Ivan Berezin

Wrestle with God, but don't try to take his place

Many times man has tried to become God and many times man has failed. Man failed when building the Tower of Babel, man failed when, as a creature of two faces, four arms and four legs, he tried to spin unto the heavens and attack the Gods. Man failed when he tried to become his own God in both Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. The Gods are there to guide us, they are there to give us something to care about, they are there to make us strong and give our lives meaning, but they are not there for us to become them. Sometimes we may not agree completely with God, negotiating is not forbidden nor wrong, but we have to be careful not to fall into a pit of ego and unappreciation. In this article, I will explore the importance of the Gods, as well as the proper and improper way of interacting with them.

Many thinkers have considered God the greatest value there is. That thing which you most deeply want and desire, and which you work for the most even if the effort is unconscious. I love Jordan Peterson’s answer when he was asked in an interview if we need God. He said:

“God is what you use to make sense of your life, by definition. You have a hierarchy of values, you have to, otherwise you can’t act or you’re painfully confused. Whatever is at the top of that Hierarchy of values serves the function of God for you.”

This is why for a while I used to go around telling people that either they are religious or nihilists, and if they were nihilists they wouldn’t even be here because a nihilist would see no point in leaving their house, in theory they wouldn’t even see the point of owning or living in a house to begin with.

Other thinkers, such as Plato and Aristotle, using the same logic as Peterson, conceiving God as the highest value, have attributed God to the role of a supreme consciousness or intellect, given how something which humans will always strive for is knowledge and experience. Which is probably a similar conception of God as the one from Hindu and buddhist traditions, the Brahman, the outer God.

Understanding that God is the highest value will give us more power over our own lives, since this creates a deeper understanding of what reality is. Let’s analyze Peterson’s phrase “God is what you use to make sense of your life, by definition.” If God is our highest value, how exactly does our highest value give meaning to our life? The process is quite simple, and it is something which is very deep in our biology. The way our brain and body assigns meaning to the world is by comparing things to one another and relating them to our goals. I want you to do a very simple thought experiment. Let’s say you accidentally locked yourself in your room for days, when someone finally noticed and they opened the door, you felt so hungry you could kill a cow with your own hands. What is your main objective once you are set free? To feed and hydrate yourself. Therefore what is meaningful to you? Food and water. Someone could try to give you a Ferrari as a present and still you would be more interested in getting food, it would be more valuable to you. You are so hungry, that the way you look at the world will be shaped by what you desire. Kitchen. Fridge. Chicken. Pasta. Glass. Water. This is all you will be able to think of. Your desires shape the way you perceive and interact with the world.

Let’s think of another example, a botanist and an architect are walking through Versailles. How will the experience be different to each person? It is likely that the botanist will be looking at all the plants, and trees, and noticing the different scents and the buzzing of the bees and bugs, while the architect will be paying attention to the imposing palais, noticing the angles, the materials, the entrances of lights, and how much work would have been needed to build it.

Imagine you take the same principle, and expand it as far as you can into all the realms of human desires and behavior. The desire to be happy, to be free, to be healthy, to feel important, to be kind, to love, to be loved. These desires shape your experience and your relationship with the world. Think about Maslow’s pyramid, how at first man will only be worried about food and shelter, but the world becomes more abstract, and complicated as a man’s needs get covered. At the top of the pyramid lies Self-actualization, the desire to become the most one can be. That ideal, for Maslow, plays the function of God.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed the impact this knowledge can have in your life. By introspecting your values and desires, and by choosing your values and desires, you will be able to transform reality, perception, and action in a way which encourages you to get what you want and become who you want to be. However, a little problem may arise when a person starts to assign his own values rather than relying on a higher power. This is the problem that the Tower of Babel and the myth of the Androgynous tries to warn us about. Let me give you a recap of these stories.

One day, after discovering a new building method that allows for very tall buildings, the Hebrews decide to create a tower which will take them to the heavens. Choosing who goes to heaven and when was God’s task, so he got very angry and decided to destroy the tower, not only this but he chose to separate men and give them different languages so they couldn’t understand each other anymore. That is the story of the Tower of Babel.

The myth of the androgynous is a myth which you can read in Plato’s symposium. There was a time where man used to be a creature with four legs, four arms, two heads, and two sexual organs. This creature, the androgynous (andro means man, gynos means woman) was very powerful and they could spin very violently and do massive damage at massive speeds. One day, the androgynous decided they wanted to be Gods too, so they started spinning at mount olympus and attacking the Gods until the Gods got angry and decided to separate the androgynous in two (creating the man and the woman) who were also forever destined to find their other half (this is a love story as well).

There are patterns on both stories, and, as I concluded on an investigation I did for school, there seems to be no historical connection between the Tower of Babel and the myth of the Androgynous, which means that on two different occasions people observed the same thing. That when men try to become God, bad things happen to them, they get split up, confused and destroyed.

