In a recent comment, a reader named Rami brought up the issue of God’s unchanging nature vs. God—and God’s relationship to us—changing through time. This post is a slightly edited version of my reply.
This begins to push the limits of what we humans can comprehend.
While we are living here on earth in our physical body, our mind is largely engaged in time and space, and we think in temporal and spatial terms. Even when we are able to lift our mind above the physical into the spiritual, it is still engaged in the spiritual analogs of time and space, which involve progression and development in our thoughts and feelings. We are never capable, either as humans on earth or as angels in heaven, of raising our mind to the divine level, which is God.
We are physical and spiritual beings. God is a divine being. So although we can see reflections and gain an approximation in our minds of the nature of God, we can never directly or fully experience and grasp what it is like to be God. We can never fully understand how God experiences things. We can only see reflections of it in our own physical and spiritual experiences.
I add this preface because I’m going to say some things that honestly, I don’t fully understand, nor can any of us fully understand, because they go beyond our ability to understand. They are at best reflections and approximations of how God experiences these things.
There is no change at the core of God
At the core of God—what in biblical terms is called “the Father”—there is no change at all. There is only eternal, unchanging love. It is a love that always flows outward, never inward. It is the point from which all love, and everything that exists, flows. It is also the center of God’s awareness, which is God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom, also, never changes. It is always perfectly balanced with and at one with God’s love.
God’s love and wisdom feel and see everything that to us is temporal and spatial in a single, eternal view and experience. To “the Father,” all things exist in an eternal present. There is no past or future. There are no things that happened earlier, and no things that haven’t happened yet. All things are seen in an eternal now.
As an analogy, although we might be in the middle of a cross-country journey, God is seeing the whole journey—both the part we’ve already done and the part that is ahead of us—on a sort of divine Google Maps in which the entire journey is all laid out in a single view.
So from the perspective of God’s divine core, there is no change. There can’t possibly be change, because all that to us ever has been or ever will be, everywhere in the universe, is eternally present with God in a single view and experience.
And yet, God entered into time and space as Jesus Christ
And yet, the Bible tells us that God entered into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ, lived out a life that began with conception and progressed through birth, childhood, and adulthood, and ended in death (which, of course, was followed by the Resurrection and Ascension). So God lived out a human life here on earth, subject to and changing in time and space.
Contrary to traditional Christian trinitarian doctrine, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) states that before the Incarnation (Jesus’ life on earth as a flesh and blood human being), there was not a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, there were the divine attributes of love, wisdom, and action that are expressed in the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But before Jesus’ birth, there was no Son, nor was there any Holy Spirit. There was the spirit of God flowing out, but this was not the same as the Holy Spirit of the New Testament, which flows from the Father through the Son.
So from our human, time-bound perspective, God changed because of the Incarnation. Whereas before God was only divine, now God is what Swedenborg calls the Divine Humanity. God added a human nature through living on earth as Jesus Christ. How this all worked would take far too long to explain here. For that, you’d need to read the first few chapters of Swedenborg’s True Christianity.
And yet . . . this “change” is eternally present for God
And yet, Swedenborg also says that Jesus’ entire “glorification” process, which was Jesus’ inner life while he was living on earth, is fully expressed in the deepest meaning of the Scriptures—including in the Old Testament, which was written before Jesus was born. A large swath of Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg’s detailed, multi-volume spiritual commentary on the books of Genesis and Exodus, is devoted to telling the sequential story of Jesus’ inner glorification process via the inner meaning of the stories in Genesis from Abraham through Joseph.
How could Jesus’ inner life be told in texts that were written before he was born?
The answer, Swedenborg says, is that to God, all events that from our perspective are in the future, are in the present. God’s view is not limited to the past, as ours is. God sees all things, past, present, and future. So God was able to tell Jesus’ inner story in the books of the Old Testament because to God, that story was not a future, unknown thing, but rather was a present, known thing.
This means that even though God did enter into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ, and lived out a sequential life that involved changing through time, for “the Father,” or the core of God, that entire sequence, not to mention everything else before and after it in time, is a present reality. For God, there was never a “time” when the experience of living a life on earth as a flesh and blood human being was not a present reality. For God, that entire life as Jesus is part of God’s eternal experience in the eternal present in which God lives.
This means that in everything God does that to us is past, present, or future, Jesus Christ is a present reality on God’s side of the action. God’s experiences as Jesus Christ are present in everything God does, including what God did before coming to earth as Jesus Christ.
And if that makes perfect sense . . .
This, as I said at the beginning, pushes the limits of what we humans, with our time- and space-bound perspective, can comprehend. But put simply (?!), what appears to us to be changes in God is, from God’s perspective, not change, because God is present in and aware of all of it at once from an eternal awareness outside of time and space.
And if you can fully understand that, I’ll step aside and let you write this blog from now on!
For further reading:
Your explanations about God are “time warped”. Man’s understanding of God has changed drastically since the dawn of man. Why would our understanding of God today be anymore accurate that it was 50,000 years ago or what it will be in the next 50,000 years? You often refer to the Bible when trying to explain what God “thinks” and what characteristics he possesses. However, your understanding of God would most likely be much different had you been born thousands of years ago and/or born into a different culture (same for Swedenborg). Try not to confuse your understanding of God with religious understanding.. I do believe that you are correct when you profess our inability to comprehend God’s true colors. No matter how “deep”, flowery, current and learned the attempts to explain God, no human will ever know and that’s a tough one to live with. After all, who knows? Who REALLY knows? Do keep up the good work. Your thoughts and beliefs give many Christians an anchor to throw into the deep unknown.
Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, as humanity has developed, our ability to understand things has developed also. Our current science is far more advanced than what we had even 100 years ago, let alone 50,000 years ago. It stands to reason that we’d be able to understand God better now, too.
Having said that, there is much ancient wisdom that has been passed down to us, some of which probably still exceeds what we understand about God and spirit today. Some people thousands of years ago apparently had a more direct awareness and experience of God and spirit than we do today.
Put in that context, what Swedenborg experienced may not be as unusual as people think. It’s just that he is “time-warped” out of the era in which humankind enjoyed open communication with the spiritual world. Because the other side of our greater knowledge is that as a society we’ve become more materialistic, more focused on the physical world, and less open to spiritual reality. But I think that’s changing now that we’ve gotten science and materialism pretty solidly under our belt conceptually—and are beginning to look for something more.
I wanted to follow up with a couple of older exchanges here, and on this one, I was curious as to what the implications this view has for God’s being either in time or outside of time. You mentioned in an a separate comment on a separate post that God exists in a timeless, spaceless state from which time and space are spun out yet exist in a single view, but does that mean is God is *in* time once He created it? For if he is affected by things that happen in this temporal world, that would suggest that God is also temporal, and that tensed events apply to Him (God *did* so and so, or *will do* so and so). If God is outside of time, then tensed events would not seem to apply to God, for there no past, present, or future activity for a timeless being.
This may just sound like a theoretical exercise, but it’s actually quite important, for n timeless God before the creation of time implies one who is alone and has no loving relationships with His creation until He created time (which only then would allow for the eternal present that you described), which would mean He is not perfectly loving.
But just to throw a wrench into my own hypothetical argument, notice the words I’m using “before the creation of time,” which are words that imply a sense of time- an order of events- to a timeless state! So yeah, this definitely pushes the limits of what we can comprehend, but the theological implications for this issue are critically important
This is a thing I thought about myself. How can God be loving if he had noone to share the love with before he created us?
But this is exactly the point. We regard our creation as the starting point. But if God truly exists outside of time and sees everything as an eternal present, then there should be no time difference between now and our creation or the time before our creation is the same point in time (or outside time as the case may be) for God.
In fact, every single moment is the same time for God so technically speaking He always loved up and there wasn’t a ‘time’ where God wasn’t loving us, because from Gods perspective there wasn’t a time where we did not exist.
This is obviously highly theoretical and mathematical. That is the issue with trying to understand the timeless nature of God and probably where a lot of doubt is born (including mine). Understanding eternity is impossible.
And here is another point: Time is actually a man-made creation when we come down to it. We invented the measurement of time to help us measure the finity around us. But in its purest form there is only change. The entire material universe is subject to change. Remember, no mass is ever lost, simply converted. So mass is in fact timeless (starting from its creating by God). It just changes its form. So we as humans can not create or destroy anything. We can just rearrange mass. God is the only one capable of producing more mass or removing mass. So discard time from the equation and look at the core of the issue. There is change. We change, our world changes. This change kicked it when we were created. However, God is unchanging. I think that makes the relationship slightly easier to grasp.
Looks like you’re not the only one tangling with issues of time and eternity! I second what Alex said.
More specifically, yes, God is present in time. God is present in everything in the universe. But God is not bounded or limited by time as we are. God’s experience does not flow through time as ours does, but rather is present in all time “simultaneously” from an eternal state of awareness.
Even being incarnated as a flesh-and-blood human being and living a sequential lifetime on earth required a human mother, so that God’s divine being was temporarily paired with a time-bound human nature. Strictly speaking, the divine nature was not bound by time even when it temporarily inhabited the humanity from Mary that was bound by time. It’s just that during his lifetime on earth Jesus’ consciousness was engaged in the finite human awareness much of the time, and he was not fully engaged in the divine consciousness or self that was “the Father” or divine soul within him. But when he rose from the dead, and especially when ascended to the Father (from our perspective) after the Resurrection, there was no longer anything of the finite human left; it was now an infinite divine humanity that was fully one with the Father, or divine soul, and part of the infinite, eternal divine being.
So the divine being itself was never bounded by time, even when it temporarily inhabited a finite humanity that was bounded by time.
If that makes any sense to you . . .
Hi Lee (and Alex!),
Yes, it makes about as much sense as finite human beings trying to describe something as beyond our temporal sense perception can understand it! I believe these are some of the most complex topics in philosophy precisely because any attempt to comprehend a sense of being ‘out of time’ still comes from the perspective and imaginations of beings who are in time. That said, the outside of time and in the ‘eternal present’ understanding of God’s relationship to time seems to be a long standing trend in Catholic philosophy ever since Augustine (I think it was Augustine), and it sounds like the view being expressed here is a kind of ‘omnitemporality,’ where God is not outside of time, but in time, all times, all the time. But I do have a couple of concerns about the notion of the ‘eternal present.’
It sounds to me as though time, according to this view, time is just as eternal as God is- time has no beginning or end, but was, is, and will always exist. It sounds to me like the difference between watching a movie frame by frame, and having each individual frame laid out in front of you for you to see exactly what happened, is happening, and will happen all in a single view, and I don’t think I can get on board with an idea that something is just as eternal as God is. Also, it sounds, by extension, that creation never actually happens. Nothing ever comes into being, but was just always there in some kind of static time. Another disturbing implication that some philosophers have raised is that since events never really come to pass, the horrors of human history are still going on.
Finally, as a related, side, but important point I want to bring up, both you and Alex have mentioned that there was never a time in which God was alone, and thus perfectly loving, but wouldn’t this make God- on a unitarian view- dependent upon His creation to be perfectly loving? If to be perfectly loving is to give of oneself to another, it sounds then as though God *needed* to create us and thus His essence would wind up depending on us, as opposed to His internal nature.
About the temporality issues: Relax! It doesn’t work that way.
As I said, God is present in time, just as God is present in everything in the universe. But that is a presence by flowing in, not by God being temporal, or bounded by time.
There are three general levels of reality:
Time exists only in the material level of reality. The spiritual level of reality has an analog of time, which is development in understanding, and involves the experience of a passage of events. Like time in the material level of reality, this analog of time is a one-way arrow. It travels from less to more experience and understanding.
On the divine level, there is no time. Rather, there is infinite state. There is no development in understanding because God is omniscient. There is therefore no sequence of events, because God is present in and fully aware of all events that to us are sequential.
The divine level is God. So God exists in an eternal state outside of and above time. From there, God flows into the spiritual realm, with its analog of time (and space), and into the material realm, with its time (and space).
Neither the spiritual realm nor the material realm is as eternal as God is, though they both do have some analog of eternity.
We don’t yet know exactly the large-scale temporal nature of the material universe—whether it is a “closed” or “open” universe: whether time and space form a vast “sphere” that curves back in on itself so that there is no “end” of it, or whether time and space continue to expand forever in an “open” fashion, implying eternity in one direction of time (forward) but not in the other (backward). Either way, the sheer vastness of time and space gives some sense of eternity, even if it may not technically be eternal.
The spiritual realm is at least eternal in the forward direction of the spiritual analog of time, since we are assured that we continue in the afterlife forever, meaning we will continue to grow in experience, understanding, and love forever. But I suspect that as with our discoveries of the mind-bogglingly non-intuitive nature of the material universe that we are progressively unearthing through science, the reality of the nature of the spiritual realm is probably whole orders of magnitude more complex and non-intuitive than we now suspect.
At any rate, there is no problem of God being limited by time or space, because God does not exist in time or space. Rather, God flows into time and space, keeping everything in the material realm in existence every nanosecond.
And there is no problem of God not being any more eternal than physical (or spiritual) reality because God exists on a level of reality distinctly higher than that of either the spiritual or the material realm.
Related to all of this, I recommend reading this two-article sequence:
About your final point, I would say, not that God needed to create us, but that God wanted to create us.
If we believe in our own existence, we must believe in a “creating life force”. Beyond that, no one really knows.
Another question came to mind. This article is about how God is eternally the same. However, what is God in the first place? God is love, I know, but how do I imagine this? Does God have a personality? If so, how can pure love have a personality? How does one comprehend that Divine level?
And if God is love, does that mean God incapable of hate and doing evil out of spits or just for the sake of it? If not, wouldn’t that mean God is not allpowerful?
I realised while thinking on the topic of time and change that I have no real idea about who or what God even is. I have those small bits of knowledge I got from your articles, but that doesn’t really give me an image. Jesus is as close as it gets, because he had a relatable form.
Your final statement is the real, practical answer for us. Jesus said:
The Father is the core being of God, which is unknowable (directly) to human minds. Though we can posit some philosophical ideas about the being of God, such as that God is love, our finite minds simply aren’t capable of grasping the reality of the core being of God as it is in itself. God is infinite; our minds are finite.
However, in Jesus Christ God has expressed the being of God in a way that we humans can comprehend. And that comprehensible divine human expression of God shows us that God is indeed human in every good and meaningful way.
After Pilate’s conversation with Jesus, the Gospel of John says (in the King James Version):
“Pilate” is italicized because the name Pilate does not occur in the original Greek. The antecedent is not “Pilate,” but “Jesus.” It should read, as it does in Young’s Literal Translation:
In other words, in the most straightforward reading of the original Greek it was not Pilate, but Jesus who said, “Behold the man.” Translators just haven’t been able to make sense of why Jesus would say such a thing. They have assumed that what’s going on is that Pilate is saying, “Look, here is the man you were shouting about.” But what’s really going on (I believe) is that Jesus is saying, “Look, this is the truly human being.” And Swedenborg expands upon this by saying that God, as expressed in Jesus, is the only truly and fully human being. All the rest of us are only partially human beings to the extent that we are in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26-27).
