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What is God?

(38 Posts)
TooBusyByHalf Mon 27-Apr-15 23:06:53

Giles Fraser wrote recently: "For God is the story of human dreams and fears. God is the shape we try to make of our lives. God is the name of the respect we owe the planet. God is the poetry of our lives. " I've also heard people say things like 'god is the good in all of us' or 'god is love'.
I'm not sure I really get that type of description - does that mean that there is no actual being called God? (For those who believe in god I mean)
I'm not interested in OT descriptions of God. What other descriptions of God do you know? From what sources?
I'm interested in understanding what Christian believers mean when they talk about God in the 21st century. Thank you.

BlackeyedSusan Mon 27-Apr-15 23:50:48

different believers will have a different perspective depending on their particular branch of religion and their own experiences.

many christians would use the Bible as their source material for who God is, and what he is like. That would include the Old testament. quite a few would struggle with the imagery of the ot testament God in places, and would prefer to model their experience of God on the new testament.

what is it in particular that you are looking for with regard to descriptions?

TooBusyByHalf Tue 28-Apr-15 00:02:27

Thanks. It's a stumbling block in my exploration of my lack of faith - that I don't know what God is - I can't conceptualise it.

BlackeyedSusan Tue 28-Apr-15 00:21:58

I will probably have a read through your other thread tomorrow... and see if I can manage to string a sentence or two together that mmight make sense. it is a bit late tonight.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 28-Apr-15 00:27:27

I don't know what god is, even though I believe. I have fun theorizing though.grin

fattymcfatfat Tue 28-Apr-15 00:33:16

I have no idea but I also believe
grin not very helpful!
my dad theorizes that the sun is God as the sun gives life to us all and he was an atheist until I grew up and could hold a debate wink (he apparently realised I may have a point!)

fulltothebrim Tue 28-Apr-15 06:26:26

God is an imaginary being.

timetosmile Tue 28-Apr-15 06:45:48

If you are interested in what Christians understand God to be like, then look at the person/personality of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus both claims that he is God "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" and the later writers e.g. Paul, also refer to him as such, e.g."he is the image of the invisible God"..
So 'grounding' your thought about God (who seems very intangible in the abstract) in the characteristics of a person is a more accessible place to start.
Have you read any of the Bible? I would suggest trying Mark or Luke's gospel in a modern translation, and pay specific attention to what Jesus seems like as a person, what his 'manifesto' as it were, was, and the claims he makes about what God is like.
Good luck in your future thoughts on this!

fulltothebrim Tue 28-Apr-15 06:47:20

The Old Testament is fun too- although be prepared to have your eyes opened to a fairly nasty version of god.

Vivacia Tue 28-Apr-15 07:01:44

It's a stumbling block in my exploration of my lack of faith - that I don't know what God is - I can't conceptualise it

There's perhaps a lot to be learned from that fact in itself.

Thistledew Tue 28-Apr-15 07:12:29

God is a sense of connection between all living things. Nothing more. God has no independent entity outside human appreciation of God. God does not understand life- (human) life understands God.

TooBusyByHalf Tue 28-Apr-15 08:49:05

Thanks timetosmile, I am reading a lot but I could definitely read the bible more. I suppose the difficulty for me with God being just like Jesus (or the reverse us being made in god's image) is that it sort of reduces god somehow. I suppose I want god to be bigger than that!

Vivacia Tue 28-Apr-15 09:19:46

Do you mind me asking why you've limited the discussion to just the christian god, and not one of the others? Your posts read as though you believe in that god, you're just unsure exactly what it is that you are believing in, have I got that right?

TooBusyByHalf Tue 28-Apr-15 09:50:12

No, vivacia, I'm an atheist (as I've said before). I am wondering whether in fact my long held views are right - and I have been quite as dogmatic as you and full and hak and head in the past - or whether instead there is a more spiritual aspect to life. I have a cultural connection to the Church of England so I'm starting there. It's a personal quest if you like and I don't think I'd personally get much out of the Greek gods or Shiva or whomever else at the moment.

niminypiminy Tue 28-Apr-15 09:56:12

A couple of things.

One is panentheism.

This is different from pantheism - which is God is the cosmos, and we find God in the natural world (primarily), in everything that is. Most expressions of the wonder of the universe as revealed by science such as the famous one by Carl Sagan are are version of pantheism.

Panentheism understands God as not only comprising the whole cosmos but also outside/before it. The cosmos is made out of God, it is created and sustained by God's will out of God's being, but God is more than the cosmos. God exceeds whatever God has created - which is bound by time and space, whereas God is not - and God sustains what God has created as a free and loving self-giving gift.

This leads us on to the second thing, which is apophatic theology.

Apophatic theology is the attempt to understand God by saying what God is not. I've just done a bit of it: God is not bound by time and space (although we are, so inevitably we reach for terms like 'outside' and 'before' because we don't have any other way we can think). God is not created - he is uncreated, the ground of all possible being. God is not in his cosmos - he is not an entity - the cosmos is in him/her/it.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity has a long tradition of apophatic approaches to God which emphasise the otherness and mystery of God, although it is a strong current in all varieties of Christian mysticism. This approach tends to emphasise the inadequacy of human language to conceptualise God, hence the recourse to metaphors and analogies, such as those by Giles Fraser that you quoted in the OP.

