What Do You Mean by “God?”

Around 1850 BC, it is said there was this guy wandering around the Middle East named Abraham. As the story goes, Abraham talked a lot to one god and did many things this god told him to do. Abraham then went around telling everyone that there was only one god. This was a new idea because everyone had been believing there were many gods. And the idea of only one god caught on.

Abraham had two sons. The older one was named Ishmael and the younger was Isaac, but they were born of different mothers and it gets complicated from there.

A fresco of Abraham
A fresco of Abraham. (Photo by Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock.com)

From Ishmael sprung the religion of Islam and from Isaac came the religion of Judaism. The two religions have been duking it out ever since. Then Christianity arose out of Judaism. Christianity was against both of them for many years, but in modern times has been trying to work things out for everyone. This all might sound like a family you know.

The three religions have much in common. The most obvious is that they worship the same God. They also share the Old Testament as part of their religion.

But the important thing is that the basis of all three religions goes back to the God of Abraham. So you have to ask yourself: who or what was this god?

We have all seen paintings or movies or read books that contained some image of God. One of the best known is Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, where an image of God is reaching out to a man. In that painting, God is shown as a man with a white beard.

But when you say the word “God” to someone, who knows what image they get? When you ask someone if they believe in God, who knows what it is they think you are asking them? It just assumes you two have the same idea of what God is.

“What do you mean by God?” should always be the first question asked when discussing the subject. If you ask a Hindu you will get a very different answer than from a Jew.

But I can tell you this with a lot of certainty: “Do you believe in God?” is an important question because it has been asked of people since at least the time of Abraham. And if you said “no,” in some cases you could lose your life, liberty, or a body part as in the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

Man’s entire history has, to a large degree, centered on the question of God. Wars have been fought, families torn apart, entire groups of people persecuted all because of how they worshiped or believed in God.

This is bigotry, bias, prejudice and discrimination at the highest level. It is also ignorance, because “God” is rarely defined or it is assumed you know what is being talked about.

“What do you mean by God?” should always be the first question asked when discussing the subject. If you ask a Hindu you will get a very different answer than from a Jew.

There are a great many religions in the world today. And when you say “religion” you are almost always going to find that it has something to do with God. But until you define God with the person with whom you are talking, you will not even know what you are talking about.

If someone has said “no” to the question “do you believe in God?” what exactly has he said “no” to? Maybe he doesn’t believe in some old man sitting on a throne up in the sky. Well, I don’t believe in that either, but I do believe in God. Maybe he is saying “no” to believing in some all-powerful being that created everything and guides the destiny of all. I don’t believe in that either, but I believe in God.

So, you might ask me: what do I mean by “God?”

Well, now we can talk.

Author

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