What God is not —
To gain a further perspective of what God is, it is also important to understand what God is not. We could make a list of what God is not that could go on ad infinitum, but some of the more important aspects of what God isn't may be helpful to develop a more realistic perspective of God.
God isn't human. We have "humanized" God, but God is not human. God is God. The Creator is perfect and unwavering. We have anthropomorphized God by creating a god in our own image with the weaknesses of human nature, but that is an incomplete and inaccurate picture of God.
For those of us who had inadequate or absent father figures during our formative years, it is very UNfortunate that God has been cast as a male — a father figure living in the clouds at the end of an infinitely tall ladder. This has set up certain expectations for us that are both positive and negative. We have set ourselves up with expectations of our Heavenly Parent that are similar to our earthly father role model. That is an unfortunate parallel for many of us because it hampers and even inhibits a healthy, loving relationship with God. While the highest combined role of a human father and mother is far less than the wonderfully loving nature of our heavenly Parent, it does portray a fair approximation of God's nature: an unqualifiedly loving, benevolent, and just Father-MotherCreator.
If we see God without form or substance, without gender or emotion, without race or creed, then we have come a long way toward seeing God as The Creator really is. But how can The First Great Source and Center of the universe be a God of love, and yet be without emotion? The answer lies in our interpretation of God's benevolence. We interpret God's unconditional giving, sharing, watch-care, and universal benevolence as love. Try looking at it through this example: suppose you had a neighbor you never met and didn't ever see, but whose presence was very evident in many intriguing ways. Suppose she quietly planted flower bulbs and seeds in the fall, which in the spring surprised you with blooming flowers. Suppose she quietly arranged it so that you got the right job that helped you fulfill your family's needs. Suppose she was able to put you into situations where you had to grow, and though the times were rough, you were glad you had gone through them because you had grown. And suppose she was able to mysteriously answer your sincere requests that were in keeping with your highest good. If you had a neighbor like that, you would interpret his or her actions as "loving." Think of God as a neighbor who is eternally, universally, unconditionally, and unlimitingly generous and “good." We interpret God's unlimited and unconditional benevolent behavior toward us as "loving."
The limitations of God, and our personal responsibility —
Nothing limits God but God, Itself. If we argue that The Creator can do anything and create anything, then we must also include in that argument that God can also set limits on what It does with Its power and authority. Succinctly, to deny the possibility of God's volitional self-limitation would amount to a denial of the concept of God's volitional absoluteness.
God has defined Itself to be of one Nature: Perfection.
God is all powerful, all-knowing, unchanging, eternal — complete perfection — perfect in every way. God does not act against Its own nature, because doing and being less would be contrary to Its perfection. Consistent with God's nature, however, God has the power and authority to will to do anything.
We can apply this same logic to our own lives. "Why would we want to express and be less than the greatest of our potential?" Why, indeed? Why would we express and be less than the potential goodness we are capable of? These are not rhetorical questions, but questions whose answers are pregnant with hope and potential. Only by aligning with and exercising the innate God-potential within us can we discover ways to overcome difficulties in our relationships with others and particularly with ourselves.
God limits Itself where self-will of humans occurs.
God has not, does not, and will not violate the initiative of our self-will. Our self-will is an inviolable aspect of God's relationship to creatures who have will. This is self-evident when we examine the self-destructive decisions we make and God does not interfere.
We make millions upon millions of decisions each day, yet none is transgressed by God or Its spiritual legions. Why? Because, if God began changing the outcome of our decisions and actions, several things could occur: we would wise up and realize that someone (God) was changing the outcome of our decisions; we would defer deciding what to do in favor of God making the right decision the first time; we would not give careful thought to our decisions knowing that God would intervene and make it right for us; we would not learn — gain in wisdom — from our decisions; we would not gain in spiritual insight and growth to make better decisions as we live out our lives. By making better decisions, our souls grow from the challenges presented to us in our lifetimes, and this enhances our potential to become survivors in the duration of our ascendant spiritual careers.
Total freedom — total responsibility.
