If we have a mind, God has Mind
So far we have discovered God as the Ground of our Being, as the Ultimate Reality, the source of objective morality. The question we now have to address is: is God personal? Is God a Reality we can relate to on a person-to-person basis?
Jews and Christians may well want to take a short-cut at this stage. They may point to a direct experience of God in prayer and worship. “God knows me, God loves me”, they may well say. “I’m sure of it, because I feel his response. I don’t need any further proof. God himself confirms his personal interest in me.” Such testimonies have, indeed, great value. In the context of this website, however, we have to proceed more gradually. We will discuss our direct encounters with God in the chapters that deal with God’s self-manifestation. Believers too will benefit from pondering to what extent God can be known as personal even without revelation.
Does the Ultimate Reality know us? Can we relate to him/her/it? Does he/she/it communicate with us? Can we respond to the Ground of Being in personal prayer?
The answer to such questions is not simple. In many ways God is impersonal. He is the God of the whole universe. He has a very unusual relationship to the universe which, as we have already seen, should not be conceived in terms of ruling a two-tier world. God is not the supernatural Architect, Manager, Lawgiver and Maintenance Person he/she/it has sometimes been made out to be in popular religion.
That is why some people defend a purely impersonal God. Joel Friedman calls it “the Natural God”, a God which is the evolving, unifying, maximizing Force of Nature (see: J.I.FRIEDMAN, “The Natural God: a God even an Atheist can believe in”, Zygon 21 (1986) 369-388).
God is not like a person at all, Friedman says. He, or rather It, is more like energy. God is the power of Nature. God pervades the world as the evolutionary force that drives everything to ever higher states of perfection. God is the bond that unifies everything from the highest to the lowest. But God is not a person. It is not conscious. It is as blind as a bat and does not think. We cannot talk to It.
We must think of God, Friedman continues, as the poetic expression of the life energy in us. All creatures dance, and so do we. God is the dance in us. God is the Life Spirit. It is the poetic, mysterious, fascinating side of life. God is something to celebrate in us, to give free rein to, to live out in art and beauty and depth of feeling. But God is not a ghost who hovers around us and to whom we can talk.
Now Friedman is absolutely right in affirming the impersonal life-giving aspects of God. God is the energy that brings forth the universe and the dance in us. Friedman is also right in rejecting the hovering-ghost image of God. But Friedman is wrong in denying a personal side to God.
Seeing intelligence at work in the universe
There are many reasons that compel us to say that God, our deepest Self, our life Force, the Ground of our Being must be personal. One reason we will consider in this chapter.
We know that God must have mind. He/she does not have mind in the sense of having a brain, a human mind, but in a way of speaking God is Mind. And God’s intelligence must surpass ours immeasurably. When we say God has “mind” and is “mind” we mean God can know and think – though God’s knowing and thinking will be of a totally different order.
How do we know someone else has mind?
Think of the ancient Cro-Magnon people who hunted in the South of France around 35000 BC. We have never met them, but we know their paintings. In dozens of underground caves of the Dordogne they have left breath-taking pictures of the animals they hunted: deer, swine, aurochses, mammoths, antelopes, ibexes and bears. On some of the mural pictures the artists have left imprints of their right hand, as a signature or a gesture of power. The art they produced is filled with mind. We know these people had intelligence.
In Britain we have Stonehenge, an impressive monument of huge stone slabs arranged in a circle. It was constructed in the second millennium before Christ. The builders carved the huge stones from quarries in Wales and in the Marlborough Downs, and transported them many miles to their present location. Some they erected as pillars, others, often 30 feet long and weighing up to 50 tons, they heaved on top of them as lintels. The axes of the circular construction were aligned with the rising of the sun at its solstices on the 22nd of June and the 22nd of December.
We have never met the builders of Stonehenge, but in what they have left we can see mind. We see thought, planning and organisation. We know that they possessed intelligence.
The fact is that we can never see mind or intelligence directly. We see mind in what people do, in their actions. We know other people have intelligence by looking at their faces, and seeing how they respond. When we hear them speak or see them act, we instantly know they can think. We do not even stop to reflect on it. And yet, we cannot see mind itself. We only meet people’s mind in the thoughts, plans and actions they produce.
The same applies to God’s being Mind. If we can see mind in other people’s behaviour, in works of art and intelligence left by our ancestors, we can see God’s mind in the fact of intelligence in the created world. For if God is the evolving, unifying and maximizing energy in everything, he/she must be the energy that produces mind. An effect cannot be larger than its cause.
Please, note that what I am saying differs from the classical argument from design. When people still thought everything had been created directly by God – without evolution, they would see God’s design and planning in every detail of nature. For every flower, it was thought, God made a blueprint that specified shape and colour and matching insects to pollinate it. All the planning seen in nature was thus considered to reveal the mind of the Architect God.
We now realise that the argument is not valid. In the first place, the detailed features of everything in nature are determined by the forces of evolution. And secondly, if God is held directly responsible for what is successful in nature, he/she would be equally responsible for all its failures. In recent years whole forests have been destroyed by Dutch elm disease. The cause is the fungus ceratocystis ulmi which is spread from tree to tree by burrowing bark beetles. A design fault by the Master Planner? It shows that the idea of a supernatural Creator God does not do justice to the facts.
But the argument from intelligence in the world lies on a more fundamental level. It is more like saying that if there is a software programme that can play chess, the person who wrote that programme can also play chess, to say the least.
Intelligence in the universe
If God creates and sustains our intelligence from within, he/she must at least possess the intelligence that we have. In fact, God’s intelligence must surpass ours immeasurably. That is why God is personal. God knows us. God relates to us and can communicate to us, but all the time working on a deeper level.
Think of it like this. God’s creative energy pushes the world, from within, to ever higher levels of development. In evolution life begins to emerge. There are viruses and plants. All of these express God’s creative energy, however imperfectly and partially.
Then face appeared.
Animals evolved to have intelligence – with their `faces’ as its outward sign. Worms and snails have faces of a sort, fish and birds, each with their level of intelligence. The mammals evolved even keener faces. They can convey a wide variety of responses which offer an amazing range of communication. When we look at the face of a chimpanzee, we can recognise personality and the beginnings of real thought.
The process culminates in human beings. Our faces reflect our inner personality. Our faces radiate mind. They help us relate to other people. Now, while God of course has no face as we have, nor a human brain, nor other personality features, it is God’s fullness that is reflected in the intelligence that makes us persons. In that sense God too is personal. God cannot be less that what he/she produces in us.
Can he who created the ear be deaf?
He who created the eye be blind?
He who created the mouth be dumb?
On the other hand, we should not glibly call God a person, as we human individuals are persons. God is not a supernatural ghost who hovers about the world and has dealings with one individual after the other. In that sense God is impersonal. God is the creative power that supports everything that exists including the force of evolution. But that does not mean that God is blind, unconscious or incapable of communicating to us.
God is Mind. God is `personal’, but not in the anthropomorphic sense of being `a person’.
“When we say that God is personal, we really mean that he is not less than what we experience as personality, in the sense that the perfection of personality must be in him in the only manner in which it can be in an infinite Being . . . . In that sense God is super-personal.”
F.COPLESTON, A History of Philosophy, vol.II, Westminster 1962, pp. 396-397.
The text in this chapter is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.
View the following film on the meaning of incarnation