Letter to my daughter about God.
by Elin Brimheim Heinesen
My beloved daughter,
I remember you once asked me, “Mom? Are you religious? Do you believe in God?” I wondered why you doubted it. After all, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer with you throughout your childhood. I have sung hymns with you. We haven’t been to church much – it would be a shame to say, but I myself have been baptized, confirmed and married in church, and I have had you baptized and confirmed in church. And I have also from time to time throughout your childhood and upbringing dropped a few words about God here and there. Maybe only in vague terms, so it’s no wonder you’re asking.
But your question is not so simple to answer. Because what does it really mean to be “religious” or “believing”? Whatever God is, I feel that my relationship with God is personal, ie. that I can only speak for myself. I will not push my concept of God down on others, not even you. I think that everyone must settle with themselves what they can or will believe.
Perhaps it is difficult for you to understand that I have both prayed with you and talked with you about God, while at the same time I have also always expressed that I am deeply skeptical of religions generally. I have made no secret of that. So I can understand that you have doubts. The only thing I can say with certainty is that I cannot call myself an atheist.
However, I cannot say that I wholeheartedly profess a particular religion or religious community, even though I feel most ‘related to’ Christianity, i.e. the Lutheran Protestant part of it. Christianity has become a part of me through my upbringing, where my mother’s family was part of the congregation – The Plymouth Brethren – popularly called the Baptists here, and my father’s family were active churchgoers in the national Lutheran church.
People of faith have thus always been a part of my life and have influenced me, and I have always had a deep respect for the Bible’s message about Jesus and his teachings.
But still, I will say that I have had a lot of trouble believing everything that they said in the Christian congregations that I was a part of as a child. I couldn’t completely disconnect my reason, just because I was told that you ‘must’ believe, because otherwise you end up in a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth for all eternity. Deep down, my childish mind could not fathom that it could really be right that God allowed such atrocities. Somewhere, I resented people trying to bully me into believing in this way – although they probably did it with the best of intentions, because they really believed it themselves.
But it had the opposite effect on me because I felt like they were trying to force me into faith – and in return I had to give up what I felt deep down was right. I felt that they were demanding dishonesty from me. At times I gave in and managed to convince myself that maybe they were right. But it never lasted very long. I couldn’t handle being dishonest for long. I couldn’t push all my doubts aside and just pretend that I fully believed in the God they were trying to ‘sell’ me – and in hell and everything else that came with their belief. The older I got, the harder and harder it became for me to convince myself of the truth of what they told me. And so I finally distanced myself completely from the faith for many years for the same reason.
Intuitively, despite being only a child, I had a sense that their agenda was really less about God and more about people themselves and their own fears, which they projected onto me. To me, the faith of some of these people seemed to be built mostly on fear—fear of death, of the unknown, of losing control, of ending up in hell—and on a resulting great human need for certainty that could alleviate this fear.
But it can be a false certainty. A defense mechanism. Belief of this kind seems to me mostly like wishful thinking, which the believers convince each other of all the time in a mutual echo in an echo chamber. They need to hold each other firmly in faith in order to feel safe. Those who do not accept the doctrine, but question it, therefore become threats to the faith which gives the congregation security. Those who doubt risk being excluded from the congregation as “unbelievers”.
I couldn’t be a part of this if I were to be honest with myself. It just didn’t feel right. There is something jarring when there is no room for doubt and you think it is necessary to threaten people into believing with fire in hell for all eternity. As if people cannot believe in God without being threatened to do so. Is that true faith?
I have always doubted – ie. I have always found it very difficult to – just like that – accept more or less imaginative explanations about an invisible hand that controls everything and has just conjured everything up. I will always choose to believe in a “natural explanation” for something incomprehensible – i.e. believe in what can be scientifically proven – and otherwise stay skeptical.
But that doesn’t mean I think I know better. That does not mean that I can rule out the existence of God. Because I am not knowledgeable enough to be able to say with certainty that God does NOT exist. I don’t know if God IS. But even if I choose a matter-of-fact approach to existential questions as much as possible, my faith in something much, much bigger than myself is not smothered.
