- God: An Autobiography as Told to a Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin
A little over ten years ago, Martin, a professor emeritus of the University of Colorado (Boulder) and the former acting chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, suddenly heard a voice proclaim, "I am God." Martin, an agnostic to that point, asked, "The God of Israel?" The voice responded, "I am the God of all." This book records Martin's conversations with this divine voice, exploring with considerable depth and nuance the meaning of spirituality, love, metaphysics, morality, human suffering, and the status of the world religions.
The God who speaks to Martin is one with whom we are both familiar and unfamiliar. He self-identifies as the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the Father (in some sense) of Jesus, but also as the divine spirit that underlies all human spirituality—from paganism to Vedanta to Buddhism and beyond. We read along as God directs Martin to review the world's religions, discussing with him the ways they do and do not reflect the divine reality. Each distinctive mode of religiosity, we are told, presents a partial truth, both revealing and concealing the full reality of God. "My nature is quite variegated," God tells Martin. "People see one aspect and not another."
One reason for the imperfect nature of religion is the imperfect nature of God. This is a God who is growing, learning, and evolving with human beings: "I am limited and incomplete," God tells Martin, "in a sense, not all-powerful; in a sense, not all-knowing; in a sense, not all-good. I am searching for My own fullness, and since I am also the World—the totality—I—the world—[hu]mankind are all seeking fulfillment (fullness) together, in partnership." It is to foster such partnership that God is now self-revealing anew. Temporally, the world is struggling toward a consummation in love that, from an eternal standpoint, is always already complete. But, God can no more rest in this completeness than can we; God and we must struggle together to reconcile the contrary tendencies within being itself.
For all its philosophical weightiness, Martin's book is both eminently readable and personally engaging. He approaches God with childlike wonder, innocent curiosity, and even, at times, skeptical bemusement. We feel privy to a dialogue between two friends striving to know each other, one of whom just happens to be the master (sort of) of the universe.
Toward the end of the book God directs Martin to initiate a scholarly project, [End Page 145] "Theology without Walls," which now meets regularly at American Academy of Religion conferences. Its aim is to probe the possibility of an integration of human spirituality, through the development of a theology informed by all the world's religious traditions.
"We are entering an unusual time in the history of the world," God tells Martin, "The old religions are coming apart. Yet there is a renewal of religious spirit . . . A purity of message must be regained." Does Martin's book provide this purity of message? Readers will have to answer for themselves. Anyone interested in a renewed approach to religion should find this book a stimulating, challenging, and richly provocative read. [End Page 146]