What is God?

Luke just posted an interesting question on XN Realists about the character of God, ‘Who/What is God’? I am kind of intrigued by the question because how someone views God reveals a lot about themselves as well.

When I was first introduced to faith as a youth, God was a ‘father/parental’ figure for me…I really attached to that image and it helped me to move forward in life. When we said ‘Our Heavenly Father’, I could totally relate to God being a parental figure to help guide me from the dregs of life I had  (a) created or (b) had thrust upon me. I was 17 then, that made all the sense in the world.

I am 35 now (18 years later). What is God now?

I see a ‘friend’…like in Abraham’s story. As I have grown I have become responsible for my life and my actions…I assume total accountability for those things. I look at God as someone that is my ‘friend’, someone I bounce ideas off and seek guidance on issues for (some of the time); someone that is sometimes there to hear my crap; somtimes to help me through crap. God is my friend…and maybe thats what I need?

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25 thoughts on “What is God?

  1. At first, I viewed God as distant and now as non-existent.

    Same way I feel about Santa.

    This has had a psychological effect on me. Initially I was the classic case of someone using God as a crutch. Whatever good or bad came into my life, I “gave it up to God”. If I received a compliment, I said don’t thank me, God gets all the glory. And if something bad happened, I would say, the righteous suffer and God will avenge.

    But this led me to feel empty, depressed and reinforced a co-dependent relationship with the church I was attending. I wasn’t dealing with the problems I was facing or my dysfunctional past, God was just the ultimate displacement tool.

    And after years of counseling, speaking with friends and confidants, and working on my dysfunctional behaviors, I found that I needed less of a god. I dealt with past abuses (sexual, mental) and I could see how those abuses lead me to my modern dysfunctional behaviors. I began to change my life and my outcome without the crutch and I feel now that I am in a much healthier place psychologically.

    I do not offer this as a proof of god non-existence (people can argue that until the cows come home), but as my journey from being a Christian to being a person who does not need to profess a faith.

  2. As a child growing up in a Southern Baptist community, I saw God as an angry and judgmental old man who wanted nothing more than to throw me into hell.

    Thankfully, after I left the church in my teens, that changed radically. Now, I guess I see God as a combination of a unconditionally loving father and a loyal friend. To be honest, sometimes the exact feelings can be confusing and difficult to classify.

  3. J0hn Lennon might have stated it most poetically in his song “God”

    ‘God is a concept by which we measure our __________’ (fill in the blank)

    For Lennon it was “pain” and for me it was probably a deep sense of alienation from the material world and God was how I measured acceptance. The idea of God was always accepting of me as an individual. That was until I stumbled into organized religion.

    But alas I grew up, grew wiser, got a different perspective and worldwiew and began to grow more confident in my own identity. God, to me, is a now just that….. a mental concept and nothing more. It is one that I constructed to fit what I needed at the time.

    Today, I know that God does not exist. The problem is that God does not know that he does not exist. Thank you Slavoj Zizek for that wonderful thought.

  4. I usually think of God as a good father, like Hebrews 12 describes. But I also think of god as a faithful husband like Hosea describes. Those 2 analogies have been very important to me the past 2 years.
    In the Chapter “Divine Goodness” of C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, God’s relationship to humanity is outlined by 4 analogies from the bible.
    1. Creator to Creation. Potter to the Clay.
    2. Master to Beast. Shepherd to Sheep.
    3. Father to Son. Heb. 12.
    4. Husband to Wife. Hosea 2.
    Each analogy has a different relationship which can each be identified in my life, at least, as a facet of God’s love for me. Of my rebellion in the face of God’s love Lewis writes, “it is natural for us to wish that God had designed us for a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are not wishing for more love, but less.”

    This wishful thinking, I find, is the source of most people’s “God complex”. And mine, for sure.

  5. Like you, in my youth I was very attracted by the loving father/loving friend ideas. I guess over time I’ve got less clear as the simplistic faith gets mixed up with knowledge and experience. In the last few years I’ve been very attracted to Paul Tillich’s idea of God as the “ground of being”. Not that I claim to understand it very well, but the idea that God is fundamental to our existence, rather than a being “out there” somewhere looking down on us and occasionally interfering seems much more complete to me.

