GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast

71. Nature Of God And Divine Reality | Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God | Dialogue 4 [Part 2]

April 21, 2022 Jerry L. Martin, Scott Langdon, Richard Oxenberg
GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast
71. Nature Of God And Divine Reality | Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God | Dialogue 4 [Part 2]
Show Notes Transcript

Is God lonely? Philosophy, science, religion, and God- all in one conversation. 

A profound philosophical discussion of sciences and religion that dares to consider God as lonely, becoming self-aware, and evolving in response to human development. Rediscover the beginning of life with a new understanding of Adam and Eve from the perspective of God searching for meaningful relationships and consider philosophical concepts of the Self from Hegel as we rejoin for another episode from this literary podcast adaptation and discussion. 

Analytical and energetic dialogues of philosophical and spiritual discussion between Dr. Jerry L. Martin and Dr. Richard Oxenberg about God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher. A profound conversation of philosophy, sciences, and religion daring to consider God's perspective in the series Two Philosophers Wrestle With God. The fourth dialogue covers the nature of divine reality.

Richard Oxenberg received his PH.D. in Philosophy from Emory University in 2002, with a concentration in Ethics and Philosophy of Religion. He has written and published numerous articles on these subjects, many of which are available online. His book: On the Meaning of Human Being: Heidegger and the Bible in Dialogue, was published by Political Animal Press in 2018. Richard currently teaches at Endicott College in Beverly, MA.

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Related Episodes: [Two Philosophers Wrestle With God]
The Big Picture [Part 1] [Part 2]; Purpose [Part 1] [Part 2]; Revelation [Part 1] [Part 2]; [Dramatic Adaptation] God Takes Me Back To The Beginn

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Scott Langdon [00:00:17] This is God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. A dramatic adaptation and continuing discussion of the book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin. He was a lifelong agnostic, but one day he had an occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered- in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions, and God had a lot to tell him. 

Scott Langdon [00:01:10] Hello and welcome to Episode 71 of GOD: An Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm your host, Scott Langdon. This week, we bring you part two of the fourth dialogue between Dr. Richard Oxenberg and Dr. Jerry L. Martin in our series Where Two Philosophers Wrestle With God. In this episode, Richard and Jerry discuss the idea of God being lonely and what the implications of that might be. Also during this conversation, our two philosophers explore what might be at stake when considering God's own assertion that He is imperfect just as humanity is imperfect, and that our mutual development is inextricably connected. To begin this episode, we return again briefly to episode 16, where God takes Jerry back to the beginning of everything. For a bit of context, for the ensuing discussion. This is the moment from the dramatic adaptation of the book where God explains to Jerry how God felt lonely as the creation unfolded. In this clip, as is the case for the entire audio version of the book, I speak the voice of Jerry, and Jerry Martin himself speaks the voice of God. Remember, you can hear the complete audio adaptation of the book any time by beginning with episode one of our podcast and listening through Episode 44. If you have any questions or comments about this or any other episode, please email us at questions@godanautobiography.com. After this brief clip from Episode 16, Richard begins the conversation by speaking first. I hope you enjoy the episode. 

Dramatic Adaptation: Episode 16

Jerry Martin - voiced by Scott Langdon

The Voice of God - voiced by Jerry L. Martin, who heard the voice

The Voice of God [00:03:02] I breathe life into matter, and matter starts responding. As one translation of Genesis puts it, I "flutter over the waters" and nurture, incubate life. And I am filled with joy.  It’s like a child picking up a harp and being surprised to find that strumming makes beautiful sounds--and delightedly playing with it. At the beginning, the cosmos was My playpen, My garden of delights. It was beautiful, dazzling. 

Jerry Martin [00:03:46] But You felt alone?

The Voice of God [00:03:49] Yes, I wanted more. In retrospect, the inanimate years feel very lonely. The emergence of life is a delight. With life, spirit comes into play. Wonderful to see amoeba, moss, and so forth. The frogs and other creatures, each with a soul and personality, each in a sense in tune with God. I can play with the animals, "walk among them." I love their myriad forms. I am not alone anymore.

