I need to come out of the closet – but I can’t

I’m a panentheist.

I reject ex nihilo, and identify with the  “So, traditional, classical panentheism distinguishes between God’s essence, his eternal being, and his experience. God’s essence, his thatness and whatness are his independent of the world, but his actual experience is given to him by the world.”

God is not God without the world. I know that sounds heretical but hear me out.

Well, I mean, hear me out when I get around to explaining it. Other wise, read this:


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53 Replies to “I need to come out of the closet – but I can’t”

  1. DO YOU KNOW MUCH ABOUT DOM BEDE GRIFFITHS who apparently defended panentheism to his fellow Christians? Here’s some info about his defense:

    C.S. Lewis’s friend, Bede Griffiths, who was mentioned briefly in Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Griffiths was one of Lewis’s pupils at Oxford and converted to Christianity about the same time Lewis did. Afterwards they “kept up a copious correspondence.” Griffiths became a Catholic monk and far surpassed Lewis in his ability to perceive a similar spiritual center lying at the heart of all the world’s major faiths. Griffiths died the same year and month I’m writing this, at eighty-six years of age, while living in a Christian-Hindu ashram that he founded in India. The titles of his published works illustrate his mystic universalist approach to knowing God, beginning with his autobiography, titles like The Golden String, The Marriage of East and West, Return to the Center, River of Compassion, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God, and his final work, The New Creation in Christ.

    Dom Bede Griffith’s obituary in the National Catholic Reporter (May 1993), by Tim McCarthy, stated:

    As late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.

    Discussing the CDF’S warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in NCR, “As if God in Christ had not already overcome that distance and united us with him in the closest bonds. St. Paul says, ‘You who were far off, he has brought near-not kept distant-in the blood of Christ.’ Jesus himself totally denies any such distance, ‘I am the vine,’ he says, ‘you are the branches.’ How can the branches be ‘distant’ from the vine?” . . .

    We must “never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation,” the CDF document insisted. “Of course, we don’t seek to place ourselves on the same level,” Griffiths countered. “It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, ‘I have not called you servants, but friends.’ And to show what such friendship means, he prays for his disciples, ‘that they may be one, as thou, Father in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us.'”
    In a letter published in the National Catholic Reporter, beneath the headline, “Vatican Letter Disguises Wisdom of East Religions,” (May 11, 1990), Griffiths drew attention to several Christian movements in ages past that endorsed mystical prayer, then added, “This is not to say that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mystics all have the same experience. But it is to recognize an analogy between them and to look upon the Hindu and Buddhist experience as something of supreme significance, not to be lightly dismissed by a Christian as of no importance.”

    1. This is very interesting. I am an admirer of both Lewis and Griffiths. I have great sympathy for Griffiths’s viewpoint.

  2. I did find it rather odd that Olson declared that creation ex nihilo is necessary for a “a robust biblically and theologically sound doctrine of God” as the idea is nowhere to be found in Genesis. If its so important for a biblical view of God, why isn’t it in the Bible?

    1. John, I don’t think it is and I’m pretty sure that I can point to numerous verses and scholars to support the theory. Ex nihilo is unbiblical, in my opinion

    2. The Bible is useful for teaching and rebuking, but it is a book with definite limitations, even if it is inspired by the Spirit. The theology behind ex nihilo comes from the necessity for God to exist apart from creation. The only other options follow an impossible logic. If not ex nihilo than from what? Power and wisdom are a description of Gods character, but ex nihilo is a description of nature, the nature of the universe. What is the universe made of? Without ex nihilo you have a two options (that i can think of). I would love to broaden my perspective if you have some other possibilities.

      1) God created from his own nature. This is obviously impossible for everything was created from God’s nature, everything would be God, just as everything created by humans (reproduction not manual labor) is human. Humans beget humans, God begets God.

      2) God created the universe from something outside of HIm that is co-eternal with Him. The obvious problems with this one as well. This is in essence, dualism. It also brings along issues later down the line with where sin nature exists and the sinlessness of Christ.

      1. Ian, ex nihilo comes from the 4/5th century when Christians of that era – without science – needed to confront unorthodox systems of believe threatening orthodoxy.

        To create out of God (ex deo) doesn’t not mean that everything is God. It means that everything comes from God. My children, created out of my nature, are not me.

        1. But your children, created from your nature, are human. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit, but all three are God. Three persons in one nature.

  3. This might sound like a stupid question, but why is creation ex nihilo totally incongruent with panentheism? How does panentheism deny “God’s dependence on the world”? Why cannot the divine exist within all that God conjures out of “nothing”? These do not strike me as necessary mutual components.

