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Mike Shreve was a teacher of yoga at four universities. (The portrait above was drawn by one of his students in 1970.) Then a spiritual rebirth brought him into a real relationship with God and drastically changed his heart, his life and his belief system.  Read his story here.

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Last Updated–03/19/09

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The Nature of God

The Nature of God-There are three main ways "Ultimate Reality" is defined in the religions of this world:

(1) A Personal Being (one who thinks, remembers, hears, speaks, plans, responds, expresses emotion, demonstrates character, exercises will and makes choices and judgments based on reason).

(2) An Impersonal Being (a non-thinking, non-hearing, non-speaking, non-emotional, non-volitional, non-responsive "cosmic energy force" from which all personal beings originate and into which all personal beings will ultimately be absorbed).1 

(3) An Eternal Principle (a system of rules and laws that govern the universe).

Many would say that these three interpretations of "Ultimate Reality" are actually one and the same. Though appearing to be uniquely different, they can easily be merged in syncretistic harmony. But is that possible? Can a personal God who constantly expresses himself emotionally and makes rational choices be the same as a "Universal Principle" that exists apart from emotion and is governed by nothing more than a system of cosmic laws? If all world religions spring from the same eternal Fountainhead-as separate, yet related "divine streams," they should all bear a strong resemblance to their original "Source." If they are all unique parts of a common global spirituality, their interpretation of Ultimate Reality should be identical, or at least run parallel. As you read the views on the nature of God contained in this section, you will discover this is certainly not the case.2 

Religions that acknowledge a Supreme Being portray him as transcendent (existing above and beyond the material world), as immanent (present within the material world) or various mixtures of these two views. Some of the most recognized characterizations of God (or of supernatural realities) are as follows:

  • Animism is the belief in a multitude of spiritual beings that either bless or curse, help or harm man"s condition of existence. These spirits have limited powers and localized dwelling places, such as rivers, trees, and mountains. Some can also function on other planes of existence, above or beneath the earth. Appeasing these spirits and appealing to each spirit"s unique abilities or powers is very much a part of primal religions.

  • Deism is the belief that after creating the universe God transcended creation, leaving it to function on its own, in accordance with certain rational laws. Understanding of God takes place through reason, not revelation. God does not involve himself in the affairs of men or the shaping of history.

  • Dualism is a belief in two supreme gods or powers that are in opposition to each other.
  • Henotheism accepts the existence of many gods, but exalts one to a position of greater prominence.
  • Monotheism is the belief that there is just one God. Normally, monotheistic traditions, such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, do not subscribe to either pantheism or panentheism. In worldviews such as these, God is immanent because he is omnipresent, but he is not actually "manifested" as the material universe. He is still distinct from creation. Sikhism is an exception, definitely standing for monotheism, yet embracing not a pantheistic, but a panentheistic stance on creation.
  • Pantheism is the belief that the universe, with its substances, laws and forces, is an emanation of God. In absolute pantheism God does not exist apart from these. In ordinary pantheism, though God is expressed as creation, he/it is not confined to creation. By identifying the Creator with the creation, pantheism carries the concept of the immanence of God to its furthest extreme. "All is God and God is all."
  • Panentheism is a modification of pantheism, insisting that God is the principle behind nature, the essence of life within creation, yet he has not manifested himself as creation. God is not only immanent; he is also transcendent. He is both in the world, yet beyond it. "All is in God and God is in all."
  • Polytheism is a belief in the existence of many gods. Each god is usually unique in some personality trait or in the care of a specific facet of nature or a specific condition of human existence.
  • Theism is the belief in a Supreme Being that highlights divine transcendence, yet believes in his immanence and his care for those who are in this world. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent in theism. He is perfect, even though evil exists in the world. He is a personal God and often intervenes in the affairs of men. The life of creation is a gift from God, but is not a manifestation of God.

1 This is the strict interpretation of an "Impersonal Cosmic Energy Force" as Ultimate Reality. Some seekers who say they believe in an Impersonal God as Ultimate Reality also, at times, grant some personal attributes to what they would term an "Impersonal God." Such a practice is not consistent with the terminology being used.

2 Ernest Valea, "God or the Ultimate Reality, and Creation," Many Paths to One Goal? www.comparativereligion.com. (June 20, 2000) On his excellent website, Ernest Valea offers these three categories as the fundamental interpretations of Ultimate Reality in world religions.


Select the desired religion from the drop-down box below to view what its adherents believe regarding the nature of 'Ultimate Reality.'


"In Search of the True Light" 2002 copyright by Mike Shreve.
All articles unless otherwise noted are copyright by Mike Shreve.
Personal Stories are the work of the individuals.
All Rights Reserved.

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