Anyone who has read my blog in any depth will recognise that there are two important components to my beliefs about God and the world. On the one hand, there is my panentheist attitude that sees God in everything as the ‘cosmic animator’ – responsible for everything that happens in existence. On the other hand, there is my Christian faith, which acknowledges Jesus as Lord and is the focal point of my prayer life and my faith.
There is a struggle that goes on in my life every day as I try to reconcile the differences that these two strands of thought and belief present.
It’s a simple predicament: If God is in control of everything that happens, then how am I to understand free will which is central to the Bible and to Christian thinking? I do not feel that I can be a fully committed Christian with this dilemma filling my thoughts each day. And yet I love to pray and feel I must, and I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I have probably been frustrating my Christian friends as I have agonised over this dilemma for several years. I recently spoke with an Anglican priest about it and he wasn’t able to provide a satisfying solution. Indeed, it seems that no one that I talk to (Christian or not) can reconcile this problem for me. No books that I have read or lectures that I have listened to have helped me to settle the dilemma.
It seems to me that I am going to have to live with the dilemma. That doesn’t make life easy – I am “not quite a Christian” which is not a generally acceptable position among my Christian friends who are mostly very evangelical. I don’t feel I can preach the gospel with any gusto having the problems with Christianity that I do. And the pull of what I believe is the truth about God is strong enough to keep me believing that the panentheistic vision of God that I espouse is right.
The best advice that I have received on this matter actually came from my own father. We were sat in a park talking about Christianity and as I explained my predicament he suggested I might have to “live with the question”. I think that for now, at least, that is good advice.
I can’t imagine my life without prayer as a major component and I expect I will always reach out to God to give thanks and praise and to offer supplications. Jesus will remain a hugely important figure in my life, even if I can’t commit to His teaching in the same way as my Christian friends. Living with the question at least gives me some peace of mind and I am open to the possibility that God, who is infinite, may reveal new truths to me in the future.
I have almost finished writing my second book which discusses my thinking around these issues in a lot more depth. I hope that the book will help others to gain insights into my struggle, which will in turn enrich their own spiritual journeys.
It is a good thing to seek the truth, and I hope and pray that God loves me for my struggle.
Do you wrestle with similar problems in your own life?
Are there questions to which you feel you must live with without an answer?
Can you relate to my struggle?
38 responses to “Living with the Question”
Steven, its Peter here and you bring up an interesting topic. One Christians have either wrestled with and you will see some of this even in the Bible. In the NIV it says something to the effect, `I the Lord god create light and dark` Which is in effect perhaps a mortals wrong interpretation of original scripture. In the King James, it say `I the Lord God create good and evil.` I like an explanation I heard, that dark is not created, but just the absent of light. Therefore in my understanding, evil is just the result of the lack of the love of God in this physical dimension. You will not that in Christianity, the word ( Christ ) was there in the beginning, complete as God, before creation. All things were created through Him. It was only after creation and hence the beginning of time as we know it, that 1/3 of the angel rebelled, being led by the angel of light, Lucifer! Who turned into the evil one. I kind of equate the physical universe as having to be necessarily like the yin-yang sign, where the light side has a spot of dark and visa-verso. The light of Christ came into the world so that we can be saved, not by our own works, but by the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross. So now whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life… This does not negate the reality that there are many rooms in His Fathers house. On a personal note, I am sure that those who walk like him, but have not known the name Jesus are saved. For example, Buddha and Lao Tzu. Love and blessings to you my brother.
Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. Of course the rebellion of Lucifer implies free will, and that is a concept I find troublesome as I believe God is in, and indeed is, everything.
The question of what happens to the souls of those who have not known Jesus is an interesting one. I really hope that God does not send people to hell, but I do believe hell is very much possible, with God being omnipotent!
Have a great week Peter.
I hope that you are doing well in your everyday life. Regarding the topic, I would Drop the Dogma! But that is just me. Much love friend.
Sindy, great to hear from you! I’m sorry I went quiet for a while. Much love right back at you 😉
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What if the decisions we make are the expression of god’s free will.?
Yes JoJo I believe that is the case.
Hello Everyone! Hello Steven!
God is no mystery. God is no separate entity from us. Jesus is the same as I have described.
According to the scriptures, Jesus himself equated his being with that of His Father.
If you are comfortable with staying with the foundation of Jesus and his message, then think on it this way. God is The Father of all. He is The Creator. He created everything into being including us.