To the extent that we are not in the image and likeness of God, we are not truly human. And when we are acting in what could be called a sub-human manner, such as from prejudice, hate, selfishness, greed, and so on, then we lack humanity, and we are being inhuman in a very literal sense.
So yes, God does have personality. Pure love is not an amorphous thing. It is formed by pure wisdom, which gives it an infinitely complex, yet completely unified, nature. That nature involves an infinite state of being, or in a sense, infinite personality—which, as I said, is beyond the ability of our finite minds to grasp. And yet we can gain some sense of it especially through God’s human presence in Jesus Christ.
We can also gain some sense of God’s personality through the Scriptures generally, though that becomes tricky because many parts of scripture are thickly “veiled” reality as accommodated to our fallen and finite minds. (See, “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”)
And we can gain some sense of God’s personality through the nature of the created universe—though that, too becomes tricky because the created universe, too, is accommodated to human states, which, unlike God, include evil. (See, “How can we have Faith when So Many Bad Things happen to So Many Good People? Part 2.”)
God is “incapable of hate and doing evil” in the sense that there is no hate or evil in God. It is not part of God’s nature. Another way of looking at it is that God has no desire to hate or do evil.
I am aware that there are passages in the Bible that say otherwise. But that is due to the need to accommodate the Bible’s literal meaning to the fallen state of a fallen humanity. And it is necessary for precisely the reason you raise: If fallen humans, who delight in evil and think that evil is great and powerful (see: “Why is Evil Sexier than Good?”), did not think that God did evil as well as good, they would consider God to be a weak God, would have no respect for God, and would not listen to God or obey God’s commandments—which would lead to their eternal ruin. So God speaks in human terms in order to command respect from fallen human beings for their own eternal welfare.
The thing is, for fallen humans, evil is good, and good is evil. In other words, fallen humans think that evil things such as self-centeredness and greed are good whereas good things such as unselfish love for others and a desire to share what we have with others are bad. So from the perspective of fallen humans, God does do evil because God does things diametrically opposed to what fallen humans call good. So it’s not that the statements in the Bible that God does evil are “false,” but rather that they are spoken in terms of fallen human beings’ concepts of good and evil.
But the reality is that God does not do anything that is actually evil. And that does not in any way limit God’s power because in fact, evil has no power of its own; it exists entirely on power borrowed from good. And evil cannot accomplish anything constructive on its own; it only accomplishes destructive things. So its power is a borrowed and negative kind of power, whereas God’s power is a primary and positive kind of power.
That’s a bit of a mind-bender, I know. But the basic idea is that God is all-powerful because God has the ability to do everything God wants to do, which is everything that is actually good and constructive. Destroying something good (as evil does), is not “power” in any real sense. It is only the “power” to negate the existence of something. Evil cannot create or originate anything at all.
Once again, this is mind-bending stuff. And of course, what I’ve said above is only my own imperfect stab at understanding things that, in their full infinite and divine reality go beyond our ability to understand.
I’ll stop for now and let that much soak in. Feel free to continue the conversation if you have further thoughts or questions.
Thanks for taking the time, Lee.
There are three things that come to mind. Firstly, what precisely does it mean that God created us in his image? Does it mean that God is a happy old man sitting on cloud after all? Having learned the approach of spiritual interpretation from reading your articles I would assume that he did not literally make us look like him (two eyes, nose, legs and all the other parts of our human body) but rather this is meant to demonstrate the creation of our souls. Much like a human would create smaller replica, God created our souls in his image. Though God is of Divine substance, our souls are also immaterial and made out of spiritual substance. Just as God is Love, we have the capacity to love.
Though if that is correct, how come NDAs and Swedenborg reported a life in the spirtual world that is pretty much how we live here. How come we would still have the shape and form of a material human body? How come we would stiill communicate through speech as opposed to some higher form of communication?
And if that is the shape of our souls, could it be that God also has a shape? One we have never seen because direct contact would kill us. However, I have a hard time imagening God having a natural shape. I would assume God would assume a guise, like walking the earth as Jesus. But in His natural state? Seems to me it would be far more reminiscent of energy that is constantly flowing through everyone and everything.
The second thing is… Well, how to put it? What is the purpose of God? Everything has a purpose, a functionality. So what about God? I suppose I can answer that one myself. Just as with time and change, God created all things to have a purpose and as such God is above the definition of purpose. But that answer is somewhat unsatisfying, because it sounds like God exists just for the sake of existing.
However, all of this becomes whole ton easier to understand if one would change perspective, at least for me. We tend to see things from our point of view, be it from us in particular, humanity as a whole or our universe. So we try to understand how God fits into this universe and its laws and how God can be like us.
But the thing is, we weren’t the first. God was the first. We are made in His image. We serve the purpose God gave us as opposed to us finding a purpose for God. In the beginning, there wasn’t a universe, there was only God (though ‘beginning’ is very relative to begin with), and not that the universe came to existance and at some point we discovered a God.
I like to see it from a perspective of a videogame programmer. The game has its own story, its own characters and lore. But as the creator, you stand above all that. You occupy a completely different dimension and you can not even begin to describe the differences. Turn this concept to infinity and you have pretty much God.
And this leads me to the third issue. This is a little abstract. Just as a programmer creating a world is himself living in a world and having a creator of his own, how do we know that the chain ends with God? How do we know that God does not have a ‘deity’ or creator Himself? Sure, it is said in the Bible, but you said it yourself that sometimes God speaks differently so that we would listen. Just as God appears angry so that people respect him, maybe God makes himself out to be the all-powerful creator, because we wouldn’t listen otherwise or turn our minds into places we shouldn’t. In fact, if God is indeed all-powerful, he would very well have the capacity to lie to us or play us and we would be none the wiser.
This final thought makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, becaue it goes against the very principle of everything we define as ‘divine’ but it is nonetheless a question that should be asked, so here it is.
These are big questions! I’ll take them one at a time.
Your first question is quite complex, and has many facets, which I really can’t do full justice to in a comment.
First, as I said earlier, God is human in the truest sense. And that truest sense is not about having a physically human shape, but about having the character attributes that make a being human. In general, this means having outgoing love for beings outside oneself, having wisdom guiding that love, and expressing both of these in powerful action to accomplish good and constructive goals. Beyond that, it gets just as complex as—and in fact, infinitely more complex than—all the complexities of our human character and life. Joy, sorrow, laughter, tears, insight, inspiration, and all of the particular character traits that make us distinctly human in the best sense of that word are all reflections of infinite traits of the character of God.
Further, our particular human physical form is not arbitrary, according to Swedenborg. Rather, it is a “correspondential” reflection of those inner human characteristics. Correspondence, in Swedenborg’s theology and philosophy, is how higher realities express themselves in lower realities in such a way that the lower realities reflect and express the nature of the higher realities on their own level. For example, our ability to “see” things mentally through the use of our intellect expresses itself in the physical eye and its ability to see physical objects. And the force of character that allows us to actually carry out our plans rather than just dreaming about them expresses itself in our arms and hands, which carry out physically the desires and intentions of our heart and mind.
So the human body is an image and likeness of the human spirit, which (when we have been spiritually reborn), is an image and likeness of the love, wisdom, and power that is God.
What is the form of God at God’s own divine level? That is something we humans, with our finite minds, cannot comprehend. But as I also said earlier, we can see that form expressed in Jesus Christ, in the Scriptures generally, and in the world of nature. And especially as expressed in Jesus Christ, we can think of God as a human being. And since our concrete minds need concrete imagery, we can picture God as the old white-bearded man sitting on a throne in heaven if that helps us to have a relationship with God.
That picture is not wrong. It is simply a reflection of some of God’s divine attributes as they express themselves in concrete imagery in our mind. The Bible does describe God as having eyes, ears, nostrils, arms, hands, legs, heart, and so on. All of these things correspond to divine realities in God, whose intrinsic divine nature is beyond our ability to directly comprehend. We therefore must comprehend them in terms of spiritual and physical realities that correspond to them, and that we can perceive and comprehend.
More specifically on our being created in the image and likeness of God, the general answer is:
Being in the “image” of God is therefore a lesser state, since it is more intellect-based, whereas being in the “likeness” of God is a greater state, since it is love-based.
However, we must first pass through being an image of God before we can become a likeness of God. That is why in Genesis 1:27 it says that God created us “in his image,” but then in Genesis 5:1 it says that God created us “in his likeness.” In a person who is being spiritually reborn, there is a progression from the intellect-based image of God (when we do what’s right because we know it’s the right thing to do) to the love-based likeness of God (when we do what’s good and loving because it is what we love to do, and it flows right from our heart).
This is based on Swedenborg’s dominant interpretation of “image” and “likeness” as used in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1. However, occasionally the meanings of “image” and “likeness” are reversed when the subject is people who have fallen away from the pattern in which we were originally created.
Also, Swedenborg sometimes speaks of the “image” of God as representing the love and wisdom of God working in and through us, and the “likeness” of God being our sense that we think, feel, and act on our own as autonomous beings, even while (ideally) recognizing that everything we have and are is really from God. This sense of being our own person is “godlike” in the sense that God actually is God’s own person; and when we feel that we are our own person, we have a sense of being “like God” in that we feel we can direct our own life and be the person we want to be.
Beyond that, a sense of autonomy is necessary so that we can have a mutual relationship with God. If we did not have a sense of ourselves as distinct, autonomous beings, we could not be in relationship with God because we would either be simply an extension of, and therefore part of, God, or we would not be self-aware, which would prevent us from having any conscious, mutual, freely chosen relationship with God or with anyone else. So God gives us the ability to feel as if we are our own person, while ideally recognizing that in fact, everything we have and are is from God, and is God’s in us. So Swedenborg says that we must do everything “as if by ourselves,” while recognizing that it all comes from God.
Having this sense of being a “godlike” being, as in being able to decide and control our own destiny, is another way that we are made in the “likeness” of God. And yet this “likeness” of God in us should be balanced with the “image” of God, which comes with an awareness that we are, in fact, only reflections, or images, of God’s love, wisdom, and power, and none of what we have or are is actually our own.
So in general, being in the image and likeness of God is not so much about being physically human, with head, torso, limbs, eyes, ears, and so on, but rather about being spiritually (psychologically and emotionally) in the image and likeness of God in having the ability to think, love, desire, feel emotion, make plans and carry them out, and so on. But those spiritually human characteristics express themselves in our physical body in very precise ways through correspondences. Every single part of the body, not only organ by organ, but right down to the cellular level, corresponds to and expresses some specific part of our psyche or spirit.
Angels are therefore fully human, complete with human bodies, and live in human communities, because in the spiritual world, too, the inner self of each angel is expressed outwardly in a tangible human form that corresponds to and reflects the precise inner character of that angel. So angels can fully see and sense one another’s character simply by looking at their face and body, because each angel’s inner self is fully expressed in his or her outmost self, which is his or her spiritual body.
Further, an angelic community taken together reflects the nature and character of the collective mind of the community, so that from a distance, an entire angelic community commonly looks like a single angel.
Does this help?
In the interest of time, I’ll respond more briefly to your second and third questions, which are related to one another.
God doesn’t so much have a purpose as be a purpose. In other words, God is purpose, because God’s “purpose” is that from which everything else that exists flows. And at the core of that divine purpose is the divine love, whose nature is to love others outside of itself. So this purpose of loving flows out into the creation of a universe whose purpose is to provide a matrix and environment for beings who are able to love God in return, and mutually love one another as well.
On our earth, those beings are the human race. And if any other planets are populated by intelligent, self-aware beings, they are included in the broad definition of “humanity” as well.
Lower animal life, plants, and inanimate objects of all sorts also have their purpose in providing that environment in which self-aware beings created in the fullest image and likeness of God possible can originate, grow, live, and develop into angelic beings who will live forever in the spiritual world—and more specifically, in the eternally growing community of heaven.
God therefore wasn’t created for a purpose, because God wasn’t created. The debate about “who created God” is an ancient one, as you’ll see if you peruse the Wikipedia page on the “Unmoved mover.” Basically, if you trace the links of causality and creation all the way back, eventually you will come to a being that was not itself created, but that created everything else. From a theological perspective, that “unmoved mover” is God.
Some religions do think of the God of the Bible, or of our world, as a created god, and not as the ultimate God. Some versions of Essene religion, for example, considered the God of the Old Testament to be a created, non-ultimate god, behind whom was the ultimate God. And yet, even this view posits that there is, ultimately, a God who is the origin of everything else, including any lesser gods that may have purview over particular races, cultures, or parts of nature.
I don’t know how satisfying this reply is. These are more abstract and philosophical questions. And though they’re fun to ponder and play with, my own tendency is to move from the abstract to the concrete, where we can see how things actually work out and express themselves. That is where the nature of God falls within the ability of our finite and rather concrete minds to grasp. And that is where some understanding of these things results in actual, practical improvement in our own life and in the life of the human community.
Does God Change?
Sorry, for the late comment, but I’ve just recently purchased your ‘God and Creation’ book that includes the subject chapter.
Early in your article you say:
“To the Father, all things exist in an eternal present. There is no past or future. There are no things that happened earlier, and no things that haven’t happened yet. All things are seen in an eternal now.”
Woofenden, Lee. God and Creation (Spiritual Insights Book 1) (p. 56). Spiritual Insight Services, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Can you provide the references to support this statement since, if true, it would seem to invalidate ‘Free Will’?
I’ve thought a bit on this subject and while there are numerous Bible verses that imply God knows the future, there are also verses that seem to say he changed his mind after revised intentions by man, Ahab is an example I’ve used in other discussions but there are many such verses.
My working view is that while God knows everything that can happen in our material Universe, the mind of at least man and probably more of his creatures determine what I’ll call the actual thread of time vs the possible or potential threads of time through the decisions they actually make. Quantum Mechanics and the Schrodinger Equation actually has a similar idea about subatomic particles where they could appear anywhere in the Universe, but they actually appear in a specific place in response to an experiment run by scientists. Anyway, this posits that God can and has created creatures including ourselves who have Free Will and who’s decisions are not known with certainty in advance by God even if the alternatives and likely outcomes are known including even the expected decision.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question. Thanks also for buying God and Creation. I hope you’re finding it enjoyable and enlightening!
Your question is a good one—and a classic one. Rather than answering it here, I’ll refer you to another article, which is also in the book:
If God Already Knows What We’re Going to Do, How Can We Have Free Will?
This article takes up your question in considerable detail, including providing some of the Bible passages that make it clear that God really is omniscient.