Because I myself sometimes feel a strong connection with something that feels divine, without being able to fully explain what it means. I can’t explain exactly why, I believe God exists. I just think so because I have a strong feeling that this is how it is. I have no idea if it’s just imagination. It is possible, but I also cannot know whether the reality I sense is not also just imagination. Everything could be imagination.
I will try to explain what it is that makes me unable to rule out that God exists; what I perceive God to be and why I believe God – or what I perceive to be God – is so amazing. That is what this letter is going to be about.
I’m not in the habit of quoting from the scriptures, but will only bring up two Bible verses here that have been and still are quite relevant to me. In John’s First Letter, chapter 4, verse 8 , it says that “he who does not love does not know God, because God is love”. Jesus also said in the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 6, that “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me”. Maybe I understand or interpret these verses a little differently than others do. I do not know.
I just know that love and truth are what I treasure most of all. The truth is always a goal I strive for, and love, I see as that which shows the way in my quest. I don’t accept anything I’m told because I can’t know if it’s true if I don’t understand it. I would therefore always try to find the truth myself, rather than just blindly adopt something ready-made, or fake a ‘certainty’ of something others have force fed me, but which may be false.
Doubt is more true to me than certainty because that is the only thing I can be sure of: that I doubt. That’s why I always allow myself to give room to doubt to see where it leads me when I question everything that I doubt. This is the path I have chosen to take. It is not the easiest way, because there is nothing here that is obvious. I can’t take anything for granted here. Here I have to think for myself and use my intuition. But I can let my intuition be guided by love, which I imagine is inspired by something divine.
That’s why it’s so important for me to acknowledge the doubt – to acknowledge that there is so much I don’t know and maybe can’t make up my mind about because I can’t be sure what is true. The Bible certainly does not always give clear answers. This forces me to dare to challenge myself and face what I fear by asking the hard questions that may have no easy or desirable answer. But I have to ask because otherwise I can’t find the truth. I know, lies cannot stand being questioned, but the truth can.
This means also having the courage to admit that I may be wrong. If I doubt or wonder about something questionable that cannot be easily proven, I first use my reason to try to understand. And where reason and science no longer suffices, I must ask my heart – my intuition. I have to ask myself what I want to believe. Does it feel completely right, so that I can honestly say, yes, I believe that deep down? I can choose what I believe, but I can never be absolutely certain that my truth is the right truth for everyone.
To be completely convinced of something, to me, is fanaticism… it’s the same as not allowing yourself to doubt. To not doubt anything is in my world egocentric arrogance and vanity. If I am convinced that only my way of seeing the world is correct, then I have undoubtedly overestimated myself, because why should other people’s experiences be any less true than mine? I can’t possibly know for sure if my experience is the only right way to see things. Or if I only make myself illusions.
I don’t find the truth if I don’t allow myself to doubt – or in other words: if God really is the truth, then I don’t find God without asking questions. Science can answer many questions, and I can reason about a lot, but if the reasoning is not enough, how can I know what is true? The heart is the only thing I can really ask in that case. It is this belief in the heart – or in love – as a guide, that is the very foundation for me and my belief in what the truth is. I could have phrased it like this: “The way to find the truth about life is love!” I will get into what I mean by this more specifically later.
The very truth of existence itself is perhaps the greatest source of wonder. Perhaps it is right there – in the wonderment of existence, that the truth about life is to be found – the truth that perhaps reveals God to me – if God is real. This brings me to the next question, which is about what life is. Well, what IS life? What is existence really?
Often I am very surprised that I exist, or that something exists at all. Because how is it possible to even exist? How is it possible that something can be matter and that matter exists? Why isn’t it all just nothing? And now that everything has come to be, why isn’t it just a big shapeless primourdial soup? Why is what exists so relatively orderly? What is natural about natural laws from the beginning? And why isn’t everything that exists just dead? How is it possible that matter can breathe and move? That is not just being alive, but how can all living things have such an inconceivable will to live and even be conscious of it: to exist? Yes, what is consciousness anyway?