We are a part of Him, we are Him, as Jesus stated in the Gospel of John. Therefore, I am Him, He is Me. We are One.
Don’t we consider ourselves to be composits of our parents? We share chemical components, DNA, which determine our birth origins. Why is it any different when it comes to Spirituality?
Dogma has put God in a box.
The God I know is a limitless entity which expands my mind as I know it to be at this time. I and He are made up of the same stuff 🙂 That’s my creator. I have the same DNA therefore I am all that which he is. We are a version of Him which He decided to place here to do many things, to experience the many parts of himself (we too experience the many parts of ourselves on a daily basis; there are many mes, each experience calls for a different me to present itself…sorry another lengthy topic).
Remember, he is limitless so he can take form in whichever way he chooses. Energy takes the shape of any and every – look at all which has been created on this planet. I can go on…:-)
If this perspective helps, take a look again at the Gospel of John starting at chapter 14. Look at what Jesus is teaching in a new way. Disect what he is saying.
It is time for you have the clarity which you seek. I too had been away from blogging and now have come back to help you receive what you’ve been seeking. That’s how God works. We just have to be more open and aware to see him clearly. Keep me updated 🙂
Many thanks for your thoughtful comment, which has left me intrigued to know more about your beliefs! My vision of God is that He is everything everywhere and actively in control (in this moment) of everything that happens in the cosmos. Would you agree with this vision?
Yes I do. In addition to that, what I said in my comment about us being composits of him. Visualize a cell body. You have the membrane and the nucleus. The nucleus is the center and hub of the cell, right? That is where all the information is stored. God is that. The membrane is the surrounding matter which represents all of us including the cosmos. It all is located at a different point within the whole, but still part of the whole. Do you see it? Each vision of God, Spirit, Angels, Saints, Allah, Jah, Jahovah, etc., is Him. That Source and Center Energy is all of those visions, faiths, ideologies. The pull you feel regarding your vision is the one which has presented itself to you. God gave you that particular version of himself in which for you to experience him.
Very interesting, thank you for sharing!
Wow! A deep thinker – a rare breed in a world where everyone seeks to be amused (a=not; muse=think)!
God, being God, the only all-knowing Entity, obviously knows a lot more than I do. There are parts of Him that I can’t even begin to wrap my puny little human brain around! I’m glad, for if I could understand Him completely, He wouldn’t be much of a God.
When it comes to free will – phew! – I am way out of my league and I know it.
One of the fellows, in response to Invincible, stated that we’re puppies on a leash. It has been my experience that this is not so. I am free to choose to do anything I want – including gossip, adultery, alcoholism, hatred and a host of other things – without being yanked back into obeisance.
The consequences of my choices hurt, though, and I realize that doing things my way doesn’t work out very well for me. As a result, I begin to see the wisdom of doing things God’s way, and align my choices with what He’s given (in the way of commands) for life and liberty.
I’ve discovered that when God says, “Don’t,” what He’s really saying is, “Don’t hurt yourself.” In one way or another, I’ve broken every command and learned that the consequences of my actions hurts me as well as others.
Keep asking questions. You’re a true disciple, and that’s good.
Thank you for stopping by to comment on my post. You really got me thinking. I appreciate that!
Your fellow disciple,
Thanks for your comment here and your other comment on ‘Lessons by Heart’. I’m glad you are a deep thinker like myself! My major problem here is with the free will question. I cannot see how I am free in the context that I believe God beats my heart, flows my blood, grows my hair, produces my thoughts, and everything else. How would I know how to do any of these things? I have no idea how they happen, because I am not in control – God is in control. So I can’t agree with Christians who talk about sin and the devil and free will, because all of those things are illogical to me. God is in control of everything that happens in the cosmos. That, to me, makes a lot of sense.
Anyway, I respect the fact that we may think differently about these questions (because you believe in free will), and even so it’s good to talk them through!
The God Who Is In Control – and yet allows His creatures to what they will…then sweeps in with grace and mercy, sometimes cleaning up our messes, sometimes not…loving us all the while.
An enigma indeed!
If I had strong convictions on the topic, I’d try to sway you to my thinking.
Here’s what I hang onto when it comes to topics like this: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart, declares the Lord, and I will be found by you.” And so I continue to seek – to understand Him better.
God doesn’t always operate by man’s logic. The cross and resurrection was proof of that!
