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Do you believe in God? What is God? What happens to us when we die? What does it mean to believe in God? How do you define God? Have you held the same concept of God throughout your life? Do you see or feel a presence of God in your life? Why do you call this presence God?

I am sure you have heard these “God questions” many times in your life. We hear and ask such questions starting in early childhood, and we keep hearing and asking them until the last breath leaves our body.

I was inspired to confront these imponderables yet again after listening to a great interview on MorristownGreen.com of John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. In a free-wheeling conversation with New Jersey journalist Kevin Coughlin, Bishop Spong traces the rise of religion, from humankind’s first moments of self-awareness to the Bible, Jesus, and modern clashes with science. Listen to it!

Among the many issues they discuss is how we can know that God exists.

Here is my answer:

To know if God exists would require the ability to describe or explain the phenomena in a way that would be understandable and acceptable to another person. Otherwise the inquiry is impossible, and for this very reason the question becomes un-answerable.

Why?

It is because God can exist only in the realm of a personal experience, and this is why the experience cannot be shared, explained, or understood by someone else.

Let me explain how I see, feel, and understand God.

In the broadest sense of the word, God is to me the essence of the Universe. God is the pure consciousness that is the life force itself.

In the narrowest sense, God is the feeling that becomes dominant in my mind and in my heart when I know that my life is aligned with something greater than myself. In those moments I am peaceful, I am joyful, I am free, I am safe, I am loving, and I know I am loved.

• These are the moments when my teenage son opens himself without reservations and shares his secrets with me. He feels safe to do it and I feel honored by his trust and grateful for the moment of a true connection.

• These are the moments when a person dear to my heart cares enough to make me feel safe, trusts enough to make me trust, loves enough to make me put down my guard without shame, is strong enough to give me strength, is kind enough to give me the time I need to let go of the things I need to let go off, without force or struggle.

• These are the moments when my students interrupt their lives and their busy schedules and come to me to just talk. When they hope I can give them answers. These are the moments when the writing assignments blend with their lives– with the parents they have to take care for, with the small children that they need to attend day and night, with their spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends, with their passions, struggles, hopes, failures, and successes.

• These are the moments when a book speaks to me like a real person. When a New Moon has a face of a friend. When the grass smells like my childhood’s meadow. When the food I taste makes me remember everything that made me. When strangers enter my house and become my friends for life.

Is this just an illusion?

Do you feel inspired? Do you believe in God? How do you understand God? Share your thoughts with us.

20 Responses to “God as essence and an illusion”

  1. tyler foster says:

    I agree that God is a completely personal experience and one that is almost impossible to relate to anothers. I think the real question is religion though. Does religion destroy what it sets out to accomplish? Many religions believe of bringing people together and how were all one under the sun. I feel that religion however seperates us as people, a contridiction that I believe God would never want. If we are all to seek global peace and happinss, I think we need to rid ourselves of religion since self pride always seems to get in the way.

    • lauren merrill says:

      I think the term god is just a crutch for a lot of people to gain comfort from. We are naturally fearful and filled with questions therefore we need an answer to lifes mystery. The word and basis of religion that followed it is negative to me, and misleads people more then anything. I believe in god as the universe and higher power uniting all things, not as a single form. We are all gods, it is just a matter of how much we realize it.

  2. Ella says:

    To believe in God one must have faith that he truly does exist. Since he cannot be seen and is not tangible to us, in order to believe that he exists we must put faith that he is there through all that you do whether it is good or bad. All my life I was raised Roman Catholic. I grew up in a family where God is a central part of our lives. Although my outlook on religion has slightly changed as I have gotten older, I have always had a strong belief in God. Even in times of hardship or darkness, I believe that God has always been present in my life. There is a parable which I have always loved that is titled “Footprints in the Sand.”