It’s a little hard to imagine that everything is just the result of a meaningless coincidence. Because if the universe’s unfathomable complexity just happened by chance, isn’t everything basically meaningless?
I choose not to see it as meaningless. Life is an unimaginable miracle. The longer I live, the more knowledge I gather, the more inconceivable it seems, and the more I wonder. This unfathomable miracle is – in my view – divine, perhaps precisely because it is so unfathomable. I know that much of what seems incomprehensible to me, of course, can be scientifically explained in detail about how the laws of nature work, and that you can – almost – come to the conclusion that God plays no part in this ticking clockwork which is the universe. But that doesn’t make it any less divine for me. Because no matter how much research you do, I don’t think you will be able to explain exactly what caused the origin or what it is that makes us living creatures conscious.
We cannot do without our reason, but I doubt that it is possible to explain and grasp everything via logic and mathematics. Somewhere logic stops where existence begins, because scientific explanations say nothing about why something exists. Or why there are laws of nature that work the way they do. Or why we have a consciousness. One could stop there and say that it is no use thinking about it, because it is impossible to find the answer.
But still, I can’t help asking the question: Is there any point in it at all? Or is everything really just pointless? And if it’s meaningless… well, then we’re back where we started, that it’s inconceivable that anything came into existence at all, and that it’s organized in a certain order. Why would it even exist if there was no meaning in it? Why is there order in chaos at all? One could ask: Why bother?
One thing is certain, however, I think: Order has emerged from chaos. And we have been given the ability to become aware of this and to appreciate it. We can wonder what started it all. And how chaos can be transformed into order, be organized and run itself – out of nothing, and how the dead ‘nothing’ has become living ‘matter’? And we can ask: What is the driving force behind it?
I do not know what we can call this driving force which turns ‘nothing’ into ‘matter’ and breathes life and motion into the stillness and organizes itself in a certain order according to physical laws of nature, and which creates beings who see this and are conscious of own existence. What is this energy that permeates the entire universe…? In the East they call it ‘chi’, the life force that breathes life and movement into everything. Some believe that chi is the way God manifests and reveals himself in the universe, without anyone really understanding what it really means. I choose to call it God.
Is this God? Or who is God? It is perhaps more correct to ask: What is God? Because if you ask ‘who’, God is often mistaken for a person who looks like us humans. And that would probably be bringing God down to a level where he – or it – does not belong. Or elevate us humans to heights where we do not belong.
The question can probably not be answered in words, but a reasonable or logical line of thought (even if it can seem limiting in some cases) can perhaps take the thoughts a little further and perhaps give a perception that sticks just a sod deeper.
If God is the driving force that has pushed it all into motion, i.e. if God created everything, breathed life into everything, then God must be omnipotent. God cannot be less than everything he has created. And if everything is given life and inspired by God, then God is everything. And what is ‘everything’ then? Everything is all that exists. But what exists?
We really only know what we sense right here and now – what we can feel, see, hear, smell. We have to imagine everything else – everything that we don’t sense but just assume exists all the time in every place at every moment here and now in the entire universe. All that together must be what exists.
We also know that nothing is immutable. What exists can extend – over the present – from the past to the future. But nothing lasts in the long run. This moment that we experience right here and now will be as distant to those living a hundred years from now as what existed a hundred years ago is to us now. Everything is perishable and turns into something else. Everything is constantly changing. It is altered. It is in motion. It develops. At a different pace, yes. Something only exists for a nanosecond. Other things exist for billions of years. But nothing stands still.
If we go down to the sub-atomic level, then absolute stillness equals ‘nothing’. It means that matter only exists if there is movement – or in other words vibration – present. Everything exists because it moves, whatever ‘it’ is that moves. If everything was 100 percent still, it wouldn’t exist.
