Other Higher Powers?

On Stephen Collins’ web site, there’s an interaction between Stephen and someone who wrote in his guestbook. Stephen Collins played the Reverend Eric Camden on 7th Heaven.

“J.J.” writes the following:

“I loved your show. How could you compromise like that? What’s with the ‘your higher power’ statement? How could you[?] You play a minister! How could you put God aside for a higher power? This ruins the whole show! We spoke of the show at our last Bi[bl]e Study and the main comment was ‘it used to be a good, healthy show to watch, but like the rest of TV, they’ve gone to the ‘politically correct’ route and thrown the Lord out of the show![‘] Shame on you! JJ. San Diego, CA USA.”

And Stephen Collins replies as follows:

“Dear JJ,

“I have nothing to do with the concept or execution of the scripts. But personally, I have no problem with the term ‘higher power.’ Eric did not, as you suggested, ‘put God aside for a higher power.’ He simply acknowledged that acceptance of a higher power is a good thing. Personally, I don’t believe that a ‘higher power’ is in competition with God. I also believe that there are different kinds of higher powers at work in life: sometimes the spirit of a community of people working toward a common good can be a power greater than an individual. Sometimes the beauty or force of Nature is surely a power higher than ourselves. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t there or that we don’t need God. I also believe that God is generous and is glad for the work of powers other than He. And I believe He directs them. The idea of a higher power isn’t ‘politically correct.’ In modern culture, the idea often comes from 12-Step groups, like AA, which are spiritual, not religious, in nature. 12-Step groups, respecting that people who come to them are from different religious backgrounds, don’t require a specific religious belief from their members. You may be uncomfortable with that. But I don’t think God is.

“-Stephen

“P.S. And I hope you watch our Christmas episode in December. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

I wonder if the “Christmas episode in December” is the one where Haylie Duff converts to Christianity. Hmm!

I kind of liked what Stephen said about a power greater than ourselves. Sometimes, I like Judeo-Christian conceptions of God; sometimes, I don’t care for them too much. But I don’t ever want to get to the point where I think I’m the ultimate power in the universe. For me, a healthy spirituality includes humility before something or someone greater than I am. It also entails admiration of something above myself–something beautiful, good, and inspiring. I may be self-centered, but I don’t assume that I can find my healing or motivation totally inside of myself–with all my bitterness and resentment.

There’s something about nature that puts us in a state of awe, even as it makes us feel really small. And, yes, there was a sense in monotheistic or henotheistic religions that nature was a competitor with God for humans’ affections.

Deuteronomy 4:19: “And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven” (NRSV).

Job 31:26-28: “if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand; this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I should have been false to God above.”

The Koran presents the following interaction between Abraham and his idolatrous father:

“And when Ibrahim said to his sire, Azar: Do you take idols for gods? Surely I see you and your people in manifest error. And thus did We show Ibrahim the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and that he might be of those who are sure. So when the night over-shadowed him, he saw a star; said he: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: I do not love the setting ones. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: If my Lord had not guided me I should certainly be of the erring people. Then when he saw the sun rising, he said: Is this my Lord? Is this the greatest? So when it set, he said: O my people! surely I am clear of what you set up (with Allah). Surely I have turned myself, being upright, wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the polytheists” (Sura 6:74-79, translation on BibleWorks).

What I think Abraham is telling his father is something like this: “Look, the sun and the moon may look glorious, but they’re definitely inferior to God. The sun and the moon set. They don’t even dominate the sky all of the time, so certainly they’re not the highest! I worship the one true God, who made the heavens and the earth.”

But is there a way that the glory of the heavens can lead people to God, by helping them realize that there’s something greater than themselves? There are Bible passages that come to mind:

Psalm 19:1: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

Romans 1:20: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse[.]”

But a particularly intriguing passage is Wisdom 13:1-7:

“For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them.
And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these men are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For as they live among his works they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.”

There’s almost a sympathy for the pagans in this passage. “These people are looking for something or someone greater than themselves, and nature puts them in a state of awe. And why wouldn’t it? It’s so beautiful, so mysterious! It humbles us! But, while we should appreciate nature, we shouldn’t treat it as the highest power. That title belongs to the one who made all these things.”

Wisdom of Solomon seems to coincide with Stephen Collins’ comment: there are all sorts of “higher powers” in the world, and they can assist the God who created them in the first place. They can also perform a function of putting us in a state of awe and humility. And yet, we should remember that God is the highest power, the one who created nature.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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