Of course, the Bible is not a book of systematic theology. It doesn’t provide precise, detailed philosophical statements about the nature of God. As a result, different people interpret its statements differently. You’ll have to make up your own mind whether you agree with my reading of the passages quoted in the article.
Another related article to read, which is also in the book, is:
God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?
For those reading in, who may not take the time to read the linked articles, here are the three key ideas relevant to this question:
I realize these statements might be mind-bending. That’s what the articles are for! If, after reading them, you have further thoughts or questions, please feel free to leave another comment or two.
Oh, and about the Bible talking about God changing God’s mind, apparently not knowing some things that are going to happen in the future, and so on, please see:
How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads
(This article is included in the second volume of the Spiritual Insights series, The Bible and its Stories.) In the Bible, God speaks to us using our existing ideas, including our ideas about God, even if some of those ideas are not correct.
How arrogant and ignorant mankind must be to believe they can speak for God. If that were the case, it would be necessary to quantify God’s existence. The concept of a Creator is abstract. Throughout history, mankind’s understanding of God has changed dramatically. What has remained consistent however, is God has always been what we needed for ‘him’ to be at any particular moment in our lives. Thousands of years from now mankind will most likely have a completely different idea of God. God will still ‘speak’ but his words will fill a human need designed for the times. No man speaks for God.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I would say that humans can speak for God to a certain extent, especially when God calls them to do so. Consider the prophets in the Bible. God commanded them to speak the words that God gave them, and to deliver God’s message to the people.
Still, the humans who do this must do it with a great deal of humility about their own role and knowledge. God gives us only a tiny part of God’s total message and being—only what we can understand at the time, and only what will move us forward on our spiritual path. This means that we will only partially, and sometimes wrongly, understand the true nature of God, even when God is speaking directly to us. Once again, please see:
How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads
The point is not to throw up our hands and say we can’t know anything about God. Rather, it is to recognize that what we know about God is like a drop in the ocean compared to the full being of God. And that some of what we know about God is an appearance based on our own faulty ideas and our own current ability to comprehend God.
And yet, there are some thing we can know about God that aren’t subject to change. For example, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). This is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Thousands of years from now people will still know that God is love.
Still, as you say, some of what we now “know” about God will turn out not to be the full story, or to be entirely mistaken. I certainly hope that people in the far future will have a better knowledge and understanding of God than we do today.
Thanks for your quick reply. I’ve read your three referenced articles and liked your ‘Puppetmaster’ the best but still see the Bible repeatedly talking about God changing his mind (despite also saying he knows the future … sort of) in response to honest repentance. I have little trouble with God knowing the future generally and specifically in achieving his plan (which is what I glean from the Bible), but don’t see that that implies he knows what we individually will decide in the future and, hence, my request for sources that justify God’s knowledge of our specific future decisions as that in my mind would still invalidate our Free Will. Now God would certainly be able to make more reasonable predictions then we can as to what our decisions might be, but even God would not be ‘certain’ and might then change his mind. I note that it seems you believe in ‘change’ also since you even write in the ‘Puppetmaster’:
“Further, it means that our freely made choices change the course of events not only in time here in this world, but to eternity in the spiritual world.”
Woofenden, Lee. God and Creation (Spiritual Insights Book 1) (p. 344). Spiritual Insight Services, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
So, I would still like any references or specific arguments on God knowing our future specific decisions since I’ve not been able to find them with the Internet searches I’ve done.
BTW Quantum Mechanics embracing ‘random’ events with a statistically predictable outcome is just a funny way of saying that scientists don’t know why specific events turn out as they do, but they’ve noticed a statistical pattern over many experiments. Notice this leaves a sizable gap in the ‘physics’ of how things actually work that is rarely going on never mentioned. Nature, on the other hand, has no uncertainty since scientist are pretty sure that the test particle lands somewhere and doesn’t get stuck in ‘superposition’. So something actually decides where the particle lands and it isn’t a random number generator. So your point in the ‘Puppetmaster’ article about ‘things’ being non-deterministic makes sense to me. So it would seem that perhaps it’s not an analog but an actuality:
“The element of randomness and non-determinism that modern physics sees in the physical universe is an analog of the free will that God has given to human beings as a core element of our very humanity.”
Woofenden, Lee. God and Creation (Spiritual Insights Book 1) (p. 344). Spiritual Insight Services, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
As I’ve said in the articles, these things are not easy for us humans, embedded in space and time, to grasp. If we are to have any hope of understanding the nature of God and God’s consciousness, we must banish from our mind all idea of time and space, since these are properties of the material world, and God is not a material being. But our mind resists banishing time and space. All of our experience in this world takes place within time and space, and is shaped by it.
The most basic Bible passage in support of my argument is this one, which is quoted in the first of the articles I linked for you. I’ll quote here in Young’s Literal Translation:
If God knows all things as this verse says, this means there is nothing that God does not know. If God does not know what choices we will make, then God does not know all things. It’s that simple.
Putting it more philosophically, if God has infinite knowledge, this by definition means that there are no limits to God’s knowledge. But if God does not know future events, then there is a huge limit to God’s knowledge. This would mean that God’s knowledge is finite, not infinite. It has limits beyond which it does not go. Specifically, it is limited to past and present events, and can only make educated guesses about future events.
This is the basis on which I have come to believe that God does literally know all things, regardless of whether from our perspective they are in the past, the present, or the future. If that were not so, God would not be omniscient, but would be more like a super-powered human being, who has vastly more knowledge than ordinary mortals, but who is still limited in knowledge by the arrow of time in which we humans live.
As for God being outside of time and space, this concept was likely beyond the grasp of the human scribes of the Bible, and therefore couldn’t be stated there in plain terms. However, the Bible does poetically suggest that this is the case. For example:
This is a poetic passage. It doesn’t literally say that God sees all things at once. But it gives the sense that time is no limitation on God. That for God, a thousand years is like one day. I don’t think it means God lives in sped-up time. Rather, it means that for God, time has no bearing.
There are other passages quoted in the article about God’s omniscience vs. human free will that suggest, again poetically, that God sees the future just as clearly as the past, and knows the end from the beginning. I won’t re-quote them all here.
About the Bible saying in a number of places that God changed God’s mind:
What I didn’t cover explicitly in the “Boneheads” article is the concept of “appearances of truth.”
The Bible commonly speaks in terms of how things appear to us, rather than how they really are from God’s perspective. This doesn’t mean the Bible is saying things that are “false” in some absolute sense. Rather, it means that the Bible commonly speaks according to the human view and perspective.
This phenomenon is not limited to the Bible. It is common human experience. For example, we regularly speak of the sun rising and setting, even though we now know that relative to the earth, the sun stays in the same position, but appears to rise and set because the earth is rotating on its axis. Is it “false” to say that the sun rises and sets? No. That is an accurate description of how we humans experience the sun.
However, if we then make an absolute out of it, insisting that the earth is fixed flat disk at the center of the universe, and the sun literally rises over the eastern horizon in the morning, travels across the sky, and sinks below the western horizon each evening, then we have moved from appearance of truth into error.
It is exactly the same with many of the things the Bible says about God, such as God being angry at us or God changing God’s mind. These are not “false” in some absolute sense. They are accurate descriptions of how God appears to us. But if we then absolutize them and insist that these are literally accurate descriptions of God’s intrinsic nature, we have made the same mistake as the flat-earthers.
This is the concept of “appearances of truth.” It is a concept that takes into account how things appear to us humans, from our human, time- and space-bound perspective. They’re not “false.” It’s just that they are relative to our mental position and perspective. They are how things appear to us. But we must recognize that those things in themselves might be quite different than the way they appear to us to be.
This is precisely how things are with regard to God changing God’s mind. To us, it does indeed appear that God changed God’s mind when at one point in our life history, from our perspective God is calling down curses on us and condemning us to hell due to our sins, whereas at another point in our life history, God is professing tender love for us and raising us up into the heavenly spheres.
In this case, it appears to us as if God has changed. That’s because we’re always looking at things from our perspective, as if we were the center of the universe. From our perspective, we are the center of the universe. Everything that happens as we experience it is spread out all around us at all times. It’s like a video game in which our character is always at the center of a screen, and the scenery moves and changes all around it.
But in reality, we are not the center of the universe. God is. We are moving through that universe, and continually changing states as we do, just as the earth continually orbits around the sun while rotating on its own axis. When the Bible says that “God changed his mind,” and “repented from the evil that he had in mind to do” (see, for example, Exodus 32:14; Amos 7:6), what is really happening is that the humans involved have changed in their mental state and in their actions, so that God’s unchanging being has a different effect upon them. For an explanation of this specifically in reference to God’s wrath, please see:
What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?
To use a parallel human example, consider a mother who tells her daughter that she is going to punish her for some naughty thing the daughter has done. Under threat of punishment, the daughter promises, cross her heart and hope to die, that she will never ever ever do it again! So the mother relents, and does not punish her daughter.
To the daughter, it appears that she was able to talk her way out of the punishment and change her mother’s mind. What really happened is that the mother was willing to accept her daughter’s repentance as sincere, so that she didn’t have to punish her to accomplish her goal, which is to get her daughter to stop being naughty. It is the daughter who has changed, not the mother. We know this because if the daughter were to go back on her promise, the mother would go right ahead punish her daughter for her naughty behavior just as she had said she was going to do. Whether or not the daughter gets punished depends entirely on her own behavior.
I realize this isn’t a perfect analogy. We humans do change our mind. But it illustrates the principle that when “God’s mind changes,” what is really happening is that we humans have changed, so that God can act differently toward us. Meanwhile, behind whatever actions God may take toward us, there is always God’s infinite and unchanging love for us.
I could go on, but this is getting long. I’ll stop for now and let you read and consider this much. I realize I haven’t fully covered every point in your comment. In particular, I have not dealt here with God’s omniscience vs. human free will, which is the underlying issue. It’s in the article on that subject, but there may be more that needs to be said to make my understanding of things clear to you. Feel free to continue the conversation if you wish.
Again thanks for the quick reply.
On Time and Space: I’ve also thought a good deal about time which at its simplest is a sequence of events. Time to us is simply coincidence of different regular events. Beating hearts with swinging pendulum, day and night with winter and summer. Space with the invariant speed of light is simply an explanation for the order of events that seems to work. If there is no time then there is no space. If the speed of light is made infinite, then everything happens at the same time and there is no space and perhaps no order.
“. . . greater is God than our heart, and He doth know all things. (1 John 3:20)
If God knows all things as this verse says, this means there is nothing that God does not know. If God does not know what choices we will make, then God does not know all things. It’s that simple.”
Is the ‘future’ actual or potential? I think the issue is how expansive you make ‘all things’. Unfortunately, if you make it as expansive as it appears you do it appears to me that there are some consequences.
So, if God knows absolutely everything about our future does he also know absolutely everything about his future? If so, then wouldn’t he be literally and totally unchanging? I.e. static? How could he have a relationship with us or is that a bad takeaway from some of the stories in the Bible?
Another consequence (that seems to me to be impossible to reconcile with what I and I assume you experience as life) is that it makes our Universe like a movie where God can ‘see’ any frame from the first to the last. You seem to think it makes a difference that God doesn’t ’cause’ us to do things, but only ‘sees’ us doing things in his single moment. But this makes ‘causality’ not just irrelevant completely but a lie. Just as with a movie in film frames that we ‘see’, what causes the appearance of motion isn’t what we perceive such as a bat hitting a ball but the fact that pixels have a continuity from frame to frame that our consciousness integrates into motion. There is no causality in such a universe so anything we supposedly deduce from the movie is falsity. The bat doesn’t hit the ball and make it move. There is no bat and no ball and there is no way we can tell the difference because we have no control of anything and don’t know it since the movie makes my will not me. This is similar to Plato’s story of prisoners locked in a cave viewing shadows but worse. This makes what I perceive and what I assume you also perceive a total lie. I don’t know what it does to the crucifixion and resurrection. This worldview makes God’s revelation in nature a lie. It is an unnecessary lie if God has crafted a Universe that is true to what we experience as my working worldview assumes.
In this ‘movie’ like universe what is the point of trying to be a better person? To have a relationship with God? To Love your neighbor? To learn from the Bible? What does it do to the afterlife? After all, you’re only a befuddled spectator viewing a movie with a gross misconception that your will does anything and is under your command which it wouldn’t be. Unfortunately, this also is the worldview of the atheist materialists that is peddled in today’s universities.
Now getting back to the subject of Time, I think you acknowledge that God is aware of how we perceive time as a sequence of events since he can ‘see’ them, frame 10, 11, 12 etc.. You claim these all are instantaneous literally to God and I agree. But then his experience of them is all at once, instantaneous, but doesn’t the order still matter … even to God? Wouldn’t the order survive even if they all happen ‘instantaneously’? Perhaps not if he already knows how the movie turns out but then why create such a universe filled with impotent, trapped, confused creatures?
I understand that you choose to interpret ‘God knows all things’ through an all-encompassing lens that includes all of the future which are then not possibilities but certainties so there is no place or point for our purported decisions and to discount the verses where God is said to repent, regret, change his mind. Could not an omnipotent God have crafted a Universe where there is no actual future except that chosen by the event decisions of his creatures and himself? Wouldn’t that make the repent, regret, change verses make sense? Wouldn’t that be a Universe where trying to be better makes sense? Why wouldn’t that Universe be one where ‘God knows all things’ that can be known is still true? Wouldn’t that be a Universe filled with creatures where having a relationship of Love between God and his creatures actually makes sense?
Looks like it’s time to dig into what I didn’t get to in my last reply: God’s omniscience vs. human free will.
First, some quick points in response to your most recent:
The hard thing for us time-bound humans to grasp is that God exists outside of time. Though God is aware of our moving through time, and of our experiencing things as past, present, and future, that is not how God experiences things.
If God exists outside of time, then no present time as we experience it would be any different to God than any other present time that occurred ten thousand years ago, or that won’t happen for another ten thousand years into the future from our perspective. If this were not so, and God experienced time sequentially as we do, being in a present moment, and having a past that has happened and a future that hasn’t happened yet, then God would also be embedded in time, and subject to the limitations of time just as we are.
But we now know that time is a property of the physical universe. It applies only to physical things. Even our mind does not strictly exist in material time, although it is tied to material time as long as we are in our physical body. For our mind, a minute can seem like an hour, and an hour like a minute, because our mind operates in the spiritual analog of time, which is a matter of changing states of mind, not of regular cyclical events such as the orbit of the earth around the sun, the rotation of the earth on its axis, and the orbit of an electron around the nucleus of a cesium atom.
The only way God could be bound by time, and have a known past and an unknown future, would be for God to be a material being, such as we are physically. And though God did become a physical being in Jesus Christ, in reality nothing that was material in Jesus was actually God. But that is an entirely different, and highly complex subject of its own.
