremiah 23:24] (Written as the words of God.)
But when it comes to the New Testament (the Jesus bits) it offers much more explicit explanations of God’s immanence and his sustaining nature. So, from the New Testament:
God did this so men would seek him
and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each of us.
‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever.
So, it is pretty clear that the Bible intends us to know that God is immanent; his presence pervades reality, as we know it. That is in addition to his transcendent nature of course.
5. DIFFERING THEORIES OF AFTER-LIFE
The theories of ‘life after physical death’, or ‘after-lives’, of the two religious schools of thought differ radically. Not surprisingly they are related to their different viewpoints on God’s nature.
Pantheism, due to its lack of a ‘personal’ God outside of the universe, can offer no ‘personal’ relationships with God after death.
Commonly, pantheist religions offer reincarnation of the soul, through life after life, here on earth.
Some pantheist religions, such as Zen Buddhism, do not even have a theory on after-life. They believe that the state of individual ‘being’ is extinguished at death. I remember reading an analogy of life and death for human beings from a Zen writer. In the analogy, a human life was compared to a drop of water, which had been separated from its source, going over a waterfall. Death of the human was represented by that single drop being re-absorbed into a river below (which representing the ‘ground of all being’) from which it had been dislodged earlier.
Within monotheist religions God is transcendent and, figuratively speaking, elevated above all else that exists. His spiritual basis (at the least) is separate from the universe. Of course he is immanent as well as transcendent.
Because he has personal relationships with each of his faithful during life, then life after death can be with him in eternity (what we refer to as “Heaven”).
6. EVALUATING THE MAJOR DIFFERENCES
In the early stages of my faith journey, as mentioned already, I decided to evaluate pantheism for myself. I wanted to know all there was to know about God. And I am glad I did. It gave me a rounded understanding of religion in general. (Again, to read about the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this website please click here.)
The article,“Mysticism” in this small subsection of website provides an overview of the practise. And that includes its use within both pantheism and monotheism. So yes, there have even been a number of competent Christian mystics over the centuries. I refer to them in the article.
Please also access the article, “Analysing experiences of mysticism” to read about my full-on experiences there. And my verdict on those experiences. I think that may surprise you!
But, before moving on with this article, let us look at how we can reconcile two apparently opposing views of God’s being: pantheism and monotheism? These differences fuel the arguments of atheists and even cause some doubt in the minds of ‘faithful’ thinkers. Obviously these thinkers, within their respective systems of faith, wonder how can the god of another ‘faith’ differ so much from their own.
Rational, intelligent people obviously belong to the two schools of thought, as would always have been the case. Therefore, it seems fairly obvious again that both groups must have based their beliefs on their own experiences of God’s presence in their lives.
Maybe, you have already worked it out. Well, from my own understanding, it is just a case of differing aspects of our one God being recognised within the experiences of the two groups. As is the case when two individual people ‘beg to differ’ on any logically based opinion, one view may be more important in the scheme of things but that doesn’t stop both opinions having a basis of reason.
9. CHOOSING PANTHEISM OR MONOTHEISM?
So, as far as I am concerned both major streams of religion, pantheism and monotheism, do have substance. As stated, I believe that they are both based on the relative experiences of their believers.
But I feel at this point that I need to offer an explanation of why I have chosen a monotheist religion (Christianity) for myself. Firstly, though, before going on, let me make it clear that God loves us all, regardless of our chosen religions. In the words of South Africa’s Archbishop Tutu, “God is not a Christian.” Tutu went on to declare that, “None is an outsider … all are held in a divine embrace that will not let us go – all, for God has no enemies.”
9.1 Considering the alternatives
Well, not withstanding that God loves us all, I do personally believe our choice of religion does matter. Most religions contain some truth (or maybe ‘Truth’). Some religions obviously contain more than others. And again some religious truths are more important than others.
So, although God may love the followers of all religions, I do not believe that he views all religions as equal.
I seriously trialled both pantheist and monotheist meditation for myself – to experience God’s immanence. My own resulting mystical experiences indicated at least that, yes, God is immanent, and somehow the creative force behind and within the ‘reality’ that we all experience in life.
I could have left it at that, but due to my additional experiences of a ‘personal’ God, I also came to have a practical understanding of other aspects of him. These life experiences support the Jewish/ Christian/ Muslim view of God’s transcendent nature, and his personal relationship with each of us humans. And that understanding differs so much from pantheist beliefs. Look, the majority of this website concentrates on engaging with God, in a Christian sense, within our lives and the Church. We all can come to powerfully believe in God through engaging with him in that manner.
Theories on the nature of ‘being’ (immanence and transcendence) have no relevance to the average monotheistic believer (Jew, Christian or Muslim). And, I can see the pantheist’s point as to why they concentrate on a totally immanent God. But! When it comes ‘to the crunch’ for Judaism, Christianity or Islam, the transcendent and personal aspects of God have to be there. Otherwise, we cannot have the God who cares for each individual one of us. That is a God who can listen to us, strengthen us, guide us and, yes, even speak into our heads with his ‘still quiet voice’. Christianity adds emphasis to one of God’s personal characteristics, “love”.
9.2 Why monotheism is the winner
By comparison to monotheist religions, the follower of a pantheist religion will experience a very different relationship with God. Their religious experiences will lead them to what is best explained as a sense of deep contentment that is very meaningful and holy. They can, through their practises, detach themselves from all the worries of this planet and enter into a peaceful yet non-personal relationship with the Universe (that is, God as solely the ‘Ground of Being’).
But, from my experience of both types of religion, the loss of a relationship with the personal God of Jews, Christians and Muslims – which unfortunately occurs through the pantheist religions – is a significant trade off.
Bear in mind that I have a deep respect for those people who can commit to a long term relationship with the ‘Ground of Being’. There are rich rewards for them. It is a ‘beautiful thing’, but to my point of view it is not the ‘whole thing’.
10. WHERE TO NEXT?
By all means access the writings of the world’s great religions to learn more of God’s theoretical being, and relationship to humankind, if you so desire.
The caption, “Be still, and know that I am God” in the image at the beginning of this article, carries a strong message for all monotheist religions. It is about realising that he is indeed real, and we should actually acknowledge him; engage with him as the Bible explains. The verse also carries a tone of his ‘might’! Yep, he does deserve our respect as such.
Of course God has other characteristics. For example, us Christians recognise his loving nature; the way he bestows his grace upon us. So, if you feel that you would like to begin a relationship with the great I AM and ‘test the waters’, then access the section of this website, “How to believe in God”. Methods to build ‘Christian faith’ and come to believe in him (i.e. by recognising his presence in the Church and in your life) are also included in that section of the website.
The final section of this website explains the basics of Christianity. The first article, “Christianity explained”, which is sub-titled “God’s Beloved” with good reason. It provides an overview of the religion:
- How God is to be understood within it;
- How we should engage with him;
- How we should treat our fellow human beings etc.
It includes descriptions of God’s personal nature, i.e. the ‘who is God’ stuff, as opposed to the nature of God’s being that has been the primary subject of this article.
Join in please. Ask questions. Leave a comment. Etc.