  6. i’m all about the “ground of being.” this is existence plus some. just thankful for it, even though it will kick my butt and eventually kill me. makes me think of Exodus 4:24-26 and Genesis 28:10-22 where the great I AM seeks to kill Moses and Jacob… each leave with scars and Jacob limps from there on out. i think it’s an excellent narrative witness to how life is deep and untamed, it operates in inexplicable, undisciplined freedom. we can understand it only in part, we can reason it out only in hindsight. it’s awesome yet a terror in and of itself. it is friend and mother/father to us all, yet will end us just the same.

    • I was speaking of how our childish and literal understanding of these figures evolve into understanding the personification of ideas… Santa is about giving, god about love, and so on. You evolved your notions about god from the ‘fatherly figure’ when you were young to a ‘friend figure’ as you matured, just as you evolved Santa from being a real person to representing a notion. My question understood in this sense is why do you assume Santa is figurative but god must remain literal?

      • “My question understood in this sense is why do you assume Santa is figurative but god must remain literal?” (tildeb)

        Santa is like a bedtime story we tell children, no different than a ‘cartoon’ image of some sort, to play on the fun of the season of Christmas. Kids can relate because imaginatively they can relate to cartoons and the whole fun that is involved there.

        Eventually we are not children anymore and the cartoon image associated with Santa and that time of the season becomes a kind of un-needed exercise…the thrill is gone.

        Whereas God does not neccesarily function in that realm of basic seasonhood and pure imaginative childish fun. God is something people take seriously as they get older and not while they are children (which is quite the opposite from Santa).

        God is threshed out in schools, is Santa? This may the stark difference, the education factor associated with God – ie: religious studies (a humanity area of study in which people can recieve degrees).

        To me, I have little reason to want to doubt God is an actual being of some sort. This does not hurt me in some way, shape, or form. In fact, as I have argued from time immemorial, I find it helps build my own character.

      • I understand people do take god very literally and seriously and attribute all kinds of wonderful effects to him as a cause without adequately dealing with the lack of knowledge about some mechanism to allow this to occur in some kind of understandable way. But have you noticed the problem you raise when your notions about this being evolve from an earlier stage of your life to now… compared with your statement I have little reason to want to doubt God is an actual being of some sort. This raises the question that falls into the ‘realm’ of science and honest inquiry: is it true that god is an actual being? This is the claim you are making. Should this actual being be subject to the variances (and vagaries) of your understanding based on your age and experience in order to be known? Furthermore, notice how often the notions of Santa and god are used as personifications. This is the figurative language that accompanies the more sophisticated understanding of representing ideas with figures. But how is that figurative usage compatible if the notion being described crosses the boundary into the literal? If someone were to suggest Santa was true in the literal sense then evidence now plays a central role in establishing this truth claim (and we must leave behind what describes the notion in metaphorical and figurative terms because this no longer is at issue) and it becomes a matter of scientific inquiry. In the same way, when notions of god crosses the boundary into the literal, then evidence plays a central role in establishing this truth claim and it becomes a matter of scientific inquiry.

        The argument is often presented that science and religion answer two different questions so are therefore compatible but different ways of knowing. This has merit if and only if the two areas are not in competition. No scientist with even a modicum of sense would suggest some figurative art be taken as a literal description of reality and thus weighed and measured and found to be lacking. But the same courtesy is rarely extended by the religious who are downright eager to cross their figurative theology into the domain of the literal and then complain loudly that legitimate criticism by honest scientific inquiry has no business – and is in fact discriminatory – in matter of theology!

        Wouldn’t it be grand if I didn’t push my literal belief that Santa is as real an entity as thee and me onto you and yours, attempt to circumscribe public policy into supporting my belief, demand your children be subject to learning all about Santa’s desires and intentions and goals not only in school where they are to offer their prayers to Santa and his worldly work but in science class where they are to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of how mirror neurons work in the brain and compare and contrast this with Santa’s effect on generosity? And so on. If I want to keep my notion of Santa figurative, then it’s nobody’s business but my own. When I attempt to force you to accept Santa as a literal being, then I should have every expectation to be fought tooth and nail by those reasonable and responsible people who demand I first prove my extraordinary case with extraordinary evidence before allowing me and my supporters to venture into the public domain insisting on widespread respect for my belief.

