The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What does Panentheism actually mean relationally

Im a little bit confused about this. I know its not pantheism in saying that God is the totality of all that exists. Yet from what I also know, creation does not exist independent of God. From what we experience, we are independent from anything that is not us. For example, I know I am not a chair, and I also recognize that I exist independent of the chair. But I dont exist independent of myself. So it is hard to imagine having a distinct existence from something my existence is dependent on. Then God is understood as being itself instead of being one being among many. Yet that begs the question of where creation fits in. Since according to our understanding of any form of creation, anything we create, say a painting would still say that both the painting an I are two beings. So I guess the question is do we relate to God as a different person, such as a friend, or as our innermost being, or both. IN Trinitarian language, I have heard the Holy Spirit compared to God within, Jesus as God as a friend and the Father as God in transcendence. Yet back to the Point, I dont know how correct this is to say, but does Panentheism say that we are neither distinct from God or are God himself? Or is that just a misconception?

Joe - it is a confusing subject, in many ways. ‘Traditional’ panentheism, as developed by Alfred North Whitehead and the 'Process Theology" school of thought represented by Charles Hartshorne, is very challenging philosophically and imo not much use for religious purposes.

‘Popular’ panentheism appeals to many, when it takes the form of a ‘middle way’ between Pantheism and Deism; for this kind of pantheism God is not the sum total of the universe, so to speak, nor is He a watchmaker that set everything up, wound it up, and away He went, not even a ghost in the machinery; rather, God is IN everything, as well as being transcendent ‘ABOVE’ everything.

Here is a poem by George MacDonald in the book by Rolland Hein, “The Harmony Within, the Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald” . I think this shows a definite leaning toward a certain kind of panentheism:

(Theology) the belief that God is a part of the universe as well as transcending it.
The belief that the world is part, though not all of God.

If you really want to work at it, here’s a fairly reader-friendly presentation that avoids technicalities somewhat:

Here’s the Wiki and Calvinist Got Questions links on it:

Just a couple of footnotes here.

The Calvinist site does have problems with it - from a Calvinist perspective. The Wiki article says this:

Since I incorporate elements of Franciscan theology and contemplation…As well as elements of Eastern Orthodox/ Eastern Catholic theology…into my Charismatic Anglo-Catholic outlook… this would apply to me.

The Site Gotquestions was pretty down on panentheism. In general, I try to avoid the website, as I find that they have too much a Fundamentalist basis on understanding the Scriptures.

Since I have some time and this is actually something that I have contemplated now for a few years I will offer my two cents…

Some background: Before I became a universalist, among many subjects, I read and studied Nicholas of Cusa, the orthodox church, a little of Thomas Aquinas, some mystics, all for the reason of wanting to know God and to contemplate who and what is God. So one of the consequences of doing this is really looking at all of existence as in God. Now, I have always intuited that God encompasses all things, but it was not a conscious thing. The whole God in a distance thing never resonated with me and I always thought that it was a wrong view of God. Nevertheless, to answer the query of panenthesim.

I became a universalist in late 2012 and since then part of what I have been trying to do is to connect all of my prior life experience with the universalism. The reason is because unlike other learning experiences, this conversion to universalism was a total foundational change in me. Or perhaps a clarification of what I always have been as a person, yet never realized. Anyway, I came across the term Panentheism I think in relation to John Scotus Eriugena. (Of course, I looked up his page just now on wikipedia and they reference his leaning as towards pantheism…hmm.) One interesting fact about him (he is the last or almost the last person in Ramelli’s Christian Doctrine of the Apocatastasis) is that as late as he was (815-877 according to his wiki article), he knew Greek. He was a universalist.

(I guess I should say here that I subscribe to that view, although like anything else, I do not pretend to be as thorough with it as I would want to be, except for the extent to which I have thought about the concept).

