Book Review: “God’s Grand Game: Divine Sovereignty and the Cosmic Playground.” Steven Colborne. London: Tealight Books. 2019. 251 pages.
“God’s Grand Game” is Steven Colborne’s personal gnosis of a Monotheistic God. (Note 1) He defines his God as “a spiritual being, which I like to call God, is animating all the processes that lead to my experience of my body and the world in which I exist.” (pg.19). His gnosis is “everything you do is what God is doing through you.” (Author’s emphasis, pg. xi). The title is derived from “the Universe… can be seen as a cosmic playground, in the way in which God sovereignty unfolds all activity in existence might be fittingly described as ‘God’s Grand Game.’” (Author’s emphasis, pg. xii).
Mr. Colborne discusses his spiritual journey from being an Atheist as a teenager to receiving his personal gnosis of his God years later. When his mother became ill, she introduced him to New Age spirituality. After her death, he ended up in a cult-like group led by Ratu Bagus, who taught “shaking meditation.” After leaving that group, he entered psychotherapy, which became a spiritual experience for him. After a series of mental breakdowns and being institutionalized, he heard promptings from a Monotheistic God. During his cycles of illness and recovery, Mr. Colborne studied philosophy and theology, completing a post-graduate course at the University of London.
Through the Way of Reasoned Inquiry (Note 2), the author uses spiritual philosophy to delve into the Divine and its wisdom. First, he presents the nature of this God and his logic for this nature. He defines his God as “omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, living, and real,” among other attributes. (pg. 24). From this definition stems his thesis of God as the Sovereign Being who makes free will impossible, hence people become players on his playground. The lack of free will is a relief for Mr. Colborne since it eliminates sin. He writes, “The problem is that if we are not really in control, then how do we make decisions about right action? The answer is in the dimension of ultimate reality is that God will take care of this… We must struggle to do what we believe is right…. God is the guiding force in our decisions and that nothing will ever happen outside of His sovereign will.” (pg. 150).
For each chapter, he sets up a philosophical dilemma such as “the myth of the Fall,” “hearing voices or hearing God,” and “creation and evolution.” After presenting the dilemma, he provides a proof of how to solve it. The value of this book for me is how Mr. Colborne resolves his personal gnosis with existing lore. He defines this God and presents standard arguments against his definition and thesis. The author then resolves it.
What Mr. Colborne attempts to do is provide answers to several problems that plague monotheistic belief. He says that since everything is an expression of God’s will, that God is the source of good and evil. (God does experience his own agony and hell.) He has good reasons for people to suffer since it is a part of his grand game. People need to trust in God’s wisdom and still strive do the right action in their lives.
Since Monotheism is totally embedded in Western culture, it is difficult for people like the author to question their assumptions about religion and the Divine. The basic structure of modern Western culture from time as an upward pointing arrow to there being only one universal divinity is built from Monotheistic theology. Therefore concepts such as “God is all-powerful” and “God’s Grand Plan” are assumed to be universal and factual. To define a Monotheistic God as something other than the “One True God” is unthinkable. Thinking that other Gods have agency is rejected for reasons of sin and illogic.
Therefore as a Polytheist (Note 3), I have noted the assumptions of Monotheistic thinkers which are on display in this book. Like many Monotheists, Mr. Colborne assumes that there is “one true God.” He explains in the section on Polytheism, “In order to embrace polytheism, we would have to deny many of the attributes which are definitional of God…including His omnipotence and omnipresence.” (pg. 203). This definition of God comes from Monotheistic theology, which denies the existence of any other Gods, and declares Them to be false and fictitious. (I would replace “we” with “I,” since we Polytheists have no such experiences with any of our Gods.)
Another assumption that Mr. Colborne makes is that Polytheism is generally proto-monotheism. Religion, according to Western intellectual tradition, evolves from animism to Polytheism to finally to the pinnacle of civilization – Monotheism. (This subtly dismisses the achievements of the Romans, Greeks, and others.) In that context, Polytheism as worshipped by the ancient Romans (Note 4) and others consists of only false and fictional Gods. These ideas about Polytheism are derived from how myths are usually taught. Polytheist myths are only stories, while Monotheist myths are theology and fact.
Mr. Colborne writes “I feel unable to reconcile what appears to be order and harmony in creation… with the idea that multiple extremely powerful gods coexist. There would be chaos in such a worldview, surely one of the multiple deities would come to dominate and eradicate the others.” (pg. 204).
This statement reflects the worldview of Monotheism, which hostile to Polytheism. John Milton in his “Paradise Lost” details the war of the Monotheistic God on the Polytheist Gods. (Note 5) Meanwhile, the official polices of Christian and Islamic bodies were to kill or force conversion of Polytheists. Then destroy all vestiges of Polytheism from blowing up shrines to cutting down trees to repurposing shrines as churches or holy sites for Monotheists. Furthermore, they deliberately corrupted or co-opted Polytheistic beliefs as well. Their goal was to destroy any worship of other God(s).
Most Polytheist theology focuses on the balance between order and chaos. Both are needed to maintain the Universe. Cosmic warfare is not an aspect of Polytheism, since the world is not a vast spiritual battlefield. Gods coexist together except Yahweh of the Hebrews, who prefers to be the only God.
Note 1. There are multiple Monotheistic Gods. For example: Yahweh of the Hebrews; God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit of Christianity; and Allah of Islam. Mr. Colborne’s gnosis is rooted in Christianity’s God. Unlike that religion’s God, his is a genderless monad. I refer to his God as “God,” and use the pronoun “he.”
Note 2. Dale Cannon, “Six Ways of Being Religious.” According to Cannon, there are various ways to do religion. They are the Way of the Sacred Rite, Right Action, Devotion, Shamanic Mediation, Mystical Quest, and Reasoned Inquiry. Mr. Colborne, also, includes in his book Right Action and Devotion.
Note 3. Polytheism is the belief in many Gods. The different traditions approach this in their unique ways. Romans focus on the Pax Deorum, the Peace of the Gods.
Note 4. As a Roman Polytheist, I can say that this is untrue. “Fasti” by Ovid is representative of Roman Polytheism as it was practiced by ancient Romans.
Note 5. Milton lists various Gods from the Old Testament, as well as Greek and Roman myths, as “fallen angels” in Hell. His understanding of these Gods is based solely on Monotheistic (Protestant) theology.