God could also be subject to the spiritual analog of time if God were a spiritual being. But after his resurrection Jesus stated plainly that he was not a spirit (Luke 24:36–39). God is not a material being made of material substance, nor is God a spiritual being made of spiritual substance. God is a divine being made of divine substance. As such, God is beyond anything subject to material time and space and beyond anything subject to spiritual “time,” which is ongoing changes in understanding and wisdom, and spiritual “space” which is changes of emotional state.
But God being unchanging does not mean that God is static. In fact, God is infinite energy and infinite action. This infinite energy and action is always flowing out from God, causing and powering everything in the universe. Except that God has made room in the universe for entities that are not God, entities that fill the spiritual and material universes, and that—as I’ve said in the two main articles I linked for you on this subject—have a greater or lesser level of apparent autonomy that gives them real freedom, or in the case of inanimate things, indeterminacy.
Another way of saying this is that God has made room in the universe for finite beings that are therefore distinct from God, who is infinite, and room for these finite beings to have the ability to decide and determine their own future state. This ability exists most fully in human beings, and less and less fully as things go down the ladder through the animal realm, the plant realm, and the mineral realm.
So once again, although God sees all things, past, present, and future, God does not determine all things. God sees the choices we make, but God does not make those choices. We do. God sees the future that those choices lead us to. But God does not cause us to have that future. We do. And for God, none of this is past or future. God sees it all from a state of eternal present.
I realize this may be very hard to grasp and accept. The difficulty is in trying to apply time and space to God, as if God were a material being. The only way it is possible to understand these things is to banish time and space from our thinking when we think about the nature of God. And our mind resists and rebels against doing this.
This is why atheists and materialists cannot understand the true nature of God. They are unable to think of God as a non-material being because they reject the existence of any non-material realm. They therefore tie God up in time and space, and as a result misunderstand God just as profoundly as fundamentalist Christians misunderstand God. In fact, their concept of God is the same as the fundamentalist concept of God. The only difference is that fundamentalists accept that materialistic God as real, whereas atheists reject it as not real. Other than that, their thinking about God is exactly the same as that of the fundamentalists whose beliefs they reject.
I could go on, but once again I’ll pause and let you read and respond if you wish. I would also recommend re-reading the Free Will and Puppetmaster articles. All of these subjects are covered in a more organized way in those two articles. If you can come to an understanding of my statements that God does not “know the future,” but simply sees what is to us the future from a state outside of time, then these things may start to make sense to you. But of course, it’s entirely up to you what you will accept and believe as true.
Again thanks. Your responses have helped me clarify my thinking, but I still of the opinion that ‘God doesn’t know unmade decisions’. You said:
“If this were not so, and God experienced time sequentially as we do, being in a present moment, and having a past that has happened and a future that hasn’t happened yet, then God would also be embedded in time, and subject to the limitations of time just as we are.”
But this is not so since Time with Space is a bookkeeping invention of man to explain things. God made day and night and seasons as an aid to man, but he didn’t invent Time. We did.
However, if we posit a Heaven and Earth where there are only present events or decisions and a past history of events and decisions … for creatures in the Universe and for Angels and Spirits in the various Spirit Communities. Events that have happened are history, unchangeable for all … since they’ve happened. What a creature experiences is local and constrained by God’s laws of the Universe and by the Angel’s or Spirit’s mind for the spirit world but new events and decisions happen in the same eternal now as God experiences. I will point out this is consistent with a natural interpretation of our everyday experience. It only gets befuddled when scientists and philosophers muddy the water.
Neither Time nor Space exist beyond a man invented mathematical scheme to account for the order we actually experience past and distant events. But everything ‘happens’ ‘simultaneously’ right now … and then it is history. Now if two creatures in the Universe are widely separated or moving at different velocities or in different gravity fields they will see distant events differently including clocks a la special and general relativity, but local events are true to our experience.
But what about prophecy? Can’t God know the future? Now, I’m not much of a Bible scholar, but I don’t see where he predicts trivial near-term things. He predicts macroscopic distant (for man) future things. We can predict near future events to a degree. I would assume that God can predict distant events with effective certainty especially if he gets to decide on the event and the prediction. As I’ve mentioned before, the Bible does say he intends to do something and then changes his mind in response to an action by another person. The Bible seems to say this quite clearly. My current favorite example:
27Now when Ahab heard these words [of Elijah], he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly (mourning). 28Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29“Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil (catastrophe) in his lifetime, but in his son’s days I will bring evil upon his house.”
Yes, to your mother / daughter example, Ahab changed, but it explicitly says that God decided to do something other than he originally intended. Seems like a natural reading would be that he changed his mind. Now we can say that it doesn’t mean what it clearly says, but that’s a problem for the Bibles credibility that a plain simple reading doesn’t have. Why make it convoluted and complicated for no reason when simple works? This could have been written to say God didn’t change his mind because of something … but it’s not written that way.
And the ‘everything happens in the eternal present allows God to have a relationship with all of his creatures and hold natural conversations with them as related in 1 Kings 21 as a relationship requires. Simple, not mysterious, nor hard to understand … and consistent with our everyday experience.
So, God knows all things that are to be known but has used his omnipotence to craft a Heaven and Earth where he has deliberately given his creatures Free Will and to make decisions that to a degree he doesn’t know for certain until they are made. You seem to agree with the Free Will part, but not the uncertainty part and want God to also know a future that doesn’t exist. I will point out that part of what allows us our Free Will is the inherent uncertainty in the Universe. Wouldn’t God decide that he should share in that uncertainty? Maybe, maybe not. If it violates your definition of omniscience for God to not know unknowable decisions that haven’t been made yet, then we’ll have to agree to disagree.
You’re most welcome. These conversations are also useful and enjoyable for me. They give me an opportunity to explore and expand my own thinking on these subjects.
I fully accept free will as a human reality. Without it, we are not human, and human life has no meaning.
Also, without free will, the Bible itself is moot and useless. The whole point of the Bible is to motivate and guide us to “cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16–17). If everything is predetermined, and our sense of having free will is merely an illusion, these commandments and instructions to us in the Bible have no meaning.
So yes, in my view the reality of human free will is an essential element of God’s creation.
Now if, as in the bulk of traditional Christianity, we posit a God who is embedded in time just as we are, and who progresses in time just as we do, then free will would indeed be impossible if God is omniscient, and knows the future as well as the past. This would mean that within time, future things are already determined. Our “choices” would be predetermined, because they are already known by a being who exists within the arrow of time. It would mean that we live in a deterministic universe.
This conundrum is what led Calvin and his followers to assert “double predestination,” in which God has decided from before creation which human beings will be saved, and which will be damned. Despite the fancy footwork of Calvinist theologians, this means that there is no such thing as free will: our fate was determined, and our “choices” were also determined, eons before we were born.
Calvin came to this conclusion precisely by reading statements in the Bible literally and on a material level. Statements such as the ones I quoted in my free will vs. omniscience article about God knowing the end from the beginning. If a God embedded in time literally knows the end from the beginning, then the end is already known and determined within time. Under this scenario, free will is merely an illusion.
Am I right that this is the problem you are having with God being truly and fully omniscient?
I am saying something different. It can be encapsulated in these two statements:
Let’s come at this from a different angle this time.
For these two statements to make any sense and not contradict one another, it is necessary to know and understand that there are three basic levels of reality in the universe:
Divine reality (God) is the source of the other two levels of reality. This is true not in a Deistic sense in which God creates them and then leaves them to run on their own, like the watchmaker and the watch; rather, God creates them and maintains them in their existence moment to moment, which means that God is continually in relationship with the other two levels of reality, both overall and in every detail.
And yet, as explained in the Puppetmaster article, this does not mean God determines everything in the other two levels of reality.
God’s entire purpose in creating the universe was to provide for “a heaven from the human race” (Swedenborg—see Divine Providence #27, 323). This means creating human beings who have free will with which they can freely choose heaven, or not, and who can therefore be in a voluntary relationship with God—which is a relationship of mutual love and understanding. If the choice not to be in a voluntary relationship of mutual love and understanding with God is not available, then “humans” would be nothing more than pre-programmed robots, and the relationship would not be real. This is both the reason God must allow for genuine (not merely apparent) free wil and the reason God must allow us to create an eternal hell for ourselves if we choose to do so.
This is why God created both the spiritual and the material universe with a certain amount of indeterminacy, culminating in genuine spiritual free will in human beings. God purposely created two additional levels of reality (besides the divine level) in which God does not decide and determine everything. If spiritual and material reality ultimately reduced to determinism, then God’s purpose and plan for the creation of the universe would be frustrated and nullified.
The way God accomplished this was to create these two additional levels of reality specifically so that they are not God, and do not have all of the attributes of God. They do reflect the attributes of God, through a process Swedenborg calls “correspondence.” But they each exist and operate according to their own laws within their own respective planes of reality.
This means that the spiritual world operates according to spiritual laws, and the physical universe operates according to physical laws. It also means that within each of these levels of reality, its laws provide sufficient guidance for us to figure out how things work on that level of reality. If this were not true, science would be a useless tool for studying and learning about the physical universe and how it works. Scientists do not have to consult God and factor in divine intervention in their studies of the physical universe because God has created the physical universe to proceed forward according to its own internal laws, even while God is continually sustaining it in existence from above.
This system of three distinct levels of reality, each operating internally according to its own set of laws, is what makes it possible for God to be omniscient and omnipotent at the same time human beings have genuine free will.
Within the material universe, God does not push the planets along in their orbits around the sun. Each planet follows its own orbit based on the established laws of the cosmos.
Within the spiritual universe—which is also the realm of our mind and heart even while we are living on earth in our physical body—God does not push us into the decisions we make, and the future that those decisions result in. We follow our own path based on the decisions we make and the actions we take within the set of spiritual laws that God has established for the spiritual realm of reality
In both cases, God sustains the planets, and the people, in existence from within, while giving them the space to continue on their own paths based on their own laws and their own decisions. In the case of material reality, these “decisions” are not free will in the human sense, but are the quantum uncertainty that scientists now believe exists at the core of physical reality. In the case of people, these decisions are real decisions made in a state of freedom of choice both between good and evil and between particular paths within the realm of good or the realm of evil.
For the purposes of the conundrum of God’s omniscience vs. human free will, the key take-away is that God gives each level of reality the ability to act on its own initiative, in accordance with its own laws and decisions. God does not interfere with the indeterminacy and freedom of the other two levels of reality, because to do so would be to destroy them, and destroy the purpose for which God created them in the first place.
Therefore, once again, any conception of the universe that did not allow for genuine free will among human beings would destroy the entire purpose of the creation of the universe. That’s how important our having real free will is.
The resolution of the apparent conflict and contradiction between God’s omniscience and human free will is in this arrangement in which God has given a certain level of autonomy to created things. While they cannot exist without God continually holding them in existence (“Existence is perpetual creation,” Swedenborg says), God also continually grants them the freedom to operate according to their own laws and their own decisions, or indeterminacy.
If we try to reduce these three levels of reality into a single level of reality inhabited simultaneously by humans, angels and spirits, and God, then the whole system collapses. If God exists in physical or even spiritual reality, then it is impossible for physical and spiritual things to escape from the omniscience and omnipotence of God; they all become mere extensions of God.
But since God does not exist in the physical and spiritual levels of reality, but in the distinctly higher divine level of reality, beings in the physical and spiritual levels can live their own lives, and chart their own course. They are not mere extensions of God, but are creations of God, and therefore distinct from God even while continually depending upon God for their continued existence.
The next step is to recognize that while God does not exist in the two created levels of reality, God is fully present in the two created levels of reality. Swedenborg’s way of saying this is that “God is in all space apart from space, and in all time apart from time” (Divine Love and Wisdom #77).
“In all time apart from time” is the relevant concept here. “In all time” means just that: God is present in all time, past, present, and future. “Apart from time” means that God is present non-temporally in all time, past, present, and future. In other words, God does not look to the future from the past or the present. God sees all time from a state outside of time.
This is how God can know what to us is the future without deciding or determining the future. If any being were to know the future from within time, then the future in time would necessarily be determined. But God does not see the future from within time. In fact, God doesn’t “see the future” at all. God simply sees everything that to us is past, present, and future from altogether outside of time.
Because God is outside of time, and does not intervene in time (in a causative sense), but allows it to run in its own way, according to its own laws, God simply sees what beings in time do. In particular, God sees what we humans do, whatever the point in time may be in which we do it.
Once again, it is like standing on a mountain top and looking out at the whole panorama of what is happening below. Seeing what happens does not determine what happens. It is simply observing what happens. In precisely the same way, God observes what we humans do throughout all time, from a standpoint outside of time. This is possible precisely because God exists in a level of reality outside of the two levels in which we humans live: the material and the spiritual.
And now it’s time to pause once again. I’ll only add that in the Bible God does indeed foresee and foretell short-term things, such as Jesus telling Peter that before the cock crows, Peter will three times deny that he knows him, and God telling Abraham that in a year’s time his elderly wife Sarah will bear him a son. The Bible is full of both short-term and long-term examples of God “seeing the end from the beginning.” But in reality, God is seeing all things from outside of time.
As many do, your thoughts imply that “God” has somewhat of a ‘common denominator. As if the ‘creating life force’ can somehow be quantified to a degree. The concept of “God” is abstract. “God” is who and what we need for him to be at any given moment in our lives. The concept defies common interruption unless someone wants to “find” it in religion. No man speaks for “God”. No man can credibly say what “God” thinks. After all, who knows? Who really knows? However, your ideas are just a good as anyone else’s. We sit, we think and then we must sit with our thoughts. Uncertainty surrounding the purpose of our existence is one of the most difficult thoughts for man to ponder and that is as it should be.
In your reply above you say: ” This ability exists most fully in human beings, and less and less fully as things go down the ladder through the animal realm, the plant realm, and the mineral realm.”
Can you elaborate more on where this comes from in, I assume, Swedenborg? Also, if humans end up in ‘like-minded’ communities that ‘look from afar like a giant human’, does this also apply in some way to animals, plants, and minerals? That is, a canine community or a feline community or elephant community? Or a oak tree community? Or a copper community? Or an electron community?
That statement is more extrapolation from what Swedenborg said than something explicitly stated in Swedenborg’s writings.
The main principle in Swedenborg on which I drew is that since God is a human being, and everything is created from the Divine Being, everything in the universe tends toward the human form. See, for example, Doctrine of the Lord #32:8; Divine Love and Wisdom #400; True Christian Religion #66.
From this I drew the idea that things in the three kingdoms of nature, mineral, vegetable, and animal, move more and more toward the human form and capability, not just physically, but psychologically as well. Free will is an essential element of the human form, psychologically speaking. So it would stand to reason that there would be a gradual progression toward human free will as we move up the ladder of nature from rocks to humans. I’m not aware of any place that Swedenborg says this explicitly. But it is a reasonable conclusion to draw from what he did say.
