SO, WHAT IS GOD?
A presentation on God's being and his relationship to our universe and ourselves.
Disparate theories from the world's major religious systems, when reconciled,
provide an overall concept that has credibility.
is God? Essentially, believable theories about
God’s being and existence are available! Firstly though, I
think most of us know what God
is not. Few would concede that he is an old white haired
dressed in wondrous robes, sitting on a golden throne up on the
views like these, left without intelligent alternatives, have severely
many a thinker’s ability to trust in his existence.
I must highlight, at the outset,
that what follows in this article is a high level presentation on
and its relationship to us humans and our habitat, planet Earth. As
implied, this article relates only to the ‘being of
God’ and his relationship to the state of ‘our being’ as we
it. Again, as this article’s heading infers, I explain here
God is”. As a Christian, I believe that Christianity
itself can provide the best explanation of “who God is”, that is an
understanding of the personal side of God. I mention more
about this in the closing words of this article.
Logically, God has no need of human physical properties to
support his existence. I guess there
reason to even think of God as male or
female. But, note that I do refer to God as “him”
throughout the articles on this
website, because that is what ‘I am used to’ within my
In the end, political correctness should have little bearing on the
God is God!
Theological issues – such as what we have to do to get to heaven after death, or
even if there is a heaven at all – are only lightly
touched here in this article, as
and when necessary, and are largely out of scope. Please note that if
you, the reader, simply wants to ‘test’ for yourself whether God does
access the section
of this website, “Believing in God”.
Now we know the major religions of this world each have
millions of followers. And, we should logically be able to turn to all of those religions for a common answer on,
“What is God?”
However, they don’t
seem able to agree, at least initially, do they? In essence there are
significant differences of opinion on the nature of God’s
‘being’, and other important aspects such as life after
death, held by
the religious fundamentalists of all persuasions.
appears to exist
between the two major camps – the “monotheist
religions” and the so-called “pantheist
religions”. (Explanations of these religious systems follow.)
religions, those with multiple gods, often refer back to a single
which the multiple gods are contained. The multiple gods are sometimes
as within areas of Hinduism, as functional elements of the
‘One’. So, even polytheistic religions often still fall into one of the
two camps identified above.
In essence, the theoretical nature
of most gods fall into either one or the other of the two opposing
views that follow.
The monotheist religions of
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a common heritage. (The basis of
Christianity has been presented in the section, “Christianity
explained”.) In essence,
each of the three great monotheist religions maintains that there is
only one god. There is also a very strong emphasis,
monotheism, on the ‘transcendent’ nature of God. Within the
theology of all
three religions, God is understood as all-powerful, all-knowing and
ability to fully understand or experience him. He then theoretically transcends us,
and even our ability to perceive him.
Many Christians solely think of God as a ‘being
in Heaven’ and separate from his creations.
All monotheist religions also
believe that God is capable of, and wants
to have, a personal ‘one-on-one’
relationship with every human being in this world. As a result, most
followers tend to think of God as a ‘super’ person. The
term, “personal God”
arises from this outlook.
Somewhere about 600 BC, although it could have actually been far earlier, God provided
us present day folk with some understanding of his actual being. He did
name that he chose for himself, “I AM”.
It appears in
the Christian Old Testament
[Exodus 3:14) and is repeated again in a very profound manner within
Testament [John 8:58]. The name implies that: he has
‘being’; he ‘exists’, although not in a
physical sense like us. It
also carries the connotation that he himself is ‘uncreated’
‘self-existent’. Essentially, he just is! “I AM”
is a pretty impressive name
it comes to his
relationship with our planet, many Christians, particularly
the Biblical Book
of Genesis. And if that alone is taken literally, God created the world
own existence predominately outside of it, i.e. totally separate from
Theoretically, in that view, the world generally continues to
tick along quite well and independently without his help.
This outlook is
a very different view from that held by pantheist
religions (and many moderate thinking monotheists, I might add). In
are Biblical verses, both in the Old and New Testament, that clearly
indicate that we are continually
dependent on God for our existences. This
piece of imagery is from the Bible’s
Old Testament highlights the point:
were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath,
all mankind would perish together and
man would return to the dust.
most mainstream monotheism
there is little emphasis placed on this sustaining relationship that
God has to our physical existences here on
earth: his presence here, and his ongoing relationship to
is’, i.e. reality. It
is rarely raised by clerics, probably because it has little
bearing on our daily lives, as we perceive them, and faith itself.
