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The God-Human Relationship
Part One: Different Viewpoints
By Gary F. Zeolla
The Bible portrays God as being personal and infinite whereas humans as finite and subordinate to Him. Note: Personal refers to a "self-conscious being." (For us "Star Trek" fans, "sentient" is the term used to describe a self-conscious entity on "The Next Generation.")
Infinite means, "Having no boundaries or limits... Unlimited in spatial extent." Finite is "Having bounds; limited." Subordinate means "Belonging to a lower or inferior class or rank ... Subject to the authority or control of another . . . . subservient" (American, pp. 925, 659, 505, 1212).
Francis Schaeffer (a Christian philosopher) writes, "On the side of His infinity, man is separate from God" (Schaeffer, p. 222). However, many religions do not teach there is a separation between God's nature and ours. Nor do they teach God is both personal and infinite.
The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses) teaches that ". . . God is a real person who lives at a certain place in heaven . . ." (Live, p. 37). Further, "God being an individual, a Person with a spirit body, has a place where he resides, and so he could not be at any other place at the same time (WT 2/15/81 reprinted in Magnani, p. 218).
At one time, the Watchtower even thought it knew where God lives. Until 1953, it taught the residence of God was on the star Alcyone located in the stellar group Pleiades (see Job 38:31).
Charles Taze Russell (the founder of the Watchtower) wrote:
. . . Alcyone, the central one of the renowned Pleiadic stars . . . . as far as science has been able to perceive, would seem to be 'the midnight throne' in which the whole system of gravitation has its central seat, and from which the Almighty governs his universe (Thy Kingdom Come, p. 327 reprinted in Magnani, p. 282).
Mormons have a similar doctrine. Joseph Smith (their founder) proclaimed, "God Himself was once as we are now and is an exalted man and sits enthroned in yonder heaven!" (Ludlow, p. 277). Only now, God's throne is near the star Kolob.
Joseph Smith claimed Abraham wrote, " And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God . . . . And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob because it is near unto me . . ." (Smith, p. 34).
Further, Mormons believe God has a physical body. "God possesses a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man, Joseph Smith taught that" (Joseph F. Smith, quoted in Ludlow, p. 279).
They also believe, "As man is, our God once was; As now God is, so man may be . . ." (Lorenzo Snow, quoted in Ludlow, p. 72). Thus, the only difference between God and us is He has progressed further than us. But we will eventually attain to where He is now (Ludlow, pp. 71-79).
Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of The Worldwide Church of God, taught a similar concept. He writes:
Why is man? God created man on the earth to build in us . . . his perfect CHARACTER! He is, in his time, order, and way, developing us to become VERY GOD--each of us--and to finish the creation of the unfinished UNIVERSE! (Armstrong, pp. 111, 112, emphasis in original).
Swami Prabhupada, the founder if ISKCON, (Hare Krishnas) took this idea a step further. He believed we already have the same nature as God. "The soul is eternal just as the Lord is eternal. We have an intimate relationship with the Lord and we are QUALITATIVELY equal to the Lord (Prabhupada, p. xxvii, emphasis added).
Divine Science, a New Age type group based in Denver, Colorado, agrees with ISKCON's assessment of the relation of divine and human natures. "Man then is eternally one with the infinite Source and IN NATURE is the image and likeness of the Eternal as it expresses in living form" (James, p. 41, emphasis mine).
The difference here, though, is we have moved from God being a personal finite being to God being infinite but impersonal, i.e.. lacking individual self-consciousness. (Note the pronoun "it" used in reference to the antecedent "the Eternal.")
In the first instance, God and humans are of the same nature because both are finite. With an impersonal God, we have the same nature as God because each of us is a part of the "Principle" of God. Collectively, we are the "Universal Mind or Soul" (James, pp. 40-47). Thus, "God and man cannot be separated" (James, p. 41).
In any case, these same concepts are seen in the New Age Movement in general. Shirley MacLaine, a popular spokesperson for the New Age, writes, ". . . the self is itself Divine." Further, ". . . we are part of the God-force that created all things--IT is as much a part of us as we are of IT" (MacLaine, pp. 208, 213, emphasis mine).
So there are various religious concepts of the God-human relationship. Some religions believe God and human beings are both personal and finite. Thus, there is no separation between God and us on the side of infinity. There is only a difference of degree but not of kind between us.
Other religions teach we will eventually attain to the same nature as God. Some believe there is already no qualitative difference. There are religions which believe God is some kind of impersonal force or "Principle." This idea eliminates any distinction between God and us by making us all part of God. We thus comprise the "Universal Mind." This concept is called Pantheism, i.e.. everything is God.
All of these religions have one thing in common. They all teach there is no intrinsic difference between God and us. We and Him (or It) have basically the same nature.
But one religious tradition, the Judeo-Christian one, declares there is and always will be a separation between God's nature and ours. He is infinite; we are finite. We are subordinate to Him. Thus we are answerable to Him.
C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, brings out the implications of these different conceptions of the God-human relationship. He gets to the heart of why people want to believe there is no absolute distinction between God and us. I quote Lewis at length:
Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest tap root of Pantheism . . . The Pantheist's God does nothing. He is there is you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.
An "impersonal god"--well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our heads--better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap--best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband- -that is quite another matter.
There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly; was that a REAL footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (Man's search for God!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to THAT! Worse still, supposing He found us? (Lewis, pp. 93, 94, emphasis in original).
All religions are NOT different paths to the same God. They are different paths to different gods. The way to the one true God is narrow. Are you on it? (Matt 7:13,14).
Part Two of this article will present Biblical evidence that God is personal, infinite, and for other of His attributes.
See end of Part Two.
The God-Human Relationship. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1991.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996 and updated October 25, 2000.
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