Without total freedom and total responsibility for our self-will decisions, the potential for complete, fulfilling growth of our infinite lives would be denied to us. God limits Itself in our lives to provide us with the possibility of expressing and fulfilling the totality of our potential on all levels of our being, just as God does.
Many people have a generalized anxiety and fear about God's relationship to them. Their fear and anxiety is usually due to their old beliefs that, because God created the universe and all that is in it, God is responsible for all of it and what happens in it. They fear that God will unilaterally judge them and take action according to all their errors. This is simply archaic thinking.
Ultimately, with total freedom, we are totally responsible for our actions, not God. There is no need for fear or anxiety on our part concerning God's intentions or actions for us. This being so, the real source of our anxiety originates from our confidence or lack thereof in our own ability to lead our lives as responsible citizens on this planet and in the universe. There is much to fear, but not from God. God has generously given us all the necessary attributes of Itself, particularly self-awareness, and furthermore has provided a pattern, an example to follow. When we become self-aware of the necessity of becoming a responsible decisionmaker, we have come a long way to becoming a responsible, co-creative partner with the Presence of God within. Then we will know that the course of our lives is shared, and our anxieties will dissolve. With the Presence of God within as our guide and co-creative partner in life, we empower the flow of our lives in the right direction when we begin to "Let go, and let God."
Confusing "bad things" with the nature of God —
Very simply, all that exists in the world is either “of people” or “not of people.” Following this logic, the tragedies and traumas of life are caused by:
1) the events of nature that injure people,
2) the result of decisions we make that are harmful, and
3) the result of decisions other people make that are harmful.
Death is perhaps the worst "bad thing" most people consider that could happen to them. In the broader perspective of our infinite lifetime, death is necessary for us to move on to the next phase of our infinite lifeexperience. It is not to be feared, and only to be avoided because it decreases our ability to gather greater wisdom from the process of living from imperfection to perfection on this material plane.
For people who have not had the benefit of a near-death experience, death represents an irrevocable transition from being "of people” to the realm of "not people." Those who have had a near death experience understand and know that this lifetime is simply one short phase of an infinite life. Once past this material plane, they come to realize that they are still "of people" but not material.
When “bad things" happen to us, it is not an indication that God is angry with us. God is perfect. God is loving, and in perfect love there is no anger. Simply assigning to God the responsibility for all bad things that occur in the world is a child-like way of resolving the situation and a result of lazy thinking. Nonetheless, suffering does occur. People do get hurt, either physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, or any number of other ways from "bad things.”
Many, but not all, people have become distant in their relationship to God because they were taught that God created the painful events and situations that affect them personally. This single mistaken belief has led many believers to think of God as having two natures. To them, God is simultaneously a mean and hurtful being, yet a loving, kind, and forgiving benefactor. This raises questions about God's nature. What is God's true nature, good guy or bad guy? People with this fallacious concept of God wouldn't know from one minute to the next which of God's natures they were dealing with. When people think of God as having two or more natures, they have anthropomorphized God and they come to distrust God.
"Bad things" due to acts of nature.
Concerning acts of nature, nature is a place of gravity, rocks, water, weather, trees, and other growing things. Acts of nature include all aspects of nature not capable of self-will. The physical laws of nature we are acquainted with have been in place for billions of years, and are mechanical and not subject to amendment with any predictability. The travesties of nature that befall us are like the rain. They fall upon the good and the bad alike, without malice or preference.
For instance, imagine that you are on vacation driving along a highway under a steep, rocky embankment, pulling a travel-trailer behind your car. Suddenly a large boulder crashes down onto the trailer. That is a "bad thing," as most all of us would agree, that occurred as an act of nature.
Nothing personal about it — it just happened. Though God set into motion the creation of the world, including its rocks and the laws of gravity, God didn't actively cause the rock to fall down and ruin your vacation. You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing personal about it. Had you passed earlier or later, the boulder would have merely cratered the highway rather than your trailer. Remember, it wasn't a premeditated act of God to harm you.
