“Godʼs back!”

“Godʼs back!”

“Godʼs back!” I quote Tim Freke, sharing the current cutting edge of his philosophy at a wonderful New Year retreat Andrew and I have just attended where he lives in Glastonbury. (Andrew is my husband. He is also the author of The Seaborne, published by Pantolwen Press, and The Priestʼs Wife, coming out soon.) Back to my theme, on the morning of New Yearʼs Eve Tim shared something of his journey with the idea of God. He told how, once upon a time, he sat through lectures on the logical proofs of Godʼs existence and felt these had nothing to do with the experiences he was having. So he gave up academic philosophy and started to write from experience.

I know, having sat through similar lectures myself, how those proofs donʼt stand up.* I also know that Thomas Aquinas, who set them out, is recorded as saying towards the end of his life that all he had written was straw. He had been graced, belatedly, with a direct experience of the holy.

In dismissing those logical proofs, Tim singled out the problem of evil. For example, how could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow the brain of a young boy to be eaten from the inside by a worm? Ivan, in Dostoevskyʼs last and towering work The Brothers Karamazov felt the same way.

But what if God is evolving too? Thatʼs not a new idea. Process philosophy and theology were developed during the twentieth century from ideas written down in the nineteenth. Their roots can be traced to Alfred North Whitehead and Hegel. But what Tim was suggesting was something particular: what if God is the ever-expanding collective of awakened souls?

And inwardly I went ʻWowʼ because I was recognising something. First, I was recognising a prayer from the ancient Celtic tradition of the Céile Dé; a prayer with Gaelic words that can be translated: In the name of the highest intentionIn this old prayer God is seen both as beingness and as intentionality. Itʼs amazing that something so old can also be so fresh and new. Second, from the same tradition, I was remembering the idea that all those souls who are no longer caught up in their own stuff, who have come into balance in their own being, combine together to go on influencing the world. Itʼs pretty much the same idea as the Communion of Saints from more mainstream Christian traditions, but it would include the souls of many people who have never formally been proclaimed a saint. Itʼs the idea that the goodness of a holy life doesnʼt cease to be active when a person dies; that there is a collective goodness you can tap into come what may. And this might be God.

I sat with this thought. Meanwhile Tim was talking about when hydrogen first became helium. That would have meant two hydrogen atoms having an interaction that turned them into something else. The original creative encounter! With quite modest results, at first. Then, as we know, over mind-boggling aeons of time things changed and changed and kept on changing until we arrive where we are now. And during this immense time-frame life moved from a place where it was largely a matter of eating or being eaten to one in which other qualities come into play. Tim invited us to imagine the first fish who chose to protect their young rather than gobbling them upCould it be that this was ʻthe highest intentionʼ back then?

I found myself reflecting on the Hebrew Bible. Right at the start God is shown as creative. Then Moses meets God in a burning bush, asks Godʼs name, and is told something that translates as, ʻI am that I amʼ, and also, ʻI am becoming what I am becoming.ʼ Soon after, God sets out a law with a short version – the Ten Commandments – and a long, detailed version. Then, chillingly, a bit later on we find some very disturbing passages in the first book of Samuel when God appears as a genocidal maniac who requires absolute obedience and no compassion. Unquestioning adherence to the law seems to have been practise for not minding wiping out whole populations and their livestock so long as you were being obedient to God. Later, we are told by the prophet Isaiah that Godʼs thoughts are not as human thoughts. But by this time the idea of God has changed and Isaiahʼs God no longer cares about being offered the right ritual sacrifices. This God is interested in justice – the kind of justice that means that everyone gets a roof over their heads and enough to eat. And guess what, the idea of ʻloving kindnessʼ is now a really big thing with a beautiful Hebrew name: hesed. Later, in the New Testament, we read that God is Love. The nature of God, as recorded in the Bible, really does seem to change.

Still, many people who believe in God tend to think about an unchanging and all-powerful loving Being who has ʻHisʼown mysterious reasons for allowing great pain and suffering. But this is the kind of God many other people canʼt believe in. If youʼre one of them, try a different concept. Think that at one time God was the motive force that brought two sub-microscopic atoms to connect and make something new. And that now God is the collective goodness emanating from individuals who truly see themselves as part of the whole; who together create an energy that can cleanse our perception. And that this energy – the Holy Spirit? – enables acts of transcendent beauty, courage and self-giving. Might God then be back?

In The Brothers Karamazov Ivan has a younger brother, Alyosha, whose radiant faith remains untroubled in the face of difficult philosophical problems. His lived experience of the holy is what guides him. Alyosha says of Ivan: “There is a great and unresolved thought in him. He is one of those who donʼt need millions, they just need to get a thought straight.”

We didnʼt end the retreat on philosophy. We moved towards the new year by gazing, one by one, into each open face that surrounded us, bathed in the beauty of a blessed space and sweet music. The philosophy has its place. But itʼs not for all. It can clarify and liberate, but it can also confuse. So now, in 2023, hereʼs to the lived experience!

*Jill Paton Walsh wrote a wonderful philosophical novel in which this is a strong theme. Itʼs called Knowledge of Angels.


Gillian PB

5 Comments. Leave new

  • John Carpenter
    January 4, 2023 11:51 am

    Here’s to the experience that animates ‘the true philosophy’. Enjoyed this blog post.

  • A beautifully written and thoughtful post. Many Protestants say all those who are part of the Church are saints – for example Paul in Colossians 1:1-2. Our understanding of God has definitely evolved to the modern view that God is principally love (as well as mercy and justice etc). When we manifest these qualities then we participate in the nature of God. And I agree about intentionality – that God is creation, meaning and purpose which is in the very fabric of the universe. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and provoking much productive musing!

  • interesting thoughts Gillian .. the thing about ‘ god ‘ is that she never went away … like Thich Nhat Hahn’s interbeing…. i love how so many paths of thought point to the same things … I like the sound of Alyosha & his lived experience .. maybe i should finally read the Brothers Karamazov …

    • Brynglasbooks
      January 12, 2023 1:19 pm

      Seeing God as both Mother and Father is a theme that runs right through The Priest’s Wife, due to be published by Pantolwen Press late March. But not all the characters agree, and the outworking of the conflict – both internal and external – is a strong narrative thread. Gillian

  • Well said Gillian.
    Indeed – here’s to the living individual experience of this awesome world and the uplifting communion of souls.


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