What is God?
Not a single person on planet Earth has not heard the word 'God.' It doesn't matter what language that name may be expressed in because every language on Earth has a name for this concept. We are brought up as children to adopt the concept of God as a natural statement of absolute fact, and, save for some small groups of agnostics or atheists who don't know either way or categorically deny the concept, most people will take it as a given fact that 'God' exists.
There is probably not a single person who, on an aeroplane plummeting in a nosedive crash, who would not pray to God even if they have spent a lifetime denying the existence of such a God.
It may be that the idea of God is inherently built-in our make-up, perhaps even as a part of our DNA. Since very early prehistoric times archaeologists have discovered evidence that humans have always believed in an after-life and hence in a God or gods in some form or other. So this idea is a very, very old one.
We all know that every religion has its own concepts concerning what God is, and the nature of reality or creation. Certain aspects can even be hypothetically verified by science such as in the theories proposed by Quantum Physics.
In an article like this, I am not going to cover every aspect of all the beliefs about God as it would, of course, take volumes to cover and leave the reader exhausted and with no further understanding of what God actually is.
The truth is, we don't know what God is. We can only speculate and base our beliefs on faith or what our religious group tells us. No one has actually experienced a tangible proof of the existence of God which cannot be undisputed. So belief in God, per se, is largely a matter of faith. It is no more tangible or real than a belief in Santa Claus. That doesn't mean that it's definitely not true, it just means that the evidence for it remains in the realm of speculation.
That's one argument; on the other side of the experience of God are those whose prayers have been miraculously answered in a myriad of ways, and these enter the realm of the unexplainable. Some, however, might call them 'coincidence' rather than divine intervention.
Other ideas about God are valid too, though. We could argue, very strongly, that why should we walk around bearing the burden of guilt for our 'sins' from a judgemental God, when we don't see God intervening in cases where his/her help would be absolutely useful and merciful. In rape cases, for example, or murder, and especially when such things happen to children. This aside from all the millions of animals who are slaughtered and abused every single day on Earth by people. A loving, existential God would not tolerate these things, surely?
Our concept of God is changing
What kind of God, if God exists, do we have? Is it the judgemental God of the Old Testament, or the loving Father in Heaven of Jesus Christ? Is it the Allah of Islam, or the Jehovah of the Jews? Is it maybe Lord Krishna, of the Hare Krishna movement? Perhaps it's Shiva or Vishnu?
Buddha never talks about God. He says as much about the idea of God as Plato does or Socrates or any of the other Greek philosophers, which is, namely, very little. There is no attempt to give a definitive explanation of what God may be. And that is probably just as well. Too much damage had already been done to human consciousness by trying to impose a man-made image of God upon us. It is better by far to let the individual arrive at a personal concept of what God is.
I do not say a personal conclusion, as that would suggest a final, all-encompassing realisation of God. Perhaps only the truly Enlightened can do that, and then of course, it would defy any kind of description, because surely God must be beyond description. There would be no comparison, and therefore, any attempt to state what God is must be tainted with human concepts, emotions and mentality.
Plato tells us that what constitutes a 'good man' is his dedication to fulfill his duty. Sounds about right to me. Jesus and Buddha would agree too. Plato does not go on to say that faith in God makes us good, or belief in a certain set of rules and religious practices makes us enter the kingdom of heaven. He doesn't even talk too much about heaven. He is just being practical, and tells us plainly, that the essence of a good man (or woman) is to conscientiously carry out your duty, whatever that may be, to the best of your ability. It's how society functions best, and proves its worth over and over again. Everyone benefits from such a person, from the lowest estate to the very highest. Confucius would nod his head in agreement.
Jesus tells us again and again, that God is Love. He does not judge or condemn the prostitute 'caught in the act' but finds a clever way of saving her from being stoned when he declared, "Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone." This is immensely radical, and especially so for the times he lived in. It is an expression of that Love which he believed in. To this day, in many countries, stoning for adultery is recommended under the law of those countries, and many other nations who do not condone stoning have religious fanatics amongst them who would stone others if they could get away with it.
Jesus says, "He who has seen me, has seen the Father" when he speaks of God. He claimed that God is Love, and according to the Gospels, Jesus demonstrated love in his life. If God is Love, then that expression of love should be what each of us strives for, whether it be towards other human beings or towards animals and every other living thing. It may in fact be the closest that we can get to knowing what God may be, in essence. This kind of love is fulfilling our duty, as Plato would claim, and it is not at variance with the teachings of Jesus.
Buddha is philosophical. He doesn't attempt to get any of us to believe in God or even in life after death. Perhaps, he wisely knew that for many people, such beliefs were a bridge too far, and that their consciousness could only reveal such deeper things when their own direct experience revealed it to them. Otherwise, convincing them of its veracity would be a complete waste of time.
Instead, Buddha teaches that the way to Nirvana, or Heaven, is through Enlightenment. An Enlightenment which can only come when you sit still and withdraw from the hubbub of the world and see through its many delusions and illusions. Only then will you awake from the sleep and dream that you have fallen into. In Buddha's view, everyone was asleep, walking around in a somnambulistic stupor. Such a condition still seems to be the case in the modern world. The title Buddha, literally means 'one who has awakened.' We can therefore only know what God is when we awake from the deep sleep that we have fallen into.
God will reflect your own Consciousness
Jesus rightly said, "As a man thinks, so is he." This is actually a very ancient concept, going back much further than his own time in Palestine, to the Vedas of ancient India. Plato confirmed this statement before Jesus, and so did Buddha. Jesus was in a long line of such philosophers.
This very statement, that we are what we think, frames our entire fabric of truth. That is, what may be truth for us. