I had a friend who used to refer to God as “the man upstairs”. Hopefully he didn’t literally think of God as a man – bearing a striking resemblance to Gandalf the white – looking down at us from his heavenly throne. Although most of us would probably agree that this particular view of God is a remnant of an archaic past that is better left in the past; it does say a lot about how people – especially Christians – generally still understand God.
Even if the mental picture we have of God has evolved beyond that of Zeus tossing lighting bolts from the sky; many still think of God in terms of a cosmic monarch of some kind. In other words, the universe is a hierarchy where God is at the top and we are at the bottom. When the Abrahamic religions first began to develop and spread throughout the western world, the world was governed by monarchies, so it makes sense that this is how people came to understand God. It also made for an easy way to control the masses through fear. But now we’ve evolved beyond monarchical systems and have become more accustomed to democratic systems. This is probably why a lot of people are abandoning this particular view of God or any concept of God altogether. Because the more we grow in our understanding of how the universe actually works, the harder it is to reconcile this understanding with a concept of God that hasn’t really progressed all that much since the middle ages.
In this article I’d like to explore the question, what is God? But maybe it would be better to start the discussion with what I believe God is not. First of all, God is not a cosmic monarch who will toss us into eternal punishment if we don’t obey him, so relax. God isn’t a bearded man with a flowing white robe, or a woman, for that matter either. God isn’t a being or a person at all. So then what is God?
It was a bit more than a decade ago, while battling a heroin addiction, that I first started searching for God. One evening I was sitting in a room by myself; I had vowed not to leave the room until God revealed himself to me. I desperately needed something. Rather optimistic at that point, I half imagined God taking a break from tossing lighting bolts so that he could come down in all his glory and appear to me in person. But after a couple of hours, the optimism began to fade and then the smallest sign would have sufficed. But I got absolutely nothing.
At this point I could have concluded that my search for God was in-fact a wild goose chase. There was never any bright lights, trumpets or angels singing – there was nothing that resembled proof of God’s existence, even in the slightest. If there was such a thing as God, then why didn’t “he” just reveal himself to me? And that is a completely valid question. If there is a God, then why can’t we see “him” or any evidence of “his” existence? But then I had a profound realization. What if I can’t see God for the same reason that I can’t see my own eyes? My eyes can’t look at themselves because they are that which does the looking. So, in much the same way, what if we can’t see God, because God is that which does the looking in and through us?
Let me try and explain. We don’t really know what consciousness is or where it comes from. And it’s the ultimate chicken or egg scenario. Did consciousness exist before the physical world or did consciousness arise out of the physical world? Is consciousness simply the result of sophisticated cognitive functioning that evolved over millennia? Are we nothing more than complex biological mechanisms that became conscious at some point? And if so, at which point did we become conscious? Or is evolution something that was brought about by consciousness? Was consciousness pre-existing and did it somehow “will” the physical world into being?
Come on then, I’m sure these questions come up all the time at dinner parties and family gatherings!