  7. “I wasn’t dealing with the problems I was facing or my dysfunctional past, God was just the ultimate displacement tool” (Wolf)

    Good point and I agree, this is still a common view of God within many Evangelical circles. The problem is the idea of ‘responsibility and accountability’ which has been usurped for a ‘God does everything’ mantra and ‘we do nothing’. I find it an amazing way to view the scriptures and the supreme bastardization of the theology actually in the texts themselves (IMO).

    “I began to change my life and my outcome without the crutch and I feel now that I am in a much healthier place psychologically.” (Wolf)

    Agreed. You found a way to deal with your human condition and make it to a healthy place in life – which I think should always be commended! God or no God.

    However, this does not mean that faith in God cannot lead to many of the same psychological processes that you found in your path to healthiness. In fact, I have come to believe, via some historical study, psychology’s forerunner may very well have been the counselling happening within faith groups…which were grounded in principles within scriptural texts.

  8. “It is one that I constructed to fit what I needed at the time” (Johnny)

    God is a construct of our mind…which part exactly? Our imagination? Our fears? Our hopes? Our goals? Our secrets? Our inner self? Our ego? Our sub-conscious?

    This is a tricky but interesting topic since how can one pin-point if God was the construct of their mind or some other collective thoughts (nature vs nurture)?

    You mention organized religion for example, which is a collective bunch of data on God reinforced by the group. Is this the version of God that was problematic or just the idea of God in general? Did God need to become a myth because of the environment God was learned in or just because this is the case?

    • Well, it would be logical that if God was a ‘construct’ then it at first must be an imagined idea. I do not know if we have strict compartments in our mind? I cannot really answer “what part” the God idea originates in.

      My first idea of god was something that was taught to me and then I internalized that thought into my mind and then god became what I proposed.

      The construct of a well defined god-narrative is not an unheard of mental experiment. Myths and legends are imagined everyday by all manner of peoples. But society does not take some myths and ideas so seriously as the idea of the God-narrative.

      All popular thoughts are reinforced by a group otherwise they would not become popular, even the most basic ideas. The idea of God is no exception. God is a shared narrative. I see nothing more that this. God is akin to the idea of the ‘nation’ (Canadian or American, etc). Something that can be positioned as a large group-construct but also something that can be personal-subjective to the individual. The nation is reinforced through various organizations, and so is God. The ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘God’ are different but the construct is the same, i.e. imagination with no material existence to base a univeral truth upon. Both the nation and God reside in the group and then they are internalized by the individual. This is not always the case but for the most part it is safe to assume.

      These ideas are bigger than the atomistic individual and there is something about this that humanity finds necessary. Perhaps that is a more interesting point than ‘what is God’. Why does humanity find it necessary for a god narrative-construct?

      • “Why does humanity find it necessary for a god narrative-construct?”
        -because we’re already engaged in a narrative construct. so let’s put a hopeful spin on the beginning (God created and stated it was good), a direction with common themes (liberation theology states: life is wrot with systematic injustice and oppression and religion’s work is toward liberation and resurrection of each individual lives and our corporate life), and a great ending (everyone is together in heaven or heaven will come to earth, or what have you). it’s a logical exercise and a superbly rational one, when framed as you have.

  9. “but the idea that God is fundamental to our existence, rather than a being “out there” somewhere looking down on us and occasionally interfering seems much more complete to me” (Jon)

    I like the idea as well. I have never seen God as some figure in the sky that was hanging out in the clouds looking down on us as we walked about this earth.

    The concept that first grabbed me in the scriptures was ‘God is a spirit’ and to see that is to ask something not in the realm of a spirit figure (which is why the idea of asking to see God physically makes no logical sense…its like asking to physically see gravity).

    God, within the Tanakh and NT, is not seen – ever. Jesus, the messianic figure with the closest relationship, could not even make this happen. Moses, the great leader never got to see God even though he point blank asked such a thing.

    But the ground of being, that energy, that sense of spirituality…this is where I also see God (or whatever the term for such a figure is).

  10. “i think it’s an excellent narrative witness to how life is deep and untamed, it operates in inexplicable, undisciplined freedom” (Z1G)

    I agree 100%! God has allowed such an existence (ie: choice and freedom), not that freedom is all that great on its own, its like one hand clapping for itself. Yet, this is the unbridled life I also see in my daily existence – in my personal life and in observation.

    I like your point about this – it recognizes the good and the bad that can arise from this unbridled freedom.