As a matter of fact, this might have happened to you already, think about a time where you accomplished a goal or a dream that you had been chasing for a very long time and once you reached it you felt disappointed, sad, unmotivated, and it took you a long time to get back on your feet. The reason this happens is that once you have accomplished your goals, you no longer have a guiding value which gives meaning to your life. Nietzsche once said we choose the meaning of our lives. That’s why we need to be careful when taking on this great responsibility.

How do you solve this problem? How do you choose guiding goals and values which are going to inspire, which are going to give meaning to your life, and which are going to make you happy without ending up on a vicious cycle of having a desire, satisfying that desire, and then feeling lost and without meaning for a while until you find a new thing which is exciting? The first step is to understand that you will always need something above you -something which gives meaning to your life- for you to be happy. If you think that reaching your goal is what will make you happy then you are wrong. I can assure you that once you have that car, that house, or that girlfriend, you will be just as miserable as you are now, if not more, until there is something more you are working for. Having no goals means believing yourself to be God, means thinking that you can assign values by yourself, however a person without desire will find no difference in value between things, you always need something to work for.

The second step is analyzing what is unconsciously valuable to you. Pay attention to how you behave for a week, and daydream about how your perfect life would be. What patterns do you notice? What things are present? What makes you feel more excited? What do you achieve? What do you do things for? After answering these questions, write down your values on a piece of paper, they can be things like family, respect, wisdom, love, etc.

Finally, comes the third step, negotiating with God. Making plans, objectives and dreams which are congruent between your values. You may want to have two different types of goals, “having” goals, and “being” goals. “Having” goals are things such as, having a nice car, having a loving family, and having a big house. These goals will keep you entertained and will be an amplification of your “being” goals. It is important to have many “having” goals and work on them based on their level of difficulty or on the level of excitement they generate on you. The important thing is that as you complete your goal you immediately have your next goal ready so you continue to have something to work on.

“Being” goals, will be goals which have to do with who you want to be as a person. These are things which don’t consist of a material achievement in the future, but on a daily practice of certain habits and behaviors. Goals like, being happy, being supportive, being healthy, and being loving are all “being” goals, these make sure that you don’t lose your identity as you work for material things and that you put constant attention on being the person you want to be. These goals have the added benefit of lasting forever, since being a good person is not something which you get one day and get to keep forever, it is something you have to work for every single day.

Choosing your goals is negotiating with God, because you will have to make compromises in order to let your different values co-exist. If three of your goals are being healthy, spending time with your family, and having lots of money, you will need to compromise on somethings to be able to have all of them, or to have some of them to a lesser but satisfying extent, or maybe you will even have to give up on some goals for a while. There is an islamic story which illustrates this point.

One day, prophet Mohammed was talking with God about how many times per day he wanted the muslims to pray. “Nine hundred and ninety nine.” God said to mohammed. Mohammed who was scared to say no to God and went to prophet Abraham for council, he had heard Abraham could put some sense into God. So Abraham talked with God and then Abraham went back with Mohammed, “You only have to pray eight hundred and eighty eight times per day.” “Abraham but that’s too much, can’t you get God to lower it a little bit more.” Abraham spent days and days talking with God and with Mohammed. “Seven hundred times, five hundred, one hundred, fifty!” Eventually, Abraham came back quite frustrated and said, “God said you have to pray five times per day, and there is no more negotiating about it.” Mohammed agreed to that number and to this day the muslims pray five times per day.

This story is very comedic because you wouldn’t believe a man trying to negotiate with God, however it teaches us a very important lesson, and that is that while something has to be the most respected, revered, and important to us, it is also important to find a balance which gives space to the other things that are important to you. Perhaps your family’s health and happiness is the most important thing to you, but you should also consider having space to work on other projects, hang out with your friends, watch a movie, and take a break every once in a while.

The prophets negotiating with God is not something which is uncommon. Jacob wrestled with God when trying to get a better deal and that is why God gave him the name Israel (he who wrestled with God). Moses and Abraham constantly negotiated with God and asked him for things, favors, and laxity in some areas. Moses was scared to talk to the Jews so God told him to take Aaron as his talking man. Abraham didn’t think it was fair to kill everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah if there were good people there so God told him he would save the good people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he did. Being able to negotiate even with what is most important to you is an incredibly useful skill which will help you enjoy your life without sacrificing duty, respect, and value itself.

I hope this article taught you the importance of goals, of making compromises which aim to find a balance between your desires, and how to work for your goals without leaving yourself aimless and lost. If you need help working on your goals, making the correct compromises, and finding meaning in your life, I invite you to contact me for a free consultation where we’ll find out how I can be of service to you. Make sure to join the newsletter to recieve updates when I post a new article.

With love,

Ivan Berezin.

Let's figure out the meaning of life through the teachings of literature, psychology and philosophy.

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