God Talk


I. What does the word God mean?

The word has been generalized to relate to whatever anyone regards as most important in their lives. God is that which is ultimate in one's life. It can be money, sex, drugs, power, prestige, or anything. The word god refers to many different ideas in different cultures. In Greek culture there were many gods and we can refer to this as polytheism, (poly=many, theism=god) or many gods. The Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods are no longer worshipped. In Hindu (India) cultures there are also many gods with different names, Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Brahma, Kali, and so on. There are hundreds and thousands of gods in Hindu culture. Many of these gods have functions, like a rain-god, or a cholera-god, and one prays to the particular god that involves one's problem. In Japan, the word kami is often translated as the English word god, Kami is a limited word that can be applied to mountains (Fuji) or trees, or streams, or people, or the Emperor. When the Japanese described the Emperor as a kami, westerners often thought of the divinity of the emperor, but kami are not in the same category as the western idea of god. People are also thought of as kami, and after death everyone is supposed to become a kami. In Islam the word god is used.

Allah, meaning "the god" is the one god of Islam. Controversy surrounds this word. Muslims seek to relate the term of the Old Testament, but others relate the term to the pre-Islamic pagan deity, known as the Moon-god. His symbol was the crescent moon.

In Judaism, we have the concept of a Creator God whose name is Yahweh. (Jehovah is a poor transliteration of the name into English. Transliteration is carrying letter for letter or sound for sound into another language. For example, baptizo is Greek and baptize is English.) Yahweh is a better transliteration of the Hebrew into English. Moreover, it must be remembered that God is not His name, the word God refers to a Being whose name is Yahweh. In Judaism and Christianity God is a word that expresses the Creator, who brought the universe into existence.

Additionally, Yahweh is the God who redeems as expressed in the story of the Exodus in which God delivers his people from slavery. For Christians, Yahweh is the redeemer who delivers his people from their sins. The word god has also been used concerning idols. Idolatry involves  the worship of inanimate objects made by human hands.  Humans have worshipped all kinds of animals, objects such as mountains, trees, the elements, fire, and other creatures.

There is one more use of the Word God with a prefix, pan-theism_ Pan=all, theism=god, or all is god. God and the World have the same body, The world is god and god is the World. Pantheism means that the cow is as divine as humans or the gods, The tree also has the same substance. It has been common to say, God is all and all is God.  God is everything.

What kind of being is God? The idea of god varies in different cultures. In primitive cultures idolatry is a way of describing god. The idol can be made of wood, stone, or metal, or other elements. The idol may be on a god shelf in the home or in the temple In Japan there are over 2500 gods that are worshipped in various  shrines. These gods are called kami.  Kami include mountains, streams, trees, people, the emperor, ancient beings. Some kami give birth to other kami as seen in the ancient Japanese mythologies. In the Nohongi (an ancient document) kami give birth to the Japanese islands only. After sexual intercourse with Izanagi, his spouse Iznami gave birth to an island. Kami are not considered to be powerful beings. Thirty-two years after death everyone is supposed to become a kami.

In a little more developed idea, gods are thought as having various functions. For example, there may be a god of rain, or corn, or fire, and if some cases a particular god is supposed to give fertility to the soil, or to women for childbirth. 

In Hindu thought, if one had an obstacle to overcome, one would turn to Ganesha, the elephant-head god. In the case of functional gods, one would not pray to god who overcomes cholera if you were concerned for the lack of rain.

Still more sophisticated  is the idea  that the world and God are the same thing. We have called this pantheism, or all God. Pantheism is widespread in Hindu (Indian) religion, (in spite of the fact that there are hundreds of gods in Hindu culture). It is less obvious in later Buddhism which talked about pursuing one’s internal Buddha nature, which would be the goal of every person. (This is a contradiction to early Buddhism which rejected the existence of gods.) It is also seen in Christian Science in America which is pantheistic. There are lots of problems with this kind of thinking. (It is sometimes called "monism" which means a oneness of everything.) Monism brings confusion to our language. If I say I see a tree, I could also say I see my god. Can the word tree also be used to mean god? If we push this to its logical conclusion, only God is real and the tree must be an illusion.

More serious is the problem of evil events in the world. If God is all there is, then evil of any kind does not exist. We would have to say that the horrendous events of World War 2 were all illusions ( or maya, the Hindu word for it.) The malicious destruction of people in gas chambers was not evil either because no evil exists in pantheism. On the other hand, if we say that evil did exist in those events we would have to say that the pantheistic God is both good and evil at the same time.

One more problem with pantheism is that it makes humans a spark or subunit of the divine, or to put it another way, man is a fragment or part of god. This means that man is good and perfectible. In the case of some guru (teachers) from Hindu their disciples call them honorific titles such as Lord and Master, or even God. But this could also be done for anyone since all are part of God. The last concept about God is called theism, from the Greek word (theos) which can be related to western religions.

