For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. (Hebrews 3:4)
Truly, I do not believe these words can be ambiguously translated to mean the “universe” is the builder of everything. The universe is defined as “all existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos.” If I may, I would like to shed light on the ideas behind Pantheism–the doctrine that identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God—in order to shed light on the bigger picture who God is, and who He wants to be for us and to us.
Growing up in my household as a young boy, Jesus’s name was barely mentioned, if at all, despite the fact that we attended a Catholic church religiously each Sunday morning or Saturday night. When my parents divorced, the theme of God’s existence grew bitter to my ears because I first blamed the trauma of their divorce (among several other adversities which fell on top of that; one of which was the death of my grandparents the month of my 11th Christmas) on the concept of a God before I swiftly denied His existence altogether from the purpose of the argument. So, if there is no God, what is there? That question I let dangle like a thread for seven years, but I paid more attention to my peripherals, ignoring that thread as if it were a scratch on the lens of my eye-glasses.
Looking back, what I recognize is that in the midst of such an aversive situation, Jesus’s name, nor the importance of any close relationship with Him, was ever used to mitigate the pain I was in. The words “God does exist” were muttered several times by my parents during my teens, but those words fell flat because they were emotionless and impersonal. For me, one of the most startling truths of my spiritual oscillations between misunderstanding faith, questioning faith, and ultimately leaving faith—was that Jesus was never used with the power the Bible declares about Him. Let me tell you, the only thing worse than not believing in what others are encouraging us to believe is when others do not display the power of the faith they claim to believe in—leaving us to misinterpret the power of Jesus as weak, mild, and therefore powerless in the face of trouble. As a result, hearing about God and the universe became a more familiar and digestible approach; although that undermined the idea of faith (since there is no foundation for that, as we will see), once again pushing me away from faith. It took me moving to Florida, far away from where I was born in state of Michigan, to college where I met my friend who knew Christ in the ways my family had not.
I would like to take a close look at this. When we take Jesus away from the Trinity, we are left with God and the Holy Spirit—but what is the point of the Holy Spirit without Jesus? After all, God sent us the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s behalf when He ascended into Heaven post-resurrection:
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:25-17)
The Holy Spirit takes place because of Jesus, not despite Him. When we confuse the roles of Jesus and the Holy Spirit—and therefore God—we confuse the purpose of God in relation to faith. Per the example of Pantheism, when people equate God with the universe, they believe God is the universe, rather than recognizing how the universe is a creation of God’s.
A very questionable object to Pantheism that shakes the boat of faith is the misconception of prayer with regard to “Mother Nature”, “Mother Earth”, or “The Universe”. Many people consider conversations with nature to be prayer. My argument is that it isn’t prayer because nature (trees, plants, or the cosmos itself) doesn’t and can’t respond in any personal way. We can’t have a personal, intimate relationship with nature because we have no way to build a relationship over time with an inanimate object incapable of understanding trust and intimacy. We don’t depend on nature to love us or to die for us. We are not loyal to nature and we do not expect nature to be in our favor for any reason. We may admire nature, we may appreciate its beauty and sounds, but we do not have loyalty towards it as in a relationship. Those who are devoted to preserving nature, for example, have a passion for the longevity of trees and plant-life; but again, there is no relationship. When we claim nature has life to it, we may refer to the way trees produce oxygen, and we can and should admire its beauty as an article of God’s creation—but when we start calling the Earth “Mother”, or give it any title other than its planetary name, we’ve lost the point. How does this point lead back to prayer? you ask. Let me explain.
Prayer is a personal, intimate conversation. To reiterate, prayer is not a monologue, but a conversation between a person and God, or multiple people and God. What strikes me as an atheist-converted Christian is that I would not want to search for peace inside of nature if I knew there was a more personal alternative. In our world, with so much corruption and duplicity, I want there to be a God who is loving, pure, justifying, and personal. I want answers to my questions that nature just doesn’t provide. Deifying nature and exulting the universe takes away every personal aspect of a relationship and dismisses the point of intimacy, the backbone of the power of prayer.
Where we feel peaceful listening the waves crashing in the ocean, we can never experience loved by it because the ocean doesn’t love us; it does not put us first, it cannot make us laugh by making us feel loved or build trust in our heart by answering prayers and responding to our thoughts and desires, and it certainly cannot die for us or rise from the dead. When humans chose sin over God in the beginning, He came down in the flesh and died through Christ on the cross, the most personal an intimate gesture of love in any relationship. And in rising, He proved that our relationship wasn’t over, but rather that it was just getting started. When we glorify nature as equivalent to God, we denature the essential characteristics of a relationship by claiming the personal aspects—which separate intimacy from mere admiration—are unimportant and undesirable.
This is why sex between a man and his wife is meant to be so meaningful and personal: Sex in the marriage bed is symbolic of our relationship with Jesus in that we become one flesh (Mark 10:8) and glorify Jesus as the King in and of our souls. With meaningless promiscuous sex, we denature the value of the marriage bed as special between man and wife and claim the admirable aspects of sex (pleasure; instant gratification) as more essential and more important than the intimacy of the relationship formed between man and wife through trust, love, loyalty, and the vow of commitment. Likewise, when we glorify God’s creation and claim it to be as important as its Creator, the problem isn’t only the misallocation of glory, but the misguided and fallacious belief that we don’t actually need the very intimacy we are innately created to desire.
No one human being can claim that he or she does not crave intimacy. When intimacy has been wrested away through a painful breakup, through the agony of divorce, lies, or deceit—that is when, through constant emotional battering, the desire for intimacy seems numbed and dormant. Underneath the numbness, however, is a beating heart desperate and searching for restoration and fulfillment. Denying this reality is denying the very source of differentiation between humanity and all other creation: We were designed for intimacy; all other creation was created for us. Speaking from this point, why would we glorify the universe when God gave us the universe as a gift of His love? The universe only represents the unlimited means to God’s power, which means the only power the universe holds is the ability to point back to a God so genius and omnipotent as to create such magnificence to reflect why He is worth all the praise!
From this, I would like for you to take away and recognize that the belief that the universe and God are one is mistaken because we can have no personal relationship with the universe the way we can with God through Jesus. God created us in this way. Why would marriage be meaningful as a representation of our relationship to Jesus as the church (the bride of Christ) if intimacy wasn’t at its center? Why would married couples desire intimacy if they weren’t created for such closeness? We are created for intimacy, and we are meant to experience deep, emotional love; beginning first and foremost with the love of Christ. While the universe is magnificent, it is not omnipotent, and it is not relational; therefore, it cannot be God. What God wants us to know is that He seeks our hearts and He is jealous of our commitments when we place them in anything other than Him. That includes His creation of nature.
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