GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast

EPISODE THIRTY-NINE: Where I get so upset by what God tells me that I stop praying

September 02, 2021 Jerry L. Martin Season 3 Episode 7
GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast
EPISODE THIRTY-NINE: Where I get so upset by what God tells me that I stop praying
Show Notes Transcript

"I know it is disturbing to you to think of your whole universe as merely one among many.  In part, that is just egocentrism."

JLM

These messages had sent tremors through my worldview, but only once was I so upset I stopped praying. It was early but I have delayed mentioning it.

[brief interim]

 

Reincarnation had first come up when I started reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Later I was prompted to revisit that page. Reincarnation was underlined. The question came to me: 

JERRY

Lord, have You done this more than once? Please don't mislead me, Lord.

GOD

Yes. I have done it many times in the eons of eternity. 

JLM

Like an animal in a fight-or-flight moment, I froze. Then a deep breath and a search for a more acceptable answer.

JERRY

Isn't there a level of divine awareness that stands above this process and endures?

GOD

That is true.

JLM

Well, that's something.  It seems that there is an enduring God beyond God.

JERRY

Lord, are there two different beings, God and the God beyond God--or just different levels of the one God?

GOD

Remember the word reincarnation. It is like the same person through different lives.

JERRY

Okay, the God to whom I pray is one of many reincarnations of the God beyond God. But, Lord, when we reincarnate, we stand above our different lives and observe them, right?

GOD

In a sense, you do; your Self behind the self does. 

JERRY

Is that why there are non-God-centered religions?

JLM

I was thinking the God beyond God might be like the impersonal Brahman.

GOD

Yes, it is complex, but it is connected.

JLM

The strangeness and disappointment of it all! Endless worlds, endless gods, the God of this world not the ultimate God. I paced around, slumped into a chair, got up, sat down, and complained. Have greater piety, I was told, this too is okay. But with potentially infinite eons, in endless cycles, we would never get anywhere. There could be no purpose to the world, to human life at all!

GOD

No, that there is more than one eon does not mean that we will not get anywhere, any more than the fact that there is more than one century on earth. There is a meaning to the whole and we will talk about that later.

JLM

How to find my bearings in this whirl of gods and worlds? My inner compass was spinning. I felt queasy like a bad carnival ride. I took a walk to calm down, to get into the frame of a relaxed willingness to take in whatever I might be told.

[music]

JERRY

Lord, You were talking about Your own multiple reincarnations.

JLM

My notes record what happened next.

JERRY

At this point, I am carried to what feels like a beginning-of-the-world stage. It seems as if I'm looking at an almost-void through the eyes of God or the God beyond God. It seems that God has emotions--because there is a heavy, almost sad feeling to the scene. 

GOD

That is right. . . Keep looking.

JLM

I am taken back to the cosmogonic beginning. There is a feeling of great sadness, as if for a previous life and world, a burden of incalculable sadness, as if all the world's tears had gathered on one lowland plain, and a Dorian Gray–ish personality showing the gnarls of a misspent life.

 

By contrast, a newly created world offers a chance to do it better. While the God beyond God seems distant, neutral, uninvolved, our God is saying, "Lord, please don't let me live that kind of life again. Protect me from those mistakes. Let me do it over, better. I'm sorry, so sorry." Then I see the emerging world of lights and sounds and colors and shapes. It is all a turmoil, lively, bright, and chaotic. Then the image fades.

[interim]

JERRY

Lord, I hate this idea that You reincarnate.

GOD

That shouldn't worry you so much. Everything comes into being and passes away. Otherwise, it wouldn't be alive. Didn't you already ask whether something--some kind of Self--survives My successive incarnations and the answer was Yes?

 

I know it is disturbing to you to think of your whole universe as merely one among many. In part, that is just egocentrism--the idea that humans have, even on an individual level, that "my" story must be "the" story. 

 

Actually, there is a perfectly good sense in which your story--the story of your life, of your world--is the story. Each one encapsulates the whole moral struggle for good versus evil, for completion of the world. Think of war narratives where (for example) a tiny band —

 

JLM

I thought of Chamberlain's troops defending Little Round Top—

 

                          GOD

enact the entire struggle by defending their spot of ground. The battle is not just the result of many individual struggles; it is contained in each. Each is a mirror, or replica, of the whole.

[interim]

JERRY

Then there is a God beyond God, something like an Atman of God?

GOD

Yes, you could say that. 

JERRY

I am comforted by the idea that there is an enduring Divine Self behind the reincarnations.

GOD

Good.

JLM

I felt better but not good enough. I had been told to "tell God's story"--bizarre assignment enough!--and God's story had burst through every dike protecting the believable from the unbelievable. I had reached my limit. I stopped praying.

[music]

 

 

CHAPTER 59

 

 

JLM

I stopped praying but continued to read. It seems that ideas shocking to me are commonplace in other religious traditions. In Myth and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, Heinrich Zimmer tells the story of the Parade of the Ants.

