Frequently asked questions about GOD, like Who is God? etc answered here. God is the supreme object of worship. Out of respect, some Jews write “G-d” instead of “God.” They see this spelling as a way to avoid using God’s name.
Monotheists believe that there is only a single God. Polytheists worship many gods. But many polytheists also speak of God. They may think of God as the highest god, or they may see all particular gods as manifestations of the supreme God.
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What Does “GOD” Mean?
Probably no deﬁnition of the word “God” is completely satisfactory. Some people characterize God as supernatural. But others, such as Baruch Spinoza, have identiﬁ ed God with nature. Some people characterize God as superhuman. But others see a human being as God; for example, some Christians see Jesus as the only God. The medieval philosopher Anselm deﬁ ned God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” But if one is examining a variety of beliefs in God, as we are here, Anselm’s deﬁ nition will not work. The deﬁ nition given above—God is the supreme object of worship—has its limitations, too. Some people, such as the ancient Epicureans, have believed in a supreme God but have considered that God too remote to be concerned about human beings or interested in their worship.
How To See God?
Obviously we cannot see God but in some ways He can be talk to. Religious people talk about God in several ways. Most people talk about God mythologically. That is, they tell stories that treat God as a human-like being. Hindus have many stories about God in the forms of Siva, Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, and the Goddess. Jews, Christians, and Muslims share stories about how God created the world, almost destroyed it with a universal flood, and redeemed the people
of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Many people envision God as well as talk about God. They worship God in the form of sacred images. For example, Hindus have many elaborate images through which they approach God.
Some people talk about God philosophically. Among other topics, they try to determine just what can be said about God. Some insist that one can talk about God only using negative terms. For example, the statement “God is inﬁ nite” says that God is not subject to ordinary limitations. Others speak of God positively, for example, “God is love.” Most qualify that statement: God’s love is very much more profound than human love. In the 20th century, some philosophers and theologians were interested in symbols as ways of talking about God.
Yet another group of religious people insist that it is not possible to talk about God at all. These are mystics. Some mystics claim that God is so unlike anything in ordinary existence that God is beyond all speech and thought. All human beings can do is experience God in silence.
What Is God Like?
Just as many religious people ﬁ nd meaning in stories about God, so many religious people tend to think of God in personal terms. Indeed, some insist that people can worship only a personal God. During the 20th century, many North Americans questioned the traditional Jewish and Christian images of a personal God. In their eyes, these ideas were too European and too male to be attractive to all human beings.
Philosophers and theologians have tended to describe God in terms of more abstract “attributes” or characteristics. Many Jews, Christians, and Muslims have said that God is one, eternal, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, present throughout the universe, and beneﬁ cent. During the 20th century philosophers and theologians questioned many of these attributes: “Process theologians” suggested that God was always changing and developing. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian victim of the Holocaust, taught that God suffers, too.
In addition to identifying the attributes of God, philosophers and theologians have tried to identify how God relates to the universe. On one extreme is God’s transcendence: God is totally other. On the other is God’s immanence: God is in the world (panentheism) or identical with it (pantheism).
Finally, some religions have adopted speciﬁ c doctrines about God. Examples include the Christian ideas of the trinity and incarnation.
God Does What?
Some Hindus say that God creates the world, preserves it, and destroys it. God does these things in the form of three gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Traditional Christians say that God both creates the universe and redeems fallen humanity. Gnostics deny that God created the world. For them, God simply redeems the particles of light that creation dispersed among particles of darkness. In the 20th century, some philosophers and theologians suggested that God was not active at the beginning but will be at the end of the world. That is, God is the supreme good to which all the universe is tending.
FAQ about God
Jews, Christians, and Muslims have puzzled over two questions about God for centuries. The ﬁ rst question sets God’s omniscience—his knowledge of everything—against the ability of human beings to act freely. The question runs: If God knows everything, then God knows what I am going to do in the future; in that case, how can I act of my own free will? Many thinkers have proposed subtle answers to this question. Others simply assert that God knows everything, and that human beings act freely. They do not try to resolve the paradox.
A second question sets God’s omnipotence— his ability to do everything—against God’s goodness. If God is both omnipotent and good, why do evil and bad things happen, especially to the good? Why does God allow some babies to be born without brains? Why does God allow people to torture and execute each other by the millions? To answer the second question, some appeal to “free will.” In order for human beings to be fully human, God had to create people who could freely choose both good and evil. Others simply admit that there is no good answer to these questions.
Does God Exist?
In ancient Greece the philosopher Xenophanes noted that people made the gods in their own image. He noted: “if oxen and horses . . . had hands, . . . horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen” (fragment 15). In the time since Xenophanes, many philosophers and theologians have tried to prove that God exists.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, some prominent thinkers disagreed. The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said that God was simply a projection of what humans valued most. Karl M ARX, Émile Durkheim, and Sigmund Freud expressed similar ideas. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution caused many to doubt God’s creative activity. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche celebrated “the death of God.”
Nevertheless, at the end of the 20th century an overwhelming majority of North Americans still believed in God.