Truth About God

“But I worship God my own way.”

by Dr. Alan Scholes

Can’t I Just Experience God in Nature?
Isn’t Everyone a Child of God?

I guess you might say I have my own religion,” I said.  The girl looked at me and waited, as I continued.  “I’ve taken a little bit from many religions I’ve studied and put them together into a pattern of my own.”  I stopped and looked at her.  A little smile played across her mouth, briefly lighting up her rather plain features.  I wasn’t certain what the smile meant, but she seemed interested so I went on:  “I’ve tried many churches-Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian…even Mormon and Christian Scientist.  I’ve gone to synagogue with my Jewish friends and studied several Eastern religions.  They all have some good things to say, and they all have some teachings I can’t agree with.  So I’ve just put together my own belief.”

I had met Lisa several weeks earlier in a philosophy class at Foothill College, a campus about 40 miles south of San Francisco.  Lisa had become my “philosophy friend.”  We would meet two or three times a week.  We talked about the world, about history, about life … and more recently about religion.  Today we were sitting on two large rocks in a secluded garden courtyard nestled in the center of the library complex.  Lisa was quiet for a moment, pondering what I’d said.[1]

I know exactly what you mean,” she said finally.  “I felt that way, too, for a long time. But something happened a few months ago that changed my mind.  Alan, I met God.”  I glanced at her suspiciously to see if she were joking.  But her dark green eyes gazed steadily into mine.  “What…what do you mean?”  I finally blurted out.  “Well…last summer when I was traveling in Europe, some friends invited me to stay with them for a week at a place called L’Abri in Switzerland.  It’s a picturesque little cluster of chalets hidden away high in the Alps.  The strange thing was that all the people there were talking about having a close relationship with GodThis seemed a little bizarre to me, even fanatical.  But the more I talked with them, the more fascinated I became.  They were calm and assured in what they believed, but they still seemed open and interested to hear what I thought.”  Lisa stopped and looked to see if I was still listening.

Go on,” I said.  “I’m waiting for the punch line!”  She smiled and didn’t seem offended.  My comment had sounded more cynical than I really felt, but my guard was up.  Lisa struck me as the last sort of person who would ever be “taken in” by some religious cult, but that seemed to be the way her story was moving.

Well, it happened the last day before I had to leave.  Early that morning I walked off alone.  I needed time to think.  I must have walked for hours, trying to sort out what I felt and believed and wanted.  Finally I ended up on the edge of a giant gorge that must have been a thousand feet deep.  I sat down with my feet dangling over the precipice and thought.  Sitting there, I realized I had put off the decision long enough.  I realized that if I could really know God the way these people seemed to, then that was what I wanted.  My friends at L’Abri had told me that I needed to invite God into my life as a conscious decision, as an act of the will.  So sitting there on the edge of the gorge, I finally opened myself.  It was sort of like relaxing and letting down an inner barrier that I hadn’t even realized was there.”  Lisa had been staring at a small patch of grass, lost in the memory of her experience as she told it.  But now she looked at me, and a broad smile seemed to spread over her entire face.  “And, Alan, He came in, He really did!  And now I can honestly say that I know Him, too.”

I quickly said, “Oh, I’ve experienced that also.  My favorite spots are the beach in winter or a forest of giant redwoods.  I’ve had the same feeling you’re talking about. A sense of majesty and wonder.  You feel close to God and nature.  A sense of awe, of being part of something bigger than yourself…”  Lisa frowned. “No…that’s not what I mean; this was different.  It wasn’t just some mountaintop experience.  He’s living in me now…I communicate with Him every day.”  “But, I think we are talking about the same thing,” I said.  “Perhaps just to a different degree.

Oh, Alan, what I’m talking about is different…I just wish I knew a better way to explain it…

Don’t misunderstand me, Lisa, I’m glad you had this experience.  I can see that your beliefs mean a lot to you.  I think it’s great for you…but it’s just not for me right now.  And besides, each of us is an individual; we each have to experience God in our own way.”  I glanced at my watch.  “Oh, oh, I’m going to be late for my psych class if I don’t run.  See you tomorrow!

During the next few weeks, I thought often about the story Lisa had told me.  She was obviously a very intelligent person and something had affected her deeply…but I still could not see the difference between what she had experienced and what I often felt as I gazed at the ocean.  It was months later before I heard an explanation that made sense.

I met Phil at a party in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco.  Phil’s story was a strange one.  He had attended Princeton university on full scholarship but had dropped out six months before graduation.  For the next five years he had lived in India and Japan and studied under several highly regarded masters of Zen Buddhism.

As we talked, I told him of Lisa’s experience and my questions about it and asked what he thought.  “I think maybe I can help,” he replied, stroking his bushy beard.  “You see, about a year ago I had the same experience as your friend.  I invited Jesus Christ into my life and came into a personal relationship with God.

But what is the difference between that and simply experiencing God in nature like I have?

Phil looked at me thoughtfully for a moment.  “Let me see if I can explain it this way.”  He took a piece of paper and drew a large circle on it.  “Let’s suppose this circle represents the entire universe and all that is in it.  This would include the stars, the planets, all the trees, rocks, flowers, oceans, people and animals.  Eastern religions in general, and Zen in particular, teach that there is a consciousness that flows throughout the entire universe.  When a Buddhist or a Hindu speaks of ‘god,’ he simply means the sum total of all that is; the impersonal mind or force that knits the universe together.  The experience of enlightenment in Zen or any other Eastern religion is coming to an experiential knowledge that I am not a separate ego totally cut off from the rest of creation, but that I am a tiny part that is linked to the larger whole.  I am, in a sense, one with it.”