There are three religions that relate primarily to theism, or monotheism (one-God), Judaism, Christianity and Islam.   This is a little misleading  since  some people equate the oneness to refer to the same nature of being.   All three religions accept the oneness of God, but that does not mean that they are the same morally.  For example,  Yahweh declares to humans, thou shalt not kill,  but Allah of Islam declares that Muslims shall kill non-Muslims. Christians speak of the oneness of God in nature and three persons in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   Muslims and Jews reject the idea that God has a Son. 

Muslims and Mormons think only in sexual terms with reference to God having a son and reject the trinity because it implies a wife for sexual union and birth. There are some basic ideas in common between them, but there are also importance differences between them.   They speak of God who existed before the world began.  ln this sense he is the creator  When we speak of God existing before the universe was created, we speak of him as being transcendent, above the world, and existing independently of the world. This is in contrast to pantheism in which God and the world are the same.

There is a problem in the Mormon idea of God since it is believed that man becomes a God. They believe the god of this planet was a spirit child of another god somewhere and so on down the line.  When you ask where that first god came from they don’t seem to know. The goal of Mormons now is to experience life after death as a god maybe ruling a planet with the wives he has married in a temple ceremony but not being married to them in this life. One might wonder how man came into being in the first place before he became a god or how that first god came to be a god.

There are other views about God that become important and that distinguish Him from pantheism. In Judaism and Christianity God is said to be holy (morally pure), He is a redeemer (he rescues people from sin when they turn to him), and lawgiver (giving directions for his people to live). The idea of grace and love also distinguish Judaism and Christianity from Islam.

How do we know about God? The god concept in an idol is not very well developed. Obviously the material object cannot talk, move, see, feel, or known. Whatever god idea that is attached to it must come from the person who made it. It may have a history from the ancestors or it may be new with the craftsman who created it. It cannot do anything itself, but it might be used by a spirit being that is associated with the idol.

A pantheistic concept of God involves a different way of knowing God. Since l am part of God and you are part of God all we have to do is ask the question, what is God like, and we answer the question ourselves. God is man and man is God, so all we have to do is look inward into ourselves and what we know is knowledge about God. The study of man becomes the information about God. ln pantheistic cultures not everyone is aware of this and it must be taught to people. Part of the teaching involves developing the intuitiveness to come to this conclusion yourself. One intuitively knows that one is the same as God and when one reaches this high experience one is said to gain nirvana or a sense of union of man and God. The merging of oneself with the world soul (a term for the pantheistic god) is the goal of life.

There is no revelation in the western sense of the term since everyone is part of God. ln the western world knowledge about God can come from two sources: reason and revelation.

ln the case of reason, thinkers have come to the conclusion that God exists because of certain things in the world. The arguments would indicate that God is a powerful intelligent being who has created the world, and all that is in it. The arguments do not tell us whether we have a responsibility to this being, nor whether he is interested in us or not.

 In the case of revelation, the claim is made that God revealed himself to people along the way, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the prophets of the Old Testament, and finally he came in person to visit mankind incarnated in Jesus the Christ. Self-revelation is what a person can do. Self-revelation involves disclosure. In the case of revelation we are told that God loves us, seeks us, wants a deep personal relationship with us, and has promised everlasting life in his presence to those who committed their lives to him. Revelation makes it possible to have useful knowledge about God.

'Who made God? This question is often raised by children since they think everything has a beginning. Some gods do have beginnings and endings as well. For example, in Taoism, a Chinese religion there was a deliberate creation of gods. The emperor of China had lost "face" at the hands of invaders. To overcome this humiliation his advisors suggested that he make up a revelation. He proclaimed a god that had never been known before and the people accepted this without question and he regained some of his prestige.

Other gods that were once worshipped are no longer honored.. The Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods are dead. Humans "make" other humans into gods. Buddha, for example, believed that no gods existed, but after many centuries, humans began to regard him as some kind of god. The same is true for Confucius, another Chinese religion, and Lao-tzu, the influential person in Taoism. Some gods go through a transformation and survive in new form. An example of this is the moon god Nannar that was worshipped in Mecca. Under Mohammed this god became the only god worshipped under the name of Allah, or "The God."

The most commanding and important answer is that Yahweh, God is eternal. He has no beginning or ending. Something must be eternal or else something comes from nothing. If the current view of physics is accepted concerning the big bang theory, the universe is not eternal and has a beginning point. If nothing can cause itself to come into existence, then the universe cannot cause itself to exist. The most adequate cause for its existence is a Creator who is eternal and who has no beginning or end.