“For the god wants to know himself in you”

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions…For the god wants to know himself in you. 

–Rainer Maria Rilke

When we say that God loves all of his children I don’t think we entirely unpack what this could mean. I recently overheard someone in my ward opine that when we say that God must love all of his children, this means that he loves them individually, not en masse. It’s easy to agree with this, but consider what this potentially means. I think of my own children. In a sense I love all of them equally. I cannot consider each of them in turn and affirm that I love him or her less than the others. Nevertheless, my relationship with each of them is unique, based on real experiences and real relational exchanges. What I specifically love in one of my sons I do not love equally in one of my daughters, and vice versa. Similarly, my children do not love me for the same reasons. One loves me for this, another for that. Dissonances and disharmonies in our relationships also arise in the same manner. Being the biological paternal organism called “Dad” is not sufficient for enduring, transformative love, nor for abiding loathing and spite. Authentic love is based on temporal, responsive interchanges, the real stuff of relationships–conversations, time spent together, developing trust and affection, etc. More generally, we are called (in some way) by those whom we encounter and we respond (in some way). We also call to those we encounter and they respond. It’s a nice thought that we could love (or hate) all of humanity abstractly, as one total mass of faceless human beings. But I don’t think this is love. If we love at all, we love the people we see.

Of course, we can’t require God to love in an analogous way, but I think see such an example of God’s responsive, interactive love in his relationship with Joseph Smith in the the Doctrine and Covenants, where he progressively calls Joseph servant, then friend, and, finally, son. What we do as human beings, the ways in we comport ourselves in our individual worlds, actually matter. This statement is not as obvious as it sounds. It is not that when we behave in ways complying with or ignoring certain laws and principles God is pleased or displeased, and we are judged accordingly. It means that what we do and say actually affects God, adds to God’s experience of relating to each of us. And we are in turn affected by God’s responses and ways of interacting with us, which were not pre-calculated and foreseen but come in the form of genuine responses elicited only by our individual ways of being and speaking. Just as each one of my children are unsubstitutable, so am I unsubstitutable in God’s experience. I cannot be replaced as a being that adds to God’s experience, that contributes to his life in particular, concrete ways. Consider this from Process theologian Roland Faber on the development of revelation and identity in God’s nature:

When God really unites the diversity of God’s self-revelations and, as part of their recognition, receives a multiplicity of human self-rationalizations as moments of God’s nature, then precisely their plurality must constitute an inherent moment of God’s identity. Because the religious experiences of God are God’s self-revelations, and because their human rationalizations must become Divine experiences again, God, then, is in the making. God becomes God by God’s revelations and God’s experiences of their rationalizations. [1]
Faber is saying that part of what constitutes God’s experiences are our experiences of God. God reveals himself in various ways to humanity but we also receive his self-revealing in various ways and reveal ourselves in return to him. It’s the same process that occurs in any relationship. You call to me in a particular way and I respond in a particular way within the context of our relationship. Both the call and the response are creative, unforeseen disclosures, prompting more responses and creative disclosures. These self-disclosures constitute our relationship. We are thus quite profoundly creating one another through the ways in which we relate to one another. But, Faber says, it is the same with God, though, of course, on a much grander scale. [2]
My identity is intimately tied up in those whom I love, who love me, and, just as significantly, those whom I should have loved but did not; those who should have loved me, but did not. This is all to say that God similarly relies on his relationships with those he loves for his own self-identity. What I do really matters to God, and it’s not simply because my obedience or disobedience determines my salvational state. God relates to me as a holy person to another holy person. What I do and say are genuine moments of self-disclosure for God, moments of growth and addition, moments of taking-into-account and consideration. And what God does and says in his self-disclosures certainly form and sustain me as one who understands I have an intimate relationship with God, no matter how I sometimes reject or disbelieve his loving self-disclosures to me. Together we are naked and unguarded in the Garden, and in those moments when I fully realize that this is a reality (a reality that is God’s every waking moment), we make of one another everlasting beings, willing and desirous to always be together and committed to bringing as many as are willing into the shade of the two trees that stand there. It’s the ultimate act of vulnerability and openness; but then, at the same time, it’s virtually the only way  that genuine intimate relationships are formed and sustained.  In God we know ourselves fully and are fully known. In us, God knows himself as the one who first loved us.
[1] Roland Faber, “God in the Making. Religious Experience and Cosmology in Whitehead’s Religion in the Making in Theological Perspective” in M Weber & S. Rouvillois , ed., L’experience de Dieu: Lectures de Religion in the Making d’Alfred N. Whitehead. Aletheia (Janvier: Ecole Saint-Jean, 2005). Faber’s more crucial point with this concept is that such a view accounts for religious pluralism, in that God reveals himself to different cultures and societies but that these cultures and societies interpret and rationalize God’s revelations in vastly different ways; hence the diversity of religious belief and practice.
[2] This follows Alfred North Whitehead’s famous maxim, “It’s as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.”

