UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Big Question

Is God a separate being?

By Bruce Sanguin

Is God a being or a thing like all other things, only bigger and smarter? A related question: is God a person? There’s a lot of confusion about this in the United Church. Many of our liturgies have us praying to a God, as though God were a thing, an energy or a person somewhere out there — separate from us.

We’re not the only generation to struggle with the question. Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas had a go at it almost 800 years ago. He concluded that while other things have existence, God alone is existence. Every thing — mineral, plant, animal and human — is a combination of what it is along with the fact that it is. But God alone enjoys absolute “simplicity” — for God, the what and that of existence are one and the same. In other words, God alone is self-subsistent, the uncreated creator. So God can’t be a thing, because things get created.

Another medieval theologian, Meister Eckhart, liked to call God “Isness.” Same point, fewer words. God couldn’t not “be” while all other “beings” exist by virtue of the fact that they participate in the primordial Isness that is God.

In my own theology, God bursts into the realm of form “in the beginning” — let’s call it the Big Bang or Great Radiance. Things emerge out of Un-thingness. This emergence is Isness incarnating in all the diversity we know as our universe. Evolution is Be-ing involved in the adventure of becoming. This happens for biology and social systems as well as for consciousness. You and I participate directly in this adventure by surrendering to the prime directive to consciously evolve — or, better yet, to simply get out of the way of the evolution of Isness becoming.

Okay, but “Isness” is pretty darned impersonal. You can’t really love “Isness.” Christians will rightly protest that Jesus wasn’t in relationship with “Isness,” but rather his “Father.” In other words, Jesus experienced God as personal. Again, confusion reigns. No, God is not a person. However, God is deeply personal. Huh?

In evolutionary theology, the image of God is not static. The always-in-motion universe is itself the image of God in the process of continuous emergence. It took 13.8 billion years of this movement to arrive at those qualities that we associate with personhood: love, volition, conscious self-awareness and the capacity to determine the future, to name a few. If this ever-emerging world is growing in the divine image and likeness, then we may conclude that our personhood is a pale reflection of the personhood that is rolled into the nature of God, or Isness, from the get-go. To realize our own personhood is simultaneously to realize divinity in the process of becoming.

Conclusion? We’re all mystics to the degree that we consciously engage in becoming more deeply human. And by the way, the doctrine affirming Jesus’ full humanity and full divinity was astute. The next stage of Christianity is to apply this to each one of us. As we submit to the process of personalization, we are growing into our divine nature — just like Jesus (along with other mystics of every lineage).

Mystics are those who have awakened to the truth that they are not separate from the creativity of this personal Isness. That’s why oftentimes we don’t understand their writings — because we are still functioning from the level of the contracted personality, which makes us feel alienated and separate.  

But God is not a separate being. Rather, as we learned in Sunday school, God is Love, and when we are transformed by Love into Love, we become personalized manifestations of the divine love that is the universe’s driving force. So, no, God is not a thing and God is not a person, but rather the One out of which all things emerge, and the deeply personal Originating Mystery being realized in this evolving universe.

Rev. Bruce Sanguin is a minister and author in Vancouver.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image