A) The God Concept
From the vague idea: “there must be something on the other side of the veil,” we began the human quest for God. Our ancestors began with ghost fear, and we have been refining the idea – for the better – ever since. We have gone through many superstitions, cults, and dead ends. But we are finally beginning to see a sublime ideal of a Loving Father who holds all reality in his expansive and inclusive family.
There has always been an innate knowing that there is (must be) something more than we can perceive with our physical senses. Read history and you will see the fascinating progress of civilizations. This narration does not take a straight line from primitive to modern. It obviously moves from those old and foolish ideas to more advanced (and maybe just as in need of update) newer ideas. Nonetheless, there is a steady, and it seems inevitable, transformation in our consciousness to a more sophisticated and appropriate human/Divine interaction.
Our ideas about God have changed to reflect the progressing times. The God Concept held by differing religious institutions is the central value forming group faith. And organized religion is one of the pillars of civilization. But the God Concept is more important for the individual, whether held in consort with a formalized religion or simply held as a private belief. This is the real foundation of each person’s ideas about how they, and other people, should act and interact. This is the real basis of civility. And civilization is built upon civility.
Our first ideas about God come from others: family, clan, school, and church. But as we grow we begin to have a personal relationship with God, thus modifying and clarifying our ideas about who he is. Intellectual ideas lead to contemplation, followed by decisions which initiate actions. Our acted upon ideas develop into knowable experiences, which, in turn, help us to grow and mature. It is our personal experience with other persons, including God, which changes our concepts about them. We start by being drawn to their unique qualities which leads to understanding. Then we begin to trust their motives. And, finally, we settle into a comfortable appreciation of them as a friend. We see them for who they are. Only a person can love and be loved.
God is both the first resort and the last resort. Humans do not know enough about either God or Reality to make complete decisions. Assumptions, beliefs, logic, and faith project our minds into the future. These, of course, are either correct, partially correct, or wrong. It is only after traveling down a many faceted road that we learn. But at the ‘end’ of that road we will finally see there is only one direction to move; only one destiny. The road from that point forward will still be circuitous but it will have a different feel, a different character. It will have a consistent purpose; it will lead us inexorably to the Source of Value.
During our investigation into the nature and attributes of God, we come face to face with questions about fundamental reality. To believe these questions can even be answered is, perhaps, the most fundamental of all. We examine, even confront, belief after belief until we discover a superior notion. The mind contains the innate ability to learn. It can know the difference between fact and fiction, right and wrong, and (most importantly) what is good, better, and best. The personality has the natural ability to organize and expand in self awareness. The adult is potential in every child, and the God Concept grows in depth and harmony as the whole person develops. In the end, it is the fact of personal growth, and humankind’s plodding progress, which clear a true path.
The personal transition from one God Concept to another is often one of the most difficult emotional and intellectual upheavals which can occur in our lives. But it need not be a negative experience. The simple truth is: we are finite and God is infinite. This being the case, it is completely ludicrous to think we will ever know everything there is to know about an eternal God. Thus it follows, we will forever be expanding in understanding, clarification, and wisdom. As we acquire more information, we will mature.
One difficulty lies in holding too tightly to our preconceived ideas. Once an idea has been solidified, and put into place, we have a hard time modifying or updating it. And this is how it should be, after all, ideas are foundational. But, as we learn more, the previous structure invariably needs to be revised. The base structure needs to fit together snugly in order for it to support even heavier concepts. Those who refuse to renovate an idea often suffer the collapse of their defective edifice. They then suffer the difficult task of rebuilding. But the entire structure is never demolished completely. Those ideas and ideals which are true will remain dependable no matter what falls away around them.
Always remember the finite to infinite theme. What seems perfect can always be improved. There is no end to the unfolding, self-revealing nature of the One we seek. He will perpetually give us more to learn, more to know, and more to become.
We are forever on the quest to describe all things real. Sometimes we need to eliminate phantoms or simply stop chasing the tail of a foolish whim, but the path continually opens to new possibilities. In establishing a fundamental (and evolving) God Concept, we give ourselves a good foundation to build upon (and fall back on, if necessary). And occasionally a new paint job is in order.