That is one approach to God. The other is to see God in Jesus. Jesus is all human, he's entirely and completely a human being; and he is also all God, entirely and completely the exact imprint of God's nature. That's the amazingly simple yet extraordinarily difficult-to-get-your-head-around heart of Christianity. Christians look to the personality and character of Christ because he is what a person who is totally open to, totally oriented to, without any separation from God would look like.

I'm sure I've recommended it before, but Rowan Williams's Tokens of Trust is an excellent, theologically sophisticated but clearly written book about the nature of God.

Vivacia Tue 28-Apr-15 10:09:35

No, vivacia, I'm an atheist (as I've said before).

Scribbles previously missed information in to dossier and chides self

I am wondering whether in fact my long held views are right

The premise of your question suggests that you are presuming gods do exist, and you just need/want to understand them better.

TooBusyByHalf Tue 28-Apr-15 16:20:19

Thanks niminy that's really helpful as always. I am currently half way through Unapologetic that you recommended. I haven't found a copy of Tokens of trust yet though I know it's on Amazon. I'm also reading some other introductory texts... So learning lots fast. I really am immensely grateful to everyone who spends their time answering my questions.

vivacia I thought you knew because we talked about it on this board only a few days ago. But fair enough, I remember you better than you remember me. No offence taken. grin

And you are right about the premise of my question - because without the presumption (for the purposes of the question ) that god exists the question is meaningless.

Thistledew Tue 28-Apr-15 23:16:49

I would suggest that it is the other way around and that your question "what is God" reveals that there is in fact no one God.

Even amongst Christians there is no actual agreement as to who, what or how God is, let alone once you move beyond Christianity to the other Abrahamic religions and then on to other theistic religions that do and have existed.

It is like the question of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound of there is no one to hear it. We cannot define God; anything that has true omnipotence exists beyond our comprehension. Anything that we can describe is not God; therefore any God that we describe does not exist.

Tuo Wed 29-Apr-15 00:50:49

I am drawn to the apophatic, as I tend to find that other ways of approaching 'what God is' are eventually inevitably reductive. I don't see this as being in opposition to 'seeing God in Jesus': I guess I would see the wholly human Jesus as being also wholly God, and would see that co-existence (with the Spirit) as being itself ineffable. So there are things we can say about the human Jesus, because human beings are not beyond the realm of language, but that's only a small part of the story. It makes your head hurt a bit, but I suspect that if trying to get your head around God doesn't hurt then you're doing it wrong!

KingOfTheBongo Wed 29-Apr-15 01:59:07

Maybe this will help somewhat .... www.newadvent.org/cathen/06612a.htm

timetosmile Wed 29-Apr-15 07:11:50

I think you should take heart in this search!
All through the Gospels, Jesus is recorded as telling parables which start "the kingdom of God, well, its a bit like this...or let me explain it this other way..." as he faces the challenge of trying to articulate as fully as possible the character and mission of God in so many creative and narrative ways.
I don't think full comprehension of 'What/Who is God' is possible for our (relatively) teeny brains to be honest..which is not to say the endeavour is pointless!
But through Jesus' character and narratives, we begin to build up an incomplete but internally coherent picture of what God is like.
Rowan Williams has a good book on this..more accessible that some of his others I have attempted (!) called Meeting God in Mark..it was very cheap on Kindle the other week.

Vivacia Wed 29-Apr-15 07:16:40

I too think you should take heart and relax, there are no gods, there is no hell or purgatory or limbo.

madhairday Wed 29-Apr-15 12:37:43

It is a huge question isn't it. Forgive me if this post is disjointed, posting on phone as lying down ill, but wanted to join the conversation :-)

I'd also point to Jesus as 'the image of the invisible God'. For me, this doesn't reduce God because Jesus wasn't simply walking round being nice and telling a few stories. He performed miracles, time and again displayed power over the natural course of things, time and again turned things around from the accepted ways of thinking of the culture of the time. And I believe he rose from death - displayed the ultimate power over death. He is so much more than man, yet is fully human too. Mind blowing, I know.

So for me, if someone asks me who God is and what God is like, I think about Jesus. I also think of the Spirit, who is a comforter, a hope-filler and gives us - I believe - strength in our weaknesses, hope in the darkest of times. I also look at our world, the universe in its infinite beauty and mystery, and that points towards God in perhaps a less tangible but more huge and mysterious way.

I second niminy s book recommendations, you could also look at some NT Wright and CS Lewis stuff (surprised by joy for eg) which are intelligently written explorations of God's character and Christian faith.

TooBusyByHalf Wed 29-Apr-15 18:08:23

Thank you all. So much more reading to do now smile
I'm starting to like the Trinity - it's like if you break a problem down into constituent parts you can start to get a handle on how to approach it.
Complete side question - is it normal for churches to be always locked when there's no service on?

JasperDamerel Wed 29-Apr-15 18:31:53

Any more book suggestions? My copy of Tokens of Trust arrived today, and I'm really enjoying it - I'm very impressed by the amount of thought provoked by such a clear and simple text.

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