I wish you the best in your search for answers. Come by and share sometimes, would you? This has been the best discussion yet! I’m following you – curious to see what you unearth!
Your fellow disciple,
Thanks Tami it’s good to be connected and to hear (read) your thoughts!
Stay in touch,
Dear Steven, I have almost finished reading your book and I can relate to your life experience. I too have mental health problems and take anti-psychotic medicine. I am 63 years of age and my search for the truth has gone on most of my life. I have reached the stage of my own understanding of what makes the greatest sense of this mystery called life. Eventually you reach a point of acceptance at a very simple level. A lot of what you discuss is very Buddhist, especially the interconnectedness of everything. Thich Naht Hahn writes in very simple terms of what is. He cuts through all the unnecessary information that makes our life more complicated. Your dilemma as to God,s involvement in our lives and free will, I think you are beating yourself over this issue. Think of God like a parent to a child. We give birth to a new being and protect and nurture it. God acts in the same way by giving us guidance through a moral code and preserving us to live another day. God also provides us with a conscience so that we can protect ourselves from harm. However like a parent, if you try to control your child too much mentally and try to make that child think like you then the child will rebel. So the best way is to guide the child,yet allowing him/her to explore their life with their own inclinations. God allows us to make our own decisions and when things go awry then we realise we have gone along the wrong path to genuine happiness and peace of mind. I gave up organised religion because there are pitfalls in most of the institutionalised thinking, leaving you feeling conflict rather than harmony. A lot of what you read about Jesus is what was decided to be put in at the council of Nicea some 300 years after Jesus,s death. I cannot believe that if you don’t believe in Jesus that you will go to everlasting hell. If that were the case then some vey wonderful people will be going there,someone like Gandhi who felt that the Christians thought they had a monopoly on God. Thich Naht Hahn has written a book called Living Buddha Living Christ, worth reading. My late husband died of stomach cancer and at the end he said the only thing that matters is LOVE. God is LOVE so although he had a none religious funeral I feel that he probably had more insight into what this life is about than many who profess to know the Truth. I would like to keep in touch with you because I understand where you are “coming from”. I live in the moment and have at last found some peace mentally which has come at the end of a long struggle. Take care of yourself and realise that as you get older in years you will find that life can be lived none-analytically but with gentleness. The Buddha was asked why is a rose a rose. His reply was, a rose is a rose because it is a rose! Would love to hear what you think of these ideas, Sophia Harris.
Hi Sophia. Thank you so much for reading my book and my blog. It’s interesting to hear a bit about you and about your own beliefs. I haven’t heard of Thich Naht Hahn before so I will look out for that name in the future.
The way that you describe God suggests to me that you believe in free will, which I don’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good conversation about reality and about life!
I’m sorry to hear that your husband passed away through cancer.
I have been very interested in Buddhism and Eastern spirituality in general, although I have to admit I find it troublesome when people leave God out of their spirituality! God is everything to me – literally!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts,
Dear Steven, thankyou for your reply. Thich Naht Hahn seems to cut through divisions in religion. .Al though he is a Zen Buddhist monk living in France (he is Vietnamese) his philosophy is very simple and could be adopted by anyone of any faith. Interconnectedness to him is a central theme to his philosophy. Yes, like you, I feel that God is very important, but unlike you I’m not too sure that God is aware of everything we do. I don’t feel I am being “controlled” by God, but that He/She is there to rely on. You say that you don’t believe in free will, then that would make us some kind of robots and all our life is “programmed”. If that were the case then it was “programmed” then my late husband’s death with painful cancer would have been meant to be. I remember a vicar telling me that when God decided to create, it was a risk, and life is a risk. If we knew what was going to happen to us, I think we would be very scared. Because we don’t know what the future holds it creates a mutual relationship with God and increases our reliance on him/her. Best wishes Sophia.
Thank you Sophia. I don’t believe we are like pre-programmed robots, but rather more like puppets. God is alive now and actively unfolding our realities in accordance with His will.
On the subject of suffering, I know how bad things can get as I lost my mother to cancer. But I believe God has reasons why He makes us suffer, which I discuss on this blog (see the ‘suffering’ category) and in my books.
Suffering is the hardest problem in philosophy for me but if God is omnipresent, which intuition tells me is correct, then there is no atom in the universe that is separate from God. Therefore God is ‘doing’ everything!
Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and I’m so sorry about your late husband.
Hello Steve and others!
