“How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” Psalm 84:1-4
Introduction to God as Personal
This post is the third and final in our Worldview Circling Series on God, one of the eight pillars of worldview thinking we have identified. The first of our worldview pillars is Truth, and we offered a Four Part Series last fall. God is our second pillar.
Obviously, no one, no how, no way can handle the huge topic of the subjective and objective human conception of God (or gods) in just three posts! But we have to limit it somehow, and we determined that three is a good number, given the primary focus here (the Personal God of Judaism and Christianity).
Today, we do comment across the three Abrahamic faiths described in large part in the Bible (or Scripture) that some describe as Ethical Monotheism, while recognizing that the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are each different, as well as each God’s relationship with man and man’s various groups and institutions. Judaism and Christianity are often viewed to be similar enough to be grouped together (Judeo-Christianity or Judaism-Christianity), with the obvious difference (among several key others) being their respective views of Jesus of Nazareth.
To establish a boundary between a Personal God and an Impersonal One, we should comment briefly on a religion that became popular in upper classes in the West around the 1700’s: deism. Of course, it is quite possible to believe in a supernatural, creator, and ethical god that is not a personal god. Such a god would describe deism (and certain specific versions of Abrahamic monotheisms that do not recognize God’s intervention from His supernatural perch into our material space).
Though with few followers today on a relative basis, deism is such a strong view conceptually that it’s sometimes recognized as one of the four most basic forms of global religion: theism, deism, pantheism, and atheism.
Deists believe that God, as powerful and good, created the world, established many natural and ethical laws, but, since creation, has allowed humanity and history to operate on its own. Often deists grant the reality of ethical duties and rights, perhaps implanted in humanity by God, between God and mankind and between men and women that should guide us. Deism developed during the early Scientific Revolution, and it made room for Darwinism.
As mentioned in a prior post, deism today in the West seems to have largely given way to human secularism and dropped God altogether. Of course, the unfolding consequence of dropping God from worldview seems to be dropping morality—a digression to be expanded upon when we get to our seventh worldview pillar, Morality.
(An interesting question is whether a “good” version of secularism can withstand the 21st century’s onslaught of radical atheism, even in its “social justice” form, without God. We doubt it.)
Deism’s regrettable but undeniable effect is ironic because its concept of God was constructed to deal with such big theological issues as the evil, pain, and suffering in the world, God’s determinism or predestination versus human free will, the nature of petitionary or personal prayer, and the love of God Itself. For sure, these are big issues to man, but orthodox Christians believe God can handle them.
Now, however, we will leave any discussion of them to past and future posts. A resurgence of “neo-deism” is possible as science increasingly points to the existence of a creating and sustaining god—which seems undeniable. (We are interviewing Dr. Stephen Meyer next week, who is an orthodox Christian.)
Overview of Abrahamic Monotheism
All three Abrahamic religions see Jesus, at a minimum, as quite a significant prophet, with only Christianity seeing Jesus as the Christ prophesied in the Old Testament and the risen Son of God, the god/man, as described in the New Testament.
As outlined in our “Kinds of Gods” post linked at top—Series II of III—Christianity and Islam are by far the largest religions in the world, with Judaism, by far the oldest religion of the three, having spawned Christianity first, then Islam. (Islam also traces its roots to the gods of indigenous desert tribes, as does Judaism and Christianity to Palestine.)
And as we described in our “God and Philosophy” post, also linked above—Series I of III—when we are referring to “religion” in these God posts, we are referring to a belief in the supernatural and, in general, some form of worship of God or gods in a realm that differs from the natural realm of materialist or humanist secularism. Therefore, in all three Ethical Monotheisms, there exists an aspect of dualism in “orthodoxy”—a division of the natural and supernatural worlds.
All three Scriptural faiths see God as one, though they debate among themselves in quite significant theological ways about what this means and how it manifests itself in human existence. Again, Judaism is by far the oldest of the three religions recognizing God “above” (and Spirit here) who can appear or influence humans on earth. Islam recognizes the Bible as authoritative with qualifications from the Koran, its authoritative text. Muslims worship God as One, and as perhaps more ineffable and distant. Christians see the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Spirit) as different manifestations of the same One, timeless God.