On your second round of questions, I presume you are talking about human communities in the spiritual world. There, the basic unit of reality is individual human beings and human communities. Everything else—animal, vegetable, and mineral, including dogs, cats, elephants, oaks, copper, and electrons—exists as a reflection of the human communities and the individual human beings in the vicinity. There are no communities of non-human things distinct from the human communities in heaven.
I’ve read your post in response to Lee’s and you raise some palpable issues. Maybe you can help me with a question that Lee has so far avoided. It seems our discussions concerning God are almost solely based upon what he can or cannot do without regard to the who, what, where and when necessary to define God in the first place. As if our understanding of the concept of a creator had a common denominator. Man’s attempts to understand the nature of God have changed throughout history and no doubt will continue to evolve. I’m fine with the idea mankind will most likely never know God’s true “identity”. We may be better off not knowing. In my opinion, God has always been and will always be whoever and whatever we need for that concept to be at any given moment in our lives. There is no right or wrong, just opinions and beliefs, and that’s as it should be. Lee regurgitates academic knowledge about God from the Christian Bible and learned scholars but I’ve yet to see any original thinking on his part. Maybe you have some more thoughts about God not found in books.
I’ve read through this several times, but I don’t see any question here. What is the question you want help with?
Thank you for your response of April 15th. My goal is to challenge your thinking about God. In return, I too hope to be challenged with new ways of understanding. It was very interesting that your most recent response sought to elicit a direct question. Incidentally, my last post was directed to Ted. The “question” format is what you’ve become accustomed to and are most comfortable with. You seem to have “booked learned” answers to every question asked of you. Without putting you down or seeming to come across as condescending, I am reminded of a Voltaire quote, ” He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked”. In my discussions with others about God and the various religions, I am most interested in what people think independently of what they’ve learned. The earliest man most likely had a somewhat “pure” understanding of the concept of a Creator because he lacked formal learning. His/her connection with God was entirely spiritual in nature. I think of them as God’s first children whose minds were uncluttered with the dogma of printed material. They would not have “answered” each other’s questions about God but merely expressed their ideas, opinions and feelings. Religion requires study of the various books. Spirituality requires no learning although we certainly cannot discount the environment we are raised and how that might affect our beliefs. I sometimes think the more we study religion the further we move away from our spiritual connection with God. Perhaps you have some independent thoughts of your own?
I agree with you that the early spiritually developed people on this earth had a purer and more direct understanding of God and spirit. Before written language existed, it was all oral stories passed down from one generation to the next. But also, I believe that early people had open communication with the spiritual world in a way that is rare today. They had not yet become materialistic and earth-focused, so their spiritual minds and senses were still active. They therefore didn’t need books to have an understanding of God and spirit. But they did pass on their spiritual knowledge and experience to their children in the form of oral stories and teachings. Eventually, some of these became the earliest recorded myths of humanity, including the earliest chapters of Genesis.
Today, very few people have that sort of direct spiritual experience. It is perhaps getting somewhat more common as people leave the strictures of traditional religions and the shackles those religions put on the minds of their adherents. But it is still by no means common for people to have their spiritual senses open while they are still living on this earth. The biggest exception is near-death experiences, which have yielded a rich harvest of stories and experiences of the spiritual world.
But the biggest exception of all in recent centuries is the one I get much of my spiritual knowledge from: Emanuel Swedenborg. If we can believe his account, he spent nearly thirty years, from his mid-fifties to his death at the age of eighty-four, able to travel in the spiritual world with his spiritual senses fully open, which he did almost daily during that time. So although I could be accused of relying primarily on “book-learning,” Swedenborg certainly could not. Even his detractors believe that his theological writings were based on psychological experiences and phenomena, not on his extensive reading of books. And for those who accept his experiences as real, there is no question that what he wrote went far beyond mere book-learning.
The idea that we humans can have “independent thought” is largely an illusion. Certainly people can do their best not to read books and not to gain knowledge in that way. But in that case, most of their knowledge will still be second-hand, as conveyed to them by parents, teachers, preachers, scientists, and so on who either experienced things directly themselves or learned them from books, or both. So the idea that we can have some sort of “pure” knowledge that doesn’t depend upon books or upon other people is more fantasy than reality. That’s just not how we humans work in this day and age.
Nevertheless, I have had plenty of personal experience in my 60+ years that has given me considerable assurance that most of what I read in Swedenborg’s theological writings is on the right track, and also that the Bible, properly and spiritually understood, is a fount of divine and practical wisdom that will improve the life and spirit of people who follow that wisdom and instruction from a good heart.
At the same time, I feel free to disagree with Swedenborg on various points on which I believe he was limited by the science and culture of his day. And certainly the Bible is expressed through the perspective and understanding of the people and cultures in which it was written. This doesn’t detract from its status as a divine book. Rather, it is a reflection of the reality that God must speak to us in our own language, and through our own understanding of things, or it would go beyond our comprehension.
I’m aware that some preachers and spiritual leaders favor speaking from and about their own spiritual experiences and struggles. If they want to do that, fine. But I don’t think my experiences are particularly important or exemplary, such that I would spend a lot of time talking about them. It’s too easy for guru-types to get all up in their own ego about how great and spiritual they are. I prefer to keep the ol’ ego in check, and give their due to people such as Swedenborg, and especially Jesus Christ, whose spiritual wisdom goes far beyond my own.
I certainly don’t think I have answers to every question. Sometimes I have to tell people, “I just don’t know.” But I am not going to engage in false modesty by pretending I can’t answer questions that I certainly can answer. Whether people agree with or accept my answers is entirely up to them. But there are a lot of confused and hurting people out there who are ardently and even desperately seeking answers. For me to refuse to answer their questions when I am able to answer them would be like refusing to offer food to a starving person while carrying bags and bags of groceries.
The problem is, “Christianity” as it has existed for many, many centuries has gotten so far off-track, and so far away from the teaching of the Bible and Jesus Christ, that most of its answers are wrong, and even bigoted and cruel. Therefore hundreds of millions of people have become skeptical of Christianity, or rejected it altogether. I don’t blame them. If I had only what traditional Christianity teaches, I also would have rejected Christianity altogether.
But precisely because what I believe is not based only on book-learning, but is based on the reports of a person who had direct experience of God and the spiritual world, I have far more than that. And I am not going to withhold that knowledge from people who have been hurt by traditional “Christian” falsities, and are looking for some healing and hope in their lives.
Thank you for your response on April 24th to my earlier comments. I can relate to just about everything you’ve written except for the conclusions you draw therefrom. First, I’ve never intended to “accuse” you of having limited knowledge and ideas exclusively generated through book learning. Everyone’s thought process is both limited and expanded through books. The human brain stores information and then, influenced by a variety of factors, processes the collected data, interprets, and expels it through thought, speech, and writing. For me, the most interesting part of all of this is when we consider the abstract including the concept of God.
I do disagree with your statement, “The idea that we humans can have “independent thought” is largely an illusion” It seems as though Swedenborg had many thoughts not previously enunciated. Of course, the Spiritual World he experienced took place inside of his own mind. He was grappling with abstract concepts the same as men always have and always will when it concerns issues of our existence. We should all be as lucky as Swedenborg to be entertained by our own thinking of our own mind. If we’re not able to write our own script, then then we will likely adopt the plot of others and re-tell it.
You’re welcome. I enjoy a good discussion and debate when all involved are expressing their honestly held views in good faith and with good will.
From the perspective of this world, I’m fairly certain that like Swedenborg, I have had and expressed “thoughts not previously enunciated.” On certain topics that are controversial among Swedenborgians, I’ve arrived at and taken positions that I have never read in the Swedenborgian literature, with which I’m fairly familiar. I’ve pointed out areas where I believe Swedenborg was limited by the scientific knowledge of his day, such that we must revise or set aside what he said on a particular subject. And I am certainly not the only Swedenborgian who has done this over the centuries since Swedenborg first published his theological works.
Looked at from a materialistic perspective, then, I would agree with you that there is such a thing as original thought. Otherwise there could be no growth in knowledge and understanding, and no development of thought, within human society.
Where you and I seem to differ—and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong—is on the question of whether there are other realms of existence besides the material that are real, present, and active in human life. You say of Swedenborg:
This is a view of Swedenborg’s spiritual experience popularized by the biography Emanuel Swedenborg: Scientist and Mystic, by Signe Toksvig, a non-Swedenborgian who was fascinated by Swedenborg. For several decades after its initial publication in 1949, it was the most popular biography of Swedenborg due to its readability and its offering of a perspective on Swedenborg that did not require people to accept his spiritual experiences as actual spiritual experiences. Like you, Toksvig believed that all of his spiritual experiences took place within his own mind.
However, her explanations for how this happened have not aged well. The biography has now fallen out of print and out of favor. That’s a pity, because her treatment of Swedenborg’s scientific period is among the best I’ve read. It’s only when she gets into his theological period that her narrative falls apart. She subscribed to various theories about Swedenborg that have no basis in fact, such as the idea that he composed his writings by automatic writing. Any scholar who has spent any time at all with Swedenborg’s manuscripts knows full well that they were written and edited very consciously and painstakingly.
At any rate, if that’s your theory about Swedenborg, and you haven’t read Toksvig’s biography, you might enjoy it. Just be aware that a number of things she wrote in it cannot stand the test of time and scholarship.
For my part, I feel no need to explain away Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences as projections of his own mind and consciousness.
Though materialists and atheists reject any evidence for non-physical realms out of hand because accepting it would require them to abandon their atheism and skepticism, the evidence for a real, tangible afterlife in another realm of existence—which Swedenborg calls “the spiritual world”—is overwhelming. See:
Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?
By the same token, I do not see God as an “abstraction,” but as a real, conscious being who is the source and creator of everything else that exists. The same overwhelming evidence that points to the reality of spirit also points to the reality of God.
If you are not inclined to accept the reality of God and spirit, then of course you and I will disagree on many things, including the ultimate uniqueness and originality of our thinking. To make a long story short, if God is real, and is actually God and not just some force of nature, then everything, including our thoughts, ultimately has its origin in God, not in any human mind.
In response to yours of May 9th. I’m not familiar with Toksvig but will check it out, thanks. Let me attempt to narrow the discussion as it relates to my belief that the concept of God is abstract. In the past and in today’s discussions, you reference God, not as an “abstraction”, ” . . . . but as a real, conscious being who is the source and creator of everything else that exists. The same overwhelming evidence that points to the reality of spirit also points to the reality of God”. Would it be fair to say that you have provided characteristics and traits of God but without a succinct definition of the “root” of God’s power and being? “God is eternal” doesn’t help me in my analysis.
The root of God’s being is love.
This may seem abstract, but it is not. Love is a real substance. In fact, it is ultimately the most real and only real substance. Everything else in the universe is literally made of love, though it is love heavily limited and slowed down. Absolute zero is the point at which love stops moving and therefore stops existing altogether. In the totality of the universe, absolute zero is the opposite pole from the core being of God, which is infinite love both in substance and in action.
Meanwhile, the expression or form of God’s being is wisdom.
I could go on to describe this more fully, but I’ve done that in succinct form in the opening sections of this article:
Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
If you want a full-blown spiritual/philosophical treatment of the nature of God as love, wisdom, and action, here is the book for you:
Divine Love and Wisdom, by Emanuel Swedenborg
For a heavy-duty Christian doctrinal presentation, you want the first three chapters of this book:
True Christianity, by Emanuel Swedenborg
The links are to my book notice for each of these books here on the blog. There are links for downloading or purchasing them in the posts.
The root and expression of God’s being is not at all abstract. In fact, it is fully human. Those who say we created God in our image have it backwards. We are human because God is human, just as Genesis 1:26–27 says. Here are a couple more articles that take this up:
In response to yours of May 10th. I completely understand why you’re having difficulty with my question on God’s “core power”. You attempt to quantify an abstract. You begin your post with, “The root of God’s being is love”. Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection, to the simplest pleasure. Wikipedia. Granted, love is very powerful but it is not the source of anyone’s or anything’s existence. Love is an emotion. Mankind’s understanding and definition of love have evolved and will continue to do so. God’s defining power source does not evolve. I’m not attempting to dissuade you from your beliefs. What I am trying to bring out and discuss is man’s inability to fully and accurately understand the true nature of God’s existence and power. In the meantime, a “belief” is what we do have and that’s o.k.
I don’t have any difficulty at all with your question on God’s “core power.” The difficulty lies in the fact that you and I have a very different understanding of reality. My answers are not satisfying to you because they do not fall within your conception of reality.
In my previous comment I said to you:
Since you have not corrected me on this, I take this to mean that indeed, you do not believe that there are other realms of existence besides the physical that are real, present, and active in human life. More specifically, you do not believe in the reality of God and spirit. Once again, please correct me if I’m wrong.
Since you do not believe in the reality of God as anything other than an idea in the human mind, naturally everything I say about God is going to seem “abstract” to you, and not real except as an idea. No matter how concrete I get in my description of God—such as saying that God is love, that God is human, that God has thoughts and feelings, that God engages in specific actions, that God became human in a physical body, that God still has a divine body that is capable of interacting with spiritual and physical matter, and so on—all of it will seem unreal and “abstract” to you, because you do not believe God is real. It is like describing a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s all fun and games to talk about it, but it’s all just talk, and it’s all purely abstract, because no such thing exists.
As for love, Wikipedia, like humanity in general, has very little idea of what love is. Here is Swedenborg’s explanation of the nature of love, from the opening section of his great philosophical and cosmological work, Divine Love and Wisdom:
The explanation goes on from there in succeeding sections of the book.
Once again, I recommend that you obtain and read Divine Love and Wisdom. You can see my book notice for it here.
Unfortunately, the deluxe hardcover New Century Edition is currently out of print. Both it and Divine Providence are going through a major revision. But on my book notice page there is a link where you can download a free PDF or ePub version of the “Portable” edition from the publisher’s website.
In further discussion of your post of May 11th. I apologize for not making my opinions clearer. I do believe in the reality of a Creating Life Force (God), supporting my own existence. I also believe “. . . there are other realms of existence besides the physical that are real, present, and active in human life”. However, I do not claim to completely understand the exact nature of these two concepts. Perhaps the notion of God as abstract or concrete is not mutually exclusive. Until now, I’ve not read outside sources about these issues but found something this morning. “https://danadler.com/is-god-abstract-or-concrete/”. Enjoy!
Thanks for the clarification on your beliefs. That will move this discussion forward, I think, so that we’re not talking past each other.
