What is God the almighty creator of Heaven and Earth? Not an easy question to answer in this article. Check out today’s new article where we try and wrap your head around the idea of God, where it came from, and why God looks the way he does.
Find out everything you need to know about the father of creation right here! If you are looking for the What Is God? What Actually is God? You are in the right place.
A man lies in the road, his body is broken after being hit head-on by a Jack and Jill ice cream truck. As the light fades from his life, the last thing he sees is an image of his favorite Cookies ‘n Cream Cone. And then there’s darkness, except somewhere in that darkness there’s a door slightly ajar with a bright light shining through the crack.
He walks through the door and to his surprise he’s surrounded by white fluffy clouds bathed in glorious sunshine. His ears are filled with the most blissful music, a sound so pleasant he could listen to it for eternity. Then suddenly he’s faced with giant pearl gates, and in front of them is a man holding a set of keys. “I am Saint Peter,” the man intones, “I hold the keys to the kingdom.
”Saint Peter then says, “Hold on a minute will you”, and he starts turning the pages of what looks like some kind of unbelievably large directory. “Ok, you’re good to go,” says Peter, and he opens the doors. What the guy doesn’t know is that if he’d had a black mark against his name in that book it would have a ride in the elevator down to hell.
When the man is finally ensconced in his personal bit of heaven, the owner of the place does a meet and greet. This man is God. He’s larger than life and wears a wonderfully lustrous white beard, reminding the guy of Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings movies. The End.
Ok, so that’s not strictly a true story, but you could say it’s based on stories that some of you might have heard at one point in your life. The idea of Saint Peter holding the keys to heaven and God having a really well-maintained white beard is of course not believed by all Christians. In fact, it’s likely believed by only a few of them.
Still, someone didn’t just come up with that idea because it sounds nice and works well in Hollywood movies. The idea of Saint Peter guarding the gates to heaven is usually credited only with being part of Christian folklore. As you’ll see today, for many different people God comes in all shapes and guises. So, first, let’s ask where this idea came from of God living in the clouds.
Heaven for some is the place where God resides for eternity, and for many Christians, that’s the place you go if you’ve lived a moral life. As for the clouds, well, when you look at the history of hell you can connect it with an underworld, aka, Hades or Hell. You still live there for eternity, but it’s a rotten place to live. It’s dark and depressing.
This is from the bible, “The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented.” So, hell is often thought of to be dark, to be full of flames, and generally polluted. Heaven on the other hand is the opposite, so it makes sense that it’s up in the sky where it’s bright and full of white, fluffy clouds.
We’re not saying all Christians believe this, but the imagery just makes sense. You can find plenty of artists’ interpretations of heaven and it’s generally up in the sky. There’s also the fact that heaven is supposed to come to Earth, not the other way around. Jesus spoke of establishing a new Jerusalem, though most Christians believe that this will come about as the entire earth is rejuvenated possibly re-created from scratch. Or it could simply be an allegory that 1st-century Jews could easily imagine.
Some scholars say those early writers of Christianity didn’t talk about being zoomed up to heaven at all, but heaven on Earth was certainly a real hope. When that happens, God will also dwell with humans, according to another part of the bible. It’s complicated, very complicated. Some Christians think that when they die they’ll be judged, but others will tell you that at some point there will be a judgment day in the future for all souls, whether part of the living or part of the dead.
Jesus famously said this: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” So, that’s one concept of God, an entity who sits in the cloudy heavens and someone you may meet if you’ve lived a wholesome life. That’s the God you might have learned about in Sunday school, but in view of today’s show, it’s a pretty simplistic version of God.
There is the common narrative that God is the supremely powerful being. A being of unimaginable intelligence that is everywhere and sees everything. If you believe this, you can call yourself a theist. There are folks that believe there’s a Supreme Being who created everything but he’s a hands-off type of God, meaning he doesn’t mess with human affairs. These people can call themselves deists.
Then there are pantheists, who will tell you God and the universe are the same thing. Animists on the other hand believe God, or spirits, are in all the things around us.