‘Everything’ exists because ‘everything’ is movement, or we can say: everything is energy because movement is energy. Everything is created and re-created all the time through movement in time and space. In other words: Everything is creation.
We can therefore call ‘everything’ the ‘work of creation’. And when I say ‘the work of creation’, I mean it literally, because I’m talking about a work of creation that sprung from a singularity – a stagnant nothingness that suddenly burst because of an inexplicable movement – a tremor that unleashed an inconceivable amount of energy, and which since then, has unceasingly created itself by movement – a vibration that condenses into matter that pushes other matter and unfolds eternally in time and space, becoming the universe we know.
Natural science tells us that physical laws do not allow energy to disappear. Energy can only change form. The energy in the universe must therefore be constant, but creation is constantly born and reborn within this energy framework, where everything is about re-creating energy. The universe seems at once to eat itself up and at the same time to regenerate itself again. Everything dies, but is reborn in this great cycle. Just like life is a cycle. Everything is thus in a way alive. Creation is life and life is creation.
The fundamental question is whether the work of creation develops solely as a random result of structural, mechanistic, chaos-dynamic laws of nature, or whether there is some kind of conscious plan to it all. Is it only predetermined laws of nature in combination with the play of chance that determine development? Or is there an omnipotent creative entity that is aware of itself? And does this entity – which we may choose to call God – have a will?
If we talk about consciousness as something that can act according to its own will, does a consciousness exist, in addition to man’s consciousness? That is, a divine consciousness that exists outside of human consciousness? Or is creation just aware of itself through us conscious humans? Or even through everything that is alive, because everything living may be conscious in some way or another. And if there is a divine consciousness, is it possible for this consciousness with its will to steer creation in certain directions? Or in other words: to determine destiny? Or is everything predetermined?
The universe is infinitely complex, and continues to surprise the more we humans try to solve the mysteries of the universe. In principle, much could be possible that we just don’t know about yet… maybe even a conscious God. But no one has either proved or disproved that a conscious God exists. It is a matter of belief what one believes about it. But regardless of whether we believe in a divine plan, or whether we believe that everything is governed by chance and pure laws of nature, which only work according to a given system, the doubt remains: Where does consciousness come from? Where does the will come in? And what role does the will play?
These are topics that are hotly debated. In any case, science has so far failed to come to any conclusions about what creates consciousness and what gives us a will. If it was just the accumulation of knowledge and experience that did it, shouldn’t computers have long since become conscious? But tools and computers have no will – at least not yet. They lack the inspiration that makes them come alive. They lack… the soul!
According to the logic of my belief in God, then God must be beyond time and space, but God reveals himself in this universe through his own living work of creation. Existence and life itself are to me the revelation of God – that God is the movement that exploded the nothingness into the all-embracing sway that has caused the primordial soup to condense into the reality we know today. God lives through the creation, or conversely, the creation lives through God, so that it is constantly in motion, changing and constantly regenerating itself. Without God there was no ‘everything’, no existence, no consciousness, no will. God is the very source of all this… I believe, although not everyone recognizes this source as God.
If this is so, what part do I as a human being play in it all? And here’s where it gets really interesting. Man is part of creation, and can thereby – from this point of view – also be seen as part of God. As humans, we have the privilege of possessing the ability to observe ourselves and the creation, giving it meaning and formulating it. We are lucky to be able to sense the work of creation, experience it, be aware of it, and… to influence it – at least here in our sphere. You can therefore in a way say that people directly interact with and are God’s extended arm.
The only thing we can know with any degree of certainty to be true is that we exist and that we know we exist. We have a self-awareness. So what does it mean that we have this self-awareness? Well, that means we’re probably not just governed by mechanistic laws or instinct. This means that we can control our behavior. We have a conscious will. In other words, we have a choice.
At the same time, we have all been given some characteristics – an unused potential – as a gift when we were born into this world. When we use our potential, we contribute to the work of creation and help shape it, because:
Everything we do has consequences for ourselves and for others.
