God Within and Beyond

What if God is not entirely separate and removed from the universe? What if God is neither immovable nor unchangeable? What if God is not wholly other, but so very intimate with us that God is in the very breath, cells, and DNA that animate us and make us who we are?

Process theologians tells us that God is both within us and beyond us, that God Who offers us innumerable possibilities of choice is persuasive but not coercive, and that it is not only we who are changed by God, but God Who is changed by us. Alfred North Whitehead, whose Process Philosophy serves as the foundation for Process Theology, as developed by Charles Hartshorne and many others, has revealed a new view of the cosmos, ourselves, and God within. The view that God is wholly other, entirely removed from the universe, and unchanging, gives way to a God within and beyond, Who loves us deeply and experiences what we experience, Who provides an array of possibilities and guides us to make the right choices in our lives.

For many, such ideas are new, perhaps even strange. Some prefer to hold fast to a conception of a God who punishes good people because their beliefs are different. How hypocritical to say God is about love, but a certain group has a monopoly on declaring whom God loves! The Us-versus-Them outlook of the Pharaoh of Egypt (Exodus, chapter 1) is sadly alive and well in the 21st century. Does God examine our beliefs, or our behavior?

Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Pshishke told his Hasidic disciples: Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket and there find the words: "Bishvili nivra ha'olam. For my sake was the world created." But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “Ani afer v'eifar; I am but dust and ashes."

Perhaps the Hasidim were early Process Thinkers. They appreciated the connectedness of the entire cosmos, and the interconnectedness of all life. We are one with the cosmos, with all that has been. Everything that has been has contributed to making each of us exquisitely unique and unprecedented, an expression of God in the world. Each is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. “For my sake was the world created.” Yet we share this cosmos with many others; it is often through our relationships that we glimpse the face of God. It is both thrilling and humbling to be one with the universe.

Scientists have shown us that we are made of the very substances that came into being as a result of the Big Bang. We are made of stardust. We are part of God’s ongoing Creation of the universe. “For my sake was the world created…I am but dust and ashes.” As the cosmos is expanding, so can our consciousness, our sense of God without and within, our connectedness to all Creation, and our sense of purpose and meaning in our own createdness.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.