On the other hand, although God didn't actively cause the accident, God also didn't keep you from harm, either. You might ask, "Why didn't God save our trailer from that act of nature that destroyed it?” The answer is this: as we saw earlier, since God is all-wise, there is no need to change the initial decisions made on how reality, including nature, should work. Once set in motion, it does what it is supposed to do, even when we get in the way. If God intervened in the events of our lives, we would come to expect God to do so, and we would abandon our quest for personal growth and maturity. We would not be challenged by life. Life would become easy and we would become lazy, uncreative, unchallenged, uninventive, and so on. Further, we would feel that our lives were being controlled and we would resent being pawns of God. Intervention by God in our lives to prevent harm works against our need to grow, mature, develop values, and pursue the ennobling qualities of our humanity.
If we prayed for a successful trip on our vacation and our trailer was hit by a boulder, that does not mean that God either caused the boulder to hit the trailer or that God did not prevent it from hitting the trailer. It simply means that it was an act of nature. For myself, I would give great thanks to God that the boulder did not hit the car and kill or injure us! Was our prayer answered or not?
"Bad things" due to human decisions.
Of the two categories of "bad things," the most complicated involves "bad things" that are caused by people. Considering that decisions and actions can be intentional or unintentional, personal or impersonal, "bad things” caused by human behavior can get complicated.
However, in none of these cases does God cause the "bad things." "Bad things'' caused by people are products of independent will. God created us with free will, and God will not (God wills not to) interfere with our decisions — or anybody's decisions of any sort — after having given us the right to make our own decisions using our own free will. Remember, God is not capricious, fickle, or inconstant. God is constant and perfect. God doesn't change Its mind.
God does not and will not intervene in the self-willed decisions of people to either cause or prevent the tragedies of life, which come to us from our own decisions and actions, or from the decisions and actions of others. In any of these cases, personal self-will operates: ALWAYS. Self-will is sovereign within each of us. God has not, does not, and wills not to intervene in any of our decisions even when they are contrary to God's will.
Let us examine the most tragic, intentional human-decision catastrophe that has ever taken place — the holocaust of World War II, where six million Jews were intentionally exterminated by Hitler's Nazi regime. The question that theologians, ministers, priests, and anguished believers have asked thousands of times is, "Why didn't God intervene in this tragedy that took place over a period of many years?” The question assumes that God didn't, but neither learned church scholars nor believers know if God did or didn't intervene without their awareness.
The answer is a refrain of the above statements: individuals have self-will, not groups of people. Individuals determine the course of their lives with every decision, whether significant or insignificant. The holocaust took place over a period of many years because hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people in Germany and other countries individually agreed with that policy of extermination by their commission or omission to act. On the other hand, courageous individuals such as Schindler (Schindler's List) saw that a higher choice was available, made a decision, and took action to save Jews who would certainly have become ashes in the ovens of Nazi death camps.
Where was God?! Ever present in the hearts and minds of those courageous individuals, just as God's Fragment was present in the minds of those who chose and acted to kill innocent Jews. God's Divine Fragment was present — waiting for the individual to invite God to aid his or her decision for loving-action. God's participation is not a dance of marionettes, but a co-creative dance of two living, willing partners — The Creator and each one of us. To realize God's Presence inside us is an act of will. God won't force Itself into our awareness! We have to make the effort. It is solely our decision to make — God has already made the decision to be in relationship with us.
Do you see how relevant this is to you, you personally, today? It is relevant to each of us every day in every decision we make. Decisions are made by individuals, not societies. God does not intervene, whether ten or one hundred or one hundred billion people err. God's influence is not fickle or capricious but always consistent and subtle, allowing for the individual to will the course of his or her life into being. In this regard, the course of nations is determined by the decisions and actions of individuals, whether they lead or follow, whether they decide to act or not, or ignore to decide! God is present within the individual, acting in concert with the invitation of the individual. The holocaust is a good example of God demonstrating complete respect for the sovereign will of the individual. The tragedies of societies are always, first, tragedies of individuals, whether they are victims or persecutors. What could be more damning to a soul's infinite existence than a person's conscious willdecision to terminate the life course of one or hundreds of thousands of innocent victims?