Two Philosophers Wrestle With God: Dialogue 4

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:48] But there's– there's another thing that's going on in this story. When I first read it, I don't know if the word is shock, but it certainly registered with me as very curious-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:00] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:01] And that is God's thinking about being lonely, right? It comes up a number of times, right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:10] It becomes something of a persistent theme. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:14] Yeah. Yeah. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:16] And I know in the next chapter, God is delighted when life appears, which seems somewhat surprising (laughing) to God-- 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:27] Yeah. Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:28] And delightful, and part of the delight, I mean the creatures, and I say, you know, even the moss or something, even the really low, swampy stuff- yes it's all wonderful, God says. And part, part of it, it's just wonderful in itself how life emerges and works its splendiferous forms-- But also, God starts feeling- hey, (laughing) I have company! 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:58] Right. Right, right, right. Yeah-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:01] He says, molecules and atoms- I never pursued this in prayer, but, you know, I'm told briefly, that they're also sort of centers of life at a certain level of, of life, you know, that there's, they're not just dead matter in other words, there's a kind of pulsing life right down in the molecules. Nevertheless, that's not enough to make one not feel lonely. You know, it's not enough for meaningful companionship and interaction. Whereas when you start getting life, that changes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:34] Yeah. Yeah. Well, the whole notion that there is a loneliness within God at the beginning, right? And that in some sense, this loneliness is what is driving God forward. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:41] Right. Yes, yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:41] That it is the hunger that God has that is somehow motivating God to do whatever it is that God is doing, but the, but loneliness also implies, or it seems to me to imply, right, a kind of privation of something. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:09] Aha.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:11] That it's like you can't really, we wouldn't have hunger unless there was the potentiality for food. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:20]  (laughing) Right, exactly. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:21] The hunger is the privation of the food that we need to feel complete or fulfilled. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:27] Yeah. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:28] So once again we get this image of a God who first comes aware of himself as in, in a kind of dire need of something beyond what he is at that moment- right? And, and this is motivating, this creative activity and also the activity of trying to figure out who He is and His need to be in relationship to human beings. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:58] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:59] Right?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:00] Yes. Yes, it's a very great need. There's even a reading of the Adam and Eve story in the book where God takes the story in its own terms and says, you know, what does that story tell you? And that's a story where God first feels he can just walk among the creatures. I mean, that's part of it. And then he thinks, well, Adam needs a human partner, not just God, and so Eve is created. And then God finds- Ah! He loves Eve more than he loves me. You know, that God becomes neglected. And they hide in their shame, they violated a rule, but they're now aware of their nakedness, for example, before they were like childlike, and, and so part of the meaning of that is God discovers that, well, he cannot relate to human beings in that way. You know- in a, as if, go play with them in the Garden of Eden- can't, can't relate to them in that simple way. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:09:06] Right, and I guess, you know, you, we almost get the impression, and I don't know, I'm not exactly sure how to read that– of God being not just childlike, but even a bit childish. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:23] Yeah God's kind of a child. He's not learned His way yet. And like a child doesn't necessarily know what the limbs will do, you know, as we all know, that the children at first don't know there's a difference between them and the mother, so. Just one blur, them and the world, and their own body is one blur, and it slowly gets clarified. And God isn't quite that elementary, but it's something analogous to that. That God is--

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:09:50] And God is coming, and I think this is something that is, this is something that is, that is said a number of times in the book- God is coming into self consciousness-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Along with... I mean to me is one of the most mysterious elements of the book, and something that I don't think is fully explored in the book itself, but if we were to fully explore it, it would have huge implications, and that is that God is coming into self awareness along with, and in response to human awareness of God. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Exactly..

Dr. Richard Oxenberg He said that in so many words at one point.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:10:29] Well, one statement in the book, God says a self requires another self. And the philosophy of Hagel, Hagel has a famous section arguing something like that. That you can't know yourself as a self unless you count another itself, and then that brings your selfhood forward, you know, presenting yourself to the other, and then they're bringing their selfhood forward and you're reacting to that. And so your two selfhoods grow together in the encounter and in the interaction. So at first, like the child, you don't know yourself. If you're the only thing around the concept of a self doesn't even quite make sense. You know myself is distinct from what? But if you have another self, then, oh, well, they're them, I'm me, and even though there's this underlying sense in which they're sort of also me, but we're encountering each other as selves, and as different, and as able to react to one another in different ways. And therefore, to develop in that interaction. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:11:38] Yeah. And...but it seems as if it's not simply a matter, at least the way that I've read some of the passages, it's not simply a matter of God coming aware of Himself as a self in relationship to human beings, but that God is discovering what He is through human beings' discovery of what He is. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:12] That's right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:24:35] There's a co-evolution taking place, which is completely, really, completely different from the idea of God that we're accustomed to--