    One night, a man dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. He noticed two sets of footprints. However, during the saddest times in his life, there was only one set of footprints. The man questioned the Lord about this. “I don’t understand why when I needed you most, you would leave me.” The Lord replied. “During your times of suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

    This parable truly represents my understanding of and relationship with God. There are many times, sometimes the hardest times in our life, when we become angry with God because things don’t go our way. I have learned, however, through faith and experience that God wants what is best for you. You may not realize it at the time, but so many things in life that we see as negative are really true blessings. So to answer the question, yes, I do believe in God. I have faith in him. I have realized however that not everyone believes in God and that’s okay too. We all have our different beliefs and each and every one us has a different perception of faith and a relationship with God.

  3. Tyler Finn says:

    As some who was baptized Catholic, raised and confirmed Episcopalian, and currently doesn’t attend church this is a very interesting topic for me. I know that God or the concept of God has always been in my life in some way or another. I was way too young to remember my baptism and the short time that I attended a Catholic church. Shortly after my baptism my family moved and we attended an Episcopal church.

    For us this seemed like a really perfect fit. I was still young and my little sister had just been born and the way the service was run at this church it was much more relaxed than the typical Catholic church. Kids were encourage to get up, move around, asks questions, and participate in any way we wanted. I really liked this style of church. The chairs were padded unlike the hard wooden benches at the pervious church and they actually liked the kids to be involved. That’s why at 13 I became confirmed Episcopalian.

    Now as a 19 year old I would say unfortunately that God has taken a back seat in my life. I haven’t attended church in a while and often only find myself thinking about God, church, or even religion in general when I am in dire need of help (Like passing my accounting final). I feel I’ve taken what I learned in church and used it to create a support system for myself. Though now looking back on it as I’ve grown older I find myself more skeptical about the concepts I was taught as a youth, but I know that my understanding of God will always be with me.

  4. Matt Bloom says:

    Yes I do believe in god and I believe there is an afterlife. I have been brought up in the catholic religion since I was born. I have been baptized, received my first holy communion, been to my first church confessional, and been confirmed into the Catholic Church. I have no explanation for how god exists or any of the other probing “God” questions, I just simply believe in God and that’s enough for me. I don’t try to persuade or get people to believe in him. It is their choice if they want to or not. I have had experiences that I can’t explain. I am not saying what I have witnessed was definitely the works or God, but I do think there was something at work helping me out. My family has also told me stories, one in particular where my aunt and uncle almost lost their lives. The way my dad described the story made me believe that something with a higher power was at work.

  5. David Sadowsky says:

    I may be beating a dead horse, but “God” is just a word, no more so than love or red. It is an idea that humanity created to explain what they could not. With your opinion of a God, you seem to define it as happy moments; as moments in your life when things seem to make sense. For each person, every word used tends to be used because of a personal definition. I do not believe in a higher power, I believe in scientific and logical proof in the nonexistence of some greater being, as do 93% of the members of the National Academy of Scientists as of 2007. This is because these people are highly intelligent and question everything. They do not just accept dogmatic teaching. I do not believe I should waste space reposting my beliefs upon our very existence, so they can be found in the first three comments of the previous blog entry, “Life after 9/11.” As I said earlier, a God is a being created by man to explain the unexplainable. This belief has been present, though morphed, over the 200,000 some years of human existence. From the creation stories, to the modern God, the account changes as science develops answers. Thunder and lightning use to be believed by the Greeks to come from Zeus when he was offended or angered by the people. Years later, this belief is laughed at as there is exact proof how lightning is formed. People used to believe the Earth was flat and that as a celestial planet, the Universe revolved around us. Well, this is not true, for the solar system would revolve around us. The notion of a Universe was nonexistent at the time. To speak ill of this was to speak ill of the Church and of “God,” thus deemed heresy. Galileo Galilei, father of Science, was judged heretical for his belief in a heliocentric Universe, the planets revolving around the Sun. These beliefs were considered to be lies…that they were contrary to scripture, which was the law at the time. Religion is a burden; it drives us back to the dark ages of murder in the name of an imaginary friend. I do not know about you, but the idea of an imaginary friend seems ludicrous, especially one that you must worship and pray to. Oh, and you must pray correctly or you will burn eternally. “Arguments that explain everything…explain nothing” (Christopher Hitchens). If you wish to pray, believe in a God, but do not expect anything to happen. Prayer is quick, easy, free, and absolves you from responsibility, but actually doing something fixes the problem. I recently read a post on the facebook page of the site called The Thinking Atheist (http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/) where a woman’s daughter broke her wrist. The daughter spent the weekend with her grandmother who brought her to church. The grandmother told the woman to bring the girl back to the doctor because the prayers would magically heal her bones. It is people like this who need to realize the life they live will not grant them peace. To live your life well so you can die and go to a heaven is a concept that is beyond ridiculous.

  6. Jaleel DaBreo says:

    Reading this entry evoked a childhood memory to me and a conversation i had with my significant other who is fifteen years my elder. As i child, i grew up as an Anglican by denomination, i remember always asking the question “Mary is Jesus’s mother? So if God is Jesus’s and Jesus is God, then who made God?” I was always answered with the idea that God has no creator and he is three in one. which i never really understood. It seem impossible to me that someone could not have a creator. I felt that everyone came from somewhere, and so i had the inner secret that God had parents because he had to. right? I love talking to older persons, i like taking their wisdom and making it my own. i love listening to their stories, i take enjoyment from a person who has lived. I often have long talks with this man about why we are here and who made us. He tells me about the three rings of power and that we were brought here by “aliens” and given religion as a way to control us. He has told me that the queen does not have religion, that they are the most high because they know things that we can only dream of knowing. That these aliens value gold and that we were brought here as workers to find precious metals, stones and so on. That is why gold is of great value because the aliens value gold. He has told me that some of the movies and things we see in the media have some truth. Also that the new movie splice where they create a new being has some truth and that “they” are preparing us for what is to come. He tells me of the Illuminati being in control and that the pentagram in D.C is the highest building and no other building can be higher. He has told me that there are three of those buildings in the world. One in D.C, London and Vatican city which have their own rules and their own government. That is why people in D.C are not allowed to vote because D.C does not belong to the USA. He has even taken me to see them on our trip to Russia for one of his business trip. I enjoy listening but these things scare me, i think the thought of having no reason scares me, i love having a purpose, and knowing that there is a higher power, God brings something to my life that cannot be replaced. I want to pass my spirituality on to my son, but there are always thoughts of doubt in my head. I drifted towards Buddhism in my search and found some peace there, Some peace in myself. I love the teachings although Buddha is not a God, i still believe that there is a God and he lives within me. I hope it never leaves me because i will be lost.

  7. Shawn McCreary says:

    Yes i do believe in God. And he is the Lord and Savior. But what is interesting to me is that there is so many different religions and views on God. I understand God as the creator of all and he sacrifies his son down to die for all of our sins. I do believe that there is a heaven and hell. In the end of decision that make i feel we base our rights and wrongs on God. I dont really have to much to say on the issue but i do know that he does inspire me and i do things all for him because with out him none of this is possible

  8. Michael Leonard says:

    I don’t believe in god, I use to because so many people were so sure god existed and not to mention all of the media references to god. I stopped believing in god around the age of 13 and 14, I’m not sure which age they were pretty close. I stopped believing because I saw so many people using the notion of god and religion as a means to an end, a system of control. I then questioned does god really exist because the more you think about how there are different religions and individuals within a the same religion have conflicting views of god makes you wonder does this absolute in everybody’s minds really exist. I then determined god did not exist, religion and god in the early parts of humanity were a way of explaining how we came to existence and what our purpose is. They couldn’t be absolutely right, how could they, their minds couldn’t even rap around such basic concepts to us like cells, atoms, gravity and so on. It was the desire to answer the question why are we here? which created the idea of god. It was then the belief that we had the answer that started to silence any questions that debate whether or not what we believed in was right or wrong. I understand why people would choose to defend that god existed because they were told by their parents, who were told by their parents and so and so forth to the people who came up with the idea of god, that god existed, and when we believe we know the answer to something there is no desire to test to see if it true. There also the sense of helplessness finding out the thing that held your life together did not really exist, which creates fear that drives people into defending the existence of god to the point where they cross a certain line. So to me, god is an invention of human kind to give a quick simple answer of how and why we got here. I could be wrong, but at this point in time I see no evidence confirming the existence of god, and even if there was a god I doubt it would be in the image we have created for it. The saying that god created us in his image is backwards in my opinion, we created god in our image. Though atheism is the answer for me, is not necessarily the answer for everyone else, like my grandmother, she needed the idea of god in order to function in her life, and for her god was real because her mind made it real. I can understand her dislike of me being an atheist and a desire to convert me because from her point of view she would have a fear of me going to hell because I did not believe in god, what would my excuse be if I were to tried to convince her god didn’t exist. If I am right, it doesn’t matter what people believe in, if I were trying to convince her god didn’t exist, I would be some ass-hole kid telling a younger kid Santa Claus does not exist. I guess what I am trying to say is whichever side your own, don’t mistreat the other side without first walking in their shoes and seeing life from their point of view.