We at Praxis Circle operate out of a Christian worldview, and we do not believe we know Islam well enough to speak with great authority there. As a result, when we refer to “Our Personal God” here, we are referring primarily to the God of Judaism and Christianity. We recognize that Muslims worldwide pray and appeal to Allah in ways that are maximally reverent and personal as any Jew or Christian. (This should go without saying, but we want to say it anyway.)
In each case, while man can petition, argue, and even laugh or cry with God, God influences man and generally not vice versa (though there are instances in the Bible where that seems to occur).
A couple final comments are important before jumping into a brief overview of the Personal God of Judeo-Christianity. First, the God of Jews and Christians is truly unique in allowing appeals to God on a personal basis, almost as if God in whatever form is a person, family member, or friend (though maximally holy Who must be approached with utter reverence and care). After all, perhaps the first point of wisdom is to “fear God”—or approach and consider Him with the utmost respect and awe.
Of course, in neither case is God viewed to be an actual person living up in the clouds or behind the stars beyond the edge of the universe. In this sense God is a mystery, whose characteristics and even “personality” have been made manifest in Scripture and history. In fact, the Christian Trinity seems to embrace all aspects of God found in most religions worldwide: An all powerful elite being (Father), a force or great Influence in this world (Holy Spirit), and a human being (Jesus). To complement God, humans exhibit God’s characteristics as a similar but lesser life form.
Without question, the authors of Scripture and the facts of history dictate that we humans must think of God somehow/someway (see the end of God Series I). Most important, it is quite okay to think of God as a person when talking with, praying to, or meditating on God. Humans have a “personal relationship” with the God of the Bible.
In the Old Testament, man argues with and even seems to persuade God on occasion over to his own position. Whether this actually occurs is a matter for theology.
In the New Testament, Jesus specifically instructs Christians to refer to God as Father. Clearly, Christians cannot function as creatures doing the Creator’s Will unless as “children of God.” The only way to relate personally in love, trust, and covenant to the Bible’s purely good and holy god—God—is through moral belief and behavior.
In any case, please read the Psalms and Gospel for an indication of what type of personal God Judaism and Christianity worship. As to restate, Christianity believes God actually became man in Jesus Christ; indeed, many Christians see one’s personal relationship with Christ through worship, prayer, mediation, and how one lives one’s life as the absolute centerpiece of their religion.
Of course, Judaism goes beyond any personal relationship with God by recognizing “I Am” as the God of Israel or Zion. Christ, Paul, and the Early Church of Christianity took this ball and ran with it into the vast gentile or pagan world of the late Greco-Roman times. The universal Christ is the evangelical Christian concept sparking the growth of Christianity all over the world today.
To the same extent as Judaism and Islam, Christians apply their religion to 100% of life and equally in any group context. Paul refers to the Church as the bride of Christ and to Christian groups as the body of Christ.
As a small but quite important example from American history, the American pilgrims applied their religion corporately in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Beyond the Church itself (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox), there are countless similar Christian examples across tribal-to-organizational being, wherever Christians are found. Christianity cannot, should not, and will not be denied in the public square.
In sum on this point, even and especially today, the Judeo-Christian concept of God and His relationship with human kind has a decisive influence on how Jews and Christians approach our eighth worldview pillar—Governance.
Overview of Ethical Monotheism
Again, the God of what we have referred to in past posts as Western “Classical Judeo-Christianity” (or CJC) is a unique type of god compared to countless others found worldwide. We believe the perceived nature of God as the Creator God of the Bible has done more coming out of the last ~3,500 years to shape the West, and maybe even the world, than any other influence.
We will not try to tell you too much about this personal god here because that god, well, is personal!
Really, one of the best ways to start thinking about our Personal God of Ethical Monotheism is to take less that ten minutes (10:18 to be exact) and watch the playlist at top featuring our star Contributors Rodney Stark, Robert George, and Jim Hall. (They appear in that order.)
We offer the first four verses of the 84th Psalm above as an example of how Scripture talks about our Personal God. On the authority of Tim Keller, the 84th Psalm is one of the best examples of this among all 150 psalms. Please read the whole psalm if moved to do so.
Of course, no doubt, if you are a theist, you have your own idea of god that is personal and special to you. In fact, all of human experience seems to have come from the personal subjective experience of individuals alone or in groups.
