God: An Autobiography as Told to a Philosopher. Jerry L. Martin. Doylestown, PA: Caladium Publishing Co., 2016.
God an Autobiography is a book of 360 pages divided into eleven chapters. It is prefaced by a four page account of “The Beginning” in which Jerry Martin (hereafter, JM) tells of the experience of falling in love and marrying. As a married man he made the discovery that the love he shares with his wife is neither merely subjective, nor something shared by two people alone, but that such “a bond between two people [is rooted] deep within the structure of reality itself”(3). This insight awakened in JM the desire to give thanks and, like many before him who became servants of God, he turned to God in prayer even before he believed in Him: “Inconsistent of course, but not insincere” (4). Like any person would be, JM was surprised when God began to speak to him, and even more surprised when God asked him to become one of those to tell His story.
What God told JM is recounted in the eleven chapters that follow the preface. These include directions that God gave JM on what to read—sacred books, the books of philosophers, theologians, historians of religion and culture, as well as works of natural science. For God is not only revealed in religious texts, but also in the physical history of the universe and the physical, biological, and cultural history of our planet (52f.). Of course, the main focus of JM’s study remained the sacred works and the classics of the various traditions—Israel, Christianity, India, China, etc. With the help of this background and reflecting on his own life and personal experience, JM learned to listen to God and was able to enter into a dialog with Him.
The book does not purport to be “the” autobiography of God, but “an” autobiography of God. What does this difference mean? God tells JM that human kind has reached a stage of development in which “there can be no new Moses or other Deliverer. There can be at best Elijahs— prophets and seers” (44), people who explain God’s story in a manner that can be understood in the current age. In contrast to the major religious organizations with their liturgies and elaborate theologies, these modern prophets will bear a more informal and more individual message (44f.). However their reports are not intended to compete with or replace the systematic theologies of organized religion, nor do God’s messengers (“My Elijahs”) (45) achieve mystical union with God, rather their task is to describe the “inner life of God” (40) like a reporter would. Along with providing new insights into God, the intention is to help human beings everywhere select from the world’s religious traditions those aspects which are most true and “to piece them together” into a “more adequate” whole (139). The ensuing give and take among individuals will overcome the boundaries that once separated people living in different religious traditions (358ff.). However, this does not mean that the development of God’s dialog with creation can be reduced to a simple line of ‘evolution’, for “not everything meaningful has a developmental pattern” (107).
The prophets’ descriptions, including JM’s account, are not sanctioned by Divine Authority (46) and their narratives are therefore subject to error (48). But, with their help, God hopes to get his message across without “unduly disturbing” (45) or coming into conflict with those who remain in the world’s traditional forms of worship. Still, God does not mince His words and some of them might indeed be found “unduly disturbing” by members of the traditional religions. For example, at one point God says: “The world’s religions have spent themselves” (42).
The book covers very much ground, both in the number of religious topics treated and in the number of references to God’s work in history—and indeed to God’s work in the universe. Here I can do little more than point to some of the most important topics.
Naturally, the historical account of this world begins with the act of creation (69ff.). The reader is given a tour from the beginning, through animal evolution, up to man. There follows an account from the Stone Age (82) to today. In this history we learn that the face of God that is turned to the world evolves with the evolution of the creatures that He calls into life. For God can reveal more of Himself to human-being than He can to animal-being, and as human-being deepens, God also deepens (78ff./87/102ff.). However, the history of God’s evolution on this plane of reality does not end the mystery of God who is also beyond that aspect of Divinity that is turned to the world (296ff.).
Beginning with Egypt (98), JM takes the reader on an historical trip through the cultures of the Ancient Near East, China (112ff.), Persia (167f. / 176ff.), India (193ff./231f./ 234ff.), Israel (149-166), and Christianity (245-287), whereby the religious culture of India plays a very important role and two “trajectories” of God’s life, “East and West”, are disclosed (193ff.). As the cumulative sum of the manifestations of Divinity that preceded them, Israel and Christianity have an important, but not privileged, place in God’s history. We find God’s personhood realized by Abraham, and Jesus, as love incarnate, brought new depths to the relationship between the Divine and the human (242-258). There is a long discussion between JM and Jesus on the account of Jesus’ life that is given in the Gospel of Mark (262ff.). And, as I mentioned above, everywhere God is concerned to show that although there are differentiations in the Revelations of God and their receptions through time, God’s later Revelations do not nullify or suppress earlier ones. The book ends on the note that humankind is entering a “new spiritual era” (358).
Among the topics treated in the book, are those that affect the inner life of God, including suffering (140f./286), sacrifice (305ff.), compassion (237), and love (240-245, et passim.).
A range of topics of primary concern to humankind are also treated. Some examples are: worship as humankind’s attunement to God’s purpose (160)—a purpose that is not found at ‘the end’ of time but is always present. Put metaphorically: “The purpose of singing a song is not to get to the end” (87). Judgment is also shown to be something that is not “external” to the soul but which reflects the soul’s inner state at every moment of a person’s life (182). Forgiveness (267f.) and grace (280ff.) are discussed. And we are reminded of the important lessons that philosophers and saints have taught us, that virtue is its own reward and sin its own punishment (220). Also one of the most important lessons of Christianity is underlined, that without love norms are useless (239). Finally, the problem of good and evil and the question of theodicy are raised (189/ 341ff.).
When we turn to the narrator, JM, we must say that he does not spare himself. At various points he expresses his doubts concerning his adequacy to do justice to the task he has been given, he explores intimate and sometimes painful personal memories in order to free himself from the past and to open his soul to love’s work of transformation. For love is at the center of God (110) and therefore at the center of God: An Autobiography. And the book makes it clear that only those who open themselves to love can adequately participate in the dialog with the Divine. This goes not only for JM but for the reader as well.
The book will not satisfy everyone. First of all, it is an unusual experience to read a contemporary book that records God’s words directly. Second, the very breadth and depth of the work’s themes make it difficult to long explore the issues that are raised in its 360 pages. But God: An Autobiography raises the questions and offers ways of grasping them more deeply.
As far as the style, and therefore the culture of the book, is concerned, it is a very American work. The relationship between God and JM is direct and immediate, as though they stood and talked like two neighbors over a garden wall – in this case, the Garden of Eden. This democratic familiarity has its own idiom, aspects of which found expression in the Classic Age of American Literature, among others in Emerson, Whitman, and Melville. (Melville of course had a deeper acquaintance with the devil and therefore more respect for him than either Emerson or Whitman had.) In JM’s book we find the kind of American ecumenism which Ishmael represented to the part owner of the Pequod when the latter asked if the “cannibal” harpooner at Ishmael’s side was a member of the Congregational Church, and received the answer that Queequeg belonged “to the great everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that…” (Moby Dick, Chap. 18). And, in the account of sacred history that we find in God, An Autobiography, which leads up to the announcement that humankind is on the threshold of “a new spiritual era”, some readers may hear echoes of Whitman’s confident backward glance over his shoulder and summing up of sacred history up to his time:
“Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Budda,
Taking them all for what they are worth and not a cent more,
Admitting they were alive and did the work of their days…”.
(Song of Myself, paragraph XLI)
While JM’s American democratic idiom will communicate easily to some, others will be mildly infuriated by phrases like, “as long as I had God on the line, it seemed like something I should ask about” (27). But such problems come with the territory, for each culture has its own style and its own higher and lower registers which are necessary conditions for God to be able to speak to all humankind (90/97).
Finally, and most importantly, and beyond any cultural particularities, God: An Autobiography As Told to a Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin, is about God’s descending love that seeks a response in creation and about humankind’s ascending love that seeks God.