  9. zac yelnosky says:

    I do not believe in a god, a god being a personified higher power. I do however believe that there is some sort of “higher power” or order to the universe, even if it is only science. I think that the things that happen and are possible in the universe are spectacular enough that there doesnt need to be a man in the sky to make them special.

  10. brenk says:

    I don’t know if there is a God. I hope that there is. One blogger, Matt, said he wasn’t sure either, but that something was at work to help him out. I had at least 2 experiences that way as well. Something happened that was such a coincidence (perhaps) that saved me, I believe, from the strong possibility I might have been killed. The other, again something happened, that was such a coincidence (perhaps) that saved my 3 beloved dogs from harm. So, I believe that something was at work to help me in such dire circumstances. I hope it is a God, or a higher power, or just the Universe helping me when I needed that help badly. I do have a very hard time though understanding how a God could let the Holocaust happen. I also have a hard time with believing that just certain people would be able to communicate back and forth with God. And, is God in us? That also confuses me — I guess I see God possibly as a super separate being, and not sure why he would be in us. I do pray to God, and hope my prayers are answered. So, again, I just don’t know — I hope so.

  11. jami jordan says:

    I believe god exists and is the origin of everything.
    I believe he sent down multiple religions which never contradicted each other(only man’s erring interpretations of them is what contradicts them).

    I believe that all three religions of Islam Christianity and Judaism were authentic God sent religions which mankind has often distorted. Though they were all sent down for different time periods ,when studied closely, they all essentially say the same thing and are not only complementary in content mathematical coding of the scriptures. A code that ,when defined, clearly states that it is from god. A code that is impossible for any human to construct especially in light of the time periods and contents of the books which these religions were based.

    Therefore, when someone asks me if god exists , it is like asking me if America or China exists. I say this in light of all of the overwhelming evidence of god which can be understood on all levels of understanding. Thanks to the internet and technology, now there is access to almost everything.

    However, there are many people in doubt about God’s actual existence, let alone his existence in their life, his presence, his definition and his religions. Some people don’t know enough about religion(s) to make choice about their beliefs. This is basic ignorance. Some people know a lot about religions but make a conscious choice (as they have the right) not to acknowledge God’s existence. Then there are others who have not any real in-depth researched knowledge about god or god(s) religions but somehow believe they are experts on the issue of god based on their beliefs outside of any established (religion ,in fact, being the origin of the word).

    This can be referred to what is know n as compound ignorance. In other words , when a person believes that they are knowledgeable about a particular issue but has not in fact done any research on that issue. Thus they are ignorant to the fact that they are ignorant.

    This type of person has a habit of doing the most damage on not only religious issues but all issues in life and most likely all of us are guilty of it on one or two issue.

    Thus, I will start with describing myself when I went through this phase of compound ignorance.
    Though I was born and raised a Muslim, I slowly came to a realization of my own ignorance about religion. This spawn from a lingering question I had in my youth. This question was; how was I any different than a person who was born and raised Christian?

    Meaning, if I only learned about my religion up until that point in my life and all that another person knew of was Christianity, than how could I tell this person that their beliefs were incorrect in fact false if I had no prior research on their religion.
    I realized that I had to cross examine the other persons information before I could even think about disproving it. This fact became even more obvious when I later got into a debate with a well versed Christian and lost.

