An exploration of various
Most people have some sort of concept concerning God, whether he exists or not, and if he does, what sort of attributes he has. I highlight a few of these.
The first concept some people have concerning God is that he doesn't exist at all — that he is merely a thing invented by man. The modern scientific theory of evolution as the explanation for the origin of life is one example of the application of the "No God" concept.
One difficulty with the "No God" concept is that when looking at the intricate workings of the universe and especially of life itself, it appears to be designed. A universe which is designed implies the existence of a God who designed and created it, presumably for a purpose.
Another difficulty with the "No God" concept is that it implies there is no purpose in human existence. Yet as humans we sense that we have purpose. No one who holds the "No God" concept has been able to satisfactorily explain how it happens that humans seem to have a purpose, or why they love.
I contend that the "No God" concept of God is simply incorrect, and that it does not accurately express reality.
Another concept that some people have is that there are many Gods. This concept is held by Hindus, by the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, as well as the modern day Mormons. In fact in Mormonism, you can become a God yourself if you are a member of the Mormon church in good standing. But since Mormonism is a recent religion, I suppose that people in past ages were excluded from the opportunity of becoming God.
A difficulty with the "Many Gods" concept is that it raises the question of who created the many Gods? Only a God who is all-supreme, without beginning, eternal, infinite, and all-powerful would be capable of creating the universe and the many Gods. Yet people who hold to the "Many Gods" concept do not claim that there is a one God such as this who is infinitely superior to the many Gods.
I contend that the "Many Gods" concept of God is simply incorrect, and that it does not accurately express reality.
The Pantheistic concept of God is the glue that holds together the New Age movement, and the many flavors of Eastern mysticism. This concept of God is that all that is, is God. Or another way of saying it is that God is all. What usually goes along with this concept is that "I" am God. Pantheism ultimately deifies self, and even animals and inanimate objects. All is reduced to cosmic living energy.
If Pantheism were true then God would have the attributes of good and evil, of love and hate, of war and peace. In fact, this is often what is proclaimed about the Pantheistic God. For example, the Taoist mandala familiar to many expresses the interplay of the two polarities of attributes of God.
In some circles of Pantheistic belief, the negative attributes of the "all-God" are merely denied by declaring them to be illusion. However, merely declaring evil as an illusion is not a very satisfying way of dealing with the problem of evil in this world. Clearly evil exists and is not merely an illusion.
The two main problems with Pantheism are:
Pantheism does not explain the wickedness concealed within the hearts of mankind but merely ignores or denies this wickedness. Pantheists live their lives in an unreal world, and deny those very things that make them human and not God.
Often intertwined with Pantheism is the concept of reincarnation, that after death the soul again inhabits another material body. Usually the concept of karma is involved in this process. There is good karma and bad karma. Good karma results in good actions and bad karma results in bad actions. Good actions result in good karma and bad actions result in bad karma. Then, after death, your karmic scorecard is calculated to determine what kind of body you will receive.
The goal of being reincarnated is that after many lifetimes, your good karma will outweigh your bad karma and you will no longer be reborn but will instead achieve enlightenment or union with God. But wait a minute; I thought that you were already God? So what is the point of reincarnation if you are already God? And since the goodness or badness of your past actions determines the goodness and badness of your present and future actions, what hope is there of ever achieving enlightenment at all? Such are the confusions and gyrations of Pantheistic belief.
I contend that the Pantheistic concept of God is simply incorrect, and that it does not accurately express reality.
Deism is the concept of God which declares that God is infinite, all-powerful, and holy, and that he did indeed create the universe and the natural laws. But after that he has had no involvement in His creation whatsoever. It is now running on and on like a machine.
With the Deist concept of God, there is no point of prayer since God is not listening and even if he were, he is not answering.
But what purpose could the Deist God have in creating a universe inhabited by conscious creatures and then ignoring them? This God certainly doesn't sound like a God of love. Love implies a continuing relationship and concern for the object of love.
I contend that the Deist concept of God is simply incorrect, and that it does not accurately express reality.
Another concept some have of God is that he exists, but that you can't know anything about Him. This is presumably because he exists in a spiritual realm which is beyond human understanding. The assumption here is that he doesn't reveal information about Himself so we have no way of understanding His attributes.
However, many people who hold this concept of God pray to Him and expect answers to their prayers. But where did they get the idea that he hears or responds to prayer if God is unknowable?
Another difficulty with this concept is that there are things that can be known about God if he exists. For example, if he created the universe and the creatures in it, he must have sufficient creative power and purpose to allow Him to do this. Also, if he can hear prayers, he must be able to be in many places at one time since many people from different locations can be praying at the same time and he hears them all.
The "Unknown God" concept of God (known as Agnosticism) has internal contradictions. I would challenge the Agnostic to explore what you believe about the attributes of God and where you learned of these attributes. Perhaps you borrowed the ideas from another religious system which claims that one can know something about God.
I contend that the "Unknown God" concept of God is simply incorrect, and that it does not accurately express reality.
The Christian concept of God is based on the teachings of Jesus, which were passed on to the church and written down in the various books and letters of the Bible. It is based on the assumption that you can know something about God by observing the universe and the created things within it, both living and non-living.
The Christian God is loving, all-powerful, simultaneously present everywhere, all-knowing, holy, righteous, purposeful, and consciously self-aware. In His essence he resides outside of the universe he created, but he pervades every part of the universe. He inhabits the heart of each person and yet doesn't violate the person's existence as a distinct, conscious entity. He is not evil and in fact, he hates evil.
Many people who reject the Christian concept of God base their rejection on two points:
God, the Loving Father
If God were a loving Father, wouldn't he protect His children from pain and suffering? After all, this is what a human father would want to do for his children who he loves, and God must love even more and have the ability to help them even more. However this analogy to a human father has two problems. Two examples will illustrate these problems.
The first example is of a human father who loves his child but who will in love inflict pain and suffering on his child. He does this for the child's best interest. When a baby wants to touch a hot stove, the father stops him and tells him no in a stern tone. The baby still wants to touch the stove even after this and the father must insist that the baby not touch the stove. He wants to teach him and to warn him about danger. Usually the baby cries because he didn't get to enjoy his freedom as an autonomous, self-sufficient person. Yet the father loves the child and acts in the child's best interest. Why then would we consider God unloving when he disciplines us for our own best interest?
The second example is of a human father who allows his child to exercise his free will and to do something that the father knows will ultimately cause pain and sorrow in the life of his child. He does this because the child is a free-will entity who must be allowed to make his own decisions in life, even if these decisions ultimately harm him. Even as the father allows his child to make these choices, he is at the same time grieved as he considers the pain and suffering that will result. Yet no one considers that the human father is unloving in allowing his child to exercise free will. Why then would we consider God unloving when he allows us to exercise free will in situations in which we will ultimately experience pain and suffering as a result?
The Problem of Evil
The real problem with the Christian concept of God is what is the origin of evil? I should mention that this is also the real problem with the other concepts of God I have mentioned, but that none of these other concepts of God even attempt to address the problem. However, the Christian concept of God deals with this problem head on.
We should consider what the nature of evil is. Is it a thing or a substance which an object or person can possess? Or is it a spirit or a life force which influences a person to perform evil acts? Or is it an innate tendency or desire which God created in every person? Can evil exist apart from the actions of humans? Is it evil when animals kill and eat one another? Or is it evil when a virus results in sickness or even death in a person?
The Christian concept of God defines evil as:
God created the universe to operate independently from God, much as the Deists assert. God created natural laws which control the operation of the universe, and the universe obediently follows those laws in its natural operation. God also created the creatures, including humans. They can do whatever they choose as long as they don't violate the natural laws. For example, a person can't jump to the moon because the natural laws require him to achieve the escape velocity of seven miles per second in order to break free from the earth's gravitational pull.
