Not only is it downright dangerous to use the word “God” at the wrong time or in the wrong place, but even when you do get it right there’s no guarantee the person with whom you’re speaking entertains the same ideas about what you mean by “God” as do you.
Having been brought up as an open-minded Christian, I was still very surprised to learn there were so many possible definitions or images of God.
The following are just several broad images of what has over time been meant by “God” (with many variations on the main themes). As you’d expect each has its strong points and each has its weaknesses too. Which do you choose and more importantly, why?
- Deism – God created the world and then bowed out to leave us to it. The problem with this definition is that it leaves us no one to pray to when the going gets rough – or rather if we do pray there’s no one there to hear it.
- Pantheism – God is transcendent and immanent – God is me and I am God (more or less). The problem with this definition is that if God is me and I am bad, then God is bad and that can’t be right can it?
- Animism – God is ‘soul’ and ‘soul’ is in every rock, tree and especially in me. The problem with this is that many are unwilling to believe that animals have ‘souls’ and if they do then aren’t they on the same level as humans? When we throw chicken breasts on the BBQ are we really prepared to eat someone’s soul?
- Theism – God made the world and he’s right here by our sides taking care of it (and by implication – us). Despite a few inconsistencies this concept works fairly well. This could be why it’s been adopted by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
- Dualism (Ditheism) – God is good and he has a twin God who is bad and the battle rages on through eternity. This has in part been embraced by Christianity in the form of Satan. The problem with this definition is that if God is good (and omnipotent) and good is the only way, then why can’t the good God ever win? Is it because he is impotent (i.e. not omnipotent) or is it because he doesn’t want to win (in which case he’s bad). Either way is a dilemma.
- Polytheism – God takes many forms – usually like the Greek or Roman pantheon where there’s a top dog god who presides over his cabinet. In some cases, this manifests in a coalition government rather like the one we now have it Britain.
- Panentheism – God = nature. The problem with this is that when nature goes (i.e. an atomic bomb or the collision of earth with an asteroid) where does that leave God?
- Process Theology – God made the world and he’s obliged to stick around and manage the process. This is an attempt to integrate evolution with God. The problem with this is that if God is perfect, then why isn’t His creation perfect? (which it clearly isn’t if He has to micromanage it).