  11. thanks jay… and i liked your answer to our science-fundamentalist:

    “And this different from Santa Claus how?” (tildeb)

    In one very simple and obvvious way – no one really see’s santa as a ‘father figure’.

    i would also state that the notion Santa Claus is regional, largely a Nordic pagan figure which was snowballed into the Catholic Saint Nicholas, and secularized in the late 1800s. the notion of God is much more universal and wide spread, whether understood in a monotheistic or polytheistic sense. the notion, and i’m speaking just as the notion, of God is a world-wide anthropological reality that pre-dates writing and maybe even our species as Neanderthals also buried their dead with artifacts and such. Santa Claus, not so much.

  12. “Why does humanity find it necessary for a god narrative-construct?” (Johnny)

    I would say for the same reasons we find it neccesary to have political ideologies, we need a system by which to understand our beliefs about ‘intangible ideas’.

    On a reverse side, exactly because of things like politics we need a ‘god construct’…we need a hope that lies outside human interventions in our societal affairs. Within the god construct can be found hope in what can be deemed horrible political situations. We see what humanity collectively can offer, it can be appalingly frightening to know our collective human potential and where it leads to.

    For example, statistically speaking in a period from about 1917 to 1945 there was more death on this planet than all of the history of the world combined. Which nations had a stake in making this number.

    Germany
    Canada
    United States
    Britain
    France
    Italy
    Russia
    Japan

    In fact, within minutes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki some 140,000 people died ‘instantly’.

    Politically, these are the more ‘civilized’ nations of the planet. Yet their collective strength was almost more than humanity could bare. Where is the hope in a humanity that does this with it’s ‘power’?

    The God-construct is not merely a type of fantasy or escapism, it’s also working in dreams of hope, redemption, and peace. It’s working on the opposite of the idea realized in WW1 and WW2 by machines of powere that devoured humanity like ant piles. In the end, something needs to save us from ourselves.

    • Yes, you pose a great relation. First off you pose that politcal ideology is inherently a dangerous realm. Perhaps it is and I am in no disillusion about the powerful results of political ideology. For instance, fascism is a worldwide politcal danger. Why? Because we have witnessed the brutality of fascism; whether German or Iranian, Islamic or Christian is of no consequence, fascism is fascism and we know the dangers of this type of political idea. Even ideas that are widely accepted and supposedly democratic, on the surface, have often been destroyed through gross ideology; socialism and liberalism have shown examples. So we see that the political ideas are often corruptible.

      The difference is that political ideology finds its existence in a material surface; i.e. how to control a specific aspect of human existence: law and order, behaviour, production, etc. But the God idea is immaterial/incorporeal and is based in a construct of the mind (not a fantasy or escapism at all); we all have a different idea of this God and how it works. Yes, many people think of god as something that inspires hope. But that ‘hope’ is immaterial because it does not easily translate to a material existence.

      Has anyone ever physically seen their own idea of God? No, of course not because this idea is incorporeal. Has anyone ever seen fascism and/or other political ills? Yes of course, in fact we see political ills all the time. The political realm is an ugly place but we can recognize this as soon as we see it.

      For me, this distinction between immaterial and material is a very deep gap.

      The question that the god-idea must answer is whether there is a material way to bridge the gap between the immateriality of the god idea and our physical existence. How to bring God down to earth, so to speak. Christ and Muhammad are the obvious answers but you can see how these ideas still reside in a strict immaterial basis: Yahweh, Allah, etc, are the first cause; and because of this Jesus and his life can easily become an immaterial construct.

      Political ideology is at first immaterial, we know this is true. But ideology projects itself and realizes itself on a physical surface (or else the ideology would be totally ineffective as a political tool) and this is the danger of ideology but it is also represents our own ability to overcome its power. So, we do not need ‘hope’ to overcome ideology, what we need are critical ideas and physical responses that expose a dangerous ideology.

      The god-idea also needs critical ideas in order to expose its flaws, if the comparision you make is to be an equal and fair one. It is a very easy thing to spot dangerous politcal ideas and then attempt to eradicate them from the population, but does our society do the same for ideas about god?