Comments

  1. This is beautiful. But you’re not going to get away with sliding “And we are in turn affected by God’s responses and ways of interacting with us, which were not pre-calculated and foreseen but come in the form of genuine responses elicited only by our individual ways of being and speaking” into the poetry :) Do you just reject the idea of God’s foreknowledge/preordination, etc.? Or is there some possible reconciliation I’m missing?

  2. “Faber is saying that part of what constitutes God’s experiences are our experiences of God. God reveals himself in various ways to humanity but we also receive his self-revealing in various ways and reveal ourselves in return to him”

    But God is much more than a mirror, isn’t He? How do we know God in ways other than how we know ourselves?

  3. The strength here is something I wanted to say to Steve’s not quite believing in Jesus the way he believes in Father in Heaven. That is, we get to know Jesus in the same way we get to know anyone. Without spending time with Him, there is no getting to know Him. Except as an abstraction, as an idea. Unless He is speaking to us, unless we are working with Him to unfold reality, it’s all just hot breath.

  4. I don’t really have anything to add, except that I enjoyed it. So Jacob, are you a proponent of process theology in the Church? It seams like it has received a bit of traction in the last couple of years.

  5. Kristine: I pretty much reject absolute divine foreknowledge for many reasons that I really hope I won’t have to get into on this thread. As far as *this* essay is concerned, I’ll say that it is not possible to be in a genuine, temporal relationship with another being if what constitutes the relationship can be perfectly seen and anticipated beforehand. Authentic responsive interchanges can happen only in the temporal realm, it seems to me. If God sees everything beforehand, his responses are already pre-calculated and perfectly anticipatory. That might help him to see particular events and occurrences that would serve him in particular ways, but it would not help him in the least to form relationships in the ways I’m arguing are essential for relationships to exist at all.

    Steve: I don’t think this makes God into a mirror, which would be the very definition of idolatry. We know God only because of the ways in which God reveals himself. We can of course project ourselves onto how we view God, and this is one of the many things the religious believer has to struggle with in order to really know God. But it’s a good and necessary struggle. Importantly here, God only knows us, I am saying, because of what we reveal to him. Yes, he knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts and minds, but we must nevertheless reveal ourselves in ways that make us open and vulnerable in order for God to really know us as persons. This mutual self-revelation is critical to any relationship, no less (and probably especially) in divine relationships.

  6. J, I’m a proponent of nearly all theologies except for overtly fundamentalist ones. There are things I’m very drawn to in Process theology and things I’m not. Much of it has to do with where I did my graduate work, at the center of the Process theological universe.

  7. Jacob, I’d argue that it’s more than one of the many things we have to struggle with — it is the chief struggle in coming to know God. How do you know you’re listening to the Spirit as opposed to just your internal monologue? How do you know that God wants you to discriminate against black people or homosexuals? In every aspect of our receipt or implementation of revelation the chief debate is whether we are seeing God or just ourselves.

  8. Yes, I like that. Makes developing an authentic relationship with God that much more vital and enriching.

  9. Steve,

    It seems to me …One of the things is … you have to learn the sound of your own internal monologue. One reason why the lack of emphasis on things like meditation and solitude in our religion is so limiting. I don’t even hear much of the old advice to listen and well as speak in prayer, anymore. Whether it is our appearance, or even the important counsel to mind one another, we are directed outward and personal revelation is an inward thing.

  10. Jacob, you have a gift for turning the world as we know it inside out. And that’s a very good thing.

    Steve asks an important question. For me it’s like this: my thoughts/feelings are like an interactive multimedia movie showing on the big screen of my mind. I used to think I was the movie. Then I realized I was only sitting in the theater, watching. Then I realized God was sitting next to me, and had been all along.

    God hasn’t had much to say about what I should DO. Rather, when I connect with him I sense how I could BE, if I so desire.

  11. “God hasn’t had much to say about what I should DO. Rather, when I connect with him I sense how I could BE, if I so desire.”

    KLS, that’s perfect. Just perfect.

  12. “God similarly relies on his relationships with those he loves for his own self-identity.”

    I’m having a hard time with this one; It makes God needier than I want him to be, especially because his relationships with those he loves are terribly one-sided, and in many cases unrequited altogether. In a sense, you’re saying he’s acted upon by *everyone.* Doesn’t that turn teenage personality flaws into godly attributes?

    But I agree with KLS, you do have a gift for turning the world inside out and making me think.

  13. But Kyle, doesn’t “this is my work and my glory…” sound suspiciously like God needs our responses in some ways to achieve his full glory?

  14. It could, but it sounds grander when it’s our all-powerful father talking about exalting humankind (in aggregate) through his intelligence, light, and truth (the other “glories of God”).

    And if he needs our individual responses, doesn’t that make it sort of quantitative? Like, was God made less glorious by casting out the 1/3rd?

  15. “Like, was God made less glorious by casting out the 1/3rd?”
    I always kind of thought so, but I am a known heretic.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    I always took the work & glory scripture to be more like God’s description of his hobbies.