    I proceeded to learn as much as I could about Christianity at that point to know what I was ignorant about. I was actually in line with my own religion by doing this because one of the Islamic beliefs clearly states; go out and research other religions because it will always bring you back to Islam.
    This is significant in light of the fact that hardly any other religion, belief, or its followers ever challenge an individual to do learn about any other religion accept their own( let alone this being one of the teachings of any other religion).

    That was the best thing I could of ever have done. All subsequent debates went a lot better that the last because I was at least aware of the other persons side of the story. Later on, after lots of research into my own religion, I got into another heated debate with a scientist who outright disproved of the existence of God.
    During this 30 something page long debate I revealed all my beliefs to him. The only reason I took the time in the first place to talk to him is that he made this claim that There was no reasonable evidence which could support the existence of god.

    First of all, there are thousands of ways to not only logically prove the existence of God, but there are ways to prove it scientifically, mathematically and geographically with substantial and credible evidence. The issue however always seems to be the source of a persons information. You simply have to be open minded enough to know where to look for such information.
    This scientist had this claim up on a website for some time and he was making a lot of religious very upset. At first, he would respond to every such evidence I brought him. Then, as he realized that my evidences were more logical and many of which were based on both science and religion, I noticed him beginning to hide my responses.

    After a while he gave up on trying to refute my evidences and started responding to everyone else. My point for saying all of this is to show that many people consciously choose not to believe in god and will never believe in God regardless of the evidences you bring them. This is just one of their God-given-rights. 

    Despite the 5% of u-Islamic terrorist who have probably contributed to a misguided understanding of the 95% of the rest of us Muslims around the world, here are some of the reasons I still believe that Islam is the best religion on earth.

    Many of these links were used in my debate to prove the existence of god. \par

    Mathematically proving the existence of GOD
    http://www.quranalone.com/the-quran/appendices/appendix-1.php

    A scientist proves the existence of god to an atheist
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlaEPERULhc&feature=related

    Scientifically Proving the Existence of God

    Islam First Discovered Embryology
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPABXH1U1VQ

    Thai Buddhist Scientist Converted to Islam \par
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2HpDEFrbFQ \par

    The Miracle of Pharaoh in the Quran
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPaY5tRWFuw&feature=related \par

    European Scientist Converts To Islam
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IspK651RpY \par

    German Scientist and His wife Converted to Islam
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-Fik8H4IOQ

    The reason for using YouTube is to show just a glimpse of the many in depth researches that have been done years ago and that are still being done by not only religious scholars but scientist also ( who later changed their position ) to prove gods existence as well as to disprove the misconception and dogma that he doesnt exist.

  12. Brandi P. says:

    To me God is the best term I can use but I use it loosely, a figure. He (though nor male of female I call god he) is the figure I count my blessing to, the one I blame for sorrows the quickly apolozie because thats not logical. He’s a guide, someone I can speak to about anything with out speaking. Its hard to describe God. As humans we only have words and these words never hold enough mesning or substance to describe God. Going to Catholic school most of my life I’ve found the best way to explain God is to first say. “God is love. God is everywhere. God is all knowing, all powerful, never ending and can never be fully definded or he would not be God.” it makes sense. Just as Rabi segal said we can only explain who God is not. Otherwise you’ll live your whole life in blantent confusion. For me I try not to think about it too much. Why? Because I realize even if i dedicated my life to knowing God and defining what God is I’d miss his message which is very simple. “Love God, Love Yourself and Love your neighbors”. And when you think about it if God is love and he’s asking you to love him. God is saying Love, Love. People should be in love with the concept of Love it should consume them to there core. If this thought could be fully embrace we would not have to be asked to love ourselves or others. We would just be love. Thats what I believe God meant when he says us humans have been made in the image of God. We are given that ability to love.

  13. David A says:

    I have struggled with the title of god for many years, I used to be a comparative religions minor and have studied many different religions and in doing so have come up with some of my own beliefs. I do not agree with organized religion and their title of “god.” I do believe that there is a higher power which we may or not be meant to understand.