Within monotheism, this
God’s nature is
termed, “immanence” (i.e. his presence pervades the entire
universe). I will
further explain later why this second side of God’s nature is
disregarded, even though
the Christian Bible clearly refer to it. One example of God’s
immanence from the
Do I not
fill heaven and earth
[Jeremiah 23:24] (Written as the words
More explicit examples of God’s immanence and
sustaining nature, from the New Testament, follow:
this so men would seek
and perhaps reach out for him and find
though he is not far from each of us.
‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
(Jesus/ God) is before all
and in him all things hold together.
[Colossians 1:17] (My addition in brackets)
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever.
The pantheist religions – in which
I include Taoism in its early form, much of Buddhism and some segments of
have a very
different viewpoint from mainstream monotheism. They view God as the
basis of reality
itself. This outlook is
largely based on the mystical experiences (i.e. arising from religious ‘meditation’)
of these religions’ founders.
Indeed, within pantheism, everything is
having a one-ness with reality, and as such, with God. God is, as far
are concerned, very much a part of this world. That is, God is
totally present in this world or ‘immanent’
personal) at all.
The most accurate way to describe
God’s basis within pantheism, as best can be achieved with words,
“pure consciousness”. Within pantheism, we might think of
the world, indeed
universe, as the
of God”. As such, God can also be understood as the “ground
of being” itself. This is to be expected, on both counts, if
generated by a single conscious ‘force’.
writings offer a theoretical state where, in very simplified
living and inanimate things, although having a visible individuality,
One (i.e. God). In this particular school of thought it is reasoned
that if ‘God
is us’, and
nothing more than
that, then the individuality we seem to have is illusionary.
there is more to us than this outlook infers (and
I will explain why later), but I do understand the basis of the
reasoning, because it stems from meditative experiences (mysticism).
Writings also promote the existence
of a ‘world soul’ that contains the essence of every living
planet Earth, indeed the entire universe, within these models takes on
a whole new religious dimension. In pantheist systems of
there is no
God external to the universe,
or (within most theory) even separate to ourselves, with whom we humans
can enter into a personal relationship. If we are theoretically God, then obviously we do not
outside of ourselves to pray to, or enter into a relationship with for
matter, do we? Again, I understand the logic behind the philosophy, and
its relationship to mystical experience, but
my other life experiences say otherwise on this view as well. But, I
theories on life after death
The theories of ‘after-lives’ of the
two religious schools of thought are related to their different
God’s nature. Within monotheist religions God is transcendent
speaking, elevated above all else that exists – his basis (at the
Because he has personal relationships with each of his faithful, then
after death can be with him in eternity (what we refer to as “Heaven”).
Pantheism, on the other hand, due to
its lack of a ‘personal’ God outside of the universe, can
offer no such
relationship after death. Commonly, pantheist religions offer
the soul, through life after life, here on earth. Some pantheist
such as Zen Buddhism, do not even have a theory on after-life –
i.e. they believe that the state of individual
“being” is extinguished at death. One analogy from Zen that
I have seen, offered as an explanation of death, is that of a drop of
water (representing a living existence) being re-absorbed into a river
(representing the ground of all being) from which it was dislodged
RECONCILING THE MAJOR DIFFERENCES
So, how can we reconcile two such
opposing views of God’s being? These differences fuel the
arguments of atheists
and even cause some doubt in the minds of ‘faithful’
thinkers. Obviously these
thinkers, within their respective systems of faith, wonder how can the
another ‘faith’ differ so much from their own. (Of course,
of each religion just know
Rational, intelligent people obviously
belong to the two schools of thought, as would always have been the
Therefore, it seems fairly obvious again that both groups must have
beliefs on their own experiences of God’s presence in their lives.
Well, from my own understanding, it
is a case of differing aspects of our one
God being recognised
within the experiences of the two groups. As is the case when two
people ‘beg to differ’ on any logically based opinion,
one view may
be more important in
the scheme of
things but that
doesn’t stop both
from having a basis of reason.
God’s immanent nature
to my goal of wanting to know more about God, I decided quite early in
my faith journey to try to understand more of the pantheist viewpoint.
that the theories of
pantheism are normally based on mystical
so I decided to see for myself. It took some determination, several
years of it
in fact, to reach my first genuine ‘experience’.
There is a
world of difference
between the states of mind used in contemporary relaxation techniques
meditative methods used to calm the mind) and intense mystical
experience. A mystical state begins with the same feeling of deep
relaxation, as in mind calming meditation. But the experience gets to a
point, about when one feels as relaxed as one could ever get,
where there is a dramatic change to the conscious state of mind. The
mind feels, in that moment, as though it has been launched
into a totally different ‘zone’.
There is no doubting about it ... you know when you get there!