 

To show he is the greatest of all the gods, Indra builds the most spectacular palace ever conceived. Shortly thereafter, a Brahmin boy, "radiant with the luster of wisdom," arrives at the sparkling palace. With a voice "as deep and soft as the slow thundering of auspicious rain clouds," the boy compliments Indra on this splendid edifice. "No Indra before you has ever built such a palace."

 

“No Indra before me?” asks the god.  “There have been other Indras?”

 

The holy boy answers, "Who will count the universes that have passed away, or the creations that have risen afresh? And who will search through the infinities of space to count the universes side by side, each containing its Brahma, its Vishnu, and its Shiva? Who will count the Indras in them all?"

[brief interim]

 

As they talk, Indra and the boy notice ants, row upon row, marching in line and column across the palatial floor. The boy laughs. "Why did you laugh?” "Oh, I laughed because of the ants. Each was once an Indra."

[music]

 

That there have been countless worlds is not a new idea, even in the West. In the Renaissance, Giordano Bruno believed that, since God is completely actualized, He must create whatever He conceives. And, since God is infinite, and thus has an infinity of conceptions, He must create infinite worlds. Since each world needs salvation, there must be an infinite number of Christs, one for each world. When these ideas reached the Vatican, they--and their author--went up in flames.

 

These days, the notion of multiple universes,  existing in a parallel reality, has been given new life by the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics.

[brief interim]

 

After six silent months and a long sigh, I started praying again, and listened.

GOD

The world has existed many times, there have been many worlds. This idea that I reincarnate, which seemed so bewildering to you at first, is quite obvious, once you accept that there are different worlds. If I am to have a presence in each world, I have to enter it. I am reborn--in a sense, I start all over again.

JERRY

Lord, is there a sequence or progression upward.

GOD

Remember that I have told you that, with multiple lives, it is like an author who, having written a novel, now turns to poetry. It is not a linear development; it is more a matter of touching all the bases. The worlds are like that. Each world fills out a different destiny. 

 

Reincarnation goes on forever. There is not an endpoint. My reincarnations will go on forever. There are an infinite number of combinations and permutations. They all have significance; none is redundant--any more than, if you were to live one life forever, individual moments and experiences would lose significance or be merely redundant.

 

JERRY

Are people--individuals--carried over from one world to another?

GOD

Yes. Individuals have many lives, going back into many worlds. That enables them to fulfill their destinies. 

JERRY

Destinies in relation to what? We don't even have one world with one God anymore. And the God beyond God sounds completely impersonal.

GOD

Not quite right.

JERRY

But You have always said You were a Person but also more than a Person. The latter aspect must be impersonal.

GOD

More than a Person is not the same as impersonal. 

JERRY

I thought it meant that there is much more to You than the Person I experience.

GOD

That is true. I manifest Myself to you in a limited way. Each particular manifestation is limited. You should never assume that this simple conversational Person is all there is to Me. I also light the stars and move the heavens, I generate matter and motion, I draw life forward toward its telos, and many more things.

[music]

 

 

CHAPTER 60

 

[Scott: FYI: Brahma, which is the name of a god, is not the same as Brahman, which is the ultimate impersonal reality – to avoid confusion, people often pronounce Brahman as “Brackman” and anglicize Brahma to “Brama.”  But do as you think best.]

JLM

In the Hindu "trinity," Brahma is the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva, who represents Time and Fate, is the Destroyer. In one story, Shiva is disappointed the world he made is not perfect and goes into profound meditation to make it so. Brahma rebukes him.

JERRY

Lord, what am I to understand about Shiva?

GOD

Destruction is part of what the universe is about. Shiva's displeasure is at the imperfection of a world Shiva had wanted to make perfect. It was not a reasonable desire, as Brahma knew. The world cannot simply be made perfect in one fell swoop. It was a kind of pride that made Shiva think that all that was required was that he meditate in a pure state. He tried to make the world perfect by withdrawing from it. But the world can be made perfect only by engaging it. 

JERRY

Is that why You reincarnate?

GOD

Yes, with each world, I have to reenter it. I am not perfect either and so I have to perish and be reborn.

There are infinite worlds to live.

JERRY

Lord, I am getting the following picture: the God beyond God, which seems like the Soul or Atman of God, is One.  In some sense, it exists outside particular worlds, of which there are a multiplicity.  The Atman of God enters into each particular world as a personal God, just as our Atman or Soul enters the world as a particular person.

 

GOD

You seem to understand the Atman well--you have experienced it yourself--and the relation is similar to that of the transcendent Atman and the empirical self in human beings. The Atman of God has qualities similar to the human Atman or Soul—it is disinterested and wise, and concerned and loving. This is the God's-eye view you had when you felt it possible to survey all humanity and to love each individual personally.

JERRY

Why isn't the Atman of God sufficient in itself?