There’s the Hindu religion. In that, you find three main Gods. Brahma, the creator of the universe. Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and Shiva, the destroyer. Some people say there are 330 million Hindu Gods, although we found Hindu scholars who say that this is a myth. In short, it’s all about how a certain word is translated. It can be translated as “million” or “supreme”. If it’s supreme, that would mean 33 supreme Gods, not 33 million. Still, to talk about those Gods we’d need a lot of time, so we’ll leave them alone today.
Back to the Abrahamic God, that of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Here you could say there are three main beliefs. One is that God sees all humans as equal and he wants to give of all them his unconditional love. Another belief is that God will give you his love, but you’ll have to work for it. Another is that some folks have done certain things on Earth and so are pretty much irredeemable. They won’t get to heaven.
Jehovah’s Witnesses fall into this category. These believers in God will tell you that a reckoning is coming, called Armageddon. Some of them have likely knocked on your house door from time to time and told you about this. Their belief is that there’s still a chance you can be accepted into God’s Kingdom when the time comes. Often they carry around with them magazines, sometimes featuring pictures of smiling humans walking through green pastures with equally contented wild animals.
In the background, the world burns. You can make the choice, let Jehovah into your life and hang out with lions in the fields, or don’t and live within the fire and rubble of a broken world. Their God isn’t such a tolerant one. God can be very judgmental but he can also embrace your faults. What your faults are might depend on who you talk to about God. God might always be the all-powerful supreme being for believers, but his modus operandi, not everyone can agree on.
In fact, you could say the disagreements have caused a few arguments along the centuries. But what about that guy with the long, white beard and white hair? Why does God look like the recent Noam Chomsky? Well, some people might hold the belief that such a God exists, but it’s more likely people will tell you that God is more like an energy field, or perhaps something that we just cannot imagine.
Because we can’t imagine what God would look like, we had to make something up. In Christian art, many centuries ago, God appeared only as a hand, but as time went on, he was more exposed. Think about it. If you’re going to try and personify the supreme being, something that put together this thing we call the universe, you are going to make him look serious.
A goofy God, or a God whose white robes were askew, would just not do him justice. A God with acne scars would also not do the job. We’re not being facetious here. God was painted symbolistically perfectly. It couldn’t have been any other way. As you’ll find out, trying to depict God at all, even in all his grandness, is an insult to some people.
So there’s the Christian doctrine of the holy trinity, which is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine says that the three are separate entities but they are actually the same in substance and essence. It’s called “Trinitarianism”.
Then there are people that believe in God as one entity and that falls under the belief of “Unitarianism”. For them, Jesus was mortal. There’s “Binitarianism”, too, meaning a dualistic God. We’re not just splitting hairs here, either, these beliefs have divided people for centuries.
You also have “Transcendentalism”, which in short means not everything can be explained with the senses. Using our intuition and imagination, we can transcend the world of facts. The person most associated with the movement was a guy named Ralph Waldo Emerson. He once said this, “The true doctrine of omnipresence is, that God reappears with all his parts in every moss and cobweb.” He thought God was in everything, including in every human, something we’ll come back to later.
Emerson was a preacher in a church at one point in his life, but as one person put it, later the only member of his church was himself. Meaning, his beliefs were his own, although he didn’t doubt the existence of God. To put it lightly, he wouldn’t have been keen on certain evangelistic campaigns. God for Emerson was something to be found in nature and self-discovery. God wasn’t something that could speak through someone on the TV for vast amounts of money.
So, when humans created a human image of God they went with an old, but not too old, man. God could never be frail, of course. Humans could have chosen a woman, so why not? Well, God isn’t supposed to have a gender, but the masculine has mostly been used throughout history when God is mentioned. “The Father” is one example. There are some very female-centric portrayals of God in the Bible, but due to his dualistic nature, this is probably not to be unexpected.
Sadly, the truth is that the world of the Old Testament was a very patriarchal one, so of course God was male in people’s minds. There’s also this from the bible: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.”
