Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Existential Religion

The big question that has been on my mind, of late, is this: what is the nature of God? More specifically, does He create the law or does He obey laws that supersede Him?

At one level, this really doesn't matter: either way, if I follow God, I will come round right. But in another way, it matters very much: should I be striving for a Greek-philosophic "universal ideal" - that applies in the same way, to all people, everywhere? Or is perfection individualized?

I've been battling this back and forth in my head for a long time, but it came up again today in a debate on Facebook. Sunday, I finally came to the conclusion that I would never know unless I prayed; how better to find out the nature of God than to ask Him?

I did. You should too; I am certainly not a reliable enough source on my own for this topic.

Since praying about it, though, it seems clear to me that God pre-existed this mortal realm in which we live. Joseph Smith taught that intelligence is eternal, and I believe that; we are co-eternal with God, always having and always continuing to exist. Our Heavenly Father organized us, rather than creating us ex nihilo.

For everything else though - the laws by which our reality operates, the "laws" of nature, what we observe and deduce, and read in our scriptures, were given by God, not forced upon Him as some sort of necessity. God is not, for example, bound by the law of gravity - even and especially if He was the one who put it into place.

If God were God simply by virtue of knowing all the rules by which the universe operates: 1.) He wouldn't have to be a good person; he would just have to know a lot and be effective. There would be no need for God to love, unless the laws of the universe are based on love. 2.) Ostensibly, God could be replaced, someday, by technology. Once we get sufficiently far advanced, we don't need our Heavenly Father anymore. 3.) The answers to our problems are not unique; rather, they are just the interactions of a large number of variables.

I don't believe any of these things. I don't believe that God looks up the solutions to our problems in a large book of answers. Rather, I think He simply acts, and reality corresponds to what He does.

Thus, He said "Let there be light," and there was light. He did not push the correct button which, according to celestial law, forces light to appear.

This has a huge number of ramifications for our personal religion. If God were essentially a being who "doled-out" bits of eternal law to us as we became ready for them, there would be no need to have God be a person. A computer of even our mortal processing capacity could perform the very routine monitoring of what we do and/or think, and then dole out the appropriate bits of information - like a scavenger hunt, where the clue for the next item is found at the site of the item before. There's no need for God there.

If, instead, God is a living, emotional, perfected person - then we try to be like Him, and follow what He tells us to do because it helps us to do so. It's obedience for obedience' sake, vs. obedience as a means to become like our Heavenly Father. And that changes everything. We still obey - more strictly than before, in some ways - but that obedience has a higher goal. And that higher goal is God.

In pursuing my Facebook debate, I found a quote from Joseph Smith. "Hear it, all ye ends of the earth —all ye priests, all ye sinners, and all men. Repent! Repent! Obey the gospel. Turn to God; for your religion won’t save you, and you will be damned." It's not the law which saves us: rather, the law points our minds to Christ, and He saves us.

A note here - this does NOT mean that we can do whatever sin we want, and God will take care of everything. God's grace is sufficient for the meek; God does not force-feed us salvation. We have to be humble enough to accept it, and accepting God's mercy means changing our lives so that our wills are in harmony with His.

The person who is trying to become like God through the grace of Christ thus has a lot MORE responsibility to seek out and follow the will of the Savior than someone following only a code of rules; without that following, the one who knows that Christ's way is the best and then DOES nothing is under more condemnation than the unknowing. As the Pharisees demonstrate, rules themselves do not produce righteousness. Christ produces righteousness, and He produces it in us BY inviting us to follow Him.

Righteousness is produced when we do so, and only when we do so. There isn't some kind of magical change that suddenly turns us from bad to good - rather, the Lord exercises His power to give us chances to change, and then we act upon those for good or ill.

The point of all this is that God is not a machine, nor a set of tablets made of celestial stone with commandments carved on them. He is a living, loving, personal Being, who invites us to learn of Him by following Him and His ways and His Spirit, praying to know what He would have us do. Then, the Savior helps us to do it. It's personal, it's individual, and so is HE - He is personal and individual as well.


  1. Loved it Brett! Thanks for the thought!

  2. i see this from the point of praying from knowledge
    but like every argument about god
    strictly following the logic
    this doesn't really accomplish anything