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April 5, 2023


The God Talk

I think it’s safe to assume most people attracted to a blog site with the word “Bible” in the title will profess a belief in God. But I hope that others who are either former believers or are agnostic or even atheist will be attracted to this site for whatever reason; maybe because of the psychiatric angle or in search of “comfort, healing and guidance” as mentioned on the home page. The concept of God tends to be contentious: even professed “believers” of the same religious category (e.g. Christian, Jewish, Muslim) are not unified in what they believe and history shows only too well how this disunity can lead to serious conflict including war even among co-religionists. Given the huge gaps in belief, the wide range of reactions and potentially high stakes of any consideration of this topic, I think it’s time we had a “God Talk”. Also, we will soon be encountering the topic in our study of Proverbs.


Suffice it to say I won’t presume to try to change a lot of minds let alone convince everyone to agree on a uniform definition of God! For the record I consider myself to be a “believer”. I believe in a powerful, loving God who cares deeply about humanity and this belief is based primarily on some profoundly moving experiences which I feel very fortunate to have had over the last 50 years. And while much of what I hold to be true is consistent with Christian theology, I consider myself far from having any sort of complete or final understanding, knowledge or belief about God. I also find myself edified by the views of others about God, including those of other faiths and even those who profess no faith but are able to articulate why which makes me dig deeper into my own beliefs. In this spirit, I hope that readers will join me on a journey of discovery and be open to new understandings. I also hope to hear from readers about their own experiences. Now, while I am not confident in attempts to convince others by logical argument, either for or against the existence of God, I do feel the need to address the “God Question” in a general way before discussing further passages from Proverbs or any other Bible passages.

LOGIC WON’T CUT IT (but “faith comes from hearing”)

As a psychiatrist, one of my favorite quotes from Proverbs is “in abundance of counselors there is victory”. One way that this manifests in my life is that I have friends and acquaintances I rely on for input and guidance on various areas of interest. One friend, who farms 8 acres or so using draft horses, has been a helpful resource for my perennial hobby of gardening. We also share other interests and have had stimulating conversations on a variety political and policy issues. But one area we can’t make much progress on agreeing on is religion. His atheistic stance is based on certain logical arguments which I find almost impossible to refute, like the following which is his favorite argument: assuming there is an all-powerful God, this Being could not also be all good (or perhaps good at all). Otherwise, the argument goes, this Being would not allow horrible events such as child abuse, war or natural disasters to occur. Of course, one could assert that we humans in our limited understanding can not possibly know what God knows, i.e. perhaps there are reasons, mysterious or just unknowable to us humans, as to why God allows such tragic even horrific events to occur. I have not tried to put forward this objection with my friend for at least two reasons: 1. He seemed to have already made up his mind; 2. It would seemed like a convenient excuse for me to give and one I couldn’t back up with any concrete evidence and in the absence of evidence the argument seems like a cop- out, a refusal to deal on its own terms with the objection to the existence of a God which is both all- powerful and all good at the same time. But I also know that no amount of logical argument can “cancel” the legitimacy of the experiences which form my own faith and I’m sure this is the case for many millions of believers of all varieties around the world and throughout time. Indeed, the core of our beliefs, our faith whether religious or otherwise, comes primarily from experience even though at times our experience is not clear from a conceptual standpoint and scripture can often bring clarity by putting our experience in a broader context. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans systematically makes the argument that faith “comes from hearing”, i.e. hearing someone preaching (generically speaking: preaching words of truth) and this provides not only a theological context for the faith experience but also the stimulus for initiation of such experience (Romans 10: 9-18).


