Thoughts on the Meaning of Belief in God

I’m a Jordan Peterson fan.

Here’s a quote from a recent chat between him and Dennis Prager.

To be able to accept the structure of existence, the suffering that goes along with it and the disappointment and the betrayal, and to nonetheless act properly; to aim at the good with all your heart; to dispense with the malevolence and your desire for destruction and revenge and all of that; and to face things courageously and to tell the truth to speak the truth and to act it out, that’s what it means to believe—that’s what it means—it doesn’t mean to state it, it means to act it out. And, unless you act it out you should be very careful about claiming it. And so, I’ve never been comfortable saying anything other than I try to act as if God exists because God only knows what you’d be if you truly believed.

Jordan Peterson

I like this quote because it’s honest. I strive for honesty with myself about what I actually believe, and I think Jordan Peterson does, too.

The past few years of my spiritual life have been an exercise in stripping away the extraneous. Specifically, I don’t like claiming to believe in doctrines or ideas I just don’t understand—especially in ideas that don’t sit well with my conscience.

This means my questions these days regard more about the nature and definition of God than about the details of substitutionary atonement or the meaning of the Trinity. I have a hard time professing belief in anything these days (because I can’t find the right words to express what it is I do believe in), though I’m more confident in the faith I do have.

In this vein, I find it more fulfilling to meditate on what God is not than on what God is. Because I can’t really understand what God is. We have words—omniscient, omnipotent, infinite—but we can’t grasp their full meaning in the context of what we’re trying to express. We conjure up imaginations about divine omnipotence, but (I think) these typically fail to de-anthropomorphize our conceptions of things like power and knowledge, and thus cause us to imagine God as something like a super-powerful human mind. But God, of course, is not a human and has no “mind” like ours. These words and definitions point us in some direction, but I’m trying to be deliberate about leaving them there—as general guides, and not precise or all-encompassing definitions.

In that light, then: Do I believe in God? Yes. Who is that God? I really don’t know, but He’s not what we describe Him to be. He’s much bigger than that.

What is God?

There’s enough here to ponder for a lifetime, if you take what he’s saying seriously. From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Best to begin, following Thomas Aquinas, by saying what God is not. God is not the biggest being in the universe, or outside of the universe. God is not a discrete entity, like you or me, or a cloud or an atom or a quark, or (if one can put it this way) the universe itself as a whole. Nor is God the clockmaker, winding up time and matter and letting them run their course on their own.

God is the eternal and immaterial fullness of being and life that is the condition of there being anything at all. Infinitely rich and inexhaustibly beautiful, God is being itself, and as such, goodness and truth. Singular and simple, God lacks nothing yet, out of boundless and inexplicable love, creates what is other than himself, that which is not God. Distinct from God, what is not God — which is to say, everything: creation — is nevertheless bound to God, dependent at every moment and in every respect. Yet this dependence is not debilitating but enabling. It is the source of power and identity and, for living creatures, agency and, for rational creatures, freedom. To be is to depend on God for everything, and to acknowledge and celebrate this dependence is to be alive, fully alive, transparent to the source and end and empowering life that fills and moves all living things.

Brad East (channeling David Bentley Hart)

Einstein on God

I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call my self a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.

Albert Einstein