Even if a person does not name what they believe in as “God,” they do have a God Concept. This is because “God” is reality; and all fundamental reality includes facts, meanings, and values. We strive to know how things work. We postulate where things came from and where we are going. The exclusion of a named deity does not change reality in the least. The name we give to God depends on the concept frames we build, and hold, about His nature or about Nature itself.
We change our God Concept to fit reality or we change reality to fit our God Concept; our actions show which. We praise Mother Theresa for her work with the poorest of the poor because her God Concept molded her idea of reality; and we know her actions were good and loving. We condemn the Twin Tower terrorists because their idea of reality molded their God Concept; and it is obvious their actions were destructive.
B) Ideas and Ideal
Humans represent their ideas with word symbols. When describing God we naturally move to the highest we can conceive. We reach beyond the realm of ideas and search our souls for the essential realities: value and ideals.
Each word on the “GOD IS” Chart is a member of a family of attributes used to describe the nature or attributes of a Being who is ultimately indescribable. But we continue to strive because the drive to grow is hardwired into the fabric of our very being. Every lesser desire is fulfilled within this one great goal. Sooner or later we will come to the final realization: there is only one endless quest in the universe — to fathom the unfathomable. As long as we are moving toward this impossible but ever expanding, enlightening, and fascinating objective; we are not simply surviving, we are thriving.
Spiritual transcendence is never satisfied, its potential is unlimited.
— Abraham Maslow
No chart can include all of God’s qualities, but we can include some of the ideals we have accumulated about him. There are many ways to organize and subdivide our essential ideas about God. These divisions and descriptions are man-made. For God there is the single unified reality of “I AM.”
All of the words on the Chart are the same size since all of God’s qualities are balanced in perfect harmony, something only he could achieve. While reflecting upon his nature we may be enthralled, or even overcome, by one single awe-inspiring aspect. But soon we are moved by another equally amazing quality. Eventually it dawns on us: we could add those qualities together to get a third, fourth, and fifth quality to wonder about. God is Perfect. His symmetry is from before there was any time or place. We need to be careful not to mold him in our image just because we are in the midst of the on-going process of discovering him. Our breakthroughs are exciting and possibly life changing, even planet changing, but this change is in us. We are growing and God delights in our potential, our coming to life. No matter how our ideas and ideals about God change over time, he is not the one changing. We are the ones learning who he is.
“Absolute” is a pure quality of God in that he alone possesses it. Our understanding of Absolute (as well as every other quality we ascribe to him) is conceptual and finite. His understanding of his own absoluteness is, of course, absolute but also personal and perfect.
Qualities we attribute to him like “Friendly” can only be realized in a relationship. We have experienced the nature of a human to human association or even a human to animal connection. We know with any relationship there are two sides. The other person may bring many things to the partnership: status, company, ideas, loyalty, kindness, or perhaps even protectiveness. But the ever-expanding quality of Love is always open to new and wondrous possibilities. The huge difference in the Divine/human relationship is what God brings to bear. He may seem to be increasingly responsive, but it is the expanding soul which is really recognizing his continual spiritual force. We are forever striving to adequately fulfill our side, but his giving is always perfect.
God decides what limits to place on his actions, and these self-limiting constraints are conditioned only by the perfect qualities molding the perfect symmetry of his sublime nature. God projects himself to the entire universe (as well as to each individual person) with his Parental sentiment, “Be you perfect. . . .” And then he gives us the inspiration and pattern of perfection in the second part of this command as he instructs, “. . . even as I am perfect.”
We find the meaning of this seemingly impossible command in the little word “as.” We are being asked to be as perfect on our level of reality as He is on His.
C) In Search of a Better God
I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the object of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own – a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.
