What Difference Does It Make?

David Heap continues to grace us with his presence.

In the recent American Religious Identification Survey for 2008 about 70% of the population reported believing in a personal God, and 12% believed in a “higher power” but not a personal God. Only 2% denied there was a God or higher power, and the rest were essentially agnostic or refused to answer.

I am among those who believe in a personal God.

But some times I have wondered, what difference does it make to me, here and now, if there is a God, even a personal God?

The Ant Debate

Consider an ant farm. Do the ants ever debate philosophically among themselves whether there is a”human” who has “created” the “world” (the ant farm) in which they live?

I am not sure whether ants can see through the clear plastic. Presumably, much of the time, if they looked out, they would see no human present (perhaps the person is at work or in another room). “Ahah,” says the skeptical ant, “there is no human. Look through the clear plastic, and you will see for yourself.”

“But you must have faith,” says the other, “we cannot control the moments when we might see the human, but the human chooses when he appears. And, I am sure that the human is the source of the water or nutrients that are added to our world from time to time. While I have not seen the human, others have. And I have their words in ant scripture.”

And so forth.

So What?

But, in the end, does it make any practical difference in the daily lives of the ants whether humans exist or not, or even if humans are the creators of the world in which they live and the source of water and nutrition? Does it make any material difference whether they “believe” or “know” or otherwise acknowledge the reality of human existence outside of the ant farm world?

What difference it makes to me.

For some of my life I pictured God as a benevolent all powerful being who created the universe and was the source of all goodness. But I am not sure that belief differed very much from my belief that the sun was a primary source of light and heat and energy on the earth. God, like the sun, was just there. Occasionally God might answer a prayer or send a small tender mercy in an unpredictable way, but was largely hands off.

For me, what makes a difference now is occasionally experiencing God in my personal life, a sense that God personally cares about and loves me and other creations, a feeling of connection, of hope, of faith, of love. God does for me what I cannot do for myself; I feel God’s influence and strength at times.

I accept and believe the Church’s teachings of the nature of God with a material body and the social trinitarian nature of the Godhead. But that is not what makes a difference to me. What makes a difference is that God is my God, an awesome God, a caring and loving God.

What difference does it make to you if there is a God?

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Comments

  1. Katherine says:

    Fascinating. I think we so often forget to analyze (I was going to say challenge, but that did not seem right) the basic assumptions. How would my life be different without God? I think I would lose the comfort of hoping that there is some omnipotent, loving being that cares about me.

  2. I used to believe in God. Then I stopped. Now I try to figure out a way to use the concept in my life, but I haven’t yet found an idea I’m comfortable using the word “God” to represent on a personal level.

    My morals and behaviors haven’t changed much during any of these points, but my justification for moral choices has. In fact, I would (predictably) say that I have morally progressed, as I now have more charity towards homosexuals than I did when I believed in a typical Mormon God.

    I see belief in God like voting. My own vote in the election has absolutely no impact on the outcome, but it means a lot to me. Similarly, atheists and believers probably lead remarkably parallel lives (on average, if such a thing could exist), but the way they talk to themselves about the events in their lives–and meanings they assign them–are probably very different.

  3. Interesting question. I have often asked myself, “Yes, as a Mormon, I believe in a flesh-and-bones God that is not consubstantial with Jesus, etc., etc. But what difference does that distinction make to me?” I’m sure there are particular theological answers to that question, but personally, I’m not sure those distinctions matter much to my life. For me, it’s mostly a Nephi-esque response, that I don’t know the meaning of all things . . .

    One other thing: I’m currently reading Orson Scott Card’s Sarah (a fun bit of historical fiction based on the life of Abraham’s wife), and read a passage last night that made me think along these lines. Up to this point in the story, Sarah (or Sarai) has felt that God was distinctly quiet in her life. But at an important turning point, she feels led by God as she has an important conversation. Afterwards, she marvels at the event and says something like, “I now know that God knows me.” Her servant, Hagar, replies with a pithy comment that any god worth his salt knows his creations. But Sarah was getting at something bigger than that: she finally understood that God had her on his radar. And knowing that caused her to feel a love and sense of power that she didn’t know before.

  4. It matters to me that there is a just God. As unjust as this world is, I have to believe that there’s a higher purpose. Otherwise I would be too depressed.

  5. Ah, delicious apatheism.

    In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in a god or not. Whether he exists or not, life is surprisingly similar whether you believe in him, put him in center of your life, or not. Unlike someone like madhousewife, I think that the universe becomes much more confusing and terrible if there is a higher purpose and a caring god, but things start to make more sense when you don’t assume such a thing and try to reconcile reality with that.

    I identify strongly with what ujlapana said.

  6. MikeInWeHo says:

    I am becoming more of a Deist with each passing year, sad to say. The final scene in “Angels In America” (where the angels declare that God has disappeared) resonates very deeply with me. Yet I can still read the Book of Mormon and be powerfully moved. It’s weird.