  14. Caitlin S. says:

    I agree that God is a completely personal experience and each of us have to develop our own ideas of who God is. I know when I was young my mother portrayed a God that would damn those who did not believe him, those who were homosexual were sinners or those who have had premarital sex were sinners; I was completely baffled. This is her God but I could not wrap my mind around a God like this. Now I am older and through my own experiences have a God that is more realistic to me. I never try to explain my views to God to anyone; believer or not. I feel that even when we try to explain our feelings of God or whatever we may call it we will never fully get our message across and the other person will never fully accept or understand our view because God is different to us all.

  15. Robert B says:

    The God question is something I have asked many times. I grew up in the church and believing in God. As I got older, I questioned what I was taught in Church about God. How could God be so unfair and bizarre. Some people lived very well while others lived so bad….why would God let they happen or tolerate inhumane treatment such as slavery, racism, murder, rape, and other crimes and immoral acts from the people made in his image. The easy answer is “Free Will”. This is an irrational response. Why? It makes no rational sense for God to make people and then allow them to do terrible things to each other under the guise of ” Free Will”.

    I do not believe that there is a God. I believe that there are multiple super human creatures that play games with the human species for their pleasure, including making people believe in the God Concept.

    Multiple Gods is what all the religions and non-religions must believe, but is unwilling to admit this is the belief. Otherwise if is not rational to believe in GOD, because he could not be the same to all the people who have completely opposite beliefs about God. Moreover, this is the only way that they all can worship God.

    Yes, there is GODs.

  16. susan says:

    I do believe there is a God, and that we are spiritual connected by a the force of God. I only questioned if there was a God when I had a problem or things were not going the way I thought they should, I questioned his lack of presence. It is not God that is not present, but instead I am the only not present. Increasing my conscious awareness is the answer for me the more I connect with the moment the more ways I see God in my life.

  17. Kay says:

    I’m reading an interesting book by Timothy Keller titled “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” that addresses many of the questions and arguments made by both Christians and non-Christians. I recommend it for everyone who’s wanting to understand the Christian perspective, explained from an intellectual viewpoint.

  18. rachelshields says:

    There is a energy which flows within us all, we all have God in us. I cant say I believe in God, I cant say that I don’t. I believe that there is something, some sort of energy that is guiding me. I have felt it before, and I don’t even know the words to express how it feels to know that you are exactly where your suppose to be, doing what you are suppose to be doing and that you are connected to everyone else and they are all doing the exact same. My beliefs have changed I was raised in a very christian family and school, I think its a beautiful religion for some, people want to instantly feel that they are safe and that they can talk to a divine being who they can picture in their head. However I feel like people get lost in the structure of religions. There is something out there though something that kept me alive all the times I was so close to death and didn’t even realize it, something that made me meet the perfect person at the perfect time, something that let the “horrible” things in my life happen to me, just so I could look back and realize that it was good and it led me to even better things.

  19. Lauren B. says:

    Hello Professor Hinc, this is Lauren from HCC, (well UMBC now) and I have loved reading your blog. Your writing is so lovely and thoughtful, I know I have not really been commenting, but I have been reading, and this post certainly demanded my attention. I would love to hear your feedback on who you think God is, about his divinity, power to save, connection between the Old and New Testaments, and etc.

    I believe in God, and I believe that every word in the Bible is true and inspired by God. I also know that God, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, are one. Do you like to read the Bible? I would think so because of your interest in spirituality. I believe that God created everything; isn’t the intricate design of the world an amazing thing? And I also believe that he designed a world that was once good, but was marred by human sin, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, saying to God, “we are our own.” Since then, the world had to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin, till Jesus Christ, fully God and man, died on the cross (and more importantly, rose again!) for the sin of the world, so that anyone who has faith in Him can live forever in Heaven!

    I believe in salvation…..
    John 3:16 -17″For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

    This particular verse from the Bible speaks of the Trinity, God’s divinity, and role of Jesus as Savior.
    Colossians 1:15-20.
    “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”