Okay, I’ve discussed panentheism before. The following is excerpted from an email I sent someone this morning [I’m withholding the addressee’s name intentionally and for my own reasons], but I think it’s worth a read. This is the closest I’ve come to a good case for what I believe–words too often muddy the water.
Christianity to me is fundamentally different. Every other of the world’s religions that I have found are based around a human who either had direct contact with God [Mohammed in the cave, for example, or Gautama Siddhartha’s enlightenment], or rely on God’s dramatic intervention in the world for belief [mainly Judaism]. In the end, both hold to this: through following rituals, traditions, one can become perfect, or at least good enough to go on to the next round.
Where Christianity if fundamentally different is this: God, in recognizing that Man is inherently imperfect, God realized that a union of the world of God and of Man had to be crafted. God recognized that Man cannot improve himself on his own–given free will, we will make the wrong choices, sometimes because we just want to make them. So God, realizing that rituals weren’t enough–all the kosher following in the world had the Hebrew people believing more in the kosher and not enough in God–sent a part of Himself in the form of Christ to the world.
But Christ was not God walking on Earth. Christ was the union of God and Man. This had to be–having God walk down here wouldn’t cause hearts to change, and having just a man would mean that the message would get out imperfectly. [Witness all the televangelists.]
What’s the implication of Christ? God wanted a clear relationship with Man. God wanted to experience what it was like to be Man. God wanted to tear away all the levels of bureaucracy that years of rabbinic law had built up. If you’re unfamiliar with Old Testament theology, you couldn’t pray directly to God: you had to pray to your rabbi to take it on to God. Even some of the rabbis had to pass those prayers on to another rabbi. Only the best priests got to go into the Holy of Holies, a nice gilt room for God.
But that all supports supernatural theism–God is “up there” and you have to work to get to Him. Supernatural theism is inconsistent with Christianity, in my view, even as it is a large part of the Christian tradition. The concept of God being in an encompassing role is “panentheism”, literally, “everything in God”. [If this interests you, I heartily suggest Marcus Borg’s The God We Never Knew. It’s where I first found a scholarly but accessible treatment of the concept.] Panentheism isn’t pantheism, which suggest that everything is God.
Panentheism wipes away all those layers. If you look in the Gospel, you’ll see that Christ’s death tears the curtain to the Holy of Holies in two. The symbol is powerful: God is tearing down the curtains and walls we have built up. God is interested in a personal relationship with each of us, and the personification of that personal relationship is Jesus Christ.
Let me close off this long ramble–which, for the first time, is the closest I’ve come to a good distillation of why I find panentheism to be true–with two of my favorite scriptural quotations:
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–
26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
1 Corinthians 13:9-13
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Some find Romans 3:20-26 depressing, especially verse 23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” often is seen as a depressing way of looking at life. I simply find it real–we all f**k up. This is the one verse to me that just beats the crap out of supernatural theism’s goal of perfecting oneself so that you can reach God–everyone falls short.
So many people think that they have to get perfect or at least pretty good before they come to God. I find that sad. I feel that God is with us all the time–which is scary when you consider where we’ve each taken God, places we wouldn’t take any friend or enemy–and you don’t have to be cleaned up before you say, “Okay, that’s it. Enough of thinking I can do this myself.”
Maybe I’ve given you something to think about. I don’t know. I hope and pray that it does mean something to you, though.
That’s the same hope that I have for any of you faith travelers who find this.
My only frustration with the work above is the concept that God didn’t know what would work before. This casts considerable doubts on God’s omniscience for some folks. Again, this is where words have failed me again, and I’ve painted myself into a corner. To work out of it, here’s some food for thought: God’s realization that Christ would have to come isn’t a function of bad planning on God’s part, but rather a recognition that Man is capable of only sensing things in four dimensions.
Man would not understand it if God came and walked the Earth–they would consider God to just be Man. So God had to unify Himself with Man in the form of Christ to say, “It is through relationships, not ritual, that you will come to Me.” After all, what’s more of a sign of a relationship than union in a child?
I still find the above to be imperfect. Atheists and critics of Christianity alike flame the Bible for being a bunch of contradictory claptrap. Writing and thinking about theology myself, I have found so easily that while God may inspire me to write some things, it is my hand writing them, and my hand is human and will screw up. I have failed in my witness before, to the point that I almost drove someone who is now a good friend completely away from me. The overall point to my message wasn’t wrong, but boy, my delivery sucked eggs.
Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now. Enough for a Friday afternoon.