What the Bible really teaches about God.
In this groundbreaking exploration, a biblical scholar and M.I.T.-trained physicist combines decades of research to change the debate between religion and science, presenting a new paradigm of how to understand God.
Gerald Schroeder has spent his career revealing the hand of God in the intricate discoveries of physics. Now, for the first time, he turns his attention to this Force, examining both the Bible and the physical world to discover the true nature of God – God according to God.
Schroeder argues that we have ignored those traits of God we find unappealing, replacing them with our personal desire for the all-knowing, all-loving, neverchanging deity that so many worship today. This leads to the age-old problem: How can there be such a God when the world is filled with tragedy? Yet Schroeder reveals that this troubling juxtaposition is really smoke and mirrors. The God revealed in the Bible is 100 percent compatible with the world as we know it today. It is our misconception of God that causes the disparity. In fact, the concept of God that atheists rail against and that believers defend is inaccurate.
In God According to God, Schroeder presents a compelling case for the true God, a dynamic God who is still learning how to relate to creation. The key to God’s action in the world, says Schroeder, can be found in a well-known verse in Exodus that is typically translated “I am that which I am.” Schroeder’s correction that it should be translated “I will be that which I will be” reveals a God that changes Its presence to fit the ever-changing world.
This opens our eyes to other characteristics of God that we have long overlooked despite their being present in some of the most popular stories in the Bible – a God who regrets (the flood of Noah), a God who wants us to argue with Him (Jacob wrestling with God in the desert), and thus a God who changes His mind (Moses convinces God to spare the Israelite people), and a God who allowed nature, and the creation itself, from the very start, to rebel (Adam’s and Eve’s betrayal in Eden).
With riveting chapters on the origins of life, a scientist’s view of creation, and the unique place of our planet in the galaxy, God According to God offers a radical paradigm shift that will forever change how we understand God.
From the Introduction of God According to God:
Today marks the Hebrew month of Elul, the biblical month that precedes the biblical New Year, the holiday of Rosh HaShanah (literally, “the head of the year”). By pleasant coincidence, this year the Muslim month of Ramadan coincides with Elul. Both Elul and Ramadan have special prayers, and that makes this morning’s music especially pleasant. Hebrew from a town crier and the blowing of a ram’s horn, the shofar, call for Jews to rise and thank God for the magnificent munificence of the day. This mixes with the Arabic from the muezzin asking Muslims to do the same. And then not to be left out of this Divine melody, the bells of the many Jerusalem churches literally chime in, blending perfectly with the voices in Hebrew and Arabic.
Each of our three local cultures yearns to address the one God, Creator of the universe. We may use different languages, but the sense of an underlying Unity remains. This spiritual Oneness, though expressed differently in the three religions, mirrors, as a near replica in the metaphysical realm, the physical unity upon which rest all aspects of the material world.
Much of the four decades of my career as an M.I.T.-trained scientist and, in parallel, the three decades of my study of the Bible has been devoted to probing this physical and spiritual unity. At times the two realms blend, and yet at times they seemed totally and hopelessly at odds. The deeper truth I discovered is that, when we get beyond a superficial understanding of the tangible, material world, we find that the physical and the metaphysical make up a single reality, one world viewed from two vastly different perspectives. It is this that I teach in my classes on science and the Bible.
Albert Einstein discovered that matter is actually pure congealed or condensed energy, energy in the form of solid matter. Everything from our bodies to boulders on a mountain is made of the energy of the big-bang creation. The scientific discoveries of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have gone a step farther in closing ranks with the creation, finding that matter and the energy from which matter formed are made of something totally ethereal. In physics we call it information or, more extreme, mind. In the words of the knighted mathematician James Jeans, the world looks more like a great thought than a great machine. Biblical theology agrees totally, telling us, as we will learn, that God used a substrate of wisdom with which to build the world. This Divine wisdom or mind is present in every iota of the world’s being. It explains how the energy of the creation, essentially superpowerful light beams, could become alive and sentient, able to feel love and joy and wonder. Divine wisdom was and is present, guiding and forming the way.