My eventual experiences in that state certainly
support the pantheist views of God. I can honestly say that I felt
levels of intense intoxication, lack of physical existence,
and timelessness of which the mystics of pantheist religions
felt an overwhelming sense of huge-ness. The sense of ‘peace’
doesn’t do the word justice. And even though I was totally
intoxicated by these
experiences, I still (surprisingly) had most of my faculties. Although
totally ‘off my face’ I could, for example, walk a straight
line and effectively
use my cognitive powers. It is really quite a paradoxical state.
Whilst there was no guarantee that I
was ‘connecting’ with God during the experiences, I believe
that I perceived an
aura of what might best be described as ‘holiness’ within
them. Some fuzzy
unexplainable and yet unmistakable ‘special-ness’ dwelt
there, through and behind
those experiences. As a result, I certainly came to think of the world
‘reality’) in a way that I had never done before. The
nature poetry of intuitive geniuses such as William Wordsworth and Walt
made a lot more sense to me.
Interestingly enough, I received
some belated evidence of the genuine-ness of these ‘mystical’ experiences (i.e. it
had actually been an encounter with God) a decade
through contact with a Christian
Born Again pastor. Evidence of that
nature, and in that
bizarre in itself. The
article, “Gifts from the Spirit”
‘rundown’ on events, and
spiritual experiences there, within the Born
Again/ Charismatic movement. The incident
mentioned above, is included under sub heading 4.2 in that article.
Bear in mind too that I can also now say that the mystical
experience of a pantheist is
little different to that of a Christian mystic, because I subsequently experienced that in due course as well.
God’s transcendent and personal nature
In all honesty I could, like a Zen
Buddhist, have just accepted what I had learnt from those early mystical
there was to know of God. Instead, due to my additional experiences of
‘personal’ God, I also have a practical
other aspects of him.
I, like millions of other monotheist
believers (Jews, Christians and Muslims) around the world at this time,
developed a personal relationship with God. That
relationship of mine was
first established thirty plus years ago, and has continually developed
My belief in the God of monotheism is
course based on my own life experiences as a Christian, and the
God’s everyday presence there. I know
can hear each of us when we speak to him. And I am totally convinced that it really is
possible at times to hear his “still small voice”.
And he definitely, from my experience, tries very hard to guide us all
track’ in life. Although I
Christian moderate, I have also witnessed stuff in so-called Born Again/ Charismatic church
services that really ‘rocked my socks’ – sound evidence, as
far as I am concerned, of God’s personal presence in those services.
I have devoted an entire section on this
website, “Believing in God”
how anyone can find
(and then evaluate) the evidence necessary to establish for themselves
the God of
monotheism exists. Undeniably to me, billions of people, over thousands
have proven to themselves that a ‘personal’ relationship
with God is possible.
Although not an issue for the
average Christian pulpit, the concept of God as the ‘ground of
being’ received considerable thought from learned twentieth
theologians such as John Macquarrie and Paul Tillich. Of course,
twentieth century theologians were not the
first to write clearly
about such a
concept. Notable and related examples of earlier writing, still in
are from the brilliant Christian mystic and debater Meister Eckhart
(1260-1328 AD). There have been many other fine examples over the
The two opposing views of God already discussed
article, immanence and transcendence, are actually aligned within
this theology. I
discovered Macquarrie’s and Tillich’s books after I had learnt in my
own way (i.e. through
experiences). It is not surprising that the same thoughts have also
expressed within the theology of Judaism and Islam.
This Christian theology of “panentheism”
offers us a complex yet believable concept
– a God who transcends
yet simultaneously ‘enables’ its continued reality from
Although having the same ultimate
outcome, there are differing versions of panentheism. One version is
“panen-theism” meaning, “All things are within God but
God is more than the sum of all things.” An
version, pronounced “pan-entheism”, theorises that
“God dwells in all things”
as well as simultaneously being transcendent and outside the universe.
are again differing ways of depicting how
God creates reality within panentheism. In the examples above, God is the
being’ (the basis of all reality itself), or he creates the universe
from himself (Creatio ex Deo). Within the second model, God,
pervading reality, maintains its existence via “Creatio Ex
Nihilo” – creating
it out of nothing, i.e. ‘willing it’ or ‘thinking
You can imagine it like this: God’s
being is akin to a hugely powerful mind, and within that mind is a
thought that is our universe and all that exists within it. As such,
God has his self-existence (Mind/ Eternity/ Heaven) and within it we
have own separate being (in the space-time continuum that is the
universe). Unlike the pantheist model, our existences, within the
theology of panentheism, have separation from God’s
being. That is, we exist within him but
we have a
genuine individual being of our own.