If God made humans in his own image, then does that mean God should look like us? And which one of us, because it’s not as if we all look the same down here. Could God look like a cross between a Sumo wrestler and Kim Kardashian..? Most religious scholars will point out that Adam, a man, was created first, and Eve, a woman, was created out of Adam’s rib, so technically God should look like Adam.
Again, it is complicated, but it’s generally thought that God making man in his own image isn’t to be taken literally. Some people say what it means is humans have some higher faculties than other animals and so are closer to God. We have consciousness and the ability to understand the concept of God. We also have free will, which in all of the Abrahamic religions is the quality that only man and God share.
Rabbits and raccoons didn’t get bestowed with this. That’s perhaps what the “own image” thing means. Still, this part of the bible is one of the other reasons why the world is full of artifacts in which God is depicted as a wise old man with a nice beard who can fire lightning from his fingers. In actual fact, many or even most believers in God will tell you they don’t know what God looks like and would never even attempt to guess.
To them, God is more like a power, something we little guys won’t properly understand while living our lives out down here. Given that the early Christian church, which would later go on to produce most of the images of God that we see, was very Greek-oriented, it’s likely that the image of Zeus was simply supplanted to become that of God in the artwork.
Why we humanized God is another complicated subject. Some theorists say that when man and woman started dominating nature they got some grand ideas. We started making God in our own image. As one person wrote, humans are just wired to want to see the divine. Maybe an invisible God didn’t work for the church, and we guess that a visible one motivated the church’s followers to keep believing.
Nonetheless, throughout history, there are those that have said we should never even try and depict an image of God. This is what the Christian monk John of Damascus said many centuries ago: “If we attempt to make an image of the invisible God, this would be sinful indeed. It is impossible to portray one who is without body: invisible, uncircumscribed and without form.”
This monk wrote a lot about the nature of God and what he said was of importance for hundreds of years to come. He said God was unchangeable, immutable, and passionless; he said God is the creator and he will last forever. He has no beginning and no end. He “transcends all thought and comprehension” and God is neither male nor female. God can’t have gender since God has nobody to speak of.
Obviously, things changed because after the 14th century, we started seeing paintings of God. Maybe the one you have all seen is Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”. It’s a wonderful work of art, but you won’t find many serious theologians that will tell you that’s what God looks like.
Ok, you don’t have to believe in the existence of the Ark of the Covenant or any of the biblical stories for that matter to believe in God. To some people, the stories of the bible are lessons to be learned, allegories of humanity. Maybe these people believe in God, but they also believe that God is ineffable, meaning something that can’t be expressed in words or shouldn’t be expressed in words.
You’ll find plenty of scientists that will tell you science can’t rule out God. Science hasn’t gotten to the bottom of the mystery of the universe and it hasn’t explained what consciousness is, so there’s room for God, according to some people. A German philosopher once famously said, “God is dead”. What he meant by that was the Enlightenment with all its new ideas and scientific discoveries had put an end to people believing in God.
There are some people today that say we should quit our belief in a holy higher power, but there are many others that believe we need God in our lives, even if that God is just a belief in something above and beyond humanity – something to help us achieve a higher state of being. Without this, they say, we are at risk of becoming nihilists, or worse, bored.
Even if a man with a white beard didn’t create this sometimes unfathomable universe, perhaps just believing that there’s some great meaning to the universe that we humans cannot comprehend is enough. Was the universe just a happy accident or was there some orchestration going on?
Scientists have attempted to explain the improbability of things turning out the way they are regarding life on Earth, and the numbers are a bit confusing. One person said the probability is way, way smaller than winning a huge lottery jackpot every day for more days than the universe has actually been in existence. Yes, that’s hard to get your head around. This unknowable truth to some people is proof of God, or it at least means you can’t count out God.
When one scientist was asked if scientists could believe in God and science at the same time he answered, “Why not?” Which didn’t mean yes, but he was asking someone to prove emphatically that God immutably doesn’t exist. That’s impossible to do right now. Perhaps you’ll find out all the answers when you die. God knows…
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