What Kind of God Predestines?
Posted on 11 December 2012, 3:09
In my last blog I was pointing out that throughout recorded history humanity has believed in destiny, fate, and in predestination. But surely, we might well ask, if everything is predestined, then you can’t talk about moral responsibility, for everything that happens must be “the Will of God.” Everything happens - God willing, Allah permitting. The belief seems to make nonsense of good and evil.
“God willing, Allah permitting”: yes, but what do we mean exactly? A possible answer can be found in two quotations from my Afterlife Teaching (which are in fact in line with the ideas about predestination characterising all the main religions.)
In Section 11 we find St Stephen saying,
• “The Father has laid down a course that you will follow. And I say this to you: Think more of the course that All are to follow. For the plan is greater than you and I. Think in terms of All, as well as all things. The earth which revolves around the sun and then the sun which revolves around another point. The course cannot vary, even if the earth or the sun chose, or even if we wished that it might follow a different course.”
• Section 27: “I said that you are here and that you are doing the will of the Father. The plan of our lives, from this the moment of our birth until the moment of our death, has a path, an inevitable path that will be followed. In that path there are many and varied experiences. The free will of man enables him to act and react to those experiences.”
So, how will we picture this Father, this God, this Allah? Some Being, separate from the universe, playing some kind of complicated computer game where all the actions and interactions are programmed in advance? I think not. I consider the theology of St John’s Gospel to be nearer the mark: where Jesus says, “you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20 NIV) Or the words Ephesians 4:6, speaking of “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
In those words there is no idea of separation of the categories “Spirit/Mind” and “the physical’ . It was Rene Descartes who separated them. He was a spiritually minded person, but he saw that science could weigh and measure the physical, but could not do so with the spiritual. The physical was the domain of the scientists, the spiritual that of the theologians. Materialistically minded scientists who looked to Descartes for leadership, took the opportunity to dismiss the spiritual as a delusion and unscientific. Splitting Spirit from the physical in this way gave rise to the false dogma of Materialism. The dogma encourages us to think “God” [space] “the physical”. Abandoning the dogma will help us see what Jesus, Paul and my “St Stephen” is saying, namely that we need to think of the universe as one system – which scientists do need to assume if there is to be science. If we can abandon the Cartesian split in our mind, then we can see All as the product of the activity of Mind or Spirit expressing itself in limitless numbers of centres of consciousness, human and subhuman. How this is done has been suggested by Rupert Sheldrake and his “morphic fields” and by David Bohm with this Implicate/Explicate worlds.
These limitless numbers interact in an infinity of ways, including ways that we term paranormal. Yes, seemingly purposive evolutionary processes take place, strikingly meaningful synchronicity occurs, and often when we look back over long life times it looks as if we had been following a script designed to further our spiritual development. And when great scientists explore patterns of action and reaction that seem to underlie all reality, they are often filled with something close to religious awe.
But when we come to try to consider all the factors involved in the coming about of just one event, we are led to admit that to find and to list them all is utterly beyond us. In the last resort All causes All Else. And that is just the point that CERN quantum physicist John Bell expressed with his Theorem, with its assertion of local causation fails, all is multicausal.
St Stephen says as much:
• “What the Father is, is not separate from All that Is, but is what is.” [Sect. 110]
• “For what is the Father but All?” [Sect. 7]
• “Our full potential is that we are a part of the Father, never that the Father is a part of us, for we are a part of the Whole and the Whole is the Father. To realize our full potential let us be that part that we are.” [Sect. 70]
• “We can say often that indeed now, as we always have been, we are what the Father has created; all that we must do is to be that. [Sect. 125]
If we do a bit of translating we could suggest that:
St Paul said as much: [1 Corinthians 12:14-27 NIV]
14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.
16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?
20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
We are accustomed to understanding “the body of Christ” to refer to the Christian church. But as I suggested in an earlier blog, “the body of Christ” is really “the Cosmic Cathedral” or better, “The All”. (“For what is the Father but All?” [Sect. 7]) “The All” consists of all that we know and don’t know, all that is “physical” and all that is “non-physical”.
