Pan means “all.” “Theism” refers to belief in a divine being. Some theists believe in one God (monotheists), or many gods (polytheists). But pantheists believe that God is everything. They assert that he is in all creation, including human beings, but not a personal or holy God.
The History of Pantheism
Paul’s audience across the Roman Empire might have included some pantheists; the idea is an ancient one. “One form of pantheism, present in the early stages of Greek philosophy, held that the divine is one of the elements in the world whose function is to animate the other elements that constitute the world.”
Subby Szertszky wrote that many Eastern religions espouse the belief that God is “not a personal being independent of His creation, but rather an impersonal all-encompassing force, made up of all things and all creatures in the natural order. [...] God is everything and everything is God.”
While the idea is old, the words “pantheist” and “pantheism” were introduced only a few hundred years ago.
Pantheism Vs. Panentheism
The second of these terms appears to be a misspelling of the first, but panentheism is a deliberate variation. The term appeared about 200 years ago, although the tenets were probably among a multitude of philosophical and religious ideas Paul encountered in Greece.
The tiny addition of “en” means “in” to indicate a belief that “the world is included in God but that God is more than the world.” While pantheists believe that God is everywhere, intimately connected to all creation at all times, panentheists believe God is above us and with us simultaneously. He is remote in some ways, but also intimate in others.
Similarities Between Christianity and Pantheism
One stream of pantheism says that the world is just an illusion, and only God is real. Although Christians do not deny that the world is real, their faith is based on “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Scripture teaches that there is another level of reality unseen to us. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Pantheism breaks down the divide between people and God, a reality which the Christian experienced when the veil was torn during Christ’s crucifixion. Pantheists believe that the divine dwells within everyone and every created thing; Christians believe the Spirit lives in God’s people.
Differences Between Christianity and Pantheism
1. Sin and intercession. Pantheists overlook personal sin and the need for repentance, even the cross and resurrection. They believe everyone is able to meet with God without the intercession of Christ or involvement in the church.
While institutions do not define our Christian worship, sitting under the guidance of good leadership helps the Christian to learn more about God and to maintain the discipline of worship in the face of trials and distractions.
Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father where he is “interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). We reach God through the Spirit, which Christ left us, and prayer is not optional but essential. The Trinity is also disregarded by pantheists.
2. Creation. All creation was made by God, and all people were made in his image, but we are not all filled with his divine nature. The Holy Spirit is a gift from God given to those who believe in his Son alone for salvation.
Peter is recorded in Acts 2:38 saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” One purpose of the Spirit is to experience communion with God.
Another is to help us remember what Christ did for us on the cross (John 14:26). A third is to help us become more like the Son as evidenced by our fruit (Galatians 5). Creation does not contain the Spirit of God; it is evidence that a thoughtful Creator exists.
Pantheism “replace[s] God with His creation [...] to give it the honour and worship that belongs solely to Him. The Scriptures refer to this practice as the sin of idolatry.”
3. God, not the universe. Pantheists often say things like “I guess the universe is trying to tell me something,” but the universe does not speak.
The universe is not a person. God speaks via the Holy Spirit and Scripture. “The idea of a personal God who holds everyone accountable is out of vogue in contemporary culture” (Ibid.). We worship an awesome and terrifying King who is also a tender and present Father.
4. Holy God. The Lord is not indifferent; he is set apart because he is holy and cannot abide sin. This is why Christ’s blood was shed; so that we could approach the throne of God.
He said, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
5. Purpose, not fate. Some pantheists believe in fate — that freedom is illusory, and our lives are controlled by an external power, even random chance. That would make us puppets, and life would have no purpose. Our lives and our futures would be the result of chance.
This outlook enables one to avoid facing sin, which often (though not always) contributes to personal suffering. Meanwhile, this perspective is also hopeless and demoralizing.
Paul wrote, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
We were thoughtfully and lovingly created to know the Lord and glorify him. Our steps are indeed laid out, the doors are opened, and the pathway is cut out for us, but we are still able to try and forge a new path or break down a closed door. We are not puppets.
God knows what we will do, but we are free to choose. One door or pathway leads to chaos, the other to peace in Christ.
According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, “Faith in Jesus frees us from the death we deserve for sinning against God. It frees us from the punishment that would be inflicted upon us at the end of our lives for the evil things we’ve thought and done.”
Christians possess hope because the Lord fulfilled his plans through Jesus, and we inherited the right to be called sons and daughters if we have indeed called on Jesus for salvation.
Pantheism and Materialism
Although pantheistic thought assumes the presence of God, many proponents are functional materialists and essentially atheists until it suits them to be otherwise.
This modern worldview propounds that “matter and energy are all that exist, the products of random chance, without plan or reason.” There is no room in this stance for justice, morality, or meaning, yet advocates argue for rights and justice anyway.
In the material world, where emotions are scientifically classifiable, “the universe is a cold, meaningless place that doesn’t care whether anyone lives or dies. It certainly doesn’t reward virtue or punish evil or teach lessons or spin the wheel of karma.”
Materialists say the mind is a random chemical construct yet will argue that self-love and seeking personal happiness make sense. Such a perspective, if it considers the Lord at all, tends to be angry or indignant with a God who permits suffering. Yet how can one be angry at a God who does not exist?
And if there is such a thing as “right and wrong” or “justice,” who establishes the rules and metes out the consequences? Pantheistic materialists face a confusion of incompatible beliefs.
The Antidote: Christ
We all know there is such a thing as right and wrong. Most of us search for justice and crave purpose. The universe is not a person to provide any of these. Neither can a detached deity supply the love and security we need in order to risk facing our personal sin.
An impersonal, detached force cannot be detached yet also our judge; cannot love us and be distant; cannot be morally indifferent yet create and enforce rules. If the universe has a mind and a purpose for our lives, then he is God, and one must ask “what sort of God is this?”
“Christians will at times speak of the universe rewarding or punishing them, or else teaching them a lesson” (Ibid.). Christ never spoke this way. Events in our lives are not set there primarily to teach lessons but to draw us closer to God. The universe is not about us; it was made for the Lord by his hand.
Filling in the Blanks
The good news is that the universe, everything, and everyone in it is ruled by a personal and powerful King who gave us his identity and adopted the faithful as heirs to his Kingdom. The universe showcases his glory and majesty while he redeems the sin which broke it.
“He has imbued it with value and purpose, to be a realm in which love and justice and righteousness — in a word, shalom — are to be the defining qualities” (Ibid.).
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.