  13. “The question that the god-idea must answer is whether there is a material way to bridge the gap between the immateriality of the god idea and our physical existence” (Johnny)

    3 short answers:

    Theology
    Traditions/Ritual
    Structures (ie: churches, mosques, synagogue)

    The same thing you mention about political ideology ‘Political ideology is at first immaterial, we know this is true. But ideology projects itself and realizes itself on a physical surface’ is true of religion as well.

    For example, we can critique religion exactly because of it’s material representation – not it’s concern with the immaterial world…somewhere in religion ‘the word becomes flesh’ or ‘ideas become real things’.

    This is why faith of any stripe can be critiqued and should be, because it’s physical manifestation works in daily lives in many countries. The Vatican is a real physical institution.

    This is where religion or theology is no different than ideologies whether politics, economics, psychology, sociology, etc…each are ideas and theories proposed which can be examined in real life behavior.

    So facism may have real manifestations, agreed, but what is fascism exactly? It has no real physical being – it’s just a conglomerate of ideas postulated to build a defensable society. But in essence, you cannot actually kill fascism…there is no physicality to it (in some ways).

    Point being, ideas are not of the material realm – they manifest into realities but they in and of themselves are not actual ‘facts’.

  14. “This raises the question that falls into the ‘realm’ of science and honest inquiry: is it true that god is an actual being? This is the claim you are making” (Tildeb)

    True, it is the claim I am making. The question, and this is quite the question, define being and consciousness? Watched a program on this yesterday and even for humans its hard ti pinpoint exactly what ‘being’ meant…in fact 4 to 5 views were raised about our human consciousness. Now if we are still trying to figure ourselves out, I think I can extend that grace to understanding the ‘being’ of God.

    Tildeb, I know you want solidifiable and concrete answers to questions, in fact, so do I. The problem is most questions and observations we make is somewhat limited by our human knowledge and limitations. Consciousness and ‘being a human’ is one of those queries with such problems attached. Now moving that to a God figure makes the question even more unanswered.

    “When I attempt to force you to accept Santa as a literal being, then I should have every expectation to be fought tooth and nail by those reasonable and responsible people who demand I first prove my extraordinary case…” (tildeb)

    To a certain degree (I actually do agree). If this is the case then I would ask you not be a hypocrite about the methodology (ie: proving the facts before they can believed) – apply it to politics, economics, business models, anthropology, sociology, women and gender studies, etc, alongside religion. Thats about as fair and balanced as you will ever hear it.

    When you find that many of these disciplines, which are some of the leading edge ideas in society, are also somewhat swallowed with the bitter pill of ‘trust’ (ie: faith) then we might start understanding much of the same inside of theology.

    There is no factually best version of God just like there is no factually best version of thee political party or thee economic system or thee business model. Yet we all agree political parties exist, economic models exist, and businesses exist…yet none of these endeavors is actually scientifically verifiable as’true’, ‘factual’, or outside of the realm of an immaterial ‘idea’.

    On what basis are you following and adhering to any of those social science and humanities models outside of religion? Will you admit part of your trust in those system is actually ‘faith’?

  15. “Point being, ideas are not of the material realm – they manifest into realities but they in and of themselves are not actual ‘facts’.” SVS

    Yes, we have already explained that ideas are immaterial but this is not the point of the discussion. Politics is not an immaterial realm, neither is religion. But we are not talking about “religion”, we are talking about the very idea of God. Politics is always material or else it is ceases to be politics, i.e. it ceases to exist. A construct of god needs no material basis because ‘faith’ is the only place it can be discussed.

    Do you see the correlation here? If politics is immaterial then it CEASES to exist, i.e. it ceases to manifest its idea onto a physical realm. If politics ceases to exist in any material way then it is totally harmless and useless; no matter if it is a fascist idea or any other political idea. Thus it logically follows that poltical ideas are not at all totally immaterial. Because the very premise of a politcal idea is always based in realizing itself upon a material surface, i.e. the economic, the social, the state, the proletariat, the religious, etc

    But if the very idea of god (not any speicific religion!) ceases to exist in the material realm then what do we think of the idea of god? It will still persist. Why? Because it is an idea that has no physical basis in any material existence. But if a political idea is rejected from the material realm then it is usually forgotten and it dies a certain social death.

    This is the difference: the poltical idea MUST realize its goals in a corporeal manner or else it is becomes a lost cause, wheras the god idea seeks to only realize itself through “faith” and as such it persists without any physical way to reject its immaterial existence.

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