The picture we get from Jesus, Paul, and the others, is of our oneness with “the Father” in the “Kingdom of Heaven” which embraces the communion of the living and those who have shed their mortal bodies.
Since the time of the Emperor Constantine, however, Christianity has been almost part of the state apparatus, helping in the maintenance of law and order, with earthly judges, jailors and prisons, matched in the celestial spheres by a stern judgemental God who punishes with devils and hells. And while law and order is necessary for every society, that is not what “The Kingdom of Heaven” or “The All” is primarily about.
After 2000 years it is hard to put the concept “God— the world” out of our minds. It is a concept aided and abetted by legalistic and literalist interpretations of the Laws of Moses, the Torah, both by Jews and Christians. But we do need to put that concept out of our minds, and see God and ourselves as one Organism, and organism in which much goes on, much influences much else, and in which we need to see the activity of “God” in the processes of the present moment. It is all about relationship, about love and non-love, about creativity, about death and rebirth, about spiritual as well as physical maturation, about movement from selfishness, self-centredness, toward a sense of being a conscious participant in the universe sharing in the creative, caring, enhancing activities of the one.
“What has God to say to you?”
“Look carefully at the present moment. That is what God is saying to you. Think now how best you can reply, to this God in whom you live and move and have your being.” And how we reply will depend on our ability to love, how much we can put aside self-centredness in praying for others, how much we can think for ourselves, how much we are prepared to help “our Neighbour.” There will be countless influences involved in our reply “to God” to “the All”, and they will include the opinions of those close to us, the society that we would like to be part of, and our religious beliefs.
Even if readers agree with what is presented here, they are likely to feel a disconnection between all that and a “common-sense” picture of things. In that regard I find to be helpful the thinking of Lawrence LeShan in his Alternate Realities: He distinguishes between the “Clairvoyant” or holistic mode of looking at reality, and the Sensory-Physical mode. In this article we have been thinking in terms of LeShan’s “Clairvoyant” mode, which I have argued to be scientifically sound, and in accordance with human experience. And I argue that if we are to develop spiritually, there are compelling reasons for us to live in that mode. On the other hand, we can only live in that mode some of the time. It is good to be one with the universe, but not so good to become one with a bus, when crossing the street. Plainly we have also to live in the sensory-physical world of cause and effect, if we are to earn our living, or even stay alive. LeShan argues that it is the same world, same universe, viewed in two apparently contradictory modes. We cannot view reality in one mode alone.
FOOTNOTE: Readers may like to look up the philosopher A.N. Whitehead’s Process thinking, and also writings about Process Theology. This thinking focuses on The Present Moment, and on the processes of our interaction with the Whole. I append the following material, stolen from Wikipedia:
Whitehead’s classical statement is a set of antithetical statements that attempt to avoid self-contradiction by shifting them from a set of oppositions into a contrast:
• It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.
• It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many.
• It is as true to say that, in comparison with the World, God is actual eminently, as that, in comparison with God, the World is actual eminently.
• It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God, as that God is immanent in the World.
• It is as true to say that God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God.
• It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God.
Process Theism’s Themes
• God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive. The divine has a power of persuasion rather than coercion. Process theologians interpret the classical doctrine of omnipotence as involving force, and suggest instead a forbearance in divine power. “Persuasion” in the causal sense means that God does not exert unilateral control.
• Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. These events have both a physical and mental aspect. All experience (male, female, atomic, and botanical) is important and contributes to the ongoing and interrelated process of reality.
• The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God cannot totally control any series of events or any individual, but God influences the creaturely exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. To say it another way, God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God’s will.
• God contains the universe but is not identical with it (panentheism, not pantheism or pandeism). Some also call this “theocosmocentrism” to emphasize that God has always been related to some world or another.
• Because God interacts with the changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid.
• Charles Hartshorne believes that people do not experience subjective (or personal) immortality, but they do have objective immortality because their experiences live on forever in God, who contains all that was. Other process theologians believe that people do have subjective experience after bodily death.
• Dipolar theism, is the idea that God has both a changing aspect (God’s existence as a Living God) and an unchanging aspect (God’s eternal essence).
Michael Cocks edits the journal, Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
Next blog sometime over Christmas