Who or what is God? That is a question which has been pondered down through the ages. If someone were to ask you ‘What does God mean to you’ how would you answer? That’s not the type of question you would expect someone on the street to ask but if for some reason someone were to ask you then how would you respond? Would you have something profound to say? Would you be at a loss for words? Would your answer be simple or complex or would you perhaps react with hostility? How do you feel when the question of God comes up?
There is no corner of the globe or a time in the past that belief in some kind of god or gods has not deeply permeated mankind’s understanding of our place in the universe. In the history of humanity the active rejection of the existence of a supreme being of some sort has only happened relatively recently and is noticeably limited to our modern Western culture. This “God” question has been an important quest for people since the dawn of time and it is just as important for us today to reflect on this topic as it has been at any time in the past. Who is God and what do we need to do to please God are questions that has been asked down through the ages but who has the answers?
Who would you want to ask? Where would your quest for the answer take you? How long would you search? Often we turn to the smartest, most educated and wisest among us to hear their response to our deepest questions. Those who have previously shown the ability to share great insights into the profound mysteries of the world are often sought out for an explanation into the nature and character of God. The person most often recognized as the deep thinker of our modern age is Albert Einstein so it’s no surprise that he was asked the “God” question.
Quotations about God attributed to Albert Einstein are often tossed out like some kind of holy hand grenade by people trying to make claims for or against the existence of God. The reasoning seems to be that if someone as smart as Mr. E=MC2 were to have expressed belief in God, or conversely doubt about the existence of God then the mere moral muddle minds among us will need to toe the line along with the rest of the bright people and look to Albert as our theological role-model.
For the record Einstein didn’t embrace the idea of a personal God who was concerned with the everyday happenings of life on our planet and certainly did not believe in the God of the Bible but he did seem to be fond of the idea of a more nebulous or ethereal force that somehow held the universe and it’s disparate parts together in an orderly fashion. Thus his oft quoted “He does not throw dice” is a reference to the physical properties of the natural world as revealed in the study of Quantum mechanics rather than an appeal to a supernatural superintendent who oversees every aspect of our existence. Einstein was once asked by a Rabbi ‘Do you believe in God?’ to which he replied “I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” So who or what was Spinoza’s God?
Baruch Spinoza was a 17th-Century Philosopher who is widely recognized as one of the most brilliant minds of his time. So here we have an ordinary Rabbi quizzing a famous Physicist who in turn points to a renowned Philosopher for the answer to the “God” question. To understand what Spinoza believed about God we have to introduce a couple of terms to this discussion.
The first is Pantheism (All is God) which is a belief that the universe is everything and the only thing. God is not a personal transcendent being who exists outside of nature or apart from nature but instead is an entirely immanent and integral part of nature, the very essence of the natural universe. If the whole of the natural universe is the only thing that exists then God is Nature and Nature is God. This concept of God differs only slightly from Panentheism (All in God) which posits that a God exists and permeates all of nature equally just as all the fish in the seas are equally enveloped by the water of the oceans. There is a sense in which the universe is God’s body but God is still more than the physical universe. So Panentheism acknowledges that God is transcendent and yet is still deeply entangled in the very fabric of all that exists. If a more culturally relevant reference point would be helpful to understand the differences between these two isms then an example of Panentheism would be the spirituality so prominently displayed in the movie Avatar and the “The Force” of the Star Wars saga would be Pantheism.
It has been suggested that Spinoza’s view of God could best be described as Panetheistic in essence because he saw God as being an essential part of nature but rejected the idea of identifying God solely with nature. It is interesting to note that while Einstein appealed to Spinoza when explaining his understanding of God it seems that Spinoza himself did not identify God as closely with the natural world as Einstein seems to have. It is clear that Einstein was not an Atheist but more of an Agnostic who was still pondering just how exactly “God” fit into the inner workings of this universe of which he was still seeking to unravel.
So are we any closer to answering the “God” question yet? Should we believe that God is like the idea expressed by Spinoza and James Cameron or do we lean more toward Einstein and George Lucas? Is the answer to be found in a Sci-Fi movie? Where else can we look?
Is it possible that God is the “Great Architect of the Universe” as described by Freemasonry? Today the Freemason’s have millions of members in Lodges spread around the world and have existed as a fraternal organization for hundreds of years. Can God be described, as the Masons claim, in such a manner that all may agree and no one can differ? A God that doesn’t offend anyone or is repugnant to anyone’s beliefs, can such a God exist? Since no one owns God can anyone really know God? Who can be certain about the nature of God and claim exclusive authority?
Freemasons see God as being personal but reject any attempt to truly personalize God. To them it is noble to acknowledge that their understanding of God’s nature is incomplete but in so doing they validate the belief that having an indistinct God is a good thing. To add any concept of character to their unapproachable God who is devoid of emotions is considered to be a presumptuous distortion to be avoided at all costs. God is somehow seen as personal but yet is stripped of all personality and appears to be little more than an invisible force at work in the world. God is the unknown deity who is a friend to every man and known by many names.
Could God simply be the Higher Power, as described by Alcoholics Anonymous? With over 2 Million members worldwide what does this mutual aid movement have to say about the “God” question? Included within the Twelve Steps we find that the need to believe in a “Power greater than ourselves” is step number two. Then you are told to turn your life over to “God as you understood Him” which is step three. This Higher Power can be anything that you choose as long as it is greater than you and adequate to help you overcome your addiction. So here is a situation where you get to select whatever kind of God you want and then ask him, her or it to help you overcome something that you alone are utterly unable to do. You get to pick from whatever is available when selecting your deity just like you get to pick your dinner at an all you can eat buffet. A custom made God who then makes your deepest longing a reality.