Tuesday, October 6, 2009

B&W, W&O: Relating to God as a Person or a Power

"The whole issue of the difference between having a relationship with a person, and having a relationship with a power is of crucial importance and required a little more exploration.

God, when regarded as Creator of heaven and earth,is not obviously personal, any more than a nuclear explosion is personal. Here He is in the abstract - a power; even the pronoun 'He' is hardly merited. Much more than a physical presence, He is seen as all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful, and in a word, perfect. Naturally, if this perfection is real, He stays the same, since perfection cannot be improved on. In this aspect, God is an 'It'. He is as unapproachable and as immovable as the universe around us which He has created.

It is possible to enter into a relationship with pure power, but the resulting relationship tends to be one-sided, more like that between a master and his slave. The slave's knowledge of the master is limited. He is trained to act on orders without questioning them, to obey without scrutiny. Many relationships with God look exactly like that. People who have this sort of relationship with God talk a lot about right and wrong and tend to have a black-and-white view of life. They are usually happy only when other people share their view of life, the universe, and God Himself. Many of the religious systems in the world mirror this type of relationship.

If we regard God merely as a power, we tend to project onto Him the task of providing us with a source of the things we want to hold as absolutes in an ever-changing world. The god of philosophy is naturally 'good'. He is not only good, but is 'the Good' by which we judge all other persons and things - something the mind, unlike the heart, is very keen to do. However, there is a problem here. Very often our idea of what is good depends on our situation, (foot note: What is 'good' for you may not be 'good' for me. The fine sunny weather that is good for me while I am lying on the beach having a vacation is not good for the farmer two miles away whose crops are dying for lack of water. The burglar might have a 'good' night if he successfully raids six houses. Yet the same event is hardly 'good' for the people whose houses have been robbed.) and we are again in danger of making something out of God which is not God, but is of our own imaginings.

The God who is merely the source of moral absolutes is likely to be a disappointment whenever we face a problem that does not have a clear answer. There is no room for negotiation with an absolute force, nowhere to exercise our personal freedom.

A person who is in a relationship with a power alone is not a whole person, since there is no communion. Personhood comes about when the person of one being enters into relationship with the person of another being. Relationship always entails growth, and growth implies change. If there is no growth in a relationship, there is no development as a person wither. In fact, if there is no growth in this relationship with God, the human person actually diminishes, since it is unnourished. The power that is understood to be God inevitably becomes more distant, a more unrelated force.

A person who is in a relationship is forced to put his or her life to the test, to come into judgment through the presence of the 'other.' We cannot do that with a power as such; we simply comply, or fail to refuse to comply, with the commands the power gives us. So long as we relate to God merely as a power, He is stuck in the category of an 'object' to whom we cannot relate. Only when we relate to God as a person can we grown 'into' God."


  1. This was great! Reminds me of when Jesus told his disciples, I no longer call you servants, but friends.

    I remember when my Muslim friend told me one time that being a "slave of Allah" was a higher honor than being a "son" (or "child") of God. I asked him on what planet is a slave treated better than a child? Or when is being a slave better than being in relationship with the Father? Of course they totally reject God as Father, but still.

    Islam prides itself on logic and I found NO logic in thinking a slave had more rights and better standing with God than a child of God.

    Anyway...great article! I'm glad you are sharing things from this book.

  2. Oooo I still want this book.

    I don't think any of the 3 Abrahamic religions regard God as only Power. Usually it is Powerful but merciful and all knowing. Mercy and knowledge tend to take precedence over power.

    Most of the muslims I know refer to the translation as servant of Allah which we all are. We serve God in our actions. Although God is not referred to directly as "father" God is treated often as a parental figure. We fear God much like that of a parent. We fear disappointing God and/or being punished. We want to serve God and please Him. I think this goes for all three religions.

    I'm not a fan of the term slave, I prefer the term servant. The main reason muslims do not say "child of God" is because they want to stay as far away from the fact that God could (biologically or directly) have children. Even though in this instance child of God is used symbolically not literally.

  3. Susanne,

    That was my thought too. :)

    Islam seems to relate to God more as 'power' than anything else. You can't talk to Him, you can't see Him, He's some remote and unapproachable Being. That's not a God I'd want to worship, honestly.

  4. LK,

    Well, I don't think the author was thinking of any religion specifically, but rather a personal attitude that one might have towards God, and how we need to be able to relate to God as a person rather than a remote 'power' in order to have a full relationship with Him. Of course, I'm not finished with the chapter just yet, so we'll see how it all comes out at the end. :)

    That being said, when I read this section, I did think: 'That's Islam. That's the relationship a Muslim has with God.' He's not referring to 'power' simply in the sense of all-powerful, which is an attribute of God, but rather... God as a hurricane. Or an explosion. You can't reason with something like that. You can't talk to it. It's something that just happens to you, and you have to get out of its way.

    In Christianity and Judaism, people can question God. We feel free to sit there and go, 'Why?' and even, sometimes, argue with God. I've seen no evidence of that in Islam. People who question seem to get smacked down.

    I have an easier time with the idea of being a 'servant' of God, because 'servant' implies choice, whereas 'slave' does not.

    I'd quite happily refer to myself as a servant of God, along with His daughter and not have an issue. But 'slave'? Never.

    It actually goes to the heart of one of my problems with Islam: free will. It doesn't appear to exist in Islam. God predestines who will go to Heaven and who won't, and everything else in your life revolves around that. You've got no choice, no say, no chance if you're one of the unlucky ones who was created expressly to be damned. It's a Christian heresy that I see reflected in Islam.

    "We fear God much like that of a parent. We fear disappointing God and/or being punished. We want to serve God and please Him."

    But do you want to serve God and please Him because He's God and deserves nothing else, or because you 'fear' Him? I used to fear my father, and that's because he was an abusive jackass. I don't fear my stepfather. I respect him, I listen to and obey him, but it's out of love, not fear. I don't believe that children should fear their parents.

    I do understand why Muslims would want to avoid the 'child of God' phrase, given that they attach it to something they see as blasphemy.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...