What is God?
Paul Tillich, often considered the most influential theologian of the 20th century wrote of God as being itself. In the early 1950s, Tillich wrote, “The only possible answer seems to be that God is being-itself, in the sense of the power of being or the power to conquer non-being.” [Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: Existence and the Christ, University of Chicago Press, 1957, p. 11]
Yael Shy, more recently, in his article “Being-ness: Your God”, in the Fall 2013 issue of Inquiring Mind, [Vol. 30, #1, The God Issue] wrote,
“… I finally understood what the retreat teachers were getting at. The great stillness—the silent ‘emptiness’ full of everything—that was what Judaism meant when it talked about God… God was this present-ness of all things, continually unfolding in each new moment. God was the container that held all the pain and brokenness of the world. And yet, God was also in the pain and brokenness. God was not something to be ‘believed in.’ God was something to be experienced, and God-nature was always being experienced, whether I knew it or not.”
As Hegel believed, God continues to reveal God-self to us through the advance of history. One day, I predict, we will have the proof of God, for which so many search.
In support of that prediction, I want to offer my version of the history of God, with God beginning as a force of cosmic proportions.
Consider the force of the open sea, unwieldy, uncontrollable, devastating, and destructive as well as serene, magnificent, a force of life, a force that creates life as easily as it takes it. Now shift your consideration to the wind, a whisper against your cheek, a category 4 hurricane reeking destruction as it travels across land or water, and a tornado scattering life and limb across scores of miles. Extend your consideration again to earthquakes that result from the shifting of tectonic plates creating lakes, mountains, and continents and taking away continents. These are forces of nature.
Broaden your consideration to the universe. Try to conceive of the power of solar winds, black holes, planet killing meteors, absolute darkness, and vastness without end. Now stretch your consideration, even further, to the force that creates solar systems and life from plankton to complex sentient mammals.
Range your consideration even further to a sentient force behind all that power. That force begins in the void of nothingness, extends its will to create ever more complexities until it achieves sentient, creative, destructive, compassionate, ruthless, healing, murderous, philanthropic, greedy bipeds with opposing thumbs.
What begins as a primitive singularity advances through millennia without end into a vastly creative, complex, and almost benevolent force behind a universe of points of light and life scattered throughout the dark and lifeless.
That is God. God cannot be a being, though God might be an entity without form. God is force. Perhaps Lawrence Kasdan, to whom the conception of “the force” in The Empire Strikes Back, is ascribed, understood more than he knew. And perhaps I know less than I think I know.
Christian philosophers of the late 18th to early 19th century like Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel were onto something as they wrote that God and humanity advance through history together.
The singular sentient force without experience or anything other than itself develops, in complexity of thought, as it creates and destroys, ad infinitum, into what we know as God. That force, once coming to an understanding of its aloneness reaches out to find, through its creating efforts, that which will bring it company. It creates until it senses itself no longer alone in its sentience.
This once primitive force without conscience, without good or evil existing, without time or place, develops a benevolence that is ready to create humanity.
The force, now God, creates humanity as a benevolent act and sees its creation as good. But creating is a work of balance. For something to exist the nothing must be shattered. There is no good without evil – no creation without destruction, no building without excavating. Thus, in God’s creation, in the creation’s vastness of good, is a speck of corruption. In the following millennia, God works to raise humanity, once created in goodness, above its primordial corruption of self-destructive behavior. God reaches out to humanity though incarnations, of itself in limited measures, by way of unique human-beings like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Samuel, Zoroaster, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, the Mahatma Gandhi, Paramhansa Yogananda, a Dalai Lama or two, and a Shaman or two, as well as others I don’t know about or recognize, or will speak about in a moment.
If we can imagine the evolution of computers into Artificial Intelligences further evolving into sentient beings, then we can further reach into our imaginations to conjure a force that develops a sentience that evolves into God.
Does imagining make the non-existent real? Yes it does. We know this because we have fire and electricity and space travel and tiny computers on our wrists that we can communicate through and that will tell us our pulse rate.
Of course, our imaginations cannot make something in the past, only in the future. But perhaps, that something in the past has given us our imagination so we can one day perceive it – to some measure.
In Genesis, human beings are defined as “imago dei,” reflections of God. While this phrase has led us to a false narrative, that story may be rewritten. If God is a force than we can consider ourselves also forces, perhaps little forces of nature, as we are part of the ecology of the planet. We can create and destroy, in great numbers we can affect climate, plants, forestation, the very face of the earth and the sufficiency of the seas, and one day visit the planets.
Does force create force? Is our life force a viable part of the great force we call God? If Einstein’s law that energy can neither be created or destroyed, a revelation of a proof of eternal life? If the energy of our life force cannot be destroyed, then do we live and die with our force always existing as part of the great force? If the answer is yes, then there is eternal life and eternal sentience.
Does God speak to us? In what language? For the most part the Holy Spirit, that portion of God that inspires us, refreshes us, and sometimes guides us does not use language but rather intuition or attitudes.
Still God does communicate to us, en masse. And that language of communication, I postulate, is mathematics.
There was a time when scientists and religious leaders viewed science opposing faith or religion. Today, as more people of faith come to accept theories of creation and evolution, more and more people come to accept the evolution of mysticism and Bible stories as pre-scientific attempts to understand God and creation. Today, science explores the universe with the same wonder as early religion did. Today science has acknowledged “the God Particle,” otherwise known as the Higgs-Boson field, considered a field or particle which gives mass to the matter.
The singlet is just a technical term used for a field or particle which doesn’t interact with matter in a way we conceived until today. Theories say that this particle was the fuse that started the big bang. So if the universe is an infinite number of bubbles and if the God particle were to blow these bubbles, it is possible there could be other universes formed from the explosion.
Music is a subset of mathematics. Beauty is measured by mathematical equations, as is art, gravity, architecture, solar systems, DNA, and even chaos. Physics depends on mathematics. As we continue to evolve, we come to understand more and more that science will be the new way to come to understand our place in God’s universe, or multiverse, as the case may be.
Looking back it is easy to observe that Euclid, Blaise Pascal, Archimedes, Isaac Newton, Wilhelm Leibniz, and Zeno of Elea were prophets, as much as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel and Elijah, but proficient in a different language of God’s.
As history, philosophy, theology, and science advance we shall come to new understandings of our relationship to God. I suspect that as we do, God will become more relevant, not less. Faith will be rewarded with equations and proofs that there is a sentient force behind life, love and happiness. It will be called many things. But to us old guys, it’ll always be God.