Everything we do affects creation to a greater or lesser extent.
Everything we do is therefore part of the constant creation that takes place all the time.
Everything is connected – e.g. the meteorologist and chaos theorist Edward Lorenz believed that the small tremor that a butterfly wing makes in the Amazon jungle can create a domino effect, which later results in a hurricane thousands of kilometers away in Texas. Therefore, it matters what we do. Something that we may do thoughtlessly, and which may seem insignificant, can have violent consequences in a way that we cannot know, nor can we imagine.
We all share responsibility for the creation. If we take this thought further, it can be said that by taking our responsibilities seriously and taking good care of this responsibilty, we show that we recognize and value the work of creation. To value the work of creation is to value God. At least that’s what I imagine.
As I mentioned, we are all born with untapped potential. I choose to believe that this is how it is connected: That when we use our opportunities in the best possible way, when we open ourselves to love and the joy of life, then we help to refine the work of creation and create harmony. But if we act thoughtlessly and without responsibility, where others suffer for our deeds, then we abuse our abilities and create disharmony.
We have a choice. This is where morality comes in. We must choose what is the right thing to do. And this is where I think what we believe and feel deep down in our hearts comes in handy because it guides us as to what is good and what is bad… unless our soul in some way is broken, spoiled and messed up, such that we have lost touch with the good in us – with love – and have replaced love with fear.
The question is: Are we using our opportunities for something good or something bad? Are we building up? Or do we break down? Are we just passive? Or do we create new sprouts that live on and create other sprouts? Do we allow each other to grow? Or are we pulling each other down? Do we use our energy to break down and trample on that which is alive and smother it? Are we servants of life? Or are we servants of death?
I believe that when we use our qualities to love, warm, care for each other and the world, we live our lives to the fullest, and when we use our gifts to the best of our ability to do good, then we are doing exactly what is the meaning of existence. We create. We become co-creators and thereby we are God’s children, God’s serving spirits who spread love and all that is good in the universe.
To create is to celebrate God. We are never closer to God than we are precisely when we are using our full potential for the good. We know it instinctively because we can feel it. We can feel that we live most intensely precisely in those moments when we love, spread joy and create something good. We are also happy when we experience others doing it. It touches us and often brings tears to our eyes.
Many artists are asked when they have created or produced something amazing: Where did it come from? And many of them don’t know. They say: I was so inspired, so it just happened. Someone has to work a lot for it before the inspiration comes, but when the inspiration grabs them and runs with them, they say that then the energy comes. Then they really feel alive! And the rest of us can feel it so much in them. They are in their element, we usually say.
I believe that somehow it is God who is the driving force behind this creative joy – and behind the will to live as a whole, even if some of us do not recognize this as God, but call it something else. But I see it this way: Everything that exists is alive. Life breathes, life inspires. Breathing in and breathing out, like a huge bellows in an eternal breathing rhythm. Everything is in constant exchange, in constant development and settlement and in eternal circulation. Back and forth like a pendulum. Ticking away in a circuit like clockwork. Creation creates itself in a swinging, cyclical rhythm. Everything from the smallest to the largest works like this.
To breathe and to inspire basically means the same thing. We can be inspired, we can live and breathe along, or we can resist by ‘holding our breath’ – not literally blocking the breath, but stopping the inspiration, the spirit and suffocate life so that it stops breathing freely, stops living and moving and becomes rigid so that we become living dead.
Spirituality… or that, to be spiritual means to be mentally aware. Being spiritual, I think, is just about opening yourself up to inspiration. To be filled with spirit. Some call it the ‘holy spirit’, others call it ‘chi’. I call it God. I believe that it is God who keeps us alive with his inspiration. You could say that God breathes through us. If we do not allow this life force to work freely, but cut down and constrict and limit ourselves or let indifference take over, then we stagnate. We don’t live. We become unfree. We ‘die’ so to speak – figuratively or literally – or just barely breathe in a spiritual darkness. But when we allow the spirit to work, when we open up to light and love and use ourselves to the fullest, we are filled with life and energy. The light can be seen on us and it infects others because we shine as if we are illuminated by an inner light.
