Most Christians do not realize how refined and precise the Christian idea of God is, and how we share that treasure with Muslims and Jews, to some extent. These three religions believe in one God, a belief known as monotheism.
This was a revolutionary idea when the Jews first professed it, several thousand years ago. To the ancient world, it was obvious that there were many gods, because there are many powers that influence human life. We depend on the sun, stars, wind and rain, the sky and the earth itself to sustain our life. Love, death, life, war, good health and good fortune are all powers that are ultimately beyond our control. It put it simply, the experience of being human is the experience of being weak and dependent on powers beyond our control. Naturally, then, we worship these powers hoping that our worship will secure their favorable attention. We also sense that there are spiritual beings of great power, whether we call them angels, demons or spirits. All these beings, from very ancient times, were understood as being divine.
Judaism took a controversial and bold stance, to declare that none of these powers, spirits, or angelic beings were divine, despite their awesome power. Judaism reserves Divinity, and the title of God, for only one being, that being which is the source and ground of all wisdom, all goodness, and all existence. This actually makes a lot of sense philosophically. We notice that every living thing receives its life from something else, from parents, etc. Where did our first parents receive life from? It is absurd to claim that their life came from matter, because life possesses powers above and beyond matter. It could not have come from below, but had to come from above, in other words, living things alive today received their life from something more perfect and powerful than they are. Perhaps an extremely advanced race of space-traveling scientists seeded the planet with the seeds of life. We could also speculate that an angel or spirit gave them life. Yet where did these beings receive life from? It must have come from some source. Philosophically it makes perfect sense that there is one supreme being, who is the source of all life and all existence, who exists in and of himself, who has always existed. This being would have life without any limits, in other words, infinite existence. This, by the way, is God.
Other philosophies, including some Hindu ones, see any of the glorious beings that receive existence from God as also sharing in divinity. Jews made a strong distinction, which Christianity and Islam inherited, that only the being which is infinite existence itself should be called God. Jews, by the way, don’t claim to be particularly brilliant philosophers, and say that they arrived at this powerful insight by revelation, in other words, God told them of His own existence. The biggest proof, by the way, that they are telling the truth is that the Jewish people still exist today. There is no historical, practical, or political reason this nation would still exist, and some kind of divine intervention is therefore a very logical explanation.
The belief that the whole universe was created and sustained by a single God explains why it has such intricate harmony and balance. Yet, at the same time, it is an untidy and messy world, full of conflict where good fights evil and life struggles against death. The explanation is that God allows his creatures, both spirits and men, to have free will, and this includes the possibility of rebellion against the creator. Rebellion against God introduces evil and death into a world that was created peaceful, but God tolerates this rebellion in the present age because his great power, wisdom, and patience allows him to use even evil and death for his good purposes. That is an incredible concept, which is very difficult to swallow, but if we are able to accept it, then we are also able to see the world as a single, logical, harmonious creation.
This sense of the world actually gave rise to the scientific method. Based the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic vision of the world as the single masterpiece of a rational God, men and women began to probe for the rational structure of the world and the mechanisms of nature, believing these would be rational, logical, and predictable. It is exactly science that validated the monotheistic theory that the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the sky, the winds and the rain were not gods but creatures of God. Then the scientific method had its own rebellion against God. Understanding the mechanisms of nature, science believed that we could control them and ensure a healthy and prosperous future without any need for God. In fact, scientists began to propose that physical forces could be the sole reason for the existence of the world, and there was no need to rely on a creator to understand the world. Since we can control physical forces, we could eventually become masters of the world.
While science might have been successful in eliminating a creator, we still sense that there are spiritual beings of great power, whether we call them angels, demons or spirits. Hence interest in paganism, loosely defined as any religion which is not monotheistic, has resurfaced in a big way. Pagans accuse Christianity, Judaism and Islam of marginalizing and excluding other deities, feminine deities, nature deities, etc., in the interest of a totalitarian, chauvinistic masculine God. I wrote about how Catholic theology balances the male and female. Yet it is true that monotheism marginalized other beings, based on the conviction that these beings, no matter how powerful they may be, do not exist of themselves, but receive existence from a higher being. To be Christian does not mean to worship a particular god, but to worship the source and ground of all being. Christians do not worship fellow creatures but offer worship only to the Creator.
What separates Christianity from Judaism and Islam is the belief that this one Creator God became Incarnate, that is, took on human flesh and blood. In Jesus Christ, we have seen God Himself, not an image of God, not a messenger of God, but God as He is. Muslims strongly dispute this, but if it is true that all things are possible for God, then it would be possible for Him to become man. As difficult as it is for us to imagine God, the idea of God-made-man bends the mind beyond its capacity. In other words, no creature is like God, and no creature can be called divine, but Jesus Christ is God and man, and Jesus Christ can therefore be called divine. In fact, the Catholic Church exists for one single reason, to protect, defend, and promote the mysterious and powerful story that God appeared as a human being and brought us salvation.
- Jennifer Fulwiler (@conversiondiary) on Book Review: Something Other Than God (updated)
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