Creation and Creator

I found this diagram really useful in depicting the different ways people see the relationship between God and the universe:

Different isms.jpg

In theism, God and the universe are separate, but God can intervene in creation. In deism, God and the universe are separate and distinct from one other, with no interaction between the two. In pantheism, God and the universe are one and the same. In atheism, the universe exists, but God doesn’t. And finally, in panentheism, the universe is ‘in God’.

I believe that God is omnipresent, and importantly, He did not only create the universe but He also sustains it. Every atom is being held in existence by God. Because I don’t believe anything can exist independently of God, I see a problem in the ‘theism’ model, which depicts a God who is only sometimes involved in creation. For similar reasons, the deism model doesn’t work, as it depicts a universe existing totally independent of God.

I obviously take issue with the atheism model, as I believe creation requires a creator. I don’t like the pantheism model either, as it seems to imply that if the universe ceased to exist, so would God, and this can’t be right. God is more than the universe.

So this leads me to panentheism, the model where creation is in God, but God is more than creation. This makes good sense to me; God is obviously greater than anything He creates, but He also has a sustaining role as He holds in existence all He creates. He could destroy the universe and yet would remain perfect and whole.

Which of these models do you feel is right, and why?

16 comments

  1. I am doubtful about panentheism.

    That is because:
    Let us agree that unselfish love is superior to selfish love. Unselfish love is to love other distinct from oneself.
    And that God’s love, by any reasonable measure, is (much!) more unselfish than selfish.
    Hence God loves other distinct from himself.
    This distinctness between God and us is missing in pantheism and panentheism, and only present in theism (and deism).

    1. Hi Ian! Many thanks for your comment. I think I understand your argument and will just make one brief point.

      Unselfish love is to love other distinct from oneself.

      The key concern here is the nature of God. If God is omnipresent, then all of creation is part of God. I don’t believe it’s possible for anything to exist outside of God, for what would sustain such a thing and keep it in existence? Isn’t God’s nature that He is boundless? Surely if He is limited, and there is existence outside of Him, then He is not God.

      So I believe nothing can be ‘other’ than God, in the truest sense of the phrase. I hope you will understand how this relates to your point about God’s love being unselfish or selfish.

      Bless you and thanks again.

      Steven

      1. Perhaps there is a way for God to *overlap* with every part of creation, without creation being part of God. In that case, God would be omnipresent, could sustain us in being and existence, be boundless and unlimited, but still we are in some way distinct from God.

        1. Hey Ian,

          I understand your point. But thinking about reality, beyond anything conceptual, I just can’t see how this overlapping would work. Overlapping still implies a separation or distinction between what is God and what is not (which is your point, I suppose). This is problematic for me as I would have to ask of those things that are ‘not God’ – what is causing them to exist? Where does God end and everything else begin? Is God not boundless? It still feels that God would be limited in your scenario. If you are able to give me an example of the way something might exist that is distinct from God, then perhaps I could accept what you’re saying.

          Really appreciate the discussion! This is a key area of theology for me so I really value your thoughts 🙂

          1. The one thing I am sure of, is: That I am not God.

            God may (does!) sustain my being and existence. God provides light for my eyes, food and drink for my mouth, air for my lungs, insight to my mind, inspiration for my heart. Thus God is in me, and enlivens me. But still God is not me, just that the proceeding God is received by me. These are ways that God influences me, as he is present everywhere. (These are all ways in which we exist and distinct from God: the Bible uses these descriptions very often!)

            In general: God is Life Itself.
            I am not Life Itself, but only a recipient of life from God. I (part at least) am distinct from God.

            God made the distinct part when I was born, but then withdrew from it slightly, in order that I appear to myself to live and love as if from myself. God limits his influence in order that we may experience delight in living and loving those distinct from us.

  2. You still have a problem with panentheism. Creation occurs in context. In other words, a creator references something, if only the state prior to the creative act.
    What is God’s context?
    If it is God, then the deity has a schizophrenic problem. There is Supra-God ( the divine situation) which bounds the reflection of the Sub-God.
    I can’t see a way around this problem, unless you are willing to say God is distinct in some way (then the deity is more like a sophisticated Zeus) or go with some flavor of occasionalism.

    1. Hi keithnoback

      A theologian I spoke to said that God is multi-faceted rather than schizophrenic – “Let us make man in our own image.” He was referring to the Trinity rather than Supra-God and Sub-God.

      We do not know the state prior to creation as we only see the universe after it was created. There will always be questions whatever the concept of God is posited. I think that Panentheism is probably the best concept and I explained why I thought so in my post on 2 September.

      Peace and love to all,
      Dinos

      1. I don’t think multifaceted cuts it, unless you are willing to give up aseity. You hint at it below.
        If there was infinite and timeless God before the beginning, and there was an aspect of God that reflected upon itself and created, those two things would seem to be distinct, with incompatible qualities (i.e. one is timeless, and one changes).
        I think you can say that’s just the way it is and we can’t understand how it all works. That’s OK, but it precludes further theologizing.
        Your alternative is something like what Bishop Berkeley or Jonathan Edwards proposed. I think those are more consistent notions than panentheism. I can’t figure out how one might fit them in a Venn diagram. They are forms of monism (Berkeley would quibble, but he was still clear that only one sort of thing was really real), so I guess they would be more plain, colored circles.
        Or maybe infinite, monotone planes…

        1. Hi keithnoback

          Thank you for your response.

