Concerning God, Man, and Free Will

I want to talk about God, and I want to talk about you, and I’m going to do both at the same time.

It is said that God created humans in His own image. The facile understanding of this, from the mind that imagines God as an old white man with a long white beard in a long white robe, is that this image is physical. But this cannot be so — material forms are of the material world, and God is not of the material world. We must therefore look deeper.

Some will say that God gifted humans with the ability to reason, and it is this image in which man is the mirror of God. But this, too, is insufficient, as a casual examination of the behavior of dogs, cats, chimpanzees, ravens, and a host of other animals will reveal their ability to reason. While God may have given this gift to man, it was not given to Man alone.

So it must be something else. What could it be?

In Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, the protagonist utters the phrase, “Thou art God.” In a sense, this is the thesis sentence of the entire book — an exploration of the divine potential of Man. The book goes on to define God as “He who groks;” He who drinks, He who understands so thoroughly that the line between the understander and the understood grows blurry and indistinct. To say to someone, “Thou art God,” is to acknowledge the potential for Godliness in that person. But it also means so much more.

If God is “He who groks,” then what is being grokked? This is less important than it might first seem. To grok something is to understand it, love it, so perfectly that you become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you. But to understand something — anything — so thoroughly is to also understand how it is connected to all things. Thus, in a sense, to grok anything — anything at all — is to grok everything, for all things are connected, Kevin Bacon-style. Thus, thou art God, who is He who groks.

This leads to the conclusion that God is all things, and all things are God. Thou art God, and I am God, and together we are God, and all that groks is God. The divinity within you is the divinity within me. We are connected, irrevocably, indelibly, undoubtedly. This shows up in Sufi teachings as well — to do harm to another is to do harm to yourself, for we are all connected. Likewise, to do kindness to another is to do kindness to yourself. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the lines that we perceive as separating ourselves from each other and the world are hazier and more ethereal than we might think.

So is this, then, the image in which God made man? No, it cannot be — because God is all that groks, and all things that can think, can grok. An amoeba acts in accordance with its place in the grand machinery of the Cosmos, as does a grasshopper, as does a cat. Grokking is not particular to humanity; indeed, most thinking things grok without consideration. Grokking is harder for man than it is for beast, for man is the only beast that gets in the way of itself.

And therein lies the key.

There is one further characteristic God has: the freedom to choose, unmoved by any force in Creation. And it is here, finally, that we see the image of God within man. Alone amongst all the creatures of the Earth, man has the ability to choose. This is the divine within us all — our free will. Our capacity for free choice sets us apart from the other animals, and our willingness to embrace that freedom is what differentiates gantoviroj from pensoviroj. To say “thou art God” to someone is, therefore, an acknowledgement of that person’s power to choose.

This is the ultimate freedom: to make a true, unburdened choice, impelled by nothing more than the Light within. And in the act of making this choice, we attain our true, Godly forms. Without humans, the Cosmos would wind along, ticking and tocking and clicking and popping. Does God note the fall of an individual sparrow? Do you note the metal shavings that come off the gears in your car’s transmission? These, all of these, are machines, set in motion at the beginning of time by the Creator, doing what they do, moving along their pre-set paths. Except humanity.

“Thou art God” is a celebration of our freedom, and a reminder of the terrible responsibility that freedom brings. It is an acknowledgement that we are, in a very real sense, God, for the choices we make shape the Cosmos. A cat does what it does because that is what it is here to do, and the world turns and turns and turns on. But when a person makes a choice, the course of Creation is changed. Creation, itself, is an emergent property of the choices we make against the background of the machinery of the Cosmos. We, and we alone, bear the responsibility for everything that happens in this world, because we have that power.

This is not power that can be abdicated. It can be struggled against, but nothing apart from death can separate you from the responsibility for your choices. Not making a choice is identical to choosing not to choose, if on a near-unconscious level, and that choice (or lack thereof) will shape your future and the future of everyone you interact with. You can act, or react, out of your passions, and the world will spin on; or you can exercise your divine agency and shape the world to suit your vision of it.

Moreover, this must mean that God is not active in the world. He cannot be, for to continue to shape the course of Creation would be to diminish the gift of choice that He bestowed upon us. We must be free, perfectly free, to choose and shape the Cosmos as we see fit, or our choice is meaningless. God created Creation, and then handed us the reins, to make of it what we would. God does not intervene. God does not punish. We make the world. For good or for ill, it is our choices — or lack thereof — that have brought about the world in which we live.

Humans are flawed. We are selfish. We are animals. But we are God, with all of our God-given gifts. God gave us reason, and meant us to use it to apprehend the Cosmos. God gave us the ability to grok, consciously, that we might perceive the connection between ourselves, each other, and the world, and act accordingly with kindness. But most importantly, God gave us the ability to choose, and therein gave us the power to Create. Whether we use that power to bring out Heaven or Hell on Earth is the fundamental choice, upon which all other choices are predicated.

I know my choice. Make yours.

Thou art God.

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