What’s Relative about God


If we can agree that God is the Creator and Sustainer of this Universe, then we should think it reasonable for God to reveal Himself in some way through nature. Now, I don’t mean to say that we must agree that God created the world in six days. We could simply agree that God was the force behind the Big Bang, or the beginning of the evolutionary process, or whatever else you want to believe about how the universe came about. And when I say that God sustains it, I don’t even mean that we have to agree that God is taking an active role in the universe today. One could even take the deist position, that God set up natural laws to keep things working, though He no longer actively participates in His creation.

If we can agree on those points, then it seems reasonable that we could find something about the nature and person of God in creation – much like how we can recognize some aspects about a writer, an artist, or a musician by their composition.

It then seems odd to me that a person could argue, “God is whoever you think He is,” or “Whatever seems like God to you is who He is.” What they are arguing is that God’s existence, His personality, His character is all relative, and that God’s existence isn’t dependent on Him but on our experiences of Him. This violates reason on a couple of fronts.

First, this violates the law of noncontradiction. If God really exists and His existence is definable, even infinite in ways, then logically speaking, there are certain things that God is not. God cannot be something and something opposite in the same way at the same time. The idea that God’s existence is based merely on our experience or understanding sets up a number of potential contradictions.

In fact, the statement itself is a contradiction. If God is simply who I think He is, then logically speaking, God cannot be who you think He is. Why? The answer is because you’ve just told me that God is who I think He is. He’s based on my reasoning and experiences. Your experiences of God are outside my experiences of God, therefore, unless you’re willing to retract your initial statement and we’re willing to agree that God is not just what I think He is, then, and only then, can your experiences of God be considered plausible.

However, this idea of the relativity of God – the idea that truth is determinant on experience – seems to contradict everything we know to be true about nature. Nature is very orderly. 2+2=4. Pi is 3.14159265359. The acceleration in relation to gravity is 9.8 m/s2. We would be foolish to answer a math or science question in relative terms – like “x = whatever you want it to be.” So, why should we assume that God, who took part in the creation of an orderly universe, acts with entirely different reasoning with respect to everything He created? We would never say that the scientific process or the laws of nature change based on a person’s experience, so why would we automatically assume that of the nature and person of God?

One might ask, “Isn’t it reasonable though that people could have different experiences of God?” Sure that is very reasonable. God might tell me to be a fireman and someone else to be a lawyer. The Bible teaches that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, yet He appeared to Joshua as a warrior. Some may perceive God as being loving; others may perceive Him as harsh. But these experiences do not determine who or what God is; they only determine our perception of Him.

For example, my children think I’m extremely tall. Because I’m only 5’7”, most consider me very short. My children perceive me relative to their position just as everyone else. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t change my property. I’m not any taller or shorter based on one’s perception. I’m still 5’7” – tall to some (mostly three year-olds), short to most.

We see this as well in nature. When a fire truck comes storming down the road, the sound of the siren seems to change in pitch. This is called the Doppler effect (named after Austrian physicist Christian Doppler). The frequency or sound wave emitted from the truck actually never changes. It appears higher in frequency as it approaches and lower as it passes, but if we were moving alongside the truck, we would discover that the frequency emitted from the truck remains constant.

This is consistent with Albert Einstein’s theories on relativity. He concluded that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another. In the case of the Doppler Effect, we see how objects that are moving non-uniformly (in different directions) cause a different experience. But as Einstein also concluded, “the speed of light is invariant.” To explore this theory a bit further, Einstein said that the closer we move towards the speed of light, time appears to slow down. This has been tested on aircraft, and it has been noted how moving clocks tick slower on faster objects, relative to a stationary clock. So while time appears different to the observer, depending on his speed, what never changes is the speed of light. That is the constant property among objects of relative motion. In a vacuum, it’s always 299,792 km/s.

This natural experience is a good analogy for our experiences with God. Do our relative experiences determine who God is, or do our relative experiences only determine our perception of God? Why should God’s existence be any difference than the laws of nature and physics? How could we reasonably say, “God is who you think He is?” when that type of statement would not work anywhere else in the universe? When we talk about the relativity of God, what we mean to say and need to say (in order to remain logical, reasonable, and consistent with natural law) is that certain aspects or even properties appear to change to us. But the properties of God are immutable, just as the speed of light is invariant.

The understanding of those immutable qualities of God should be our pursuit, rather than our relative experiences. Those can be deceptive. Not knowing the source of the siren, we might mistake our motion to be the source of the noise, rather than the firetruck. Or we might stress that air pressure is what causes clocks to tick slower, instead of speed. Our relative experiences may give us a perception of who God is, but without an honest understanding of the Constant, we are merely comparing divine (or what we think as divine) experiences in relation to each other. We may never actually be getting closer to the Divine. Or even worse, we may be calling something divine when it is not.


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