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My neo-atheist acquaintance, “Maynard”, asked believers in general a series of questions about God. Here’s question #3: Is God a sentient being like us, with thoughts and feelings?
The scriptural record (and here, I refer to the entirety of the record from all major Faiths, not just the Bible or the Baha’i Writings) tells us that we are created in God’s image. Either this reflects our physical reality (which is improbable for any number of reasons) or our spiritual reality. That means our intellect — what Baha’u’llah calls the rational soul — reflects the Divine Intellect. So, given that we are sentient, it stands to reason that if our intellect is a reflection of God’s, He is also sentient.
As Thomas Aquinas puts, it, “God is sentient in a ‘super-eminent’ fashion.”
My son, who was studying physics, also had some thoughts on this. He posited an additional dimension in which God operates (he called it “the God Dimension” naturally) that is a dimension of perspective. While we have but one perspective, God “sees” things from all points of perspective at once. The closest I can come to appreciating this is to look at the genesis of the book I’m writing. I tell the story from the viewpoints of about half-dozen different characters and I have to put myself in their shoes to do my job.
This, in and of itself, would mean that our thoughts and feelings are at once like and unlike God’s in the same way that the reflection of something in a mirror is like, yet unlike the original image. The most noticeable difference? The original object has three dimensions, while the mirror image has two. God (the Original Object) has, as my son likes to say, additional dimensions that His creations, including us, do not.
There must be other differences as well, of course. Many of our thoughts and feelings result from interactions between our material/physical and spiritual/intellectual realities. God, having no material/physical component, cannot be caught between the two realities like us. The scriptural record indicates that we possess both a material and spiritual nature, and that the course of our life and our education tends toward the strengthening of that spiritual self, which will ultimately prevail. I believe it is the existence of this “spirit of God in man” that Baha’u’llah refers to when He states that “He hath known God who hath known himself.”
So, when someone asked me recently, “Why would God create us?” I quoted Baha’u’llah, addressing humanity:
O SON OF MAN! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty. – The Arabic Hidden Words, #3.
The next question, of course, is “What does that mean?” If I look at my own creative impulses in the fiction I write, I understand, in a fractional sense, the idea of loving something before it exists — loving the idea of it. Before I wrote a word in my novels about my favorite characters, I loved them, and that love for those two-dimensional creatures became the generating impulse behind me creating worlds for them and writing them into those worlds.
So, my short answer to Maynard’s question: “Yes, God is sentient. And yes, He has thoughts and feelings that are at once like and not like our own.”
Read the next article in the series: Can God Change the Past?
Read the previous article in the series: What’s God’s Address?