GOD

That is just as it is for human Souls. It is in the nature of Soul - or Soul-stuff - that it must be incarnated to grow. It is, in a sense, nothing until it has been incarnated.

 

The Atman of God must be incarnated to be actualized and to develop. And, like human souls, it cannot develop fully in a single life. Part of this is just logical: God must actualize many possibilities; each world actualizes only one.

JERRY

Lord, religious philosophies describe God as perfect and therefore needing no embodiment and no development.

GOD

You already know, about the Platonic forms, that there is a question, "why are the Forms exemplified at all, since they are more perfect than the embodiments?" And there is the puzzle of why a perfect God would create a material (hence imperfect) world at all.  Something is wrong with this assumption that God is perfect.

JLM

In short, if Plato's forms and the Christian God are perfect and self-sufficient, why is there a world at all? What could possibly be the reason for a perfect being to create an imperfect world? 

GOD

"God is perfect" is empty talk. It means nothing. It seems to mean something, and it serves a purpose in piety, but it literally means nothing. The Atman of God must be actualized in an empirical God, the God of a particular world. And, just as a particular world is limited and has, of all the logical possibilities, just one set of characteristics and boundaries, so the God of a particular world has just one set of characteristics, just one personal history, just one set of triumphs and failures.

JERRY

God has failures?

GOD

Of course, you know that already. It is obvious from the story of the God of Israel and also of Jesus. It is obvious from the revelations about God in other religions, myths, and such. Only the metaphysicians claimed that God was "perfect."

JERRY

But isn't the Atman of God perfect?

 

                          GOD

That doesn't make sense. The Atman of God is not fully actualized. It has not yet been embodied. It is neither perfect nor imperfect, except that it is certainly incomplete.

[music]

JERRY

Lord, is entering the world a sacrifice for You?

GOD

Yes, I am in an eternal peace. Then I erupt into the world. As I described earlier, it is like stretching limbs sore from inaction. And then I have a series of tasks and challenges, uncertain in their definition and scope.  

 

We--humans and Me--do not enter the world to be selfish but to live surrendering lives, sacrificial lives.

JERRY

We enter the world of desire in order to consecrate it to God. To the extent that we fail to do that, we fail in our mission. Hence, we need to go back and try again. Is that right?

 

                          GOD

Yes. 

JERRY

I suppose, then, that evil and error are mainly ways of being taken over by desire.

 

Is that a struggle for You too?

GOD

Yes. Don't you remember the revelations to Zoroaster? I too have a divided nature and can be pulled in different directions.

JLM

Still troubled by the idea of a divided or imperfect God, I asked, 

JERRY

But then, Lord, how can we trust, for example, the Ten Commandments? How could Moses trust You? How can I?

GOD

I am moving the world forward, toward its proper end or telos. I am going forward and might not do everything right, but I am in fact surrendering Myself to the God beyond God.

JERRY

Aren't we guided by the telos as well? But You can't trust us.

GOD

Yes, you are guided by the telos but mainly via Me and participation in Me and My participation in you.

I am the God beyond God--the God that is more than a Person--entered into the world. 

 

To say that I have a divided nature merely means that the world is not yet perfect. Remember that, in a sense, I am the world, including all beings in it. If they are not perfect and in harmony with each other, then to that extent there is disorder, disharmony, evil, and so forth, in Me.

 

But it is more pointed than that. I have a divided nature in that I have pushes and pulls within Me.

JERRY

Do You mean that You are tempted to be cruel or untruthful or selfish? 

GOD

"Arbitrary" is a better word. 

 

Back to your question about trusting Me. Do you think you can do better than to trust the incarnation of the God beyond God? The high ideals you have come from Me. Do you think you can do a better job on your own?

JERRY

This sounds like the reply to Job.

GOD

Yes. There is something immature in your reaction. Like a child who idealizes his or her parents, you have to project Me as perfect. That is far from the universal report about Me from spiritually attuned individuals, whether Zoroaster or the authors of the Old Testament or the Vedic seers.

JERRY

Are You saying that we are more like partners, both growing, than like master and follower?

GOD

Don't get carried away. Your teacher doesn't have to be perfect for you to study at his or her feet. Your minister or guru doesn't have to be perfect to guide your spiritual growth. Again, that is immature, childish thinking.

[brief interim]

 

I am the Being who has inspired the world's great scriptures and moral codes. Isn't that enough? Does anyone think that the Ten Commandments is no good just because humankind has had additional moral insights since then? Isn't the "author" of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad-Gita and the sayings of Buddha good enough? Yet none of those works is complete and perfect. Grow up.

JERRY

Well, it is still unsettling.

GOD

Think about it prospectively. There is a great evolution taking place in the universe that includes God, humans, all life, even physical matter--a great development toward what, for the moment, we can call perfection. I am, you might say, the spearhead of that movement, the orchestrator, the guiding spirit. Is that so bad a world to be part of? Is that not a God to be, as it were, proud of?