Monthly Archives: April 2018

“God”: Immanent and Transcendent

From my Western/philosophical Panentheist point of view, “God” (the ultimate infinite compassionate Reality) is both “here” (immanent) and “more than here” (transcendent), which to me simply means that everything unfolds in God’s presence.

It doesn’t mean that God is a spy, a judge, a bedroom-or-bathroom invader.
It doesn’t mean that God is a creator who is morally obligated to intervene in material processes for reasons known only to “Himself”.

What it does mean is that the universe is in God, and God is in the universe. Hence, “pan” (everything) is “en” (in) “theos” (God). If memory serves, it was St. Augustine who made the illustration of Panentheism wherein the world is represented as a water-soaked (“God-soaked”) sponge, floating in an infinite sea (which is also God). God is in the world, the world is in God.

However, the current God-debate is more often than not constricted to the theology of supernatural theism, which posits a kind of sky-father deity “out there”, who, as a creator, maintains and intervenes in the world. That, however, is an arbitrary view. Saying that God – in order to be real, to BE God – must be a creator, is as inept as saying that the moon must be made of green cheese, or it doesn’t exist.

One application of this concept is Jesus’s teaching about the fall of sparrows, “birds of the air”, which happens naturally without any intervention by God. The point is that the fall of sparrows and humans does not happen without context, in a vacuum. Rather, it occurs in the loving presence and awareness of God, the God who, precisely because “He” is not the creator or maintainer of the world, and does not intervene in its processes. Spying and miraculous intervention are simply not part of God’s “job description”.

So in actuality, it can be said that God does absolutely nothing as relates to the construction and maintenance of the world, for the simple reason that such activity is not in God’s nature to do so. Against the traditional view, God is neither “mighty” nor “All-Mighty”.

God is not “Doing”. God is “Being”.

But this does not mean that God is impotent or powerless. It only means that  God does not materially relate to or act upon the world.

However, that does not mean that God is inactive – because the presence of God does act in our deep subjectivity as a catalyst toward spiritual growth and enlightenment. This is the God-experience of mystical union and communion  which is not about miraculous physical intervention in the world or in the human body, but rather about the manifestation of God’s presence in the souls of sentient beings.

Once one becomes aware of the inner presence of God in oneself, one no longer has to entertain the idea of, or has a need for, a creator deity “out there” who supernaturally intervenes in the material universe. Because one already “has” God in the only place it really counts – the human soul, the human heart. God conceived as a transformative inner presence trumps God conceived as a mechanistic, intervening creator deity. The person him or herself is the locus of God’s activity. The material world spins on, following its own self-directed laws without divine intervention.

An additional comment from a Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhist framework, from which this blog hopes to operate:

Jodo Shinshu’s “Ultimate” – Amida Buddha – is not a creator deity, but rather the highest celestial primordial Buddha. Just as with the non-creating God conception, Amida does not intervene in the material world – first because he did not create it and bears no personal responsibility for it, and second because his effulgent grace causes the salvific reality of Shinjin – “perfect faith” – to arise in the deep subjectivity of sentient beings.

Shinjin is a free gift from the Sacred Transcendent. That is why Shin calls it “a raft from the Other Shore” – a vehicle that makes landfall softly and unbidden and that carries us across the ocean of samsara, all without any effort and self-power practice on our part. Our own Amazing Grace. Not a God, but rather the Buddha whose grace ensures the vivifying sparking of our own aspiration toward Buddhahood. Where, in his Pure Land, our own Buddha Nature finally blossoms and we begin to do the selfless work that enlightened Beings do.


Jesus: Divine, but not “God”

Jesus’s famous saying, “Before Abraham came to be, I am” is only found in John (8:58), “the maverick Gospel”. Which should be something of a red flag to careful, serious readers.

In any case, Trinitarians misuse the text as “proof” that Jesus was calling himself ontological God. That is doubtful in view even within “high” Johannine christology itself, where John’s Jesus functions merely as “the finger [human being] pointing to the moon [God]”.

John’s Jesus, in John 17:3, explicitly excluded himself from the Godhead: “YOU [Father-God] are THE ONLY TRUE GOD”. Not Apollo, not Zeus. Not Jesus. Only God.

The phrase in itself is amenable to several non-divine interpretations:

1 John’s Jesus as a divine union mystic: “Who sees me sees the Father”, “the Father and I are one”. John’s Jesus also holds the incarnate Logos within himself, as he does the Spirit in the Synoptics. He is not claiming to “be God”, but rather to be seamlessly united to God and to the Logos.