Interesting article. Thanks for the link. Of course, it’s not my job to tell Jews what to believe. But if Mr. Adler’s article represents an accepted Jewish understanding of God—that God must be conceived of abstract based on the Second Commandment—methinks the Jews have missed the point of their own Scriptures. The commandment does not say, “Thou shalt not make God concrete.” It says, in the King James Version:
There’s nothing in there about not making the actual God concrete. It’s all about not making a representative image and worshiping it instead of worshiping God. As Adler points out, the Bible is full of concrete descriptions of God. Yes, they could be taken as adaptations to the limitations of human modes of thinking, as Maimonides does, according to Adler. But there is no particular reason to read them that way, especially since the commandment does not forbid us from thinking concretely about God. Only from worshiping concrete things other than God.
As covered in the articles I linked for you previously, the Bible overwhelmingly presents God as human in mind and form. It says we are created human in God’s image. I don’t think we can ignore all of that overwhelming biblical evidence for the concreteness and humanity of God based on something that the Second Commandment doesn’t even say.
We’ve not talked before, but I’ve been following some of your conversation with Lee and read the article on ‘Abstract or Concrete’. In the Bible, the idea of name has a far greater significance that our usage which is mostly a label for an object. In the Bible, name is something like the boundary of the object’s essence. That is why God replied ‘I will be what I will be’ meaning his essence is open ended without boundary. That is why names, naming, and renaming is especially significant in the Bible. When you ask: ‘Is God abstract or concrete’ your question is sufficiently ambiguous to get true answers of both yes and no. God is both abstract and concrete and those are not boundaries for God. More to the point, what you mean by ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ has no context related to God. We can assert that mathematical ‘i’ is abstract and a geological rock is concrete and be safe because the context is included. This is not possible with God.
What you wrote earlier today makes sense to me, in part. However, no man speaks, thinks or writes for God. No religion has a monopoly over God although many believe they do. God did not anoint one religion over another or give his vote of confidence to one. In my opinion, God may very well be a concrete entity of some sort. Fortunately or unfortunately, we do not have enough answers/knowledge to discuss God as a being of substance as humans understand substantive thinking. God may very well have intended that mankind not have all of the answers as it concerns his composition. If we knew everything about God, it would be “game over” in many respects. I am reminded of Dostoyevsky’s , “The Grand Inquisitor”. According to the Grand Inquisitor (The Brothers Karamazov), people are more eager to accept “miracles, mystery and authority” than remain in agonizing uncertainty about their existence and purpose in life. Faith is the hallmark of abstract thinking and it gets us through a myriad of situations where we have nothing else to rely upon. Faith is born out of uncertainty. If we knew everything about God, faith would become irrelevant. We would merely be able to study God. In my mind, it’s better the concept of God remain abstract.
I’m still not sure what you mean by ‘abstract’ or ‘concrete’ in the context of God, but I agree that no current religion has the truth despite their claims. I also don’t know what you mean by ‘God as a being of substance’.
I’m still developing my worldview as related to God and all that he created but the God I’m talking about is the God that decided to create what we perceive and label the [material] Universe and some set of guiding rules to govern it. I don’t think current consensus science has those rules even close to right mostly by denying ‘Conscious Awareness’. But the current science laws do seem to work in their domains as did Newton’s before the bifurcation to Einstein’s and Bohr’s. I think one can reasonably deduce that God started the Universe in something like what is usually called the Big Bang and that God has a purpose for the Universe due to what science calls the ‘Fine Tuning Problem’. Observing what science knows about the Universe, our Solar System, Earth, and life on earth suggests strongly that God is at least a God of Cooperation and probably ‘Agape’. While I agree that current religions are groping and missing the mark, I’m not so sure about early Christianity. I agree with Thomas Jefferson: “I believe in both a creative and personal God, a divinely ordered universe, that man has a innate moral sense, and that Jesus was a great moral teacher, perhaps the greatest the world has witnessed.” – letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, August 10, 1787. It is interesting that Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to Love the Lord and to Love your Neighbor and that the Golden Rule is found in every major religion in some form or another. I suspect that if we could compile a database of all of the major religions along with our observations of nature and ask it questions, we’d get true answers.
To your comment on ‘uncertainty’ and ‘faith’, while humanity would like certainty, the God of Agape and Wisdom certainly has enough intelligence to know that for his creatures to have Free Will to choose their path between good and evil, they must not have certainty in anything. If that’s what you mean by ‘abstract’ then I agree.
Hi Ted & Hoyle,
The idea that it’s the job of religion to have a corner on the market of truth is mostly a misconception of the nature and purpose of religion. Certainly the closer a religion is to the truth, the more effective it can be. But the purpose of religion is to lead and guide people toward God, goodness, and life. Truth, or apparent truth adapted to people’s particular mindset, is only a tool in accomplishing that purpose.
By itself truth is useless. But when it is applied to accomplishing specific goals, then it becomes useful and cogent. Yes, it’s nice to understand the universe because it’s interesting and fun. But our knowledge of the universe and its rules enables us to accomplish tasks that we otherwise could not accomplish, such as providing people with rapid communication and travel across vast distances, access to much of humanity’s accumulated knowledge, and so on. Theoretical science leads to applied science.
The same is true of religion. Protestantism is badly mistaken in thinking that “faith,” or intellectual belief, is the primary necessity for salvation and eternal life. This has led to a skewing of the Western world’s attitude toward knowledge. Many people seem to think that being smarter and more knowledgeable than everyone else makes one a better and more worthy person. That is not the case. Using one’s knowledge to serve one’s fellow human beings is what makes one a worthy person.
Different religions are adapted to the minds and cultures of different people. As long as the basics are in place, revolving around loving God and loving the neighbor, the specific doctrines and rituals are of secondary importance. These are simply enabling means to accomplish the primary purpose within that particular culture and religion.
Of course, religions, like human beings, can also get corrupted. I believe that is what has happened to Christianity in general. Hence the great rejection of Christianity among thinking, compassionate people. When a religion becomes corrupt, it must die out for that culture to continue moving forward, just as a corrupt political regime must fall and be replaced with a legitimate regime for that country to move forward. This is what is happening in the Christian world, as people vote with their feet and abandon the corrupt Christian Church in great numbers.
Unfortunately, this has also given many people the idea that there is no truth, and no religion has the truth. The religion they know and come from no longer has the truth. But to generalize from that and say that no religion has the truth, and it’s not possible for any religion to have the truth, is like saying that because one’s government is corrupt, and so are many other governments, therefore all governments must necessarily be corrupt. It is a defeatist attitude, but an understandable one given the great corruption that has plagued both politics and religion century after century.
Really, “faith” is simply spiritual truth. But because people have been generally materialistic and blind when it comes to spiritual things, “faith” has come to mean believing something that you don’t understand.
An analogy in science is the transition from Newtonian physics to relativity and quantum mechanics. For many ordinary people, Newton makes sense. That’s as far as their thinking goes. Relativity and quantum mechanics go beyond the way ordinary people think. So if some physicist tells them something about relativity or quantum mechanics, they’ll believe it because a very smart person said it is true, but they won’t really understand it or see it themselves. So they will believe it “on faith.”
However, relativity and quantum mechanics are not based on miracles, mystery, and authority, nor are they based on abstract thinking. They’re based on the observed behavior of physical systems. That behavior did not proceed as it should have according to Newtonian mechanics. Scientists came up with relativity and quantum mechanics, not based on abstract thinking, and certainly not based on “faith,” but based on what they were observing with their eyes and their instruments. Relativity and quantum mechanics described that observed behavior on very large scales and very small scales, respectively, better than Newtonian mechanics did.
In other words, the “faith” in relativity and quantum mechanics of people whose minds do not grasp more than Newtonian mechanics is “faith” only because these systems go beyond the level of their thinking. In themselves, relativity and quantum mechanics are simply descriptions of physical behavior based on observed fact.
The same thing is true of spiritual reality in relation to people who cannot think beyond the material level, which includes the vast bulk of “Christians.” They read something in the Bible about God or spirit or the afterlife, and they take it “on faith” because the Bible says so. Or they hear a sermon about God and spirit, and they take it “on faith” because it goes beyond their own level of thinking.
However, in itself, there is nothing miraculous or mysterious or authoritarian about God and spirit. There is also nothing abstract about God and spirit as they are in themselves. In themselves, they are more real and more concrete than physical reality—as those who have visited the spiritual realm attest. But because people on this earth are largely stuck on the material level mentally and conceptually, God and spirit look wispy and abstract. They therefore have to take the things the Bible and their preacher say “on faith.”
If what their preacher is saying about God and spirit is actually true (and that’s a big “if”), it is simply spiritual truth. Real faith about God and spirit is simply seeing the truth because it is true. There is nothing mysterious or abstract about it.
Hello Ted. Thank you for sharing your ideas in response to my post. The first thing that came to mind after reading your response, “anything goes” when it comes to Christian Biblical interruption including historical events and the words and meanings “spoken “ and/ or “conveyed” by God to mankind through a selective few. It’s always puzzled me how people claim to be “chosen “ to speak for God. In my opinion, no man speaks for God except those who falsely make this self-appointed claim.
The concept of God as abstract seems inescapable as it relates to the capabilities of the human mind to fully comprehend. If a concept, creating life force or idea lacks enough material substance for the human mind to fully understand, then it must follow the definition of abstract until such time the concept becomes definite enough to escape the realm of the abstract.
Lee has made numerous attempts to quantify and give substance to God’s “core power and make-up” by giving examples of perceived notions; love, faith, hope, and stories of those who claim to have visited the spiritual world. Granted, mankind is most likely unaware of many ethereal limitations imposed by our current sensory abilities but it’s not credible to to then offer explanation that our mental capacities can “understand “.
In my mind it’s o.k. to say, who knows? Who really knows” when it relates to how it all began and why.
Good day. I’ve re-read your comments of April 24th in response to mine. Early in your writing, you speak of “spiritual knowledge”. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics, but this phrase is a contradiction in terms. “spiritual awareness” would be more accurate. Spiritual awareness is independent of knowledge having been experienced exclusively in the mind of the person affected thereby. Early man no doubt passed along his experiences, thoughts and ideas about the who, what, where and the why of life’s meaning to those who would listen. I would venture to say that those experiences were influenced by dreams, uncontrolled fevers, epileptic seizures and intentional/unintentional ingesting of certain plants. Alcohol would become a widely used mind-altering substance with eventual ties to religion. The Mormon Joseph Smith was one such person who claimed visions, “knowledge” and awareness of God. No doubt, he was convinced that such experiences were founded in the “real” spiritual world although he was known to have epilepsy. Throughout history, these stories of spiritual “travels” have proven to be a potent tool for attracting followers.
Your comments continue, raising the spectrum of “near-death experiences” as producing a “rich harvest of stories and experiences of the spiritual world. Stories and experiences yes. Knowledge, no. No doubt, when a person is near death, the brain and mind are in overdrive trying to come to terms with what is about to happen. Of all of the experiences described by the multitude of those having a “near-death” experience which ones qualify as spiritual in nature? It seems credible to believe man will pick and choose based upon the religious “indoctrination” he has endured, lol.
You go on to say, “The idea that we humans can have “independent thought” is largely an illusion”. This notion originally surfaced months ago when I asked if you had any thoughts about the origin of our Creator’s power and source independent of book learning. You proceed to discuss how we cannot escape the multitude of different sources we learn from. This is true. However, independent thinking is not necessarily knowledge although it might certainly be influenced thereby. Since 2017, there are supercomputers which can perform over 1017 FLOPS (a hundred quadrillion FLOPS, 100 petaFLOPS or 100 PFLOPS). These computers are incapable of thinking. If the human brain was incapable of independent thinking, Einstein would be an unknown.
We then come full circle to my original inquiry. What is the essence and core power of our creation? Assuming arguendo that Swedenborg did “visit” the spiritual world as did others who have made this claim. These “happenings” would indeed be a source of great power perhaps incomprehensible in the mind of mortal man, as you’ve suggested. I agree but they remain abstract. I would describe the Bible as a good and important book but not divine in an ethereal sense. Let us hold on to the ideas of those who came before us which give comfort and explanation to that phenomenon which escapes our ability to fully understand.
I think this conversation has gone as far as it’s going to. You and I have a very different view of these matters. Perhaps after we have both moved on to the spiritual world, we will have a better basis to discuss them.
It can be very difficult for humans to accept they will never fully understand the complete nature and origin of our Creator. Mankind’s futile efforts to do so are self-serving and form the basis of every religion.
It can also be difficult for humans to accept that they will never fully understand the complete nature and origin of the physical universe. Mankind’s efforts to do so are self-serving and futile, and form the basis of every science. It would be be better to remain in darkness and ignorance.
Again, a great reply full of new things to consider. I especially like the ‘short term’ counter examples to my assertion from my last reply.
Before discussing your reply, I thought I’d briefly explain my religious history and purpose in all of this. I was an agnostic for most of my life and only recently, perhaps a decade ago, became convinced there is a God, strangely, due to obvious falsities promoted in various scientific communities. I now believe God then led me to Swedenborg’s writings at the end of 2018 by way of Edgar Cayce and Andrew Jackson Davis. I found his ideas to make sense out of the stories of God in the Bible and to unify the whole thing in a way that made sense to a lifelong systems engineer. I continue to try to refine my understanding. My purpose is to get to an explanation that will ‘inoculate’ my grandkids (middle school) against the obvious falsities they’ll hear in school and the universities, so the explanation needs to be simple but defendable.
And more background about where I come from. I don’t know how much you’ve thought about quantum mechanics and relativity, but both are narratives that stop short of a complete discussion of their issues that continue to this day. You talk about quantum indeterminacy and Time which makes both relevant to our conversation. There are also three more mostly hidden issues in science that scientists mostly ignore: 1) the origin of the universe, 2) life and evolution, and 3) consciousness.
As you know, quantum mechanics is a statistical method of prediction of experiment outcomes where scientists can’t predict individual experiment outcomes but have found they are predictable statistically. They’ve decided to claim that individual results are ‘random’ but this doesn’t answer the question being asked since something decides the result which doesn’t remain in ‘superposition’ as their theory predicts. They’ve since boxed themselves in further with their experiments on ‘entanglement’ which they characterize as proving things are non-local since entanglement results require communications of something at essentially infinite speeds well beyond that of light. None of this is a problem if you believe that all decisions happen in the eternal present now and that randomness is actually decisions by God’s delegate communities based upon much greater considerations than scientist assume in their experiments. Quantum mechanics also struggles with a problem related to Time. Quantum Mechanics allows for the reversal of Time but the Laws of Thermodynamics and our own experience of reality doesn’t. Problem not resolved.
Einstein’s Relativity has been quite successful, but it too suffers from huge gaps when viewed carefully. The most visible are an incompatibility with quantum mechanics that guarantees a need for major changes to one or both of the foundational theories of physics and the discovery that it doesn’t actually work within galaxies and between galaxies. Perhaps you’ve heard of the recent additions for Dark Matter and Dark Energy? Science has no materialist evidence for either. Yet another emerging problem is that two independent ways to measure the expansion rate of the Universe seem to be converging on two close but incompatible values. Not good. Most scientists are ignoring this, but a few are trying to reevaluate … Time. For example: “THE SCIENTIFIC CASE for time being an illusion is formidable.” (Smolin, Lee. Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.) Now, I don’t happen to think Smolin is headed in the right direction, but he has at least acknowledged there is a problem and is trying to remedy it. I’ve not read anything where it looks to me like Swedenborg has a perspective that could solve the problems but then I’m not a great Swedenborg scholar either.