There are many interesting, even compelling stories from the Bible which have been used by preachers and teachers around the world for centuries to stimulate or enrich faith experiences. The centuries have also witnessed numerous attempts by theologians to try to “prove” the existence of God. Respectfully, I would like to suggest that these efforts are akin to “preaching to the choir” or at least to people who are already are–or who are predisposed to being— believers. Ironically, I think the best and most universal argument for an keeping an open mind about the “God question” was put forth, not in a quote from the Bible or even from someone in the Judeo-Christian tradition but rather from the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu monk and founder of the meditation technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM)*. In his book The Science of Being and the Art of Living. Maharishi essentially makes the argument that the inability (or unwillingness) to even consider the possibility of a great, powerful being such as God is due to lack of intellectual imagination. The argument proceeds as follows: we can all agree that there are lower life forms and as we progress up the evolutionary scale, complexity and ability to influence the surrounding environment increases: from bacteria to single cell organisms to animals to humans. Given the vastness of the universe and the lack of boundaries of time and space we should at least be able to consider the possibility of an order of beings which are more developed than humans. And if we can do that, we can at least conceive of the possibility of “an almighty supreme Being at the head of creation”.

Actually, Maharishi describes two “aspects” of God: the impersonal and the personal aspects of God. The impersonal aspect is “formless, eternal and absolute Being” and it also must be “without attributes, qualities or features” because these all belong to the relative rather than the absolute field of life. And yet this aspect of God is the fountainhead from which the relative field of life–all the different forms and phenomena of creation—emerge. On the other hand, God in personal form necessarily has form, qualities and features…and “the ability to command the entire existence of the cosmos, the process of evolution, and all that there is in creation”.

The idea of an impersonal God is prominent in Eastern thought and religion in general and also resonates in the thinking of quantum physics which describes the source of all physical existence having a common source in an abstract, non-physical field of pure energy. But we also see evidence of the “attribute-less” conception of God in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). For example, in the well-known Bible story of Moses and the burning bush, after God tells Moses to go back to Pharoah and bring the Israelites back out of Egypt, Moses is concerned about how to reply to his fellow Israelites who will likely ask about who it is that is sending him to do this. Moses says: “[if they] ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?”. God’s replies, rather cryptically, as many have noted: “I am who am” and then adds: “This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-15. In essence, God is saying: ”the only attribute I have is that I exist!” or put in another way, this presents a conception of God as existence itself, i.e. an absolute or impersonal God. However, the Judeo-Christian conception of God is obviously not this simple; this God also clearly interacts with the human family, specifically to the Israelites to which God is also known as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and this God also is said to speak through the many prophets of the Bible. The Bible then—in different sections– presents a conception of God as both absolute, impersonal (I AM or pure existence) and relative and personal, clearly favoring certain individuals and groups but also able to impact the entire world and all its inhabitants. So, if we can imagine the possibility of such a God, then it certainly would be in our interest to gain the favor of such a Being. How to do that is, of course, is the source of innumerable and widely varying methods employed by millions of people around the world for millennia including prayer, meditation, song and ceremonial rites.


As indicated in the first post we will be focusing a lot on the book of Proverbs and also using it as a sort of “base camp” from which we will venture out at times to various other Bible passages. I also mentioned that Proverbs doesn’t use the term “God” but does refer to “the Lord” and we learn something about the Lord by what he likes or dis-likes, e.g. he likes the wise, i.e. those who exhibit wise behavior but despises “fools”, those who engage in unwise behavior. Wisdom, by the way is one the primary topics of Proverbs if not its main topic and certainly of great interest to psychiatrists as well as to anyone interested advancing their knowledge about how to better live our lives. I also find it fascinating that Proverbs differs from the rest of the Bible in an important way: throughout the Bible God is almost exclusively described in male terms (e.g. the “God pronouns” being He, Him and His but also in the Christian Bible we see frequent reference to “the Father” and his “Son”, Jesus).

Proverbs on the other hand, is unique for its prominent use of the feminine when referring to the wisdom and activity of God. And wisdom, in turn, is portrayed in the form of a woman, most prominently in Chapter 8, which is my current favorite section of Proverbs. In my next post, I would like to explore Chapter 8 in detail but let’s get a preview of this beautifully poetic and expansive description of the “Sophia” (Greek for wisdom), her benefits and divine activities. Hopefully these first few verses of Chapter 8 will inspire you to read ahead!:

“Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
And my cry is to all that live.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
Acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
Hear, for I will speak of noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right”

—Proverbs 8:1-6

*Note: I have been practicing TM twice daily for over 50 years and credit this practice to opening up my mind and heart to the reality of spirit and also led me to start on the path of becoming a Bible psychiatrist.


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