As you know, I believe that God is panentheistic, but to describe God as being everywhere is slightly misleading. What it really means is that everything is within God. That includes Satan and the other fallen angels (if you believe in them) and hell. Some thinkers regard hell as what we feel on conscious unification with God if we have lived a self-centred life of hatred, without repenting before we die. Heaven is what we feel on conscious unification with God if we have lived an unselfish life and have a contrite manner before we die. It is thought that we will all be united, eventually, but not necessarily at the instant of death. Further, God was, is, and always will be an uncreated Being. God is without gender, but all the writers who have contributed to the ‘Holy Bible’ were men. It is unsurprising that the male gender is assigned to God in various ways (He, Him, Our Father, etc) and if this Being was not a loving one these mistakes of ours might not be ignored. The story of Adam and Eve should not be taken literally since it dates us only back to 4004 BC and there are so many similar creation stories from other religions. How can God make women as inferior subordinates to men?
Creation itself is a misleading concept. We know from Einstein’s equation that energy and matter are connected and we use it to produce electricity in nuclear power plants, where nuclear matter is converted into energy. It is more likely that we and everything in the universe were brought into existence through God’s energy. But God did not lose any energy due to God’s infinite nature and the total balance of energy and matter in the universe is within God. You could say that we, our planet and everything on it, and the rest of the universe, were willed into existence by God. I think that much of the human species is conceited when it believes that God created the vastness of the universe so that we, the only sentient beings that matter, could be created in God’s image. If God can do anything, why do we need the rest? We need only mother earth as the sole source of life within God!
The problem with Christianity is the bible itself. Its scriptures were written by men. Later, some of the elite scholars got together to decide which of these should be included and which should be excluded. How vain that they should presume to know what God wants us to know and that everything written about the uncreated Being could be disemminated through the created written languages of Hebrew for the O.T. and Greek for the N.T.? Further, that we should later be so capable to translate accurately from the original languages into so many other languages that are boasted about today. As if, even within the same language, the meanings of words remain unaltered through the ages. If I said that I was ‘going clubbing’ a hundred years ago, most would have presumed that I was going to kill seals for their furs!
What of the people who wrote the scriptures? Some say that the Holy Bible IS the word of God. Others say that the scriptures were written by people who were God inspired. Neither is likely. Would the uncreated Being trust the medium of language, created by man, to reveal what is desirable to know about the Being? What of the risk that the writers may add some of their own thoughts? Who has not wondered about the inconsistencies and contradictions within the Holy Bible? There are too many to list and Christians throughout the world will rationalise them. Consider this: there is no doubt that Jesus lived on this earth about 2000 years ago and that he had a profound effect on people from all walks of life, not just the educated, nor only the righteous, but without discrimination. So who has the right to give an account of His life; the miracles that He performed; to report on what He said? Can we trust them to do so accurately?
We believe that it was necessary for Jesus to experience death in a human way and that He was resurrected that through this ordeal our mortality would no longer be and that all of mankind would or could be saved. Now check what is written in the gospels about what Jesus said to Judas Iscariot during the Last (or Lord’s) Supper. From the New International Version: Matt. 26 vs 23 & 24, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Similarly in Mark 14 vs 20 & 21, “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” We see a shorter, less harsh condemnation in Luke 22 v 22, “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him,” No mention was made in Luke’s account of it being better that Judas had not been born! I cannot find any condemnation of Judas in John’s gospel!
Judas had come into being by the will of God! Judas had fulfilled a purpose that was necessary for Jesus to be arrested. It was within God’s power and vision to have brought about Jesus’ arrest without involving betrayal by any one man, let alone a disciple of Jesus. How could Jesus say that His betrayer would be condemned? Could neither Jesus nor God show mercy and forgiveness? Was Judas irredeemable? Did Jesus condemn only Judas but save the rest of mankind? This would be indicative of a vengeful person or being.
I am not trying to assert that the bible is useless, but I think we need to exercise our own abilities to discern the parts that really give us a glimpse of God’s nature and those that mislead us. I would recommend Psalm 50 as mostly enlightening and uplifting. Also, Orthodox Christians like me value the writings of the saints and the desert fathers to say a lot more about God and with greater authority than the scriptures alone (Sola Scriptura is a Western concept and the scriptures were only available to the educated and wealthy before printing was invented). I believe that their commentaries on the scriptures explain what they really mean and are known as Homilies. I like those of St John Chrysostom in particular.
I may write on the subject of free will at a later date, if I manage to understand it as God meant it to be, but I have the same dilemma as you do, right now.
Hi, Steven. I trust you are doing well. A friend of mine wrote an article on God’s will/Free will. I thought you might like to read it. Here’s the link: http://nightlightblogdotcom.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/gods-will-my-will-whose-will/. I found it to be well-written (and fairly short!).
May this be a wonder-full day for you and yours. 🙂
Hi Tami! Many thanks for this, very thoughtful of you. I had a read of the article and left a comment. I hope everything is going great with you!
Your friend appears to be rather scholarly. It is unfortunate that he is a ‘Sola Scriptura’ minded person as there is so much more written about God that he is denying himself. I am referring to the writings of the saints and the Desert Fathers.
Hello. I think I have the answer for you. Bases on logic rather than faith. Full answer is a bit long. So please email me and I would be happy to talk.
But in short. As you (kind of) say, we are point of awareness, the soul, in this body only temporarily and have always existed and will exisist. We travel through the infinity of material and non material everything as subjective points of consciousness, experiencing the objective existence from our subjective point of view. The objective reality has a spectrum of light to dark. Love and kindness being the attributes of light; the good lord and Jesus. The darkness, hate, violence etc being the attributes of the devil and demons. Our actions determined where we are going after death and how we are born in to this life. There for although God has awareness and maybe manages the objective reality as you put it, we are operating from our subject and free will basis which sends us forward through time according to our actions according to Gods system; what they call Karma in the east. There is no conflict with Jesus as he was preaching how to live by the way of Light; the good Lords way.
Many thanks for visiting and leaving your thoughts on this post. I don’t actually believe in the devil because I believe God is omnipresent, so there is no room in creation for a devil-like being because God is everywhere. If there was a devil, it would be under God’s control, which doesn’t really make sense.
It’s good that we agree on the eternal nature of our consciousness – an important point.
All the best,
Steven, this has been such an interesting discussion to follow. I lean distinctly on the side of free will, but completely understand your questions, as I have on occasion had them myself. I am also a fairly new believer and did much reading before and after I made my decision to follow Jesus. I definitely don’t subscribe to dogma or doctrine, as Jesus didn’t either, and when questions occur, I tend to look to his words to sort things out. I do believe he was the human embodiment of God and we can look to him for who God is. I also, however, have read other books that expand on his words and intention.
My own belief is, if something doesn’t come from love or grace, it doesn’t come from God. And yes, I also believe God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent (the last as the Holy Spirit abiding in us). There are many things about God we won’t understand until we see Him face to face, and I must hold that dichotomy as part of my faith.
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Many thanks for visiting and leaving a thoughtful comment, it’s a pleasure to meet you!
I have a firm conviction that God is in control of all activity in existence. When I consider the attributes of God that you mentioned (the ‘omni’s’) this makes sense to me. But I don’t want to repeat myself as you probably got the gist of what I believe from the article – that free will and God’s omnipresence are logically contradictory.
At the moment, because I find such difficult problems in theology, I am trying to focus on the two great commandments that Jesus instructed us to obey – to love God with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. I try to focus on these commandments above the contradictions and paradoxes and problems I find when I read the Bible and explore Christian thought.
God bless you and thanks again – I’m so grateful you subscribed as I think you could offer some really helpful input to the discussions on this blog. I hope you will get a chance to have a browse around some of my recent articles.
Love from Steven
I look forward to new articles as well, Steven. Just one other comment to ponder: Just because God has those “omni” attributes and CAN control doesn’t mean He chooses to use them. For me, that explains the grace He gives us to use our free will.
I don’t believe it’s possible for God to somehow limit His omnipresence. Being everywhere is an attribute of God – it’s one of the things that makes God, God. If you disagree, you might consider this; where does God reside specifically? Where does His being begin and end? Do you believe He is a human-like creature looking down from heaven on a world from which He is detached?
I see God as both creator and sustainer – He makes the trees grow, our hearts beat, the planets move… He could not do these things if He wasn’t omnipresent. Omnipresence means God is all there is, so there cannot possibly be free creatures, or God is not everywhere. I hope you see the problem.
Peace and blessings,
I don’t think He limits His omnipresence or Omniscience, but I do believe He limits His Omnipotence. Otherwise, we would not have free will. Otherwise, He would force us to love Him, to love each other.