Hopefully, you know that science has no credible explanation for the origin of life, no credible explanation for the evolution of different domains, kingdom, and phyla, and no credible explanation for what they call ‘convergent evolution’ or ‘punctuated evolution’. All of these are easily explained if you assume Swedenborg’s communities efficiently and effectively guide evolution through their correspondences. Recently, I’ve found books by Gerald Schroeder that pointed out some subtilties in Genesis 1 where God commands the Earth to create plants and the Waters to create sea creatures and the Land to create [land] animals. If the Earth, Water, and Land correspond to one or more of Swedenborg’s communities this also makes sense.
Science currently only has absurd denials or unexplained claims of ’emergence’ of what every human knows for sure exists: their own consciousness. If you find Swedenborg credible this is also trivially put to rest.
Moving on, thank you for the short-term Abram and Sarai and Jesus and Peter short term predictions counter examples. Obviously, I’ve not thought a great deal about these, but I also thought up my own counter example of short-term predictions in God’s ‘hardening of pharaoh’s heart’ and predicting he won’t let God’s people go. And sure enough, Pharaoh didn’t let them go … at first. This needs more thought by me, but this brings up the question of what I’d call ‘small miracles’ which like God’s Providence is God interacting in a supernatural way in people’s lives to accomplish God’s purpose. Skipping your and my own Biblical examples, let me first address my assertion that ‘God led me to Swedenborg’ with an open-ended question: What would God have done if I didn’t follow his lead to Edgar Cayce to Davis to Swedenborg? Since I was looking for understanding, would he have just tried again differently? As long as I was seeking, wouldn’t he continue to provide answers for this ‘bonehead’? With Abram and Sarai, it appears he did try again since he did appear a second time after Abram didn’t take his first hint to heart? And only after Abram changed for good was his and Sarai’s names changed to Abraham and Sarah (interesting implications about what names actually mean and do) and then God fulfilled his promise. The actual birth itself isn’t an issue if you believe that God does both small and large miracles to this day that we now explain away or ignore (see my comments on science above). With the Jesus and Peter episode, we don’t know what would have happened if Peter (who has Free Will and presumably could have acknowledged Jesus) had not denied Jesus three times. So, Jesus’ prediction came true. Would someone ask Peter a fourth time if he didn’t deny once? Or would the course of the future be changed. We don’t know since Peter was reported to deny three times as Jesus predicted. I’ll think more on this and the fact that in that instance God in Jesus was ‘in Time’.
But, back to an explanation for grandkids, three focused questions:
1. Why does it matter, practically to guide one’s life, if God knows or doesn’t know what we think of as the future decisions by us?
2. A variant question of the same sort would be why does it matter that God knows but doesn’t cause our actions to the question of Free Will?
3. Another variant question, based upon my working assertion that all decisions and actions including God’s are in the eternal present: how would that assertion imply a constraining effect on God? What capability of God would be limited?
Thanks for your quick and thoughtful answers.
I’ll take up your closing questions in a separate reply.
Meanwhile, thanks for filling me in on your spiritual history. Back when I was pastor of a Swedenborgian church, we received into membership a woman who had also come to Swedenborg through Edgar Cayce. You are certainly not the only person who has traveled this path. Anything that opens people’s minds to the spiritual dimensions of existence also opens their minds to Swedenborg’s teachings, I believe. Swedenborg is all about the spiritual and divine dimensions of existence. And he happens to have explored those dimensions from a background steeped in earthly science and philosophy.
We can get caught up in the fine details of what each spiritual teacher says, and their agreements and disagreements. But the big issue is coming to an acceptance that God and spirit are real, and are actively present in our life. That is the most important realization, enabling us to move forward on a spiritual path of life. We can then think and debate to our heart’s content about the exact nature of God and spirit. Even if we spend eternity thinking and debating these things, there will always be more that we don’t fully understand. That’s because God is infinite. This means that no matter how much knowledge and understanding we may acquire, there will always be infinitely more new discoveries awaiting us.
The same, I think, is true of science, on its own level of inquiry. Some of the big thinkers in science have believed that a full unified theory of reality is just around the corner. That soon we will have all of the big questions answered, and from then on science will just be a matter of filling in the details. Stephen Hawking, for one, stated this sort of thing in A Brief History of Time, which I read many years ago.
However, as science marches on, the opposite seems to be happening. Instead of wrapping up all the big questions as we delve deeper into science, we seem only to uncover even bigger questions that we still don’t have the answers to. Our current big theories of reality, relativity and quantum mechanics, don’t agree with one another, and can’t both be 100% true in their current form. Science has nothing like a full understanding and explanation of the physical universe.
This doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it would be disturbing if at some point we reached a unified answer to everything, and there were no more big questions to ask. Would future scientists really be content with being relegated to mopping up the crumbs after all the big questions have been answered by their scientific forebears? I don’t think so. We humans have an exploratory spirit. And I believe that God has created a universe so vast and complex that no matter how long we explore it, there will always be more questions than answers.
This doesn’t mean that all past science will be outmoded, useless relics. For most earthly science and engineering, Newton’s laws continue to work just fine to this day. If the task is to design a bridge or a skyscraper or a car, there is no need to consult Einstein, Planck, or Bohr. Newton will be quite sufficient. For some earthly tasks, we don’t even need more than what the ancient Greek scientists and philosophers had figured out thousands of years ago.
It’s when we venture out into new fields in the microscopic and macroscopic that these earlier scientific understandings start to fall short, and we need to develop more sophisticated models such as relativity and quantum mechanics. If we tried to send a rocket to the moon using only Newton, and not Einstein, the rocket would miss. Advanced computing depends more and more on quantum mechanics.
I hasten to add that I am by no means a scientist. I am more of an interested lay observer of science. I especially enjoy astronomy and cosmology, but I’ve also dabbled a bit in biology, chemistry, and other sciences. Still, “dabble” is the right word. I wouldn’t presume to instruct people about the finer points of the various scientific theories. I have a general, but not a very specific, understanding of relativity, and an even more general understanding of quantum mechanics. (I will say, however, that my understanding is that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is believed by scientists not to be just a limitation on our ability to observe phenomena, but that there is actual uncertainty in the phenomena themselves, until they are resolved into some action.)
At any rate, here are a couple of articles in which I dabble a bit in science. I’ve been told by people who know more about it than I do that I’m not fully understanding the science involved, and that may well be true. Still, you might find them interesting:
Wavicles of Love
Containers for God
This is a long way of saying that I entirely agree with you that today’s science has more big questions than big answers. Science has given us some amazing tools for understanding and using the physical world around us. But it is far from having a universal and fully reliable understanding even of the physical world.
Meanwhile, the realms of God and spirit are outside the purview of science. They can never be explained or even explored by science. This is why brilliant scientists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins become so stupid when they start talking about God and spirit. I wouldn’t presume to teach them about neuroscience and evolutionary biology. What makes them think they are qualified to teach me about God, the Bible, and spiritual life, which is my area of expertise?
In particular, I don’t believe science will ever have satisfying answers to the questions of the origin of life and the mind-body problem. That’s because I believe that life is inherently a spiritual phenomenon, not a physical phenomenon, and that the mind, also, is a spiritual entity, not a physical entity. Science can study the effects of life and of consciousness on physical things. That’s what biology and psychology do. But science cannot study life itself, nor can it study consciousness itself. These are forever beyond the realm of science.
Here is a related article that you might also find interesting:
Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?
From my perspective, both science and religion offer vast fields of inquiry. We have barely scratched the surface in both realms. We know some of the basics. But there are huge areas of inquiry left to explore. We will never reach a point where we have figured everything out and there are no more big questions to ask.
Still thanks and I look forward to your thoughts on my 3 questions.
I don’t really have an issue with your comments above but would like to add my 2 cents on your comment “But the big issue is coming to an acceptance that God and spirit are real and are actively present in our life.”
I’ve come to believe that the issue of God the Creator or not is actually gone except for mis-naming and the rabid atheists. The majority of scientist (made up of a small group of people who actually know about the issues and the majority of scientists who’ve ‘heard’ that the group ‘in the know’ supports something, i.e., followers) support the ‘Multiverse’. It’s actually unimportant to know what the Multiverse is, since it is sufficient to understand that it is what these scientists credit with creating the universe. I.e., we would call it another name people have made up for God like Allah or Vishnu. Based upon that, the actually question becomes what is the character of God / Multiverse / Allah / Vishnu …?
Prior to my journey to find Swedenborg, back in 2017, I purchased a book by Scott Turner, Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. “DR. J. SCOTT TURNER is a leading biologist and physiologist and professor of biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.” so he has some credibility. This book makes the point that contrary to the “red in tooth and claw” story of Darwin, the actual observed world around us is overwhelmingly cooperative and exhibits both purpose and desire. If you stop and think about it, you will understand how very correct this is. Nature itself obviously exhibits the Love your Neighbor command. This coupled with the ‘Fine Tuning Problem’ convinced me that a loving God is very certain, but I understand that what works for me won’t work for everybody.
As you point out with Near Death Experiences, but there is a lot of justification for spiritual influence in many spheres of life. Studies by scientists over many years into reports of reincarnation but I also found the book by Wilson Van Dusen on spirits in mental illness compelling. (“THE PRESENCE OF SPIRITS IN MADNESS”, VAN DUSEN, WILSON. THE PRESENCE OF OTHER WORLDS (p. 135). Swedenborg Foundation Publishers. Kindle Edition. ) The work by Edgar Cayce is also well documented evidence by the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) over decades of something going on for good that is clearly supernatural in character.
A few thoughts in response to this one:
I agree that the nature of God is the big issue. Most atheists reject God because they have been taught a faulty, limited, and obnoxious concept of God. For most of them, it is the traditional Christian god, which is certainly not the God of the universe, but a small, petty, bloodthirsty tyrant. No wonder atheists reject “God.” See:
Do Atheists Go to Heaven?
However, belief in God as some variation on Nature, such as the omniverse or the multiverse or Gaia or some such thing will also ultimately lead to atheism. The multiverse does not love us. The multiverse does not understand us. The multiverse can’t do anything for us. If the multiverse is God, then really, there is no God. There is just unknowing, uncaring, unfeeling Nature.
Only a God who is human in the highest sense of the word is a real God. We humans are created in the image and likeness of God. That’s what makes us human. We are human in a limited and finite way because God is human in an unlimited and infinite way. If God does not have the human attributes of love, understanding, compassion, and so on, then God is no God, and we cannot have a real relationship with God.
For my take on reincarnation, please see:
The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation
Speaking of Wilson van Dusen, he wrote a fascinating essay on reincarnation called “Reincarnation: The Universal Return.” It was published in the book The Country of Spirit: Selected Writings, by Wilson van Dusen. The link is to its page on Amazon. It is long out of print, but there are usually some used copies listed by third-party sellers.
About “red in tooth and claw,” it says more about the atheists who always quote this than it does about nature itself.
It is true that the predator-prey relationship is an integral part of nature. That’s unavoidable. However, animals do not spend the bulk of their lives getting eaten by other animals. Most animals live a relatively peaceful life, eating, sleeping, and reproducing. Yes, their life commonly ends in getting eaten by predators. But that is only a brief moment in the lifespan of the average animal. And that comes when the animal is weak, either by being a young animal that is not as strong as the other younglings or by being an older animal past its prime.
This is actually a mercy to the prey species. They never have to spend weeks, months, or years weak, sick, infirm, and in pain. As soon as their life is no longer at its peak, it comes to an end. Their entire experience of life is that of being healthy and strong. Not that animals don’t have challenges. But the idea that animals spend their entire lives living in fear of predators and then getting torn apart by predators is a false narrative imposed upon them by humans who have a negative axe to grind. The reality of their lives is very different.
And as you say, much of nature consists not of competition, but of cooperation. There are many, many examples in nature of symbiosis between different species of animals.
Lee: I continue to be struck by your comments when you speak in general, all-encompassing terms about “God” and you pepper them with specifics; e.g., “Only a God who is human in the highest sense of the word is a real God. We humans are created in the image and likeness of God. That’s what makes us human”, one example. You’ve quoted an explanation from the Bible which is a man-made publication. At what point do you put aside what you’ve read and start thinking for yourself on the core issue, “why us”? Our Creator did not recommend a certain reading or religion. Our Creator did not lay ground rules for our spirituality. In my opinion, man can neither find nor declare his own spirituality by learning it from others, no matter the source. Paraphrasing Leo Tolstoy, “Only God knows and he waits”. Spiritual Insight for Everyday Life makes for good reading, thoughtfulness and discussion but in the end, it’s all man-made. If that provides spirtual/religious comfort, an intellectual outlet, and/or “answers”, then that’s all we might ask for. And the band played on. Good luck!
Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, I see things differently than you do. We each must make up our own mind what we will believe, and what beliefs we will act upon.
I do not share your view that God is ultimately unknowable by human beings. I believe that God communicates with us in various ways to inform us about who God is and how God feels and acts toward us.
Most of these means of communication are indeed through human beings who hear God’s voice and either verbally or in writing communicate to other people what God has said to them. It is very rare for ordinary human beings to hear God’s voice directly. Most people do not have their minds raised up and their ears open to listen to God. That is why God speaks to the great mass of people through a smaller number of prophets and seers who do hear God’s voice, and through many other people who study what those prophets and seers have spoken and written so that they can pass it on to the people.
The Bible is one such avenue of communication. It is indeed clothed in human culture and language. But within that human clothing God’s message shines through for those whose minds are open to it.
If we humans relied for our knowledge and understanding only on what we personally have seen and heard with our own eyes and ears, and eschewed any knowledge and understanding that came through other people, we would all be small-minded and ignorant indeed. We are not islands unto ourselves. We live embedded in the human community. We share our knowledge and experience with one another so that we may all gain greater understanding and wisdom.
This is just as true in the area of religion and spirituality as it is in other more ordinary areas of knowledge such as science, history, language, music, and culture. Why should spiritual knowledge be the one area where it’s every man for himself, and nothing is to be accepted from anyone else?
I believe that we can know definite things about the nature of God. This doesn’t mean we fully understand God. God is infinite. The totality and the core of God is beyond our comprehension. But God has revealed to us the things we need to know about God and the spiritual realms so that we can be in relationship with God, and remain in relationship with God even after we have left this physical realm for our eternal home in the spiritual realm.
That is the perspective from which I speak here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.
Thank you for your reply to my comments of January 17th. In principle, I agree with most of what you say.