one version of panentheism has God as the basis of the universe, and
the other has God
underpinning reality by continually willing it to exist out of
way, every moment of reality is dependent on God’s
immanent creative and sustaining power. Within
versions, God is also simultaneously outside the confines of
space and time of
our universe. As
opposed to us,
God’s basis itself is within ‘Eternity’.
in mind too that God, although ‘enabling’
exist, allows nature to follow its own course. He does not directly
everything happen! By and large, reality is governed by the laws of
cause and effect that he has designed into it. By ‘design’, I don’t
mean he built it all in literally seven days, as described
through imagery within
the Bible’s Old Testament book of Genesis. It is more likely he
designed his laws into the universe before initiating the “big bang”, which has subsequently rolled out reality
into the perfect state of
existence that it is.
clearly has a motive for hiding himself from
us too, in a material/ physical sense, and that is discussed in the article,
“Why is God invisible?
So, it is no surprise that his handiwork in our universe
is hidden from us. I
have tried to present a
view of the current theories of science, and their relationship to
an article devoted to the subject, “Science and religion”
within this section of the
5. THE CHOICE
– PANTHEISM OR MONOTHEISM/ PANENTHEISM?
As I have said, as far as I am
concerned both major streams of religion, pantheism and monotheism
“panentheism”) have substance. I
that they are both based on the relative experiences of
their believers. But I feel at
point that I need to offer an explanation of why I have chosen
religion (Christianity) for myself. Firstly, though, before going on,
let me make it clear that God loves us all, regardless of our chosen
religions. In the words of South Africa’s Archbishop
Tutu, “God is not a Christian.”
Tutu went on to declare
is an outsider ... all are held in a divine embrace that will not
let us go – all, for God has no enemies.”
None-the-less, does it matter which religion we
as I am concerned, I believe it does. Most religions contain some truth
(or maybe ‘Truth’). Some religions
obviously contain more than others. And again some religious truths
important than others. I personally do not believe that God views all
religions as equal.
My mystical experiences indicated
that God is immanent, and somehow
the creative force behind and within the ‘reality’ that we
experience in life. He can
experienced there! As I have
already written, I could have left it at that, but due to my additional
experiences of a ‘personal’ God, I also came to have a
understanding of other aspects of God. These life experiences support
Jewish/ Christian/ Muslim view of God’s transcendent nature, and
his personal relationship with each of us humans, that differs
Theories on the nature of ‘being’
(metaphysics) have little relevance to the average monotheistic
Whilst I have little doubt about how it
all fits together, I can see their point. When it comes ‘to the
Judaism, Christianity or Islam, the transcendent and personal aspects
of God have to be
have the God who cares for each individual one of us – a God who
can listen to
us, strengthen us, guide us and, yes,
even speak into our heads with his ‘still quiet voice’. Christianity
to one of God’s personal characteristics, “love”.
As a Christian I feel
that I must put a ‘plug’ in for my religion. It is, from
my analysis and experience, well
self proving. The practise of Christian faith, exercised in daily
life and also importantly through contact with the Christian Church,
enables us to genuinely experience God as a genuinely loving being who is
intimately involved with our lives. Yes, and a God who wants to be ever more lovingly engaged with our lives,
I must add in all sincerity. I write this based on my experiences and
the supportive statements received from many other Christians.
By comparison to monotheist religions,
the follower of a pantheist religion will experience a very different
with God. Their religious experiences will lead them to what is best
as a sense of deep contentment that is very meaningful and holy. They
through their practises, detach themselves from all the worries of this
and enter into a peaceful yet non-personal relationship with the
Universe (that is, God
as solely the ‘Ground
But, from my experience of both types of religion,
the loss of a
relationship with the personal God of Jews, Christians and Muslims
– which unfortunately
occurs with the pantheist religions – is a significant trade off.
Bear in mind
that I have a deep respect for those people who can commit to a long
relationship with the Ground of Being. There are rich rewards for them.
It is a
‘beautiful thing’, but
to my point
view it is not the ‘whole thing’.
WHERE TO NEXT?
By all means access the writings of
the world’s great religions to learn more of God’s
theoretical being, and relationship to humankind, if you so
But, if you feel that you would like to begin a
relationship with the great I AM
and ‘to test the
waters’, then access the section of this website, “Believing in God”.
Methods to build ‘faith’ in a
monotheist sense (i.e. by
recognising God’s presence in
his Church and in
your life and
develop a lifelong
relationship with God, are included in that section.
The final section of this website explains
the basics of Christianity. The first article, “Christianity explained”
which is sub-titled “
with good reason,
overview of the religion and how God is to be understood within it. It
includes descriptions of God’
personal nature, i.e. the ‘
stuff, as opposed to the
nature of God’
s being that has been the primary
subject of this article.