2 As so many divine union mystics have expressed their union with God, so does Jesus – as with (say) the Sufi mystic who, pointing to himself, said, “There is no one in these garments but God”, and who ended up crucified like Jesus, by people who similarly misunderstood the claim. Which is not a claim to be God, but rather to be the “empty vessel” in which God dwells.

3 Many divine union mystics claim to experience a share in God’s consciousness, and in God’s timeless awareness: the “Eternal Now”. All of these people can say “before Abraham came to be, I am”, because, like God, they experience the Eternal Now, a timeless state.

4 In John, Jesus speaks in two voices: A) the Jewish mystic relating his divine union experience, and B) the incarnate Word. Of course, the Logos is “before” Abraham, knows the secret things of God, descends from and ascends back to heaven when He/It returns to the pre-incarnational “glory that I had with the Father before the world was made”.

None of the above requires that we must think that Jesus is speaking in capital letters and usurping the divine “I AM” that belongs to Yahweh alone. He has already excluded himself from the Godhead. He scolds “the Jews” who charge him of making himself “God” by telling them that – because they are not ashamed to call Israel’s ancient judges “gods” – they ought not complain when Jesus makes the much lesser claim of merely being God’s son.

At most, Jesus’s “I am” sayings, statements of divine oneness, and of his Eternal Now experience only represent pre-existence, not Godhead or divinity itself. This is standard Jewish theology, which held the real existence of many pre-existent beings, from the angels to the heavenly Son of Man from the book of Daniel. Jesus himself, at his Sanhedrin trial, precisely claimed to be that pre-existent celestial figure, who is “divine”, but not God eternal.

Torah-Observance Not Difficult

It is a particularly Christian failing to condemn the Jewish religion and its Law as a burden that was – fortunately for Christianity – removed by Jesus’s supposedly atoning sacrifice on the Cross. However, the Torah itself disagrees.

The Law was not “hard” for practicing Jews of ancient Judea. They considered it to be “just what the Doctor ordered”. The notion that at the time of Jesus and before, that Judaism had become “legalistic” is a canard. Granted, legalism as practiced by the Pharisees is real, but at the same time is an obvious abuse of Law-observance.

Yahweh, the Jews’ own god, had this to say about observance of the Law and its ease of carrying out, not as a burden, but as a gift:

Deuteronomy 30:11-20 New International Version (NIV)
The Offer of Life or Death

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…

It was Paul, and later, John, who came along claiming that the Law was a burden, and worse, that Jesus’s supposedly “atoning” sacrifice had invalidated the Law.



Bible Errors?

A mistake is a mistake, a contradiction is a contradiction. And there’s no reason that such gaffes must necessarily mean that the rest of a book is therefore useless. Of course, the Bible is widely held not only to be God-inspired, but also inerrant – and that’s the problem.

A fundamentalist view of scripture demands that scripture be free of error and contradiction, whereas an informed, critically-based view will allow for a certain percentage of error – even when that critically-educated reader is Christian. The works of Marcus J. Borg and Raymond E. Brown clearly illustrate this “Christian but not fundamentalist” approach.

The basic informed Christian biblical view seems to go like this: “We believe that scripture contains all truths necessary for our salvation, but that not all biblical texts were written solely for that express purpose”. Thus, scripture is “permitted” to be erroneous and contradictory, as long as its essential soteriological message comes through unscathed.

Enlightened exegesis also recognizes that salvific truths are not always and necessarily facts. Truth includes, but is not limited to, quantifiable material fact. The key to a biblical text is not in its factuality, its scientific and historical accuracy. The key is its meaning: “Believe what you like about a particular biblical story. But now let’s talk about its meaning”, as Borg (RIP) used to say.

Profound spiritual meaning often cannot be expressed in the language of fact, but only in the language of poetry, allegory, analogy and parable. For example: Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan is spiritually true even if there was no historical Samaritan and no historical roadside crime victim and no uncaring passersby. Meaning trumps external issues of fact and history, and it cuts through to the numinous core of the message.

So, for critically-educated Christians, biblical error is not a game-stopper, as long as scripture’s essential messages of spiritual transformation, unattached to questions of scientific/historical fact, remain plain in the text, and as long as they successfully unfold in Christian life.