Naturally, in large part, we form ideas, thoughts and opinions about God based upon our upbringing and where & when we were born. As you pointed out, we rely upon a multitude of information derived from sources outside our immediate, personal sphere. The tricky part comes in reaching conclusions primarily supported by independent thinking. We may quote from this person or that publication but if we rely too heavily on them, we have merely arrived at the destination of others.
I would ask that you attempt to cast away much of what you’ve read and heard over the years before you answer the following question. What is God? I understand that your views of God are multifaceted and mention one example for purposes of discussion. You’ve previously said that God is love. That begs the question, what is love? Ancient Greeks had 7 words to describe different kinds of love—
Eros: romantic, passionate love. …
Philia: intimate, authentic friendship. …
Ludus: playful, flirtatious love. …
Storge: unconditional, familial love. …
Philautia: self-love. …
Pragma: committed, companionate love. …
Agápe,empathetic, universal love.
I would venture to say you were referring to Agape love. Of course, that again begs the question – is love a state of mind, an emotion, an idea, a thought? The idea of love differs from person to person and is abstract.
So, getting back to my original question, “What is God”? Is God a singular energy source? An infinite “battery” that emits love as each person understands that concept? Sending messages to humans but only to a select few as determined in whole or in part by self-serving interests? Messages that are customized based on our present ability to comprehend? I have little doubt that abstract thinking is necessary to address these questions. I’m not concerned about conclusions. Your thoughts, opinions, and ideas are just as good as the next person. I’m more interested in your independent thought process in getting there.
Thanks for your reply.
In general response, I would say that “independent thought processes” are largely an illusion. And further, that it is not possible for us just to set aside what we’ve read or heard over the years, and think on some entirely different basis.
Yes, we can change our thinking over time. Many people do. But this, also, is a process of seeing, hearing, and reading new things that offer our mind new possibilities for thought and understanding. What we’re really doing when we’re engaging in “independent thought processes” is making choices about what inputs we will accept, what inputs we will reject, and how we will synthesize the ones we accept into a worldview that seems to us to be sensible and unified.
Even beyond that, there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) if we read “the sun” as a metaphor for God. All things in the universe are an expression of some facet of God. They may be positive, accurate expressions or they may be negative, distorted expressions, but all things ultimately originate in God, in whom all things exist in an infinite oneness. Therefore any “new idea” or “independent thought” we may have is new only in the sense that it is being expressed in the spiritual or material realm now for the first time (if it actually is new). But it already existed in the divine realm, which is the being of God. We are simply making it manifest in the non-God realms, which are the spiritual realm and the material realm.
This means that there can indeed be new things in the two realms that we humans inhabit, but they are only existentially new, not essentially new. Existentially in the sense that they have not been manifested into the existence of the spiritual and material realms up until now. But essentially in the sense that they had already existed in the essence of God, and their “newness” is simply an expression of what had already existed in divine reality into one or both of the other two, created, realms of reality.
One more thing on the general level:
Though we think of our own inner thought processes as “independent,” that is largely an illusion. Not only are we influenced by all of what we have experienced and learned from other people and in community with other people, but our mind exists in the community of spiritual beings who live fully on the level of mind, which is the spiritual realm. That realm is not wispy and immaterial, but is just as real and tangible as—in fact, more real and tangible than—the material realm in which we live during our physical lifetime. Although most of us are unaware of it during our life on earth, we are also living in community with angels and spirits who began their existence as people on earth just as we did. If we were not in community with these angels and spirits, we would not be able to think and feel anything at all.
So once again, the idea that we can have “independent thought” is largely an illusion. Rather, we can sift out what comes to us from both the material and spiritual realms, and choose what we will keep and make a part of our self and our character, and what we will reject as “not me.” It is similar to the process of digestion, in which we take in various foods, our digestive system breaks them down, and our body absorbs what it wants and needs, and ejects what it has no use for. None of it is “ours” in origin. But what we make a part of ourselves, that becomes “me.”
Nevertheless, we are allowed to have the illusion that we have independent thought and independent feelings because otherwise we could have no sense of self. And without a sense of self, we would not exist as distinct beings who can be in relationship with God and with our fellow created beings.
With that as preface, I can move on to your questions.
When I say that “God is love,” I do not limit it to agape love.
Agape love is very popular among traditional Christians. It’s “agape love” here, “agape love” there, “agape love” everywhere. Agape love is a very good kind of love. But neither we nor God is limited to any one kind of love. We are multi-faceted beings, moved by many different loves.
What kind of love is God? All of the above. The seven Greek ones. And any other kinds that we’ve managed to identify and think about, not to mention many that we haven’t even figured out or experienced yet. All of them exist in God. Otherwise they could not exist in humanity.
Of course, they exist in God on a level that we limited humans cannot entirely fathom. Still, all of our human loves are expressions and manifestations of various aspects of the love that is God.
You ask, “Is love a state of mind, an emotion, an idea, a thought?” The first two, yes, but that is a pale reflection of what love is. The second two are in the balancing realm of understanding, and are integral with love, but are not themselves love.
Love, in itself, is not just a state of mind or an emotion. It is a substance and a power.
Substance and power are different states of the same thing, as Einstein expressed in his famous E=MC2 equation. Whether you say love is a substance or love is an energy, it amounts to the same thing.
The love that is God is the substance of God. It’s what God is made of. The love that is God is also the power of God. It is the energy that accomplishes everything God does. Yes, it manifests itself as feelings, desires, and so on. But fundamentally, love is divine substance. And divine substance is the source of spiritual substance and physical matter.
All of this is quite abstract.
Concretely, God is a human being. Human in the ultimate sense. Our humanity is an expression of God’s humanity:
God’s love is not some abstract, impersonal force radiating out into the universe. That would not be love. God’s love is conscious, personal, and human, just as our love is conscious, personal, and human. When we say that God loves you, this does not mean that God is some abstract force of love flowing into you. It means that God actually loves the person who is you, just as your mother (I hope!) loves (or loved) the person who is you. There is nothing impersonal about it. It is intensely personal, at a level that we created humans cannot fully comprehend.
The other side is our reception of God’s love. This happens according to our own character and sense of self, both as it was formed by our genetics and environment and as it is developed through our own choices and actions. We are complex beings, formed by a complex interplay of forces within our control and forces beyond our control. This complex interplay results in the person we are, and the person we are developing into.
God “sends messages” to all human beings. But only some are listening. Therefore only some hear those messages consciously, such that they can pass them on to others.
What we receive from God is dependent entirely on our receptivity to what comes from God. God measures out to us precisely the amount and type “inputs” of divine love, understanding, and power that we are willing and able to receive. Any more than that, and we would be overwhelmed and forced, and our freedom would be violated. Any less, and it would be intolerable to God, who wants to give us every good thing possible. So God gives us precisely what we are willing and able to receive.
God does have “interests,” but they are not “self-serving interests.” God’s love is full love of the other, and full desire for the greatest possible happiness and fulfillment of the other.
God knows what will give us the greatest happiness. But God also allows us to choose whether and how we will pursue that. God will never violate our free will by forcing us into something that will “make us happy” if we don’t want to go there. If God did this it would strip us of our humanity. We would become puppets or robots. We would no longer be human beings, and we would no longer be capable of a real, mutual relationship with God or with one another. This is why God will never violate our free will, especially in spiritual matters.
Are these my “independent thoughts”? There is ultimately no such thing. Is this what I think and believe in my mind and my heart? Yes. And not just based on some rational thought process, but based on everything I have learned and everything I have experienced throughout my decades of life on this earth.
It just occurred to me that this earlier article expresses what I was saying in my previous reply about “independent thought processes”:
Your Crowdsourced Mind
If your purpose is to explain God and our relationship with God to your grandchildren, unless they are exceptionally advanced in their thinking, and start asking hard questions, on a practical level most of these intricate theological concepts probably aren’t necessary at all. For most young people and most ordinary adults, it is enough to have some simple, general concepts about God to hold onto.
That is why the Bible doesn’t spend much time delving into the theological intricacies of God and spirit. The Bible gives us the general concepts we need to know in order to believe in God and follow God’s commandments. And it does so in ordinary human language and ideas that ordinary human beings can understand and accept.
A more detailed and precise understanding of God and spirit is necessary only for people who have traveled a considerable distance on the spiritual path, and are facing issues and questions that the simple, general concepts found in the literal sense of the Bible are no longer sufficient to guide them through.
It is also necessary for thinking people of faith when skeptics and atheists challenge their faith, attempting to intellectually tear it down and take away their belief in God. (Not that atheists always have bad motives for this. Commonly they do so as a way of strengthening their own rejection of the concept of God.)
Since you came from a place of agnosticism, and have clearly thought deeply about these issues, for you it seems necessary to have answers to these tougher questions. For speaking to your grandchildren, however, most likely all you will need to offer is the general concepts that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, 100% loving, but also respectful of our freedom to live the way we choose to live. Most likely, simply hearing these things from someone they love and respect (I hope!), and who is clearly both a thoughtful and caring person, will make more of an impression on them than the specific ideas you present to them.
Of course, if they do start asking tough questions, then having solid and sensible answers is a must. If you can’t answer their questions, they will stop asking them. This is why, for the benefit of people who look to us for understanding and answers, it is good to inquire deeply and broadly, and continually learn more—no matter what the subject matter may be. In this case, the subject matter is God and spirit, which is ultimately the most important area of human inquiry.
Meanwhile, when it comes to children and young people, teaching them about God and spirit is mostly a process of planting seeds. They may not fully grasp what we teach them at their young age. But we are arming them with knowledge and ideas that they can draw on in future years as their lives move onward and they start facing some of the tough issues of life as teenagers and as adults. If you have given them good, solid ideas, and have answered their simpler questions when they are young, then when they begin to have questions and struggles that confuse and distress them, they will think of you as a person they can turn to with their hard questions and the struggles of their heart. This can make all the difference when life starts to get hard for them—as it surely will sooner or later.
Based on all of this, I will respond to your questions for your own benefit, since you have clearly reached a point in your spiritual life at which these questions have some meaning and urgency.
For most people, most of the time, it really doesn’t matter on a practical, life-centered level. Most people don’t get to the point at which such questions become burning issues for them.
But these days, more and more people are reaching that point. For such people, of which you seem to be one, it is important to believe that God makes sense. Otherwise, a thinking person’s faith in God will be shaken. Their faith be vulnerable to being taken away by rational-sounding atheists who have a whole stock of arguments as to why the very idea of God is irrational and contradictory, so that there cannot possibly be a God.
On a less intellectual level, when we are in the middle of the tough and anguishing passages of life, and everything seems dark and hopeless, believing that God can see our future, and foresees a good and heavenly future for us, can be a sustaining arm that holds us up as we struggle through the darkness and the roiling waters.
These states of spiritual trial feel dark precisely because we cannot see the path ahead of us. We struggle even to know where to place our next foot. We don’t know whether the next step will be onto solid ground or onto quicksand that will swallow us up. Knowing that God sees the path ahead of us, and has laid out for us a path on which we can travel toward the safety of solid and well-lit places, can make the difference between giving up and letting ourselves sink, or continuing the struggle and searching for the firm spots until we reach that solid and well-lit ground.
The question of God’s omniscience vs. human free will is one of the big, perennial questions that philosophers, theologians, and thinking laypeople have struggled with for thousands of years. It is hard to thread a path between the Scylla of demoting God into some limited demigod, and the Charybdis of believing that free will is only an illusion, and our choices and actions don’t really matter.
If God is to be God for us, and not some demigod, we must believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving. We must believe that there will never come a time when we have outgrown a God who is really only a god like the ancient Greek and Roman gods, who were not God, but flawed superhuman figures. For God to be God to us, we must believe and know that God is always higher, always beyond where we are now, always calling us forward, always having the power to lift us to a higher place, and always having the knowledge of the path ahead so that we can trust God’s guidance.
On the other hand, if we make God into an absolute monarch who commands and determines our every step, then God ceases to be God, and becomes a tyrant instead. We also cease to be humans, and become slaves instead, or more accurately, robots. If we don’t believe that we have free will and agency over our own life, then the only reasonable thing to do is just to stand there with our hands hanging down and our mouth hanging open, waiting for God to flow into us and act through us.
And that will never happen.
God does give us free will and agency over our own life. This requires that we do the work, make the hard choices, and walk the walk. And when we do, God will be with us every step of the way, giving us the power and the insight to travel a good path forward.
I don’t disagree with you that all decisions and actions, including God’s, are in the eternal present.
For us, the only time we can make a decision is in the present. We can’t make a decision in the past, because it’s already happened. We can’t make a decision in the future, because it hasn’t happened yet. We can only make a decision now. Our present is eternal because we are eternally in the present. We are never in the past or the future. However, we still experience life sequentially. Our current present quickly becomes the past, and what was the future becomes the present.
For God, it is different. For God, there is no past, and no future. All of God’s decisions and actions are in the eternal present because God inhabits a state of eternal present, even while having a complete view of everything that to us is past, present, and future. God interacts with people and events in all times and places from a state outside of time and space.
If God were in our sort of eternal present, in which there is a past that has already happened, and a future that hasn’t happened yet, then God would be limited because God could act only into a single present moment, and not into all moments. God could also act only with the knowledge of what has already happened, and not the knowledge of what has not yet happened.
Consider a father who believes fervently that his gifted son is destined to be a doctor. He talks to his son about anatomy and physiology, gets him into courses at school that lead to a career as a doctor, gets him into medical school, and makes every possible preparation for his son’s illustrious career as a leading heart surgeon.
Except, as his life goes forward, it turns out the son really isn’t interested in becoming a heart surgeon, or any other kind of doctor. He is indeed gifted, as his father thought, but his gift is for theoretical physics. However, now he has all this background in medical science, and he’s hitting an age where it’s time for him to get a job. Being a practical person, he becomes a doctor. But his heart isn’t in it. He is not living the life he wanted to live. And the reason he’s not is that his father had a vision for his future that ultimately didn’t match his developing character and interests.
If God is not truly omniscient, and doesn’t know what to us is the future, God could make the exact same mistake that this well-meaning but non-omniscient father made. God could prepare us for a future that is not the future we want to live. And when we’re talking about our eternal future, that would not be good.
However, because God does know what to us is the future, God can be preparing us for that future starting even before we are born, and continuing through our childhood, our teenage years, and our entire adulthood here on earth. God can provide us with the opportunities we will need in order to move forward on that path. God can arrange for us to cross paths with the people who will inspire, teach, and guide us on that path. This would not be possible if God were limited to a human-type knowledge of only the past and the present.
Another great reply and also thanks. I think we’ve exhausted this, and you’ve provided some very useful perspective.
I’m still working through your book and probably will have more questions on later chapters, but I’ll post them in the appropriate online article.
Sounds good. Good conversation!