  7. Mike, that’s not weird at all. You’re a human being.

  8. “Does it make any material difference whether they “believe” or “know” or otherwise acknowledge the reality of human existence outside of the ant farm world?”

    Not to the ants, because nothing changes as a result of their belief. Humans, on the other hand, have a different setup. Faith is an actual force in our lives and it can move things. Emotions. Motivations. People. Mountains.

  9. One difference is, if the Baptists are right, we’re all going to Hell.

  10. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Whether he exists or not, life is surprisingly similar whether you believe in him, put him in center of your life, or not. ”

    This is simply untrue.

    God speaks to us on condition. When we fail to meet the conditions, God ceases to speak to us, and it seems that He has vanished from the universe.

    I have had experiences throughout the spectrum on this – either as a matter of own belief or intimate connection with people who believe variously. And without qualification I can say that my life with God at its center in no way resembles the life I lived previously. Nor does my life resemble that of former compatriots or current compatriots, some of whom have parted ways with me not only in perspective, and some who have strangely stuck with me. ~

  11. “Whether he exists or not, life is surprisingly similar whether you believe in him, put him in center of your life, or not. ”

    That might be true for some, but it certainly isn’t true for all – probably even most.

  12. Everything.

    Everything my life has become, everything I do, has been shaped by my knowledge that He is there, that He cares, and that I will see Him again someday. I know it sounds trite and churchy, but it is true. There is nothing of value in my life that I cannot attribute to Him. I get out of bed, I go to work, I breathe and live because I believe that He wishes me to.

    He does not command every moment of my life, but every moment of my life is dedicated to serving Him. I am not always . . . or even often . . . successful, but I try.

  13. Thomas Parkin says:

    “That might be true for some, but it certainly isn’t true for all – probably even most.”

    Ray, my friend, wrong. Truly having God at the center of your life, meaning seeking for and then finding the mighty change of heart, alters everything. I’m with the locally unpopular blogger Jared, when he observes that this changed state isn’t typical, even (_especially_ is his point) among active LDS.

    Note here for future reference the problem with privileging sincerity. ~

  14. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 10
    “When we fail to meet the conditions, God ceases to speak to us, and it seems that He has vanished from the universe. ”

    While I understand the theology behind this, it strikes me as problematic. If Heavenly Father exists and loves us so much more than we can imagine, what does it mean if he ‘vanishes’ when we sin? There’s something counter-intuitive about that. My earthly father made him more available to me during periods of my life when I was struggling and even doing wrong in his eyes. He didn’t say “You’re messing up, Mike I’m outta here.”

    This is something I really struggle with, and have had some anguished prayers over.

  15. I think I would put this in a graduated scale. There are some who don’t put God in their lives, and live pretty sociopathic lives, while others with no belief in a personal God still act in what we would call a moral way.

    For those who do believe in a personal God, we also see a spectrum. In my own life, I have gone from hope to faith to a pretty powerful personal sense of what having God in my life can mean, but still not at the point where that is the first consideration in all of my actions. I can testify to His reality, but still find myself holding myself back for whatever reason in many situations. It’s somewhat akin to having an assured intellectual knowledge bolstered by some significant events in my life, but having a heart that hasn’t been totally turned over to Him. To that end, while that knowledge has changed a lot of things, it hasn’t changed everything. I’m still working on it, and it may be somewhat a problem of fear.

  16. Mike, # 14,

    I prefer to think that God is always trying to talk to us, but we often don’t listen well. It isn’t that he quits talking to us, but that as we sin, we diminish our capacity to hear. And by sin, I’m talking not so much about moral sin as the sin of pride, or of selfishness, which I would daresay are the bigger problems.

    I will grant that if pride becomes too big of a problem, he will sometimes quit talking as much, and leave us to see what trying to live our lives by our own efforts gets us. I think there is a difference between having the Holy Ghost with us all the time, and being embroiled in sin and weakness, yet still feeling compassion and love from God, even if the Holy Ghost withdraws from us.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    “If Heavenly Father exists and loves us so much more than we can imagine, what does it mean if he ‘vanishes’ when we sin? ”

    Hey Mike,

    I understand your quandary, I really do. But I don’t think He has actually vanished. I think that just like the scripture says, His arm is stretched out (in love) all day. The problem remains on our end because the needed sacrifices are, often, very very nearly beyond our ability to comprehend, let alone make.* But it really is about getting on the difficult path, tuning to the difficult channel, if you will. Life has to break many of us before we are even able to try.

    * I like the Apostles astonishment when Christ tells them that it is easier for rich men to to pass through the Eye of a Needle than to enter heaven. “Who then shall be saved?” Reading that chapter (Matthew 19) to the end is instructive. But, for most of us, we find at some point that the sacrifice is too great. If it isn’t houses or careers or friends, it is our own image of ourselves as in control, or whatever. ~

  18. #8: Not to the ants, because nothing changes as a result of their belief.

