How Real Is God to You?
WHEN an American rabbi once asked Einstein, “Do you believe in God?” he replied: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.”
But what kind of concept of God did that 17th-century Jewish-Dutch philosopher have? In brief, it was that “everything that exists is a part of God and that God is in everything that exists.” Spinoza felt that “in God quite literally we live and move and have our being.” But how real was such a God to Spinoza and Einstein?
At best, to Spinoza and Einstein He was but a pantheistic god. A pantheistic god? Yes, for the term “pantheism” comes from two roots meaning “all” and “god,” and so is defined as “a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe.”
There can be no question about it: The universe, the “book of nature,” does reveal much about God. But for God to be truly real to us we need far more knowledge of him than just what can be seen in the universe. We really need his divine revelation. As we read, ‘How can one put faith in God without first having heard of him?’ (Rom. 10:14) Lovingly, wisely and justly, God has given us such a revelation, his Word, the Holy Bible. Therein not only do we learn that he is the great First Cause but we also learn of his qualities: that he is infinite in power and wisdom, wholly righteous and just, and that he is the personification of love. Moreover, in his Word we also learn of his purposes. —Gen. 18:14; Deut. 32:4; Isa. 45:23, 24; Rom. 11:33-35; 1 John 4:8.
Does He Have a Body?
Actually, by teaching that God is omnipresent Christendom has confused matters and made it more difficult for God to be real to his worshipers. How could God be present everywhere at the same time? God is a spirit Person, which means that he does not have a material body, but a spiritual one. A spirit has a body? Yes, for we read, “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one.” (1 Cor. 15:44; John 4:24) God being an individual, a Person with a spirit body, has a place where he resides, and so he could not be at any other place at the same time. Thus we read at 1 Kings 8:43 that the heavens are God’s “established place of dwelling.” Also, we are told at Hebrews 9:24 that “Christ entered . . . into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.”
Moreover, the disciple Stephen and the apostle John had visions of heaven in which they saw both God and Jesus Christ. So Jehovah God must be just as much a person, an individual, as Jesus Christ is. (Acts 7:56; Rev. 5:1, 9) Those Christians who have a hope of eventually living in heaven are assured that they will see God and also be like him, showing that Jehovah God truly is a person and has a body as well as a certain location.—1 John 3:2.
It could well be that some have been confused due to the fact that God is allseeing; also his power can be felt everywhere. (2 Chron. 16:9) We might illustrate these facts by likening God to an electric power plant. It has a certain location on a certain street in a city. But its electricity is distributed over all the city, providing light and power. And so with Jehovah God. He has a location in the highest heavens, but his active force, his holy spirit, furnishes enlightenment, and its force can be felt everywhere, over all the universe.
While the Bible repeatedly warns that God’s worshipers are not to presume to make any likeness of him and not to bow down and worship such a likeness, it does use anthropomorphisms; that is, it ascribes to God human characteristics. Thus the Bible speaks of God’s face, his eyes and ears, his nostrils and mouth, his arms and feet. (Deut. 4:15-20; Ps. 27:8; 1 Pet. 3:12; Ps. 18:15; Isa. 1:20; Deut. 33:27; Isa. 41:2) Of course, such descriptive language does not mean that his spirit body has the same kind of members that human bodies have. But by means of these expressions we are helped, inasmuch as Jehovah God thus becomes more real to us.
Yes, God’s Word shows that God is a distinct personality, that he has feelings, that he can be pleased or displeased, that he can laugh, that he can be angry, that he is merciful and tender in affection. He is personally interested in each member of humankind. In fact, he loved the world of mankind so much that he sent his only-begotten Son to earth to die as a sacrifice so that whoever exercises faith in him can gain everlasting life.—Ps. 2:4, 12; John 3:16; Heb. 10:38; Jas. 5:11; 1 Pet. 5:7.
Why Fear Him?
If God is truly real to us, his very qualities will cause us to fear to displease him. The Bible says that “the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom” and that it “means the hating of bad.” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 8:13) Does this mean having merely a reverential fear of Jehovah? Does it mean more than simply having a wholesome respect for God? We can have a reverential fear of those in divinely appointed positions of responsibility and we can have a wholesome respect for all honest persons. But to have the fear of Jehovah means far more than that. The apostle Paul writes: “Let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.” That fact should surely make us careful not to incur God’s displeasure, for to do so would mean that we would be in danger of being consumed by him!—Heb. 12:28, 29.
We might illustrate the fear of God in this way: A young son has reason to fear to displease his father. Why? Because his father is very real to him. He can see his father, hear his voice and he knows that his father is stronger than he, the son, is. More than that, the father lovingly provides for all the son’s material needs—food, clothing and shelter, as well as for his recreational, mental and spiritual needs. So the son has practical reasons as well as a moral obligation to obey his father, to be concerned about not displeasing him. The wise son will see to it that he does not incur his father’s displeasure, and to the extent that he fully appreciates all that his father is doing for him, to that extent he will really want to please his father.
Well, this is just the way it should be with all who address God as “our Father in the heavens.” (Matt. 6:9) All good things come from him. (Jas. 1:17) That our having God be truly real to us will instill in us a wholesome fear to displease him can be seen from an incident in the life of Joseph, the son of the patriarch Jacob. While Joseph was serving in the household of Potiphar, an Egyptian court official, the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce handsome young Joseph. What enabled him to resist this great temptation? God’s being real to him, even as his words to her show: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?” There is no question about it; God was very real to Joseph. Having God be truly real to us will also help us to resist temptations successfully.—Gen. 39:9.
Returning to our illustration: Suppose the father’s business took him far away from his family for periods of time. Of course, he would still be providing for his family and no doubt would be sending letters to them, including his son. The son would eagerly read those letters, which would assure him of his father’s continued interest in him. However, because of his father’s being far away there might be a tendency for the son to get careless about not incurring his father’s displeasure. But those letters would keep reminding him of his obligation to his father, would they not?
With Christians today it might be said, in a sense, that our Father is also far away, in the heavens of heavens. But true to his promise he provides all the things we need, and he has sent letters to us in the form of the 66 books of the Bible. If we truly love our Father in the heavens and appreciate all that he has done, is doing and will yet do for us, we will value those inspired letters very highly. We will peruse them earnestly and frequently. More than that, should not these inspired letters also serve to help us to be on guard that we do not misbehave, that we do not do things that might make God angry with us? Surely!
It might be observed that there are many more ways in which we can show how real God is to us, such as by frequently talking to him in prayer and by telling others about his wonderful qualities. In such ways we can cause God to become truly real to others while at the same time he will become ever more real to us.