The word, “God”
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
— 1 Corinthians 13⋅11
I once saw someone begin a “discussion” this way:
“God is an imaginary being who lives in the clouds.
Imaginary beings don’t exist.
Therefore, God doesn’t exist.”
I don’t think that’s a helpful way to start,
but the conception that many have of God,
and certainly the way they speak of God,
is hard to distinguish from a superhero who lives in the clouds,
much as a Greek god, with all their fables, faults, and foibles.
In Christianity, the word “God” means something deeper.
Here is one way of putting it:
- We are subject to many realities, without which we would not exist:
- without food, we starve;
- without air, we suffocate;
- without the sun, we freeze.
- These realities are themselves subject to others.
Mathematicians and scientists pursue immaterial, metaphysical realities
that govern our existence: formulas, for instance, but also structures.
- These “higher” realities really exist,
but are also immaterial. They transcend our reality.
- Underlying all these realities is a fundamental reality on which all depend,
and which thus transcends the others: being itself.
This, fundamentally, is what people mean
when they speak of “God”:
God is that reality which depends on nothing,
and on which all things depend.
Where can we see this in Biblical or Christian thought?
God replied to Moses, “I am who I am.”
Then he added:
This is what you will tell the Israelites:
I AM has sent me to you.
— Exodus 3:14
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God,
“the one who is1 and who was and who is to come, the almighty.”
— Revelation 1:8
This conception is not original to me;
one can trace it back through Christian history,
but even beyond that into various philosophies.
Perhaps because of this, people raise a thoughtful objection,
How can you conflate such an impersonal, abstract concept
with the personal, theistic notion of the Christian God?
This objection concerns a different question!
How is the God of the philosophers the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph?
What does Athens have in common with Jerusalem? the Academy with the Church?
We are not here “proving” the Christian idea of a personal God,
which is a question of revelation;
we are merely clarifying what we mean by the term “God”,
and that it is not an unreasonable principle on which to base a thoughtful conversation.
Before you can discuss the consequences of a term,
you must first agree on the what the term means.
In any case, nothing here prevents “being itself”,
which pervades all things and in which all things must share, from acting in our world.
One term used by some theologians is “pure actuality”.
See the analogy with a spider.
1 In the Greek-language
scriptures used by the first Christians, the passages in bold used the same words: