Can hermeneutics determine what scripture teaches: materialistic theism vs. idealistic panentheism

Does the Bible explicitly teach an objective material creation separate and independent from a theistic God who stands apart from His creation or does it teach a subjective ideal creation inseparable from the mind of a panentheistic God who indwells creation and is required to hold it together? Can hermeneutics, rationality, and/or tradition help us determine if scripture clearly supports one position or the other? I would appreciate any input to help me figure this one out if it can indeed be settled.

 

I consider myself a monistic idealistic panentheist. I believe that sin separates us from God only in a relational way and not in a physical or spacial way. I believe that God is omnipresent and is required to be present everywhere to hold reality together, even in hell. There are scriptures to support His omnipresence and His holding creation together. I believe that scripture also supports the idea that if God were to take away His spirit that creation would cease to exist. This indicates to me that all parts of creation require the presence of God to continue to exist. This also indicates to me that the creation cannot be independent or separate from God. This would make God panentheistic or indwelling all creation. This is different from a pantheistic God which is identified with the creation: the creation is God is the creation. Panentheism means that the creation is inseparable from God but God is greater and more than just the creation.

 

I believe both Jesus and Paul were panentheists. Jesus’ view that he is in the Father, the Father in him, he in us, we in him, and the Father in us is clearly panentheistic. Likewise, Paul’s repetition of we being in Christ and Christ in us demonstrates this principle as well as his clear teaching that we live, move, and have our being in God who makes us His temple. Paul also clearly showed his panentheism by indicating that by Christ all things were created, he is before all things and in him all things are held together. This clearly indicates to me that Paul did not view a material creation that was separate from God.

 

I believe that God's creation is not a material creation but is His mental projection. God spoke and the creation appeared. The creation is made of the Word of God. This is not necessarily audible words made out of sound waves which would presuppose a prior reality in which sound waves, space, and a materialistic medium would be required to accommodate sound waves. Rather, I believe these words were the thoughts of God. The Greek word for the Word which created the world is Logos which is also their word for logic. I believe creation is a logical construct in the mind of God.

 

There is also a rational argument for this. If creation cannot be separated and independent from God the creation must be immaterial and not made of a material substance for God is spirit and immaterial. I believe this necessitates an ideal rather than a material creation.

 

The Bible does appear to be dualistic because it distinguishes between the Spirit and the world/flesh/carnal. However, I believe that upon closer examination it reveals that the world is one of deception and not actuality while the Truth is of a spiritual nature and not carnal. Scripture can be used to examine this dichotomy in three sections. First, scripture indicates that the carnal is foolishness and deceit. Second, it indicates that Truth is mysterious. I believe the mysterious nature of Truth indicates that Truth is not equated with common sense. I believe common sense would tell us that there is an objective material reality independent of the mind. This is what I argue the Bible doesn’t teach. Finally, the Bible identifies Spirit as truth. I believe this clearly makes the case that the Bible teaches an ideal panentheistic reality instead of a material theistic reality where God is separate from His creation.

 

Here are the verses to consider. Let’s first look at how the Bible characterizes physical reality:

 

1 Corinthians 3:19

 

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

 

Colossians 2:8

 

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world.

 

Ephesians 2:2

 

Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

 

Revelation 12:9

 

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.

 

1 Corinthians 3:

 

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

 

 

For me the Bible speaks of an objective material reality as a realm of foolishness, deception, and an immature mindset. I see the idea of a world separate and independent from God as a parable which speaks more to spiritual truths that are not carnally discerned. In fact, I believe ontological truth is so counter-intuitive that it seems like a mystery to a worldly mind. Consider the following verses:

 

Mark 4:

 

11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12 that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand.

 

Romans 16:25

 

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.

 

1 Corinthians 2:

 

6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

 

Ephesians 3:9

 

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

 

Colossians 1:

 

26 even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

 

Colossians 2:

 

2 that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

 

 

The scripture seems to be clearly saying that the mystery of ontological truth is panentheism or Christ is in us and we are in Christ. Christ is in the Father and the Father in him. The Father is in us and we are in the Father. Panentheism is the mystery and that mystery of God is where all wisdom and knowledge are hid. The rest is error. Consider the following scriptures which indicate that spiritual reality is truth and material reality is the error:

 

John 4:24

 

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

 

John 14:17

 

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

 

John 15:26

 

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

 

John 16:13

 

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.

 

Romans 8:

 

5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God:

 

1 John 4:6

 

We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

 

1 John 5:6

 

And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

 

 

What is the scriptural basis for a material creation separate and independent from a theistic God who stands apart from His creation? I know that many influential people in the Church have held to this traditionally theistic position but does scripture support it and can hermeneutics help to clear this issue up?

 

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Alexander, I doubt you or Jim will take this scripture the way I see it, but to put it out there especially given my very humble understanding....

"Psalms 90:2 - Before the mountains were brought forth, for ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God."

 

This scripture (as I see it?) is referencing two different times?  

Before the mountains were brought forth; has to do with the beginning of "earths" (Not the universe per se) biosphere and creation, this would have been up and until God began making the earths  substrate. mountains, valleys, etc for a covering to receive the animal creation that would be when the earth was void, and without form, the earth had an m.o. if you will as described by Genesis.  

"for ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world";  again the word eretz (land) and in context world refer to our earth and its entirety. For all intensive purposes this clearly refers to the earth after it was void and without purpose and the land came up out of the waters, it now has a purpose and a plan within the scope of Gods mighty work about to come about.

"even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God."; this is again another reference to Gods omnipotence, his mighty work,and "he" God is above al things and infinite in existence.... 

Lastly we cannot refer to this scripture in context to anything but Gods work in creation, pre-creation is not adressed by this scripture clearly IMHO. There is the time of creation, and the time of our everlasting God.  We define this and Him in finite terms of time, but until the material exists time cannot exist as we define time. IF God is infinite all we can say is He existed before creation, this also implies that other creation (the universe may have existed before the earth was formed.  This again was another time and is relative because of existent matter which is not infinite, but we can't apply a time factor to God until the material is evidenced.  Outside of the paradigm, God is timeless... 

Perhaps I should be a little more specific than I was in the last paragraph of my last post:

Scripture is clear, I think, on the fact that God has always existed and always will, in the sense that he never began to exist and will never cease to exist. His existence is permanent. This, however, is as far as Scripture goes on God and time, in my estimation. It does not settle for us the question of whether time actually began (though there are verses that speak of the beginning of time, I don't think we can be confident that they refer to metaphysical time), whether time without creation is amorphous, metric, or non-existent, whether time is dynamic or static (the whole A-series thing), whether God is temporal with the creation, whether God was temporal prior to creating, or whether God is timeless, or any other details of the issue.

Justin sorry I missed this post...sorry.  But most humbly where God exists He is timeless and infinite.  Time only exists in the face of the material,  where matter does not exist time has no essence.....time is a finite view of the work of the infinite almighty God.....:0) So I think actually we can draw some conclusions from scripture about God and time....?  I am like an infant with this stuff so forgive me if this doesn't ring with scripture, but I think it does.  

I don't agree that time only exists where matter exists. Time exists as long as there are before-and-after relations. But even a mind existing by itself can have before-and-after relations if, say, it is having sequential thoughts.

The Bible tells us when time began.

Lou, those are some interesting observations about Psalms 90:2. What I was getting at in referencing "even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" is not that time applies to God but that from everlasting past God exists present tense and to everlasting future God exists present tense. In a sense God can say, "before Abraham was, I am." God can also say, "after the two prophets in Revelation will be, I am." God exists in the present tense in the past, present, and future. I believe this means that God is not governed by time and God sees time differently than we do. I believe it implies that God is timeless.

 

Justin, another relevant question about God and whether time applies to Him is the question as to whether God is immutable. If God is mutable He can have sequential thoughts of a before-and-after nature but if God is immutable I believe this implies that God does not think in the same temporal fashion as we do. What is your position on God's mutability?

God's immutability amounts to the stability of his attributes, primarily. His existence is permanent and so is his possession of the essential divine attributes (like omnipotence, moral perfection, omniscience, etc.). Also, I think some of the Biblical passages about immutability refer to the fact that God sticks by his plans and keeps his promises. But I do not think that immutability requires us to suppose that God cannot be thinking and doing different things at different times.

Yes I understand that....  Einstein thought that time followed a curve and was not linear and if you started out at one point on that line it would eventually bring you back tot he same starting point? I agree the God is timeless, before anything existed God is the I am.   It seems that God is able to know the future as well as the past correct   So his actions "in the beginning" were predicated on his knowledge of the future???? I don't think I am qualified enough to carry this out too much further, I really am ignorant  this area.....everlasting to everlasting.....timeless? since God holds all things together one must assume that God is present in past as well as future and even now....

What makes time fundamentally different than space or matter that God is contingently temporal but not spatial or material? What quality distinguishes time from the other two properties that makes it exceptional? If it is unexceptional then it would be arbitrary to attribute God as contingently temporal.

 

You're right that free-will is more of a rabbit trail. I just thought I'd throw it in there just for implications. I hadn't thought about whether free will could be explanatorily posterior to our willings and it is an interesting point but one that could take us off track from the main point of this discussion. So I will muse over your insight but will not comment.

 

The way Wikipedia relayed McTaggert's position of A vs. B-series time seemed to differentiate between whether the present moved into the future or whether the future moved into the present. I'm a little confused as to how the two are actually distinguished but I was trying to clarify just for the purpose of this discussion the two positions of actual time that make sense to me. A-series time I'm saying is time where the future hasn't actually been written but is made up as people act in the present. Their present actions determine the shape of the future. In this way, God didn't write the future but is a good enough statistician or a good enough chess player that he can see a billion moves ahead and He knows the probability of how the future will shape up so that He can impart prophecy and they will come true. The prophecies didn’t HAVE to come true but were only probable based on God’s infinite knowledge of cause and effect. B-series time relies more on ideas of predestination. God knows what the future holds because He has already written it and no matter what we do we cannot avoid our fate or the outcome of events. We are helpless to change the future because the future has already been written but time is dynamic and marches on to the predetermined future. That’s how I distinguish between the two time series. That is likely way off the mark to what McTaggert intended but it makes more distinguishable sense to me. In both A and B series present time is actual and dynamic while the past and future are not actual because time has moved on or hasn’t gotten there yet. In C-series, time is not actual or dynamic but perhaps it is 4-dimentional as you say.


 
Justin Mooney said:

The view I have been defending holds that God is contingently temporal--you are right about that. (although its not actually my view; I don't have a view on how God relates to time, I am really only defending this view as being a coherent and perfectly acceptable possibility). But what it comes to matter and space, the question of whether or not these are contingent properties of God seems to miss the mark for me, because I don't think they are properties of God at all (unless we are pulling in the incarnation, in which case I would say that God contingently has the property of having a body).

On the nature of time, the main issue is whether or not past and future moments exist. I think the way one answers this question is totally independent of the issue of free will, for even on a view where the future exists and is laid out four-dimensionally beginining to end, the "shape" that our four-dimensional selves take through time can be explanatorily posterior to or willings.

I'm not sure I see the difference between A- and B- time as you have described them. Can you highlight the difference between them as you understand it?

Regarding whether we start with the nature of God or the nature of creation: when we are trying to figure something out it seems to me we should use whatever relevant sources of information we have. One of those sources is our experience of time. We also have Scripture, but I don't think it gives us much to work with on this question (see below). This whole issue of starting with one source of information rather than another is, in my view, a red herring. Because in the end our goal is to integrate and harmonize our understanding of all the information we have. Should we give more weight to God's nature over God's creation? That depends on where we get information about both. Scripture has more weight than our experience of creation, but that doesn't mean that God's nature has more weight than the nature of creation unless Scripture tells us relevant things about God's nature while our information about creation comes only from more fallible sources. That of course brings us to your question of hermeneutics.

I have indicated in other threads on this subject that I think Scripture is underdeterminative on this question. I don't believe the Biblical authors reflected on the metaphysics of God and time in their writings, and their comments that touch on the subject are not meant to be interpreted as if they are metaphysically precise. Some comments may lean in one way or another, but nothing is really decisive.

The Bible speaks of God in various anthropomorphic ways. It speaks as though God has emotions like jealousy or that God’s heart can be hardened or that He can change His mind. It speaks as though He has visible hands, can sit on a throne, has a backside, and a face. Some places indicate that He is so big that the earth and heaven can’t contain Him. The Bible seems to give Him qualities that would encompass space, matter, and time. How do we decide which anthropomorphic qualities are actual… like the ability for temporal thought? If God’s physical and spatial qualities that the Bible attributes to Him are read to be metaphorical, why would we not also attribute the temporal qualities to be metaphorical?



Justin Mooney said:

God's immutability amounts to the stability of his attributes, primarily. His existence is permanent and so is his possession of the essential divine attributes (like omnipotence, moral perfection, omniscience, etc.). Also, I think some of the Biblical passages about immutability refer to the fact that God sticks by his plans and keeps his promises. But I do not think that immutability requires us to suppose that God cannot be thinking and doing different things at different times.

This is a great question that I have pondered a bit myself, but I haven't studied enough of hermeneutics to know in any kind of authoritative detail what to look for. But the problem of identifying what language about God is anthropomorphic and what isn't, and just how anthropomorphic a given description is, is part of the reason why I think Scripture is generally underdeterminative on these metaphysical issues. It's hard to tell when it is actually making metaphysically precise claims about God.

Alexander Martin said:

The Bible speaks of God in various anthropomorphic ways. It speaks as though God has emotions like jealousy or that God’s heart can be hardened or that He can change His mind. It speaks as though He has visible hands, can sit on a throne, has a backside, and a face. Some places indicate that He is so big that the earth and heaven can’t contain Him. The Bible seems to give Him qualities that would encompass space, matter, and time. How do we decide which anthropomorphic qualities are actual… like the ability for temporal thought? If God’s physical and spatial qualities that the Bible attributes to Him are read to be metaphorical, why would we not also attribute the temporal qualities to be metaphorical?

Justin Mooney said:

God's immutability amounts to the stability of his attributes, primarily. His existence is permanent and so is his possession of the essential divine attributes (like omnipotence, moral perfection, omniscience, etc.). Also, I think some of the Biblical passages about immutability refer to the fact that God sticks by his plans and keeps his promises. But I do not think that immutability requires us to suppose that God cannot be thinking and doing different things at different times.

Well, this has been a great discussion. Do we leave it as underdetermined or is there room to continue the discussion and refine more bits?

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