When we feel this inspiration, we feel God’s presence within us, even if not everyone calls it that – or recognizes it as such. This is my interpretation. We feel life when the Spirit of God works in us. We feel the meaning of life. We become able to see and experience the beauty of existence, but also able to grieve and have compassion for those who suffer. Without inspiration from God, everything becomes the same – nothing would be good, nothing would be bad, nothing would be beautiful, nothing would be ugly, nothing would be joyful, nothing would be sad, and thus everything would be worthless and unimportant. God somehow makes us know the difference, whether we believe God has a hand in the game or not. That’s just how I think it is. I haven’t always seen it that way, but that’s how I see it now.
Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced it myself sometimes, e.g. when I have been completely alone in nature in a beautiful, scenic place, far away from the noise of civilization, only together with bleating sheep, chirping oyster catchers and the roar of the sea, how I am suddenly overwhelmed by deep, deep gratitude for just being alive. I experience how my consciousness expands and opens up to inspiration, and how the inspiration opens all my senses, so that I – in an all-absorbing way – experience the immeasurable beauty that surrounds me everywhere. Gone is all sorrow for the past. Gone is all worru about the future. All that remains is here and now. I never feel so free, so alive and so full of love as right there. This is a feeling of being in total harmony with everything… being one with the universe and eternity. Or – in my view – with God. It somehow gives a complete inner peace, where everything feels as if it merges into a higher unity, where everything is exactly as it should be, and where even death no longer scares me.
You have probably also felt this inspiration yourself, e.g. when you’ve been on stage one night and it all just clicked. Where you and the band felt a very special connection to each other and to the audience. Where you almost surpassed yourselves and in moments even achieved the sublime. You sing, and slowly – or perhaps suddenly – you suddenly manage to let go of control and become free.
And then you can feel how the energy, the love and joy seem to come from everywhere, from your inner self, from the audience, from the other musicians. You can see it in their glossy eyes, their flushed cheeks, in their swaying bodies. You love them all; they love you; you love yourself. And you can feel the joy of this perfect freedom like joyful goosebumps. You feel lifted to a higher level and sing with all the fibers of your heart. The most delightful tones come out in beautiful harmony with all the instruments.
You all float along with the music, which almost feels like it’s playing itself. You don’t play music, the music plays you. You are the instruments of music. You are all breathing the same rhythm in perfect presence. Nothing else exists except the present. It just comes naturally… and it’s an indescribable joy to feel this energy trickle and wash through the body and feel how you all grow together – you, the band, the audience – into one.
It is in these kinds of enlightened, inspired moments that people feel: This is life! Because we feel life and love so intensely. You just know this is the point of it all. This is why you want this so badly. Afterwards, you feel how deeply satisfied the experience has left you, and you feel as if you could just go on forever. You can hardly wait until the next time you get the chance to experience the same thing again.
It’s like an intense rush of love. And it really is, too. It is falling in love with life, with the work of creation. Right there, in these intense moments, while you create – or co-create – you are closest to God. God leaves His fingerprint on this world through you. You may not think or mention God, but in this moment I see God smiling at His own work of creation through you, while you stand there so free and so filled and shining with profound life-giving love. It goes straight to the heart. You probably don’t know it, but for me this is the revelation of God – and a sign that God is not silent.
God’s loving voice rings through us humans without us being aware of it ourselves. Some people just don’t recognize God’s voice. Although they can feel the hairs on the back of their necks stand up and get a lump in their throats from deep movement, they hear only the silence and do not understand the language God is speaking. We don’t see the forest for the trees. But this may be a sign that God IS there if we just pay attention and know what to look for. Love is to be found everywhere if you just allow it to. That is what we must look for, because God is love – and love is the way, the truth and the life.
See, this is what I had to say about what I believe God is.