And was that what I was experiencing at the beach and among the redwoods?

Yes, in a very small way; you were experiencing your connectedness to nature and the rest of the universe.

But that sounds to me exactly the same as what Lisa found there in the Alps.  As far as I can see all these religions are basically the same.

Here’s the difference.  Jesus and His early followers taught that God is not merely the sum total of all that is or some sort of impersonal mind permeating the universe. They taught that He is the Creator who is distinct from His creation.

Phil bent over and wrote the word “God” above the circle.

You see, Alan, to have an experience of your unity with the rest of creation is not false.  When I was a student of the Zen masters, I came to understand and experience my union with all of creation.  That experience was not untrue so much as it was incomplete.  But a year ago, when I invited Jesus Christ into my life, I met the Creator.  I had been experiencing the universe; now I have come to know the one who made it.  Do you understand?” [2]

I did begin to understand.  I realized that I had experienced the beauty and wonder of the creation, but Phil and Lisa were talking about actually coming to know the creator.  As I was still thinking all this over the following week, Lisa and I took part in a choir competition as members of our college chorale.  The competition was being held in Southern California, and on one of the free days the whole choir visited Disneyland.  We had just finished watching “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and were walking down “Main Street USA” toward one of the other attractions…

Alan, have you given any more thought to the idea of having a personal relationship with God?

Yes, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought,” I said.  “And I think it’s a little presumptuous of you Christians to believe you have some kind of inside track with the creator of the universe!  After all, everyone is a child of God.  I believe we all have that ‘divine spark’ within us.

Well,” she said, “that’s a widely held view.  In fact, I used to believe it myself.  But let me show you something that John, one of Jesus’ closest friends wrote.”  By this time we had entered a long line to wait for one of the rides.  She pulled a small copy of the New Testament from her purse and opened it.  “John was speaking of Jesus and said: ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name’“.[3]

I looked over her shoulder at the words.  “Are you trying to tell me that those who haven’t received Him are not God’s children?  How could that be?

The Bible teaches that everyone is God’s creation,” she answered, “but only those who accept Christ can become His children.”  “But isn’t that the same thing?” I asked, frowning.  “Not really,” she said.  “Maybe an example would help.”  She gestured back down Main Street.  “That robot figure of Mr. Lincoln we just saw was very lifelike, wouldn’t you agree?”  I nodded my head.  “Now let’s say, just for fun,” she continued, “that you went to work for the Disney organization and became one of the men who creates those mechanical figures.  Imagineers, I think they call them.  And let’s say that in your spare time you created a figure at home in your garage that looked exactly like you and even programmed it with your singing voice.  If you did a good enough job, you might be able to set it up in front of a crowd and let it give a concert in your place.  But even if it was such a good image it actually fooled people, it would not really be like you.  It would be merely your creation, made of metal and plastic and electronic circuits.

Agreed,” I said.  “It would still be just a robot.”  “But,” Lisa went on, “let’s also suppose that you were married and your wife gave birth to a little boy.

Now that sounds more interesting,” I said, winking at her.  “Were you by any chance wanting to apply for the job…?”  “Stop it!” she said.  “I was trying to make a serious point!”  “How do you know I wasn’t?”  I said with a straight face.  Lisa hesitated for a moment, looking confused.  “Well, Alan…I mean you’re a nice guy and all…but…”  “Oh, Lisa,” I said, starting to laugh, “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist…

Her cheeks began to flush behind her brown freckles.  “What I was trying to explain before I was so rudely interrupted…” She glared at me for a moment, and I tried to look appropriately penitent.  “If you had a son, he might not look much like you, and you probably could never fool anyone into thinking that he was actually you.  But he would be much more like you in his essential nature than any robot ever could be.  Through the process of begetting, your life would be in him.  He would be your son. Now what John is saying in the passage we read is that we all are born into this world as God’s creations, made in His image.  But when we receive Christ, something amazing happens.  The life and nature of God actually comes to dwell within us as Jesus Christ’s spirit comes to live inside.  We become as different in our inner nature as a robot is different from a real person.  We go from being only a creation to actually becoming God’s child.  Does that make sense?” [4]

Just then Lisa and I arrived at the head of the line and boarded the ride, but I continued to ponder what Lisa had said.  I still had several major questions about Christianity that remained unanswered as we left Disneyland that evening.


  1. Lisa is not her real name.  With the exception of my wife, my parents and authors of books (C.S. Lewis, Francis Shaeffer, etc.) all the names of individuals have been changed to protect their privacy.  Since in some instances there was a gap of as long as 15 years between these conversations and the time I wrote them down, the book represents my best memory of what was said.  In several cases I had many discussions with an individual on the same topic and for ease of reading have combined the essence of these into one conversation.  In a few cases, I had a number of similar exchanges with different people on the same subject and have chosen to portray these as one conversation with one person.  However, all the dialogues in this book are real and I have tried to represent them as objectively as possible, given the limitations of space in the book and my own sometimes faulty memory.
  2. By this diagram Phil was not trying to depict God as disinterested or uninvolved with the universe He had made (a view called Deism).  Rather he was stressing that God is separate and distinct from the universe which is His creation.  Therefore, for me to experience my connectedness with the entire universe would still not mean I had experienced a relationship with God.  I later learned that this view that God is separate from His creations (or transcendent) is held by most western religions, including Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
  3. John1:10-12.
  4. Lisa was not trying to say that we become “gods.”  Christians, I later found out, would consider this the worst form of “blasphemy,” as would orthodox Jews.  Instead, she was illustrating the Christian teachings of regeneration and adoption; that God actually puts His life within us through His Spirit, and then we have an entirely different relationship to Him.

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