Knowing the True God

Several commenters have raised questions about God and spirituality from a New Age perspective in the past two weeks. Anna’s is the most trenchant:

Who is God? Good question. Who really knows? I believe God to be overall consciousness. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Bereket Teka had already offered an opinion:

Man is a thinking being, brought forth (or created) from a higher and supreme thinking being (God). As man can think and create his own reality, so can the “Universe” – which I prefer to claim it to be God, in his Omniscient presence in the universe. So, yes one can think and create his own reality – a reality that is governed by the highest thinking being and in accordance to the will and purpose of God.

I find that to be rather vague, and much too closely tied to the so-called “Law of Attraction” which claims we can create reality by our thinking. “Who is God?” remains a good question. We could back that up another step to “How could we even know the answer?”

Here’s what I find when I read New Age spirituality books: a whole lot of assertion, and little to support it. I’ve already expressed my strong doubts about Rhonda Byrne’s understanding of physics. She invents a whole new class of “energy” and makes unsupportable claims on its behalf. How does she know this energy exists? Her book, The Secret, is long on assertion and very short on solid evidence. Its appeal is to desire rather than to reason. As Henry Cloud has pointed out, that is not all wrong. Yet it is suspiciously convenient: believe that you are “God in a physical body,” and that “The earth turns on its orbit for You, The oceans ebb and flow for You,” and you can make your life anything you want it to be.

But I believe in the God of the Bible, about whom the same question is very frequently asked. How do we know this God is real? Proofs that can satisfy every mind do not exist, but in contrast to New Age spirituality, there is at least a plethora of strong evidence (see here and here for starters).

And who is this God of the Bible? He is actually the satisfaction of every true desire. New Age spirituality does not go wrong in seeking personal fulfillment. The true God is, however, the fulfillment of true desire, whereas much (most?) human desire is marred by counterfeit feelings and wishes. God is true love, true joy, true wisdom and knowledge, true mercy. These are commonly mentioned goods in the New Age literature, and yet books like The Secret settle for surface satisfaction. Why settle for money or comfort when you can have a forever relationship with the great and loving God of the universe? Why should we, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, reject God’s offer of a holiday at the seashore because we’re so enamored of making mud pies in the slum?

He is also Creator, and he stands in a position of Other next to his creation. He is an absolutely intimately, lovingly, connected other; but his relationship to creation is not sameness but of connected love. The closest analogies to that in human experience might be that of artist to painting, composer to music, sculptor to sculpture; and yet also in a different way parent to child. The artistic creator is not the artistic creation, but is indelibly expressed throughout. The parent is not the child but loves her with an unmatched devotion. God as creator shares in and is the perfect expression of these.

He is also true personhood, the ultimate expression of a Self. Compared to this, New Age belief that “all is one, God is all, all is God,” falls far short. Christianity teaches a relationship with God in which love is celebrated, not obliterated by the annihilation of self as in New Age.

He is also true justice, based on true holiness. Holiness in this context means God is morally perfect. He cannot do wrong, because his nature is fully good, unmixed with evil, not marred by rebellion as ours is. His justice flows from this: where evil exists, it is inexorably dealt with, for he cannot condone evil

God is not, then, the fulfillment of false desires: the desire for independence from our Creator, the desire to harm self or others, the desire for power and prestige for their own sakes, the desire to control others, or desires for many other kinds of satisfaction outside the context for which they were created. We believe we can get what we want apart from God. That cannot be, though: he did not create us that way. Yet we proceed on that false basis and violate God’s holiness. We deserve his justice.

Yet he is also true mercy, through the work of Jesus Christ. Christ was in fact God in the flesh. In him we can see the fullness of God’s moral perfection; we see the character of God. Always loving, always teaching, sometimes rebuking, always standing for true worship of the true God; always standing against hypocrisy and perversion of religion; never compromising; so thoroughly unwilling to bend on these principles that he was killed by the enemies he made in the process. Even his death was in his plan, though. Through it he paid the penalty demanded by God’s justice for our rebellion, so that, justice being satisfied, God can express his mercy toward those who accept Christ’s work for them.

Jesus Christ is also the ultimate answer to “Who is God, and how would we know?” He said he was God in the flesh, and he backed it up through his perfection of life, his miracles, and ultimately his resurrection from the grave. Seeing his character, we know much about the character of God. Seeing his works, we have strong confidence that we are in touch with truth.

This God is not one we would have made up. He is not molded to our everyday surface wishes. He is a God whose awesome power, otherness, and justice are to be “feared:” to be held in absolute, terrific awe and reverence, knowing how much more infinitely great and good he is than us. He makes strong demands upon us: he demands that we live according to the plan for which he created us. He metes out justice where we fail to meet his demands. In his love, through Christ, he takes the payment of justice upon himself. Then he helps us meet those demands and we discover what they are, and discover more of what God is through them: His demand, ultimately, is that we live for the greatest and deepest possible love and joy.

The pantheistic “God” of New Age spirituality already seemed exceedingly unlikely. Now, in comparison to the true God, this false god also seems bland, pale, and boring.