My understanding when I came across him of Panentheism is the idea that God encompasses all things (is the ground of all being, as it has been said on this forum many times and in the original post), is in everything but is not the thing (that is to say, all things that exist exist as distinct of God).

I re-read the original post and here is my outlook: To me, it puts God as literally never being separated from us and we are never really separated from Him. We feel the separation from him as life (when we are in sin and death), but that is not reality. John 3:21 “…Where if we come to the light it will be seen that our deeds have been carried out in God” (my paraphrase) supports the idea that somehow, we are distinct yet God is with us. I have thought about this scripture for so long, it is one of my favorite scriptures as it tells me that the full picture that we do not see now but is reality now is how God is with us at all times in a distinct way and yet, we are still distinct as well. One reminder I do for myself is to continually think that God is present in all things whether we do good or commit evil (not a statement that says God approves of our evil acts). God is always present to forgive and restore us in our humanness. To a large extent, I am ok with the fact that there is a lot of mystery here. Interstingly, I think that no matter how one perceives God as pantheistic, panentheistic, deistic, or any other stic, there will always be an unkown part about how God is related to us, whether we are just a part of God and “think” we are distinct from Him, part of God and yet truly distinct from him, or distant from Him and just distinct. You know, it seems that the distant from God just does not have any weight to it…

I hope that is helpful and I have not been too long winded. I could talk about this all day!

Peace in your searching,


Thanks for the post, Will, it’s good to hear from you.
I’ll have to brush off my Nicholas of Cusa - it’s been a long time! :smiley:

This had me thinking about how we think of God in a dualistic way where God is viewed as one being among many. I dont know if this is a good analogy, but many have made the analogy of all things revolving around God, including humanity. Yet I have noticed among many Universalists is the willingness to place moral demands on God, in particular saying that he would be unjustified in sending anyone to Eternal Torture. So I have this theory that revolvment is an obsolete concept. The best analogy I can think of is in Trinitarian theology there is both one and three, which makes any dualism obsolete. In my Catholic background, otherness is a significant and complementary concept. For example, I remember talking with a Priest about sexual morality, and the whole principle is a giving to the other on both sides, and why Pornography is sinful because its a non-giving form of sexuality without any love, and only using the other for ones own pleasure. So back to the point, my theory is that Trinitarian Theology embraces the paradox of both one and many, which traditionally is understood to be a mystery. I think it was Fr. Rohr who mentioned that if many Christians dropped the Trinity, it would make no difference, as many(Particularly Fundamentalists) have very dualistic conceptions of God and creation. In many forms of Eastern Mysticism, particularly Theravada Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, they have a notion of oneness that in order to achieve this oneness, all individuality has to be recognized as illusory in order to be joined into the one.

Very interesting thoughts, Joe. I’ll be reading that again.

Paradoxes can be mysteries also. And the typical Eastern Orthodox answer…which I normally agree with…is to chalk it up to divine mystery.

Let me share the Eastern Orthodox view from - which I also agree with:

Probably. I have been sharing Fr. Rohr’s messages here and pointing people to his site at Contemplation. It is very good, to sign up for his newsletter. I am also familiar with Theravada Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Let me share his message from today:

Remember. There’s always ROOM for Rumi.

And there is NO conflict…Between seeing the Eastern Orthodox perspective - regarding divine energies…And stilling the mind, like Zen and Mindfulness prescribe. It’s combining Anglo-Orthodox theology and Catholic contemplation - via the Buddhist Zen and Mindfulness traditions. See Christian and Zen, you ask?. :smiley:

We should sing a song - about Fr. Rohr’s reflection and the Eastern Orthodox perspective - presented today. :laughing:

I dont know if you could answer, but is Richard Rohr intending to teach metaphysics? Since Fr. Rohr seems more comfortable with speaking about paradox more than other teachers, say compared to C.S. Lewis, who’s writing style is more direct. Now from what I know, Lewis came from the scholastic tradition, which uses modes of Greek Philosophy to understand theology.