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right? 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:12:13] In Western tradition, right? It's almost so different that it almost calls into question whether the word God is fully appropriate. You know, I mean, the word God, it's misleading in a certain way because what we, what, and maybe, I don't know if I'm getting this right, but what I seem to be getting as I try and work out the implications of this-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Is that there is an evolutionary process taking place that includes both life and humanity and what we're calling God here. That they are coevolving and, and it is, and God's, God's evolution is dependent upon human evolution. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:13:01] Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:13:03] So that the God who speaks in this book is coupled with human beings in a way that is almost ontological. Right? And not just that the human beings are dependent upon God, but God is dependent upon the human being. Am I getting that right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:13:23] No, no- that's exactly right. That's, again, very analogous to human development. You know, Richard is a good teacher. Well, how does Richard know that Richard is a good teacher? How does Richard even actualize that side of Richard? How does that side, Richard, come into being? Well, it's by having classes and students, you know, interacting with students responses. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin And so many, you know, you look one trait after another that human beings have, they have in light of:  (a), they're, they're brought about by interactions among people; and (b), they're recognized even by the person themselves as a trait of themselves, by other people, often kind of labeling them. You're a, you're a leader, you're a thinker, you're a this, you know, that. And you say- oh, you know, that's kind of right, I never thought of myself that way! So it's very much like that. God develops by- discovers with the people of Israel, the ancient people of Israel, a lawgiver side. Before, He says, He had just sent people a little, you know, ethical intuitions or something, ethical prompts. Things like natural sympathy, and you know, don't betray your friends and so forth. And it somehow gets- in this context of interacting with the people of Israel, it gets sort of codified that He lays down- well, we need to have a covenant, we need to have rules, and people need to be told what these rules are, it needs to be kind of systematic, and so we've got a Ten Commandments, and God- this is not how God relates to people in any other culture. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:12] Right. And, and, and there's--

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:12] There's no other covenant, there's no other Ten Commandments, per say, though there are rules, but not in this mode of God-- 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:22] Right and the passage, I believe in the Bible and in the book, where I don't remember exactly what the context is, but God says- well, I was a little bit overly concerned with ritual in those days. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:39] Yes (laughing), that's right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:40] But you have to remember, I was young. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:42] (laughing) Yeah, no that, that- isn't that strange? Yeah.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:43] Yeah, it's very strange. And, and--

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:44] God was young and we were young. And so ritualistic-- 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:46] I think the idea of God being young--

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:47] Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:15:49] Right? I mean, yeah, I have had to spend, I spend some time thinking about this. Because the universe, I mean if we, if we, if we attend to what modern physicists have to say, is 20 billion years old. And this stuff happen only a couple of thousand years ago. Right, so, what died young? Well, if God could be thought of as young only to the extent that we continue this notion that this God who is speaking in this book is tied to human development. In a way that is very different from the way we think of God in, in the Western tradition. I've got another quote here that I thought I'd read along these lines, right? It's on page 140 of the book, God is saying, "It is not (only) creatures who are imperfect. I am too." 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:30] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:17:31] And in another passage, you're speaking, you say- the one dimension of your story is the personal copartnering-- and God responds, "Not just one dimension. The crucial dimension." So, you know, it's, it's an interesting, it's just an interesting thought. I guess the question that emerged, that arises for me out of this way of thinking about God-- is in what sense, then, is this God an object of worship?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:05] Mm hmm. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:18:06]  Right? I mean, if this God is just figuring Himself out, if He is co developing with human beings, if He is making mistakes, if He is not altogether sure of who He is or what the planet that He is enacting... yeah, in what way can we rely on Him? I mean, in what way, I mean when you, when you pray to God, when you, when you worship God-- There is a sense in which you're looking for something or someone that you can count on and rely on and trust-- And provide greater wisdom. But if this God is... is just sort of figuring things out along with us, right, if- where do, where does the, where does the God who we can worship come- come in? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:58] I...I have not myself thought of being worthy of worship, of the concept of worship as essential to the concept of God. So that throws me off a little bit-- What can I worship- that's a somewhat different question from anything I was pursuing here. It does come up that in some passing moment, I don't know the word worship, but obedience and something like deference. Which I think is analogized to, you know, the young person defers to an elder. A gentleman may defer in certain contexts to a lady, let her get on the lifeboat first or whatever it might be, just as a kind of recognition of their statuses, you might say, or perhaps role in life- you might defer to your your Rabbi or Priest or whatever. But there is still the larger question. You have a young God setting out the Ten Commandments. Why should you pay attention to the Ten Commandments? There, there's other ancient wisdom literature, and of course, in the God book that turns out that God is sort of behind it, too. But still, why should you pay any attention to any of them if it's a God finding his way? And I suppose the question, the issue of the drama of our mutual development is part of the answer. It's as if, you know, the orchestra conductor is trying to figure out what piece. Well, we're going to do a better job if we're all paying attention to the orchestra conductor than if we each just do with our own instruments, what we feel like doing. So God, and God is following a telos, a telos, an ultimate end to the universe that has not yet emerged, but is getting glimmers as God goes along, and we are- God is following those glimmers, is learning more precisely by interacting with us, and we're following God, (laughing) you know? Who is taking us, who is taking us forward. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Yeah. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin So it's something like that. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:15] Well, you know, as I read through the book, these questions were all in my mind. How can God be lonely? How can God have been born out of a Nothingness? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:25]  Yes, yes. All puzzles.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:27] Right? And what, you know, in what way is this a God that one can turn to and worship? And, and in what way did this fulfill the spiritual urge, this God in some- in some sense, responded to, or addressed the spiritual urge that human beings have?  

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:47] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:48] Both questions. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:49] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:49] And for me, I began to be able to put this into a context that made sense for me, was when you started introducing the notion of the God beyond God. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right? Because the God beyond God is the God- is that out of which this God emerges, right?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg And is in some sense, if we ask what is the ultimate reality, right? What is at the foundation of reality? It's not this God, it's the God beyond God that provides for this God, its thrust, and its potential, and its attempt to actualize itself. And for me, anyway, it was only in the context of that, that I was able to put this story together in a way that answered some of these questions. You know, if I, if I were to, to say what we're getting in the first book of Genesis-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg It's a kind of amalgam in some ways, of this God and the God beyond God. And such an amalgam is appropriate because this God is just one face of the God beyond God. Isn't, isn't that what we're, what we're told at some point? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:23:10]  Yeah. It this, the God beyond God in the form of Go- of entering this world-- 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Entering slash creating this world. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:23:19] Right. So if we– 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:23:22] So, that sometimes is analogized to an actor playing a role. You know, Richard Burton enters the role of Hamlet, (laughing) and then he is Hamlet, and if you think of that as a real- that stage as a real world, he's then living out the Hamlet or the God of that world and then can step back . . . and isn't exhausted, or you know, by . . .there's more to the God beyond God than just God in this world, and in effect in this incarnation in this world. That- however, if you say that it's not quite right to say the God beyond God is more real. It certainly starts there, but that God is mainly a potential. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:24:13] Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:14]  And it's actualized, actually, in the God in this world, and I'm told there are many worlds, and successive worlds. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:24:23] Right. You know, that, that to me is kind of a fascinating way of presenting it. Of you know, that- first of all, it's the God beyond God to whom the word eternal would apply- not the God of this world right. Right? The God of this world is very temporal. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:42] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:24:43]Right? It's very much developing, it very much has a past and a future, and you know is working itself toward that future, very much like a big human being. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg And, but it's the God beyond God that is eternal. And yet, and, you know, I find this fascinating, the etern- the eternal is not as Aristotle would have expressed it, pure actuality, but is really pure potentiality. Right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:25:16] Right. Right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg That needs to be actualized. Right? And so the creation, we might say, and in this case, the creation is, is both of God and the rest of the universe, kind of at the same time--

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg  Right? The creation is the- it arises out of the need of the God beyond God to self actualize. Right? And there are many number of ways in which that self actualization can occur, and... and there is a telos, as you say, to the actualization. In other words, there are, there are more and, there are more and less beautiful pieces of music that the orchestra can play, right? It can play itself in a harmonious way or a very discordant way that is painful to the ears. Right? That there is a way in which we should try and get things right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:26:21] And I, I put one qualification. It's not that this is just a need of the God beyond God, as you put it, privation, but it's also the job, you might say. There's a good to be done that God is being called to do. To create these worlds, isn't- Oh, you know, Johnny needs a lot of toys and so he's got a room and we keep bringing in new toys because he can just go on and on playing with things. It's not just that, but these are whole worlds with meaningful lives being lived on them. And that's the... the meaning is in the worlds. It's not in God sitting back satisfying a need to have toys, if we use that analogy, that God is orchestrating for a purpose. And the purpose would- is something like the meaningful dramas that are lived out in each world. And I think that fits with the passage you read a little bit ago, Richard, that God is co-partnering in our lives and the God beyond God enters the world in order to co-partner with our lives. So, add that to the picture. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:27:43] Well, so I was thinking that maybe, maybe this is enough for today. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:27:48] Well, I think (laughing) we have used our time for today, and --

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:27:53] And maybe next time, we could explore a little bit more fully this notion of the God beyond God, the Atman of God, as you sometimes put it.  I think in Western theology it's sometimes spoken of as the Godhead. Right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Uh-huh. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg As opposed to God. And maybe that will help us get a fuller picture of what this spiritual urge is and how the spiritual urge is related to the revelation that you've had. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:28:28]  Yeah, ok, that sounds good. We'll, we'll do that- we'll move in that direction, Richard. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:28:33] Okay, very good. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:28:34] And thank you again for this dialogue.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:28:37] And thank you Jerry, yeah.

Scott Langdon [00:28:44] Thank you for listening. To GOD: An Autobiography, The Podcast. Subscribe for free today wherever you listen to your podcasts and hear a new episode every week. You can hear the complete dramatic adaptation of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin, by beginning with episode one of our podcast and listening through its conclusion with Episode 44. You can read the original true story in the book from which this podcast is adapted. God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, available now at Amazon.com, and always at godanautobiography.com. Pick up your own copy today. If you have any questions about this or any other episode, please email us at questions@godanautobiography.com and experience the world from God's perspective as it was told to a philosopher. This is Scott Langdon. I'll see you next time.