Sep20 2010

Is God Simply a “Higher Power”?

There you are, having dinner with uncle Bob, as the conversation suddenly turns toward things of a spiritual nature.  When asked if he believes in God, uncle Bob confidently replies, “If you’re asking me if I believe in organized religion or that kind of God, the answer is no.  However, I do believe in a higher power.”  This type of response has become quite common these days whenever someone is quizzed about God’s existence.

I suppose that there are several reasons why the Biblical view of a personal God has been replaced in the minds of so many by the idea that God is nothing more than an impersonal force or power that is pervasive throughout the universe.  Hollywood and the media have certainly played a significant role in promoting such a view.  The Star Wars trilogies, some of the biggest blockbusters in movie history, introduced moviegoers to the notion that there is a “force” which exists all around us, which we can gain access to and experience for ourselves.  Although this idea was not original, having been borrowed from some of the Eastern religions, it was, nevertheless, popularized by the movie.  A lot of credit for the popularization of this view must also be given to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey who has used her tremendous appeal and her long-running and much loved TV show as a “pulpit” to reach the masses with her New Age message that god is a force or energy that we can tap into.

It’s not hard to understand why this New Age version of God has been embraced so quickly by so many people.  For one thing, it satisfies our thirst for something of a spiritual nature.  I’m convinced that most people have a natural hunger or thirst for something that is higher and greater than what we are currently experiencing in this present world.  We yearn for some ultimate purpose or meaning to our lives that will take us beyond this fleeting, temporary, earthly existence.  From a Biblical perspective, this longing, this hunger for something transcendent not only bears witness to the fact that the relationship between God and man has been broken, that same hunger encourages us to search out this God who has attempted to restore that broken relationship.

For some people, the Biblical view of God poses a real problem.  A personal God who created us is seen by many as a threat to their personal autonomy and their freedoms.  After all, if I’m hoping to define for myself what is right or wrong, how can I “write my own rules” about life if God is a personal being who “has the final say” in this universe?  Furthermore, a personal God who is holy and righteous means that we will be held accountable at the end of our lives for the manner in which we lived while here on earth.  As you can see, someone who considers this view of God as a threat to them would take great comfort in, and have an ulterior motive for selectively choosing to believe in a vague, impersonal force that makes no demands on their life and which does not hold them accountable at the end of their life.  Taking this approach gives the appearance of allowing them to have the best of both worlds- it satisfies their hunger for something of a spiritual nature, yet frees them from any accountability.  For those reasons and more, many people have opted for a belief in a lesser, “higher power” version of God.  But, as I’ve pointed out on previous occasions, simply believing something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.

The real question, then, is whether there is good reason for us to think that God is nothing more than some sort of force or power.  I don’t think that such an idea is supportable.  I think that such a view of God comes up way short as an explanation and here’s why.  Gravity is a force, yet no one would be willing to say that gravity has the ability to choose anything.  Electricity is a power, but electricity lacks the ability to make decisions about anything.  Yet, in contrast to this, everything around us reveals the work of a Creator who is much more than a force- he must be a personal being who has the ability to decide and to choose.  He obviously had the ability to choose and decide how, why, and what to create.  In addition to this, he must be a personal being in order to create personal beings such as us.  Personal beings cannot come about as the result of random, impersonal forces at work.

This conclusion has certain implications.  It means that many of the world’s religions cannot be true.  The New Age religion, and every other religion which believes that god is an impersonal power, immediately disqualify themselves on the basis that they do not fit with the observable evidence around us.  Furthermore, it means that whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, we will be held accountable to this Creator who is sovereign over his creation.

So, while uncle Bob may wish that God will turn out to be an impersonal power that cannot hold him accountable, reality dictates that wishes don’t always come true.

One Response to “Is God Simply a “Higher Power”?”

  1. Pagan sage says:

    This is an old post, but it's inspired a few words from me.

    To quote the physicist Albert Einstein, "I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty." And further, "Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

    Belief in a personal God does not make a person more or less moral; it is simply a personal belief. And as you said, believing that something is true (be it in the Bible, Jesus, talking bushes, etc.) does not necessarily make it true. Empirically it even seems to be the case that there is a lower percentage of atheists in jail, relative to their overall population in the U.S., compared to evangelicals and Christians, relative to their population. And we all know how much their faith helped them be humane during the bloody Crusades and Inquisition. Islamic civilization also reveals persecution of religious minorities as well.

    If you think about it, if someone believes that an impersonal God pervades all of existence, it requires that person to treat all living things with a measure of respect. We can recognize that we are all deeply interconnected with each other and with God. God is not a separate being who looks down on us and fails to relieve people's suffering (problem of theodicy; see also Epicurus' quote on God). If anything, such a Panentheistic faith inspires morality for the right reasons, not for fear of hell or desire for heaven. Ask yourself: is someone more humane if he only fears punishment to be moral, or is someone truly moral because he does what is right for the sake of humanity? I would prefer the latter type of person, even if he be an atheist!
    I myself am a panentheist. I do not believe that God is personal, and I outgrew such a faith after my teenage years. I would hope every thoughtful person similarly learns to grow beyond childish faith in a father-figure in the sky; such faith is an emotional crutch.

    Perhaps uncle Bob was wiser than you give him credit for, and his faith is based on his sense of reason, intuition, and experience, being well-thought out, and not from a desire to escape punishment? If one believes in karma, then that is a moral law which you cannot appease with repentance or saying "Hail Mary's".

  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.