  17. I always thought that one of the hobbies of Mormonism’s God was playing chicken with black-holes.

  18. Frank Bisti says:

    Though inspiring to many, such poetic hyperbole is just that. I have seen that simple truth it is not adequate to generate (loving manipulation) among the masses the motivation, effort, and “faith.” to strive for righteousness (via Agency). However, the poetic hyperbole should not (because it cannot) be dissected to better understand the truths (perhaps) hidden within it. It is, after all that is usually said about it, poetic, romantic, emotional, and/or manipulative–but not understandable truth.

  19. #10-11. KLS 4 BCotW/M. Instead of footprints in the sand, dimples in the seat-cushions.

  20. Frank Bisti (#18) Rilke was a poet. Jacob is a philosopher. Why should we think that what Jacob has written is “poetic hyperbole,” even if it has a superscription from Rilke? Or perhaps you’re saying that the claim “God loves his children” is poetic hyperbole and, so, shouldn’t be analyzed because it isn’t truth. Or perhaps . . . the truth is I can’t understand the point you’re making. Perhaps you should engage in less poetic hyperbole.

  21. #20 for comment of the week.

  22. Kyle, #12:
    “God similarly relies on his relationships with those he loves for his own self-identity.”

    I’m having a hard time with this one; It makes God needier than I want him to be, especially because his relationships with those he loves are terribly one-sided, and in many cases unrequited altogether. In a sense, you’re saying he’s acted upon by *everyone.*

    God is acted upon by everyone, yes. God is “needy,” I wouldn’t put it in that particular way. I think it is in precisely that God needs us that he is what he is and who he is. It is not that he needs us in order to be “a” god but that he needs us and he is God. Aquinas called God, following Aristotle, the “unmoved mover;” God cannot be touched or changed by the world (God is immutable) and this preserves his almighty power and sovereignty. Mormon theology, Process theology, Open Theism, and other more recent theologies insist, however, that God is the “most moved mover.” An immutable God, in my view, makes of God something like a salvation machine, a being who exists to unblinkingly and unfeelingly save the universe from itself. But the view of God I was trying to (unevenly) describe proposes that it’s actually in and through relationships that salvation and exaltation (and sin) take place. Mormonism is particularly insistent on this point, I think, hence the emphasis on the ward community, eternal marriage, eternal families, Joseph Smith’s Welding Theology, etc.

    I’m working on a future post about God’s capacity to be able to “bear all things.” Yes, his relationships are often one-sided but God isn’t in this for the short haul. This is one reason why God might be considered “worship-worthy”: God is the one who will not leave us in the end, the one who always wants an intimate relationship with us. That eternal perseverance is our very salvation.

    Frank, #18: You made me cry. I hope you’re happy.

    Jim, #20: Perfect. Though one correction: I am clearly a philosopher *and* a poet. And you didn’t even know it.

    ;)

  23. Thanks for the opportunity to think more deeply about this, Jacob.

    “That eternal perseverance is our very salvation.”

    I agree with this, and it’s lack is the fatal flaw I see in most Christian theology – and, frankly, much of the Mormonism I hear from many members. I believe Mormonism teaches “eternal perseverance” in a way that truly is unique and powerful, but I think it gets lost in the Cliff Notes version that is required to be taught as the baseline for such a diverse membership. I think too many members see the foudnation / springboard as the ultimate end and don’t dig into the implications of that springboard.

    I’m totally fine with that for them, but I really appreciate the opportunity to read posts like this that make me think about things in ways I wouldn’t do naturally.

  24. Jacob, I really enjoyed this essay. The idea of a mutable god, one who is affected by my actions, whose relationship with me will necessarily be different from His relationship with you, is much more appealing to me than a distant father figure who can exist perfectly well without me.

  25. I hadn’t ever looked at our connection with god through this kind of relational lens before. Lots to think about.

    I agree with KLS’s nomination. Brilliant. Well said.

  26. Second #20 BCotW

  27. I nominate Brent’s #19. Because I haven’t laughed that hard in far too long.

  28. So glad to oblige K.
    With such excellent OP’s like Jacob’s, and comments like yours and Jim F.’s, maybe I’ll find a way out of this cave, after all.

  29. Loved this post. Thanks, so much Jacob!

    Kyle’s additions to this thread are terrific, and I have also liked the responses to why a “most moved” God adds a different dimension to God that I like a lot. As a tie-in a bit to Jacob’s use of process theology and this idea of a God in real two-sided relationships, I’m linking here to one of the best articles I’ve ever encountered on this subject: Jim McLachlan’s article (Jim is well-versed in process thought) on JS and Jacob Boehme which morphs seemlessly into a broader discussion of a God who chooses to be truly “in the fray” with us and portrays in my mind a gorgeous theology. It’s also an article with fun, fun illustrations of concepts through film and great literature (which is typical Jim McLachlan, much to our delight). So, anyway, for those who can spare 30 mins to be sucked into something powerful, I highly recommend this article: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/150-48-59.pdf

    Best,
    Dan Wotherspoon

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