    1. First, ex nihilo is not scriptural, but…

      What is outside of God? If “nothing” is outside of God, then it is eternal with God. If God has boundaries, is God really God?

      1. Not biting on the argument whether or not ex nihilo is scriptural or not — I just do not get how panentheism and ex nihilo are mutually exclusive. “Nothing” is not “outside” or “inside”, “nothing” is no thing, is null. It sounds like a Zen koan, yes.

        And neither here nor at Roger Olson’s post is this adequately answered for me. Of course, I could just be dense here. But Olson is so strident that panentheism precludes ex nihilo, to the extent that he considers any definition of panentheism not to be “classical” panentheism.

      2. Of course God has boundaries. Whether he sets them or not is another question, but the original problem is very philosophical and I think this answers it well: If God cannot cease to be God. This has a practical as well as theological side. Because God is transcendent, anything He is affects all of time. If God ceased to be, creation would never exist. As it is, creation does exist, thus God can never stop being Himself. This brings us to a few more things: God cannot do anything that is against His nature, or He would cease to be God. God cannot sin because sin/evil is merely the opposite of God. He cannot kill himself. Im sure you get the point. So yes, God has boundaries, whether or not those boundaries are set by Him.

          1. How does God having boundaries not make him God? The God of Christianity can have boundaries. It goes back to the old paradox: can God make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up? Either God can’t make that rock, or He can’t pick it up. But if you find it impossible to reconcile a God with boundaries not set by Him, then He is a God that sets boundaries for himself. Either way, boundaries are set.

          2. Semantics. The question isn’t IF God is infinite, but HOW God is infinite. If God were infinite in all things he would be Infinitely evil and infinitely good. But he can’t be what he isn’t so he cannot be evil to any degree, much less infinitely so. He is infinitely Himself, His character and nature.

            I couldnt post this as a direct response to your last comment “if God is finite, then he is not infinite.”

          3. Why is it that every argument is reduced to semantics?

            Either God is finite, with boundaries, and if he has boundaries, they are set by others – because boundaries define what is not. If there is a place where God is not, then God is finite.

  4. Alright, just to make sure I understand:
    If there was no universe there would be no God. Is that correct?
    Do panenthiest hold to the idea that there was no God before the universe began? In other words before the big bang, there was no God? Or is that God made the Big Bang out of something else. I can run with some of the ideas of panentheism, but some I am a bit weary, but I am willing to listen.

    1. No, there would still be a God, but what is he god over?

      I hate to use allegory, but this is the way I would picture it. I cannot be a father unless I have children.

      1. Unless you’re a unitarian, the Father has a Son who is eternally begotten which is how He can exist without creation. If God were not God before creation, then creation would be co-eternal with God and then who would have created it? The name of “God” is primary language, independent of anything external to Him. It is a description of who He is, it refers to His nature and character. A more apt allegory would be one of king, which is secondary language. He is not king without something to rule, thus God has always been God, but has only been king since creation, if we are speaking in terms of the economic trinity; how God relates to humanity. In terms of the immanent trinity, God has/is/will be king because He transcends time, thus anything that God has/is/will be is already fulfilled.

  5. Per Christianity, God created everything out of his power and wisdom. That is not “out of nothing.” Thus, to say God created “out of nothing” makes no sense. It’s like saying there was this huge eternal vacuum that existed beside God for all eternity and was co-eternal with God, until He called forth things from it. There was no such co-eternal vacuum, nor co-eternal bits of matter and energy, there was only God. Therefore everything was created directly and solely out of God’s will, wisdom and power.

    (Which also means that making excuses for, or attempting to explain away, the existence of evil is more difficult than many suppose, because if everything arose directly and solely out of a perfect creator God in whom there was no evil, then there was no room for evil to squeeze itself into the creation or blossom forth from a perfect creation that arose directly and solely from a perfect God. But that’s another discussion. I don’t think free will explains evil either. Does God have free will? Can He choose evil? If not, then God does not have free will, or something is overpowering his will, in either case, free will does not appear to be something God himself has or can employ, and hence it’s not all THAT important. Will we have free will in heaven? If not, or if something in heaven is overpowering our free will so we never choose anything but good, then free will is not all that important. The free will defense also fails to deal with the nature’s problems of pain and evil.)

      1. Then you’re saying a perfect Being not subject to pain, evil or entropy created all three, even though a perfect Being could create and SUSTAIN a perfectly painless, evil-less and entropy-less creation (because isn’t that what HEAVEN and ETERNAL LIFE are?) Instead we get THIS cosmos, filled with pain, short-lives, confusion, ignorance, and fear in which we’re supposed to find and fall in love with the one true holy book, its tall tales, sight unseen, and the doctrines of the one true church? If that’s true than It’s like this cosmos with its spinning planets, trembling ground, hurricanes, tornadoes, and a zillion other things along with its mass extinction events, pain, short-lives, confusion, ignorance and fear is more like a web in which Jehovah catches souls to cast into hell.

        It’s the fact that people can be so indoctrinated right from birth or due to being born on one side of a cultural divide or another, that I have difficulty imagining there’s “one true faith,” including difficulty believing that God would create such a species so susceptible to such wackiness, and also that God would allow so much wackiness, so may religions and holy books and special revelations. There’s no logic to this “God” character if He really is in control. Believers have to invent their own logic and simply assume everyone unlike THEM is “going to hell,” in order to keep themselves in their own hermetically sealed bubble of craziness.

        Admittedly, Christians don’t emphasize hell or threaten others with it in an overt fashion like they used to. Hell sermons have grown much rarer since Jonathan Edwards day or even the days of the travelling tent evangelists. Hell has gone underground, pardon the pun. Though it’s still defended fairly vigorously in the abstract by conservative Christian apologists in their “answer” books. But many Christians in the U.S. today either avoid the subject, or, they claim they don’t know for sure where people are going after they die while quietly petting themselves for choosing the right beliefs, so it’s an inner bubble.

        1. The problem with your argument is that you completely leave out the issue of person hood in humans. God choose to create. This is inherently good because it is better to exist than not to exist, thus creation was good. From there, God created humans, reflecting His character, including the concept of personhood. However, you cannot create a person, they must become. While we are all created with human nature, it is through out relationships as wells as out choices that create our person. God cannot create evil because evil is impossible to create just as darkness is impossible to create. Evil is merely a description of a “lack” or rejection of God just as darkness is a lack of light. (This makes all the parables Jesus told about being light make a lot more sense when you think about it). In order to be constituted as persons we must be given a choice and that choice is to follow God or not follow God. If you want to get down to details, God created the choice by creating the law, but the law itself is not evil, it merely allows for evil (a turning from God) to exist, which is necessary for us to become persons.

          1. If we “live, move and have our being in God” then there is no room for darkness. If God is light then all is light at its core. God is in all things, through all things, In fact as I pointed out, per monotheism everything came solely out of a perfect God., not out of any “thing” at all but God’s own perfect mind and infinite power.

            Is existence “better” than non-existence? I think you’re thinking in terms of your own existence, your own hopes and fears. But a rock? Is it better for a rock to exist rather than non-exist? And is it better to live with a tortured psyche for eternity with no hope of healing rather than not-exist? Even Christians don’t agree on that topic, some say soul-death is better than eternal punishment. How do you prove that existence is good while non-existence is bad? What is existence is merely “existence?” What if existence is a given, and there has never ever been pure “nothingness?”

          2. Also, since God exists at the core level (“In Him we live and move and have our being”) and has an infinite mind and infinite powers of persuasion at His disposal, if He wants everybody to believe a certain thing, and that thing is also the only truth that is, there is no way a finite creature can resist God’s infinite will, certainly not eternally. The only logical view if one believed in personal theism and a loving God is universalism, along the lines of George MacDonald’s.

            HELL’S FINAL ENIGMA…
            A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be burning in what he believed to be eternal hell. But if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” how can this be true? God has said that He will have “all” come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Does not emptiness abhor a vacuum, and what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be?

            Something written by the 19th-century univeralist Christian, George MacDonald, recently encouraged my own heart… Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell.

            “And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?–who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?”

            Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven? MacDonald’s words were a blessing for me to read.

            Shana (First-Grade Teacher, Therapist for Autistic Children, and creator of a universalist Christian website) [Three sentences were edited by E.T.B.] http://www.webspawner.com/users/nicky0/index.html


            I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing… That hell will help the just mercy of God to redeem his children… Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.

          3. Because it is better to exist than to not exist and God, being good, chose the better thing: existence.

  6. Interestingly I believe that Genesis speaks of God re-creating the world out of the chaos that already existed. The philosophical question of is God really God without any subjects I think is an interesting one. Does God know he is God within himself.

    I think God exists outside of space and time:But then he also exists within space and time, as he emptied himself of his divinity to become Christ. And thus he can truly be spoken about as filling all things, through all things and over all things.

    1. If God is transcendent, that he of course exists within space and time as well as external to it. However, I think your question about what makes God, God is answered easily enough, depending on your definition of God. I like Lewis’: God is the greatest thing that can be imagined. This definition requires not subjugation. Both with and without anything in existence, God is still the greatest thing imaginable. Subjection merely allows for comparison of greatness. The only things I would find difficult to answer is how to compare the finite with the infinite. However, I think that very question, or rather the answer, is a prime example of the greatness of God: you cannot compare the finite with the infinite thus if God exists with creation, He exists without.

      1. In monotheism God is also immanent. “In Him we live and move and have our being” as Paul said. Or as Catholicism points out, God is everywhere, in everything. There is no room for darkness, not at the core level. Not at all.

        1. I think we are missing each other here because I would agree with you that there is no darkness at the core level, but I would reference that in terms of good and evil. Evil being a lack of God is not something that exists, it is merely a descriptor of something missing. Even Satan is not completely evil or he would cease to exist. God continues to will His existence for apart from God there is nothing.

          1. If evil is a negation of God in some sense how can God negate Himself, for as you said, “apart from God there is nothing.”

            And you can’t start with something perfectly good and then explain evil as somehow coming about from something perfectly good. In philosophy as in computer science the beginning determines the ending. Garbage in, garbage out. Or perfect goodness in perfect goodness out. The problem of evil is insoluble if you begin with nothing but perfect goodness apart from which nothing exists.

    1. I’ll reply here and break it down as much as possible, but I don’t think ill be able to fit a full reply in here.

      1. Free Will: What is freedom? Free will is nothing more than the ability to choose God. Paul makes this pretty clear when he says that we can either be slaves to righteousness or slaves to God. Every time we choose to do something, it is either good or bad, even if it seems rather ordinary such as eating. We as humans were created to eat so when we choose to eat, we choose good. However, we can turn that good into evil quickly (evil: using something God gave us for a purpose other than what it was intended for). When we eat we can either choose to eat for sustenance, enjoying the gift given, or we can abuse our ability to eat by being glutinous. The same philosophy can be carried out in any action.

      2. God’s foreknowledge: Just because God knows what is going to happen, does not mean that He coercively makes it happen. Best analogy I’ve got: Like you watching a movie, you might know what is going to happen next but you did not cause it to happen. Or perhaps better; you have a child who is being disobedient and eating all his Halloween candy that same night. You know that this will cause him to be sick, but you decide this is a lesson he must learn. Rather than intervening you allow him to learn the consequences of poor decisions. You did not cause him to become sick, you just allowed it, even knowing what would happen.

      3. God’s will: I think you need to make a distinction between God’s permissive will (he allows things to happen) and His coercive will (he directly causes things to happen).

      4. Eternal Damnation vs. Eternal Salvation: From what I have read, I gather that your perception of heaven and hell is a reward/punishment system. However, I would says that it merely is. Heaven and Hell are choices. Either a person chooses God and heaven, or they choose selfishness and Hell. To choose God is to give your life up to Him. To choose Hell is to choose yourself. God does not force us to have a relationship with Him, knowing that it is better, but, allows us to make that choice ourselves. I think one cause of your perception is the rather gruesome images painted by medieval societies of hell. However, by and large, these portrayals of Hell are not biblical.

      The biggest issue you seem to have it with free will. Answering the question of what free will is makes the difference. For me, I follow one definition until it is logically impossible and cannot be reconciled with what I believe. However, I think the biblical free will that Paul explains in Romans 6:15-23 this concept of a Christian free will.

      1. 1. You are assuming free will exists. Different philosophers and different theologians differ concerning that assumption. Also, if nothing exists apart from God then there is no choice there is only God ultimately. I cover the free will question in my blog post:


        2. You don’t seem to understand why attempting to combine libertarian free will and foreknowledge are problematical. Every philosopher understands why such an attempted combination is problematical as do theologians. It’s because if everything is known then there are no options, no free will. “Coercion” has nothing to do with the problems involved in attempting to combine libertarian free will and foreknowledge.

        3. Dividing God’s will into permissive and coercive has nothing to do with the problems involved in attempting to combine libertarian free will with foreknowledge.

        4. Your repeated talk of “choices” means you really do believe in libertarian free will, and you are unwilling to even conceive of things aside from that basis. But I look at all of the things we know influence us, from birth onward, from learning a particular language in a particular culture, from having genetic influences as well, and how we are defined by others just as we grow to interact more with others, defining each other, and I don’t see that any of us is free in a libertarian sense. I suspect that something tips our decision making in one direction or another, based on all of our knowledge and experience up to that decision, and we learn from each decision’s consequences.

        Furthermore, philosophical disagreements between libertarian free will and foreknowledge drive home further difficulties with the notion of free will.

        If everything came solely out of a perfect Being, a Being which is everywhere and in all things, (in whom we live, move and have our Being), then there is no nothingness. There is only that perfect Being, and it only creates out of its own perfection.

        If free will exists, then it is something even God lacks, since God cannot by definition choose evil. Can God even imagine anything evil if God’s mind is filled with only Goodness?

        As I said, in computer parlance, Garbage in, Garbage out, and the same with Perfection in, Perfection out. There is no explanation for evil. It is not nothingness, because there is nothing that exists apart from God.

        5. Lastly, I don’t think there’s really that much freedom in the world as is. We have to work to eat. We have limited time to spend praying or studying. We each have limited experiences. And very few people ever get to see heaven or hell, and even those few that do, their visions differ. Mormon’s meet a non-Trinitarian Jesus. Read about Betty Eade’s bestselling NDE. Other’s meet a non-sectarian God like Dannion Brinkley and his bestseller. One woman’s new bestseller about her NDE (she’s an Evangelical Christian) claims we get to choose after we’re dead. One person went to a hellish place then was taken up by a being of light and got to have questions answered, like which is the best religion, and the beings said, “whichever one brings you closer to God.” There’s an NDE of someone in Thailand who met a talking turtle Buddhist god, and an NDE of someone who met “Bob,” and of someone who met a clown. Sadly the majority of people who are revived do not recall any NDE. But of the small number who do it doesn’t matter if they were Christians or not, they come back transformed and more loving in most cases, and don’t fear death any more. At least that’s the anecdotal evidence I’ve been reading about for three decades. Most people also never get to meet any religious figures during an NDE. I think if NDEs are true, they are a mixed bag. Just as all of the holy books and their endless interpreters/interpretations are also a mixed bag.

        1. Forgive me if I am still missing the mark a little here.

          1. Different definitions of free will exist. My operating definition: True free will is being able to will the same as God. We have no freedom as most would define it. We are either slaves to sin (acting in a manner opposite to God) or we are slaves to righteousness. However, being a slave to sin is not freedom, yet being a slave to God (following His will) is. Galatians 5:1 “it is for freedom Christ has set us free.” The freedom he speaks of here is freedom from sin and if we are not sinning we are following the will of God. This is free will. If you still see a problem with this, it would help me if you broke down Romans 6:15-23.

          2. You are assuming foreknowledge requires that God is the direct cause of what is to come. Knowing is not a cause. God having foreknowledge of creation did not cause it. Him speaking it to be caused creation. God knows all that will happen in his foreknowledge, but He also knows (in His Omniscience) all that could happen, every possibility. A middle knowledge. Perhaps this middle knowledge allows for our “free will”?

          3. You are still assuming nothingness is impossible. Scientifically, infinity is also impossible. And if God were infinite, it would be impossible for Him to be fully present, everywhere, and every time, always. However, this is also an assumption Christianity makes. My point being, just by saying that because God is everywhere means there is no nothingness. It makes about as my scientific/philosophical sense as God being fully present everywhere.

          On a side note, one quick question: can of something that cannot exist be conceived? And not a thought in paradoxical sense, but that actual existence of something. If that makes sense.

          4. From a Christian stand point, it is impossible for anyone to have seen heaven or hell as the final judgement has not happened. From a Christian view, God is the only thing that is transcendent and therefore the only thins outside of time. Even in death and after the resurrection and final judgement, creation will still exist within the bounds of time.

          And I read your blog before. My previous post was in response to the blog. By the way, I just want to say that this debate has been an enjoyable intellectual challenge for me. I hope you have had the same experience.

          1. Can’t reply directly to your comment:

            “Ah but time is an illusion”

            If you really want to take that philosophical route you are just a figment of my imagination. Nothing is real.

  7. This annoys me.

    Its quite all right to believe in “ex nihilo” – what is wrong is those stupid creation-ists (hyphenated on purpose) who have hijacked the bible.

    What the bible says, I think, in paraphrase and NZ english: “God caused order to happen to Chaos, where there was none before”.
    That is, there was no order, and then God caused order to happen – right? God caused all things (orders) to exist ex-nihilo.

    *gets out a big gun and a bat*

    1. Actually the Bible begins with “God created the heavens and the earth.” With no mention of where it came from. The closest clue we have in Genesis is from the words אֱלֹהִים (God) אָמַר (said, spoke) הָיָה “to be, become, exist”. And it came into existence. So no, the Bible does not say God created from chaos, it says He spoke creation into existence.

        1. First sentence in Genesis:

          בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

          The word: בָּרָא is key here as it is the word “create”. There is no past tense, it is the root word.

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