    What if the whole reason they are scurrying around doing all their ant works is because they believe that humans exist, and that one day they can become like us?

    My belief in God is what drives me to do a lot of the things I do. If I didn’t believe in a God, would I go to Church or the temple, live the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing, go Visiting Teaching, wear modest clothing, read the scriptures, etc, etc, etc? Probably not.

    If there wasn’t a God, I don’t think there would be much use in trying so hard to become a better person. I think I would maybe just want to go to the beach and have fun.

    Supposing That I Should Have the Courage
    by Stephen Crane

    Supposing that I should have the courage
    To let a red sword of virtue
    Plunge into my heart,
    Letting to the weeds of the ground,
    My sinful blood,
    What can you offer me?
    A gardened castle?
    A flowery kingdom?
    What? A hope?
    Then hence with your red sword of virtue.

  19. #13 – Thomas, I was agreeing with you. Please re-read the comment. I was disagreeing with Andrew’s #5; my comment just happened to follow yours.

  20. “If Heavenly Father exists and loves us so much more than we can imagine, what does it mean if he ‘vanishes’ when we sin?”

    Excellent question. I don’t think he does vanish, at least from his perspective. If he vanishes, it’s only from our perspective.

    However, the slightest desire and effort toward repentance brings his presence back, in my experience. He really does leave the 99 and go after the 1.

  21. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Corinthians 15:19)

    If we sacrifice all we sacrifice without God being a reality, from a practical, objective perspective, I understand this statement completely. I’ve missed out on a LOT of things that most people in this world consider to be good things (and things even I consider to be “good” things) specifically because of the nature of my belief in God and the pursuit of what I consider to be better things.

    If that is nothing but an illusion . . . I understand Paul’s statement. Yeah, it makes a BIG difference to me – but only if I am right. I have to hold on to that hope.

  22. Interesting questions. I am working on believing in God. Right now I’m trying to move myself and life toward virtuous living, pure love, and true principles. I hope that God is related to all of that somehow.

    I hope for maybe what we all hope for: to be a known creature.

    Some questions for believers whose belief makes you want to be better: Is it because of anticipated rewards? Or is it because you want to be better anyway, and you believe God will help in the process, so you find strength and courage and a greater desire to be better? Or does belief in God fill you with love so that good attitudes and behaviors come more naturally? Or some other reason?

    Or are wanting to be good and a belief in God unrelated?

  23. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ray,

    Sorry bout that. ~

  24. re 10:

    This is very convenient, of course.

    The thing is, the conditions for him speaking to us do not seem to matter whether we live the commandments or not. Even the most devout member can be shunned from the God experience. Whatever it means to recognize God in a life seems to be unconnected to what we do and in fact, the search for it can wreck us, if we will allow it.

    re 11:

    I disagree strongly with the most part. And not because I don’t think it happens. Rather, because I think that when someone truly is affected by God in their life, it changes their life so much that I cannot do such disservice to God or the idea of God to assume that “most” people or “most” Mormons have had such a change.

    I don’t disagree that it affects some people (but then again, I don’t think this necessitate a god, but that’s neither here nor there — if the idea is powerful enough, then that’s that) because really, you can’t explain away true, changing faith. All I’m saying is that too many people live without changing anything in their lives, without any desire or motivation to change anything in their lives, and I think it’s because they do not fully internalize that belief in God must bring a massive change for the better.

  25. Newt:

    “Or does belief in God fill you with love so that good attitudes and behaviors come more naturally?”

    That one, I think, although “naturally” is probably the wrong word. I think you begin to take pleasure in different things because your desires begin to change to fit the will of God. I would also change “belief” to “faith.” Belief is a start, but it is too passive. Faith, which is more of an action word, is required in order to see real change.

  26. that’s certainly an interesting approach I haven’t seen in a while.

  27. “God is my God, an awesome God, a caring and loving God.” Thanks for that!

    As a bit of an ant expert I’d have to say their religion is more about duty than faith. Although there are intimations they are moving forward, hence the ant scripture, “This is pure religion, to care for the queen and the fatherlesss larvae.” (remembering that ant female workers are born from unfertilized eggs). Theologically (since sensing chemicals is their primary way of interacting with the world), they believe God is a pheromone that can be smelled everywhere and nowhere and put forward the “Antological Argument”: (a) God is that pheromone of which no greater can be smelled; (b) To be actually smelled is greater than being potentially smelled; (c) therefore God actually exists. Of course, they are morally primitive believing that one should attack your neighbor before they attack you, but have gotten very good at following their leaders. It is also a female-based hierarchy, and if males don’t do their duty they are slaughtered, ergo hometeaching is nearly 100%.

  28. Re 27

    We must shut the Internet down immediately. Nothing greater will ever possibly be said here or elsewhere on the internet. This is the place.

  29. whether religious or not, you ultimately believe what helps you get through the day

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