"Good things,” "bad things,” and spiritual growth —
Yes, the world is a tough place to live, and it's easy to die here if you're not careful — sometimes without even knowing you're going to. But it isn't an impossibly difficult world to live in, either. Our species has grown, matured, become smarter, and wiser, not by being lazy and slothful, decadent or unproductive, but by the tough challenges of living and overcoming them.
We wonder why there is so much difficulty and trouble in the world, most of it created by people, including ourselves. Yet, difficulties do provide experience and wisdom in the use of our will to consciously and intentionally overcome them. Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, and human needs provide an environment for decisionmaking and for exercising our will in situations that test and stretch our strengths. In that stretching, we grow.
God created the universe, set laws in place, and then gave us a mechanical, electrochemical body and brain, a mind, and a will to direct and train the mind to make decisions that hold the potential to develop our spirituality and thus contribute to the growth of our soul. We learn from our mistakes and from right choices and decisions. These experiences aid and guide our decisions that advance the maturity of our personality, increase our wisdom, and help us learn to love better each day.
Overcoming the difficulties of life and surviving tragedies tempers our character and our personalities, giving us a history in our soul by which our surviving spirit will be known after our physical death. Our record of decisions marks our capacity for soul survivorship. What this means is that our decisions, as humans on this material plane, enhance or diminish our capability to overcome the challenges of survival during the many eras of our afterlife experiences. Our soul is the record, or storehouse of wisdom, that returns to us in the afterlife after our material dissolution (mortal death). If you make no decisions during your lifetime, then there is no wisdom to go forward with you.
Our intentions tell of the direction of our longings. Shakespeare accurately said that all the world is but a stage upon which we act our lives. Had God made it easy for us to live without risk, then we would become lazy, slothful, ignorant, and generally unproductive without need or want to progress and improve the way we live, and especially the way we think, what we think, and the choices we make. We would not have developed to the point where we could express our loving nature, no matter how immature it may be, or our willingness to become like God. Difficulties exist to force us to choose the way we act and react to life, to choose what we will become. An easier life does provide more immediate choices for growth, but there is often less motivation to choose challenging avenues of growth.
The uncertainties of life and the vicissitudes of existence do not in any manner contradict the concept of the universal sovereignty of God. All evolutionary creature life is beset by certain inevitabilities. Consider the following:
Is courage — strength of character —desirable? Then must every [person] be reared in an environment that necessitates grappling with hardships and reacting to disappointments.
Is altruism — service to one's fellows — desirable? Then must life experience provide for encountering situations of social inequality.
Is hope — the grandeur of trust — desirable? Then must human existence constantly be confronted with insecurities and recurrent uncertainties.
Is faith — the supreme assertion of human thought — desirable? Then must the mind of man find itself in that troublesome predicament where it ever knows less than it can believe.
Is the love of truth — and the willingness to go wherever it leads — desirable? Then must man grow up in a world where error is present and falsehood always possible.
Is idealism — the approaching concept of the divine — desirable? Then must man struggle in an environment of relative goodness and beauty, surroundings stimulative of the irrepressible reach for better things.
Is loyalty — devotion to highest duty — desirable? Then must man carry on amid the possibilities of betrayal and desertion. The valor of devotion to duty consists of an implied danger of default.
Is unselfishness — the spirit of self-forgiveness— desirable? Then must mortal man live face to face with the incessant clamoring of an inescapable self for recognition and honor. Man could not dynamically choose the divine life if there were no self-life to forsake. Man could never lay saving hold on righteousness if there were no potential evil to exalt and differentiate the good by contrast.
Is pleasure — the satisfaction of happiness — desirable? Then must man live in a world where the alternative of pain and the likelihood of suffering are ever-present experiential possibilities.
The confusion and difficulties on our planet do not signify that God and Its administrators lack either interest or ability to manage affairs differently. God possesses the power to make our planet a veritable paradise, but that would not contribute to the development of those strong, noble, and experienced characters that God so surely is forging out on our world between the anvils of necessity and the hammers of anguish. Our anxieties and sorrows, trials and disappointments are just as much a part of God's divine plan for our world and our lives as the exquisite perfection and infinite adaptation of all things to their supreme purpose on Paradise — heaven.