We humans are able to kill, destroy, harass, or annoy one another other as we will. However, God has given us a guide to assist us in determining what is right and what is wrong. That guide is the well-formed conscience. In every situation in which we acts or speaks, our well-formed conscience tells we whether this action or word is within the will of God. But man is still able to do and say hurtful things.
The origin of evil is a result of God allowing His created humans to have moral free will. If there were no moral beings (angels and humans) in the universe, there would be no evil. Thus, it is not evil when a rock falls off a cliff and shatters into pieces upon impact. And it is not evil when a supernova explodes. Evil only exists as a consequence of the actions of moral beings when they act in disobedience to God's law.
Man's Free Will
God allowed the possibility of evil when he created moral beings with free will. But was this an unloving act on God's part? I am reminded of the saying, "It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all." It was a supreme act of love when God created moral beings who could freely enter into a love relationship with Him. But the risk that God faced in creating the opportunity for this love relationship was that some, in fact many, would reject this relationship, and that others would suffer as a result of this rejection.
Consider what kind of world it would be if all men were diligent in obeying the dictates of God's Divine law. People would seek out the best for one another and would sacrifice their needs in order to meet the needs of other people.
God's Role and Responsibility
Please allow me to give another illustration. Parents give birth to children even though they know that their children will experience pain, suffering and hardship during life, Yet no one considers that childbearing is an unloving thing, rather we consider that childbearing is a supreme expression of love. We conceive children and then raise them and love them and care for their needs and desire the best for them for the rest of their lives. So why would we think that God is unloving because he creates us to inhabit a world in which we will experience pain, suffering and hardship? Shouldn't we have the same respect for God that we have for human parents?
If there were any other way that God could have given us the opportunity to enter into a love relationship with Him without the side-effect of the pain, suffering and hardship that we must endure, then he would have done it. This is the source of the problem of evil — the moral free will which allows us to love God is the same moral free will with which we cause pain, misery and suffering on those around us. The fault lies with us, not with God. We are the ones who are hurtful to each other. We are the ones who allow our children to be undisciplined, resulting in a life of hardship for them. We are the ones who say hurtful things to one another without thinking, and we are the ones who kill babies in the name of freedom of choice (abortion). It is us humans who oppress one another and who are responsible for genocide and starvation in the world. If we were all obedient to God and to His perfect will for us rather than doing whatever we want, the world would be largely free from pain and suffering. The problem is with us. The problem is sin. But God hates sin.
This brings us to the second aspect of the Christian concept of God God is holy. In order to stand in the presence of God, we must be free from sin. I would not want it any other way. What a disgusting place heaven would be if sin, evil, and wickedness were allowed there. These things must be excluded. Yet by our very actions and words we daily demonstrate that we are sinful, evil, and wicked. What is God to do about this? He desires to have an intimate, loving relationship with us but we continually practice things that God can't even look upon.
Of course, Christianity provides the answer to this problem as well, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article. But what other concept of God besides the Christian concept of God provides an explanation for how sinful man can enter into the presence of a holy God?
Of course, some would deny that man is sinful. They would assert that man is basically good, that he qualifies to have fellowship with God even in his present condition. However, as I look deep within my own heart and as I observe how people treat one another, the realities say otherwise.
One solution to the problem is that we could allow God to be unholy, that we could relax our standards for who can stand in His presence. But should we do this? God would be very unloving indeed if he were an unholy God. We all sense that moral goodness and self-sacrificing love are Godly qualities. Would we really be satisfied with a God who was just as corrupt as we are? I should hope not.
For God to have any value as God, he must be loving and he must be holy. Without these attributes, it would be better to not have a God at all. But without the life-sustaining energy of God, all creation would instantly disintegrate and life would cease.
For myself, I must choose the Christian concept of God as that concept which best represents what I observe in the universe around me and in the creatures around me. The Christian concept of God is the only one that explains what I observe. It is also the only one that offers a satisfying eternal hope.