Having said that, CJC’s personal god exists in Truth outside of any one person’s personal experience. Our subjective experiences are an aspect of Truth, but what we conclude about our experience through our senses might not be true. Feelings, emotions, and love do not need logic, but once we start thinking about them and describing them in language, we become philosophers relying on faith (See God Series I). We believe this is true across humanity.
Christians and Jews rely on the Old and/or New Testament to anchor their faith in objectivity, as believed revealed through sacred moments in the history of mankind.
What Type of God is God?
We want to end on a very brief rendering of some of what is said in the playlist above and in the interviews of many of our PC Contributors about the type of God Christians and Jews worship and the nature of that personal relationship. Rodney Stark’s Creator God of the Bible has all of Jim Hall’s “omni characteristics,” being maximal in ways only God can be: holy, creative, powerful, knowing, true, good, beautiful, loving, virtuous, and not un-virtuous or evil. (Some define evil as an absence of God.)
As Robert George suggests in today’s playlist’s second clip, our personal relationship to God is defined in Genesis 1:28 as imago Dei: God has infused us with his traits; he doesn’t look like us in the supernatural world, and we don’t infuse him. We are created creatures and all of creation is dependent on Him, though there is independence in the Fall, as well. He gave us freedom as human beings to do maximum good and maximum evil (and we did and still are doing it).
In our opinion, the big concept few today consider that was front-and-center to medieval and earlier minds was God’s aseity—see the first Jim Hall video. God is infinite and all knowing; He can influence everything and is influenced by nothing beyond His own Will. (Of course, there are all kinds of philosophical and theological issues and even problems involved in each of these basic assertions, being beyond the scope of this post.)
Nonetheless, it’s fair to say all Abrahamic faiths believe it’s man’s reason that is obviously limited, not God’s. In fact, not every Abrahamic philosopher would agree with Jim Hall that God can only do or think what is logical or possible. Can God create square circles or create a rock too heavy for God to lift?
Certainly, all Muslims and the lion’s share of Jews and Christians think it’s far wiser to laugh at man than God. Just look around—we are talking about the Creator of this beyond amazing world. If God can do this, any resurrection or any other created world is “a piece of God-cake.”
Conclusion to Our God Posts at Praxis Circle
We will stop here and not go into the key characteristics of man represented by the concept imago Dei that are so important. We will expand there when we get to our sixth worldview pillar in this Circling Series—Man. It involves Christian anthropology. (We are actually developing a curriculum on imago Dei now because we believe it so central to Christian worldview in unifying or bringing together all eight pillars.)
We have hesitated to describe God in great detail in any of these three posts. Descriptions and definition are human doing.
Obviously, to think about God, He must have characteristics, and in Christianity today, the primary characteristic seems to be: God is love (1 John 4:8). To see how this concept relates to human relations and Jesus, we invite you ro read the entire relevant passage, 1 John 4:7-12.
Talk about wisdom.
In any case, you might try an exercise we have done, shown below. There we limit ourselves to 13 passages from the Christian Bible that we believe best describe our Personal God and “Its” relationship with mankind or humanity.
What is that relationship—personally—and how are we to approach it? What would you list? We are very interested in your thoughts, and we pick the number 13 randomly, as a good “relational number.”
#1 below is dedicated to Rodney Stark, #3 to Robert George, and #13 to Jim Hall. All three probably dedicate their observations to God and to their wives—however, who knows but God and each person?
(We tried to get Dr. Stark, as one of Christianity’s great students, teachers, and advocates, to admit off-camera he is a Christian. He hesitated and came very close, but we ultimately failed. He seemed to want to leave it to his own heart or to God. A gentleman, we miss Dr. Stark’s academic presence and writing very much, since his passing in 2017.)
Our next Worldview Circling Series will address how God interacts with us and “our” universe, where we live in His created, natural, or “material” world.
Is it only through miracles, or is all of our experienced life in this world a miracle? To some Christians and Jews, either way, God’s being in this world with us is known as Grace.
Thank you so much for your reading attention.
Concerning our Circling Worldview Series: TBC . . .
The “List Your Own Personal God Scriptural Quotes” Exercise
(1) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
(2) . . . and the Spirit was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2 (in part)
(3) So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
(4) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28
(5) God saw all that he made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31 (in part)
(6) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
(7) Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
(8) This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .” Matthew 6:9
(9) At that time the disciplines came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-3
(10) “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as your self.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
(11) “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
(12) Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
(13) He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8