People are generally going to answer that question, one of three ways — — yes, no, or it depends.
When people ask me that question, I generally stop and ask them back, “what do you mean by God?” The common definition of God in our current culture is of an old man with long gray beard who sits in the sky on a throne and judges us upon our death. If that is the inquirer’s definition, then my answer is “no”. Unfortunately, that old outdated myth is the common meaning of the word “God” that most people conjure up when they hear it. It’s usually what the media means when they say God. This meaning is usually what is in the mind of the person who unequivocally answers “yes” immediately upon being asked the question. Obviously, Pat Robertson would answer yes.
Interestingly, the same meaning is usually what is in the mind of the person who unequivocally answers “no” to the question about God. Rev Michael Dowd has a great line on this. When people tell him they don’t believe in God, he asks them to tell him about the God they don’t believe in and says he probably doesn’t believe in it either. Although he goes on to say he does believe in God. Hence, the answer depends on your definition.
What this leads us to is the fact that there is a new vision of what God is. Frequently people who hold this new vision steer away from using the word God because it conjures up the old myth. I know I tend to use the word “Spirit.” There are other words given to this new vision of God. They include: Infinite Mind, Infinite Intelligence, Oneness, Suchness, Divine Being, Divine Mind and so on.
In this new vision of God, it is a power, a presence, a force, an intelligence, an essence. One might think of it as an intelligent energy, which permeates everything. This energy moves in and through everything and gives everything its existence. This includes all of the world of matter and physical stuff that we can measure and see and sense and it also includes everything that is beyond the world of the seen. Technically this is called “Panentheism”.
Here’s a few words from Wikipedia, on the definition of panentheism, which might be helpful (especially in distinguishing it from its close cousin “Pantheism”…pardon the technical jargon):
Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism , which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe. Briefly put, in pantheism, “God is the whole”; in panentheism, “The whole is in God.” This means that the Universe in the first formulation is practically the Whole itself, but in the second the universe and God are not ontologically equivalent. In panentheism, God is not necessarily viewed as the creator or demiurge, but the eternal animating force behind the universe, with the universe as nothing more than the manifest part of God. The cosmos exists within God, who in turn “pervades” or is “in” the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God.
So then, God is in everything and everything is in God but God is greater than everything. The funny thing is many people have never heard this word or this definition, but it’s what they’ve come to believe through their life’s experiences. Many scientists have come to the same conclusion on their pursuit of scientific truths. For these people, something leads them to this conclusion (either an inner knowingness or their empirical evidence) that this is what God is… but again, they may not use the word “God”.
So where are we? When asked “do you believe in God?” The so-called “believers” who hold to the old myth will answer yes. Those who hold to a strict materialistic scientific view (often called “scientism”) will answer no. Then there are those who have let go of the old myth, but have questioned the gaps in the materialistic viewpoint. They say, “it depends”.
So why do we have these different viewpoints?
In a sense we’re talking about “the evolution of God”. Robert Wright, in his recent book by that name, tells us that it’s not God per se evolving but rather its humanity’s evolving worldviews that are leading us to see God in a different light. Both Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory point us to the same conclusion.
The bottom line is how you answer the question depends upon your worldview. We’ll look at that next.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!