The secular world of course takes a different stance. If we can get past the question of what created the universe from nothing (was it God?), we then let the laws of nature take the credit for producing, in some as yet unknown way, the magnificence of life from the big-bang burst of pure, exquisitely hot energy. All this by random chance. It takes a stretch of the imagination, but that is all that is available to a secular explanation of our cosmic genesis. Though in my books and with my students I present our genesis from a very different view, that of a creating God that is present and active, I too face a dilemma, and my questioning students do not let me ignore the problem. There is something very basic missing in the simplistic view of the God of the Bible operating and controlling the workings of the world. Most obviously, if God is in control, why isn’t the world perfect? Not just from our humanly limited view of perfection, but even in a biblical accounting there are multiple examples by which we learn that the world has its faults. Most blatantly, God brought the biblical Flood at the time of Noah to revamp a misdirected world. Couldn’t God have foreseen this potential for disaster and nipped it in the bud before it blossomed into a worldwide debacle?
Are we dealing with an absentee God, a God that only once in a while pays attention to the world It created to see if things are going according to some Divine schedule? A superficial reading of the Bible might give that impression. A detailed study of God as described in the Bible, however, presents a very different picture. For example, as the Israelites are about to enter Canaan, God promises to fight for their victory, but then tells any individuals who have a new home or are recently engaged to marry to return home, lest they die in battle. God promises to fight alongside the Israelites to help gain victory for the army, but there is no guarantee of survival given to any particular individual. In another incident, God promises to send hornets ahead of the Israelite army to drive out the enemy snipers, but not to drive the enemy out too quickly lest the beasts of the field multiply. God could also have controlled the beasts just as God controlled the hornets, but refused to do so. The biblical message is that God is there to help, but steps back, in biblical language hides His face, and insists that we too do our part in the job. God has chosen us to be partners.
With the Divine hiding of face, God’s presence becomes masked, at times even unpredictable and certainly not always controlling events. This is a dynamic Force, not some static entity able to be pigeonholed into how we think a God should act within Its creation. The overwhelming goodness of the world is so extreme that every sorrow stands out as an unnecessary tragedy. In simplistic terms, God could and should stop every form of undeserved trouble. But that is not the God of the Bible, as the book of Job so blatantly reveals.
The God of the Bible, by the very act of creating the universe, has relinquished a portion of control. With this act, God imbued and empowered humankind with the task of getting a partly perfect world to become fully perfect. This is a tremendous vote of confidence by God in our ability, notwithstanding the fact that God has let us know that we are a stiff-necked and rebellious people. It is as if God has said, “This is what I have to work with, so let’s make do with what we’ve got.”
The problem so many people, believers as well as skeptics, have with God really isn’t with God. It’s with the stunted perception of the biblical Creator of our magnificent universe that we imbibe in our youthful years. As children we yearn for a larger-than-life figure who can guide and protect us. Our parents fulfill part of that mission. But the parent-like image of an infinite, error-free God is even more assuring to our young minds. So we grow up retaining this childhood notion of an all-powerful, ever present, ever involved, never erring Creator. Unfortunately, that image fails utterly when as adults we discover that the facts of life are often brutally at odds with this popular, though misguided, piece of wisdom. It’s no wonder that atheists chortle at the idea of such a God. We are about to correct that misperception, and in doing so we’ll develop an understanding of the Divine as made manifest in our world.
What is the God of the Bible? What can I expect from Him-or Her-or It? What can I demand? Does God want me to make demands? Why did the God of the Bible tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his and Sarah’s only child? Does God want us to argue when we confront what appears to be Divine injustice, or are we merely to accept the slap and turn the other cheek? When I feel the surge of emotion at the beauty of star-studded sky or the joy of a baby’s smile, is that a part of the same transcendent God that created a less than perfect world? And if there really is a God, why so often is God’s presence so fully hidden that even in the Bible people wonder, “Is there a God among us?” An obvious and predictable God would be so much easier to understand.