          You are right – I do not think that God has the attribute aseity. Anyone who has any concept of God is likely to have individually unique perceptions whatever their main label may be. I regard myself as a Panentheist because it is how I conceived God creating the universe within Himself when I was fourteen. My view of God came from four years of reflection (from age 10 to 14) and not from books that expressed a myriad of views. It may have emerged after I learnt set theory in mathematics – I thought that beyond the universe was God and that the universe was within Him.

          From the age of 7, I was a Congregationalist at a local church and the vicar was a liberally-minded Theist who believed that we evolved and did not originate from Adam and Eve. He lent me several books and hoped that I would eventually become a Sunday School teacher, but I declined when offered because I knew that some of the children were forced to attend and I’d seen how rebellious and disruptive they could be when I was a young attendee.

          Another consideration is that we should be respectful of one another whatever our views. It’s horses for courses and if you’re happy with Theism that’s fine with me. We are capable of many roles and in the course of a day in my twenties, I was a son to my parents, a father to my children, a husband to my wife, an uncle to my sister’s children, a worker to my employer and a friend to my friends. How much more could God be?

          Peace and love to all,
          Dinos

  3. Pantheism is mine as well. I agree that “God is not me and I am not God” however being that said, I do not believe that makes us separate or apart from God because for me everything He did create His spirit lives within. Without this there would be no life at all.

    Anything/one which is alive God’s breath is in them/it. Because of this to me, there can be no division. It is like if you want to see a body without a soul, then look at a dead body. God lives in the soul/heart of all of creation.

    Scripture always says to “be one with God.” If we are “one” with something or anyone then we cannot be separated from them. If we cannot be separated then we are going to be tied to it forever. I mean it is not so much about Him being greater than creation, it is about Him in everything He creates. Does that make sense? Good post and God Bless, SR

  4. I had to come back with this thought. I have kids. Now these kids are not part of me as far as their “physical” make- up. They have their own eye color, hair, legs, arms, etc…. They even have their own thoughts, but….. they have my genes, my bloodline, and their dad’s. So on the outside we look as if we are separate from one another, but on the inside we can never be. They inherited the “good” genes about myself and their dad, and the “bad” genes about myself and their dad. No matter what happens this will never be separated out in any form or fashion.

    I think we also inherit for lack of a better term the “genes/DNA” of God, which can never leave us, until He takes that part of us home, by taking our souls. Though I do not look like God, nor have the power of God, I still have the part of Him in me, and so does all creation which connects us as one. Just like my kids do. I mean I am Mom, they are kids, we are different in many ways, but the same also. That “same” is what keeps it all connected. God Bless, SR

  5. Hi!

    I think Panentheism has been deliberately misunderstood by Theists who want God to be so Supreme it is somehow possible for Him to be everywhere, in everything (living and non-living) and yet somehow have a metaphysical distinctness as well. Most websites do not explain Panentheism in a good way and do not differentiate it sufficiently from pantheism.

    If we accept that God is the Creator of the universe and the cause of the Big Bang or rapid expansion of matter and space some 13.8b years ago, then what was there before the universe? Was God alone occupying no space at all? Did God create the space at the same time as matter? Did He then fill the space in order to be omnipresent as He created it?

    I found the diagrams in Steven’s post useful. If God is greater than the universe, infinite even, then it’s clear how God can create the universe within Himself and that He pre-dated our universe. And it is clear that He sustains our lives, “For in Him we live and breathe and have our being.” – Acts 17:28

    Below is a link to the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s explanation of religious philosophical concepts of God including classical theism, pantheism and panentheism:

    https://www.britannica.com/topic/pantheism

    And, below is a relevant extract from it:

    Freedom or determinism

    In those forms of pantheism that envisage the eternal God literally encompassing the world, humanity is an utterly fated part of a world that is necessarily just as it is, and freedom is thus an illusion. To be sure, classical theism holds to human freedom, but it insists that this freedom is compatible with a divine omniscience that includes his knowledge of the total future. Thus, the question arises whether or not such freedom is illusory. Panentheism, by insisting that future reality is indeterminate or open and that humanity and God, together, are in the process of determining what the future shall be, probably supports the doctrine of human freedom more completely than does any alternative point of view.

    I hope this explanation and the encyclopaedic link is helpful to understand Panentheism better.

    Peace and love to all,
    Dinos

  6. That’s interesting post and a good. I suppose panantheism would be a close fit, but I tend not to trust -isms. God created the world. Heaven is his throne, earth his footstool. He created time but he is outside of time. Christ holds all things together (Colossians 1: 27). That verse always makes me think of gravity.

    1. Hi Sheryl

      Below is a link on Panentheism if you want to do some further reading:

      http://frimmin.com/faith/godinall.php

      If we believe that God exists and that He created the universe and everything in it, including living organisms and spacetime as it is referred to now, then it’s probably true that we learn more about how God achieved this through science than through the scriptural writers. Everywhere now science and technology are being used, mostly for our benefit but also for our detriment (global warming from human activity and war, for example). It is because of God’s consistency and His laws of the sciences that we have managed to evolve to be who we are. It’s too easy to take it all for granted but the scientists and technologists know only too well how rigorous and disciplined they need to be to make real and useful advances.

      Gravity does not hold everything together as you seem to suggest. Within atoms, electrons are attracted to protons due to their opposite electrical charges. Also, gravity is now regarded as a property of the spacetime continuum which bends around objects like planets and stars. The clocks on board the Global Positioning Satellites have to be adjusted regularly as they are less affected by the curvature of space due to their altitude than the clocks on the earth’s surface. If they were not adjusted, our SatNavs would be useless so space and time should be considered as spacetime.

      If God is the sustainer of everything, just one aspect of Him (the science) will keep us busy for aeons!

      Peace and love to all,

      Dinos

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