— Albert Einstein
Modern peoples, especially scientists, atheists, and agnostics, have been ruthlessly ridiculing the current notions most institutional religions hold about God. They do so in many forms, from pointing out logical discrepancies to throwing God out all together. They are, in fact, not railing against God. They are reacting to the ludicrous notions we humans have been attributing to The Benign Being. These skeptics are doing us a favor by demanding we develop a clearer and more reasonable picture of the One Person who is most worthy for all of us to know, and know better.
Primitive peoples described God primarily in fearful terms. Later his nature was understood in both positive and negative terms. As time goes on, we have been slowly moving away from negative descriptions and more toward the positive. Even the negatives are now explained in terms of some complicated combination of positives justifying their inclusion.
Some still believe in a wrathful God but his anger is much kinder and gentler compared to the angry God of old. Just a few centuries ago a widely held idea of heaven was seen as the delight felt by the saved at the sight of the torment of the damned. And God was supposed to be the most delighted of all to see his wicked children punished. Many humans thought God was not only angry but that he enjoyed nothing more than inflicting ever more grisly sufferings on the doomed.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to cast you into the fire.
— Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Reverend Jonathan Edwards, 1741
Thankfully the perception of an angry God has changed for most people. Many still fear God but they also feel he loves them as well. God has not changed. He always has been wonderful and loving. It is our more mature and more accurate God Concept changing our ideas, and ideals, of him.
It should go without saying: God is good. Yet many historical religions continue to paint him with qualities of jealousy, rage, and cruelty. But these qualities are not even worthy of the basest of humans, much less of a perfect and loving God. When we lift up our ideas and ideals about his majestic nature, we see a Being we can admire. He sees the end from the beginning. He has perfect wisdom and absolute knowledge. Let us not think God makes mistakes, suffers from regret, or wishes he had done anything differently. He inaugurated his plan and put it into action only after considering every possible consequence of his actions. He knew what he should do. He was entirely aware we would be imperfect creatures before he gave us free will. He took into account how to help his sons and daughters in order for us to progressively share in his perfection.
As you begin to understand the nature of God, you will free yourself to form a reality within which God’s character makes more and more sense. In order to expand your understanding of him, it becomes clearer and clearer the wisest thing to do is to emulate his attributes.
D) How to Begin . . . or Continue
First is the question, “Does God exist?” If your answer is “No,” you are still left with the fact of your existence. But without God we are also left with only a mechanistic reality: a past beginning with some mysterious unintended bang, and a future ending with the cessation of not only your life, but all of life – until there is another accidental and fortuitous explosion.
“God does exist” is affirmed only in the individual soul by the personal experience of the God within. Once this question is confirmed, the second question is about the nature of God. “Is God a person?” If this question is answered in the negative, then any named qualities would naturally be nonpersonal: force, energy, detached, uncaring.
But if God is as a person, this opens up a whole host of characteristics to choose from, qualities we can know about because we are also persons. So, we then ask, “What is God like?” Our ancestors moved though a pantheon of lesser gods – all with their own traits: nature gods, war gods, underworld gods, etc., but eventually we have advanced to the realization one God.
Once we recognize all of the qualities making up God’s nature are entirely positive, we can make a judgment as to the next question. “What does God want.” As you meditate on his nature and attributes you will come to some understanding. Further reflection reveals this understanding is simply a beginning, a foundation from which to grow and learn and expand.
Since God is the essence of Absolute Love, we can look at the qualities which make up his Pure Love and see he only wants the best for us, even to share his nature. Thus we wonder, “Is it possible to be like him?”
It is our privilege to get to know God. But before we see it as a privilege, we must see it as a need. Faith is involved, although it need not be a leap, but only a step. Simply step onto the bridge from you to him. He will do almost everything including the construction of the bridge. If you simply choose to do what is right, the next step will appear. If it is difficult to know what is right, just ask and listen, then act. It is in the doing that we experience, and then we truly find out. If you make a misstep, you will know, and you will learn to forgive yourself; He already has. From then on you can go on a little straighter. Soon the first timid steps will become a wholehearted consecration. The results of such a dedication are so clear there is soon no question as to which way to go or what to do. The reward is in the doing. The answer is in the becoming. Growth is its own reward.