I’m a scientist, and also a student of the Hebrew Bible. The scientific method looks for relationships among seemingly diverse pieces of information, be they held in nature or written in a book. Finding the common ground that binds these sources of knowledge often reveals facts not immediately obvious when considered separately. By combining the information the Bible brings about the nature of God with the discoveries of modern science, I am determined to make sense of why the world runs the way it does, spiritually as well as physically. In this sense I move beyond the scientific interplay between the Torah (the Hebrew term for the Five Books of Moses) and teva (the Hebrew word for nature) described in my first three books. This is a search that became for me both academically rational as a scientist, and emotionally spiritual, also as a scientist . The claim in Psalms that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims His works” (Psalms 19:2), is not a mere metaphor. The study of nature even with all its intellectual rigor, is filled with spiritual wonder.
By abandoning preconceived notions of the Author of creation and replacing them with the Bible’s description and nature’s display of God, we will learn about God according to God. The surprise is that many of the episodes in the Bible mirror with alarming fidelity life as we experience it.
This is as important a book on this subject as I recall ever having read.
– Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions
A remarkable book. The science as well as the meaning of this universe are discussed with insight, rigor, and depth along with a perceptive, challenging and scholarly view of the Old Testament.
– Charles H. Townes, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley
God According to God is crucially important… In an eminently readable fashion, Schroeder urges us to define God not in Aristotelian or even Maimonidian terms, but rather in Biblical terms, as God defines Himself. I found this book a ringing confirmation of my deepest feelings about the Living God of history.
– Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat
A brilliant mix of ancient exegesis and modern science that will convince some and infuriate others. Schroeder’s book demands the attention of anyone who wonders if God must be exiled from the modern, enlightened mind.
– David J. Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters
I have been overcommitted but was able just this week to complete my reading of this rather remarkable work. It is a timely and important work and I commend you for publishing it. No one can read this book and ever think of God or how our world operates in the same way again. Gerald Schroeder has put together a remarkable synthesis of hard nosed, non-nonsense science with an innovative but responsible reading of the Bible. Theologians, biblical scholars, and scientists tend to speak past one another from their closed compartments of specialization. Schroeder has broken new ground here. He questions our most common assumptions about what the Bible really says about God and brilliantly demonstrates how a more careful reading of the Scriptures merges with the best insights of physics and biology. Schroeder has the rare ability to present complex matters, whether theological or scientific, in an engaging and understandable way. A must read for the 21st century.
– Prof. James D. Tabor, Chair, Dept. of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte, author of Jesus Dynasty and
Restoring Abrahamic Faith
Schroeder’s insights help explore mankind’s relationship with God in an entirely new and thought-provoking manner.
– Rabbi Heschel Weiner, director, Walder Science Laboratory and Learning Center
Table Of Contents
To Begin A few words about what God is not – Why skeptics have the wrong ideas about God
The Unlikely Planet earth Finding a pleasant home is a challenging universe
Nature Rebels In the act of creation, God has given nature a “mind” of its own!
A Repentant God? The all-powerful God of the Bible actually has regrets
Arguing with God We are partners with God and partners can disagree
In Defense of God, The Book of Job Where we learn that suffering is not necessarily from God
Life and Death: two perspectives of one reality Science and the Bible both point to one truth, that life continues after the death of our bodies
The Desert Tabernacle: a model for a universe built of love By studying the vessels of the Tabernacle in the desert, we discover that the world was created to bring pleasure
Knowing Truth in your Heart: A tale of love When the bond for friendship between two persons is powerful, God joins as a third member of the group
Understanding the merciful God of the Bible Looking below the surface of the Bible to discover the true meanings
Partners with God The dynamic God of the Bible wants us to be partners in fixing a less than perfect world.