How Would You Like Your Religion: A Personal or Impersonal God?
This article discusses religions that have a personal god compared to those that have a more impersonal god. The similarities and differences are covered to help readers gain perspective and knowledge. Please Share your thoughts at the end!
A Personal God Compared to an Impersonal God
There are many different kinds of religions, many differing beliefs on who or what we humans should follow. Some religions say there is one personal god, while others go the opposite way, saying there are many impersonal gods or forces at work here on earth. An age old struggle has ensued over which religion is the correct one. Out of this there have been numerous wars and killings. Some people have even become so fed up with religion that they formed a sort of anti-religion religion; basically, they believe that there is nothing to believe in. Is there hope for any cessation of violence? How much longer will there be this struggle over religion? Well, let us look into one factor that splits many people; whether there is a personal, all-knowing god or an impersonal, out-of-the-picture god and what the similarities and differences are between personal and impersonal gods
Differences abound between the belief in a personal god and an impersonal god. To begin with, it seems as though there is a feeling of trust, consistency or closeness with a personal god that is lacking in the qualities of an impersonal god. I think It is because of the definition of what a personal god is; a force or spirit that has an interest for each person on earth. An impersonal god or force simply does not have those characteristics. Christianity is a prime example of how a personal god thinks and acts. In the bible it says that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life (The Bible, NIV).” This shows how the personal God of Christians cares about, and loves each person on earth, making each of us feel as though we are special. When you feel as though you have a personal relationship with God, it makes it easy to depend on that God. Religions that believe in impersonal gods or forces simply cannot have this same ‘relationship’ feeling; the definition of what an impersonal god is, will not allow it.
Along with the feeling of closeness to a personal God, there is also greater guidance coming from a personal God. This is clearly shown in the religion of the Israelites. Moses, one of the major figures in Jewish history and religion, led the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity and into a land of their own. While on the 40 year journey, Moses and the Israelites received almost constant guidance and direction from God. Even Moses’ calling to lead the people of Israel was a direct message from God, in the form of a burning, talking bush. This sort of guidance is unavailable to followers of impersonal gods. To put it plainly, a personal god gives direct direction whereas an impersonal god will not.
Although the differences are plentiful between personal and impersonal gods, there are a few notable similarities worth investigating. Religions based on one or many impersonal gods or forces usually will have some sort of holy text. Oftentimes the holy text will be the prophecies or revelations of the founder of the religion or the writings of someone who had a large influence on the religion. In the case of Buddhism, the founder of the religion was also the writer of many of the holy texts. Those writings contain a wide range of topics, anything from how one can be enlightened to how one should live his or her everyday life. In the same way, religions that believe there is a personal god also usually have a holy book of some kind. In Christianity, followers believe that their holy book, the Bible, was inspired by God’s Son, Jesus. After his death and ascension to heaven, followers wrote down what he did during his lifetime on earth and now they use that as their guide to living life. Another religion, which claims connections to Christianity, also has a holy book that is inspired by a personal god. This religion was founded by a man named Muhammad who, according to their holy book, the Koran, received inspiration from god to found the religion we now know as Islam.
Besides the similarity between impersonal and personal religions on the point of holy texts, they also are analogous on the point of devotion to their respective beliefs. People from impersonal religions are not more or less devout to their religion then people who follow a personal god. However, it seems to me as though it would be significantly easier to be more devout to a personal god than to an impersonal god. In times of doubt or persecution, a personal god can seem to give personal guidance; whereas an impersonal god is not going to give the same kind of ‘personal’ direction. Yet almost all religions have experienced persecution of some kind that has tested the devoutness of followers. And, in most cases, followers of impersonal gods clung to their beliefs as firmly as followers of personal gods. All in all, there are several similarities between the belief in a personal god and an impersonal god.
There are clearly distinct similarities and differences concerning personal and impersonal gods or cosmic forces. But after looking at them, I find myself favoring the idea of a personal God. A personal God is there when you need it, or, at least it seems as though it is there. It’s concerned about what I do, interested in my life and it will guide me when I need it and not stand back and leave things to ‘just happen’. As I think about these desires of mine, because it is important to recognize what you desire, I realize that my desire for a personal God is probably embedded in me because of my cultural background as an American. America was founded on Christian principles by Christian men and women. This has affected all Americans in their way of thinking; we are conditioned to see things as good and bad, right and wrong. This is an interesting phenomenon; that your culture has a great affect on your view of supernatural beings. I have noticed this phenomenon even in Japan, where I have lived for several years. The Japanese people have been conditioned by their culture to not stick out, to try to be the same as the people around them. This has made it so that they believe in a more impersonal god and easily accept Shinto and Buddhism.
After all of this I think it really comes down to one basic point: All religions are different; all are unique in certain ways. So what do you prefer; a personal or impersonal god? For me, I believe in the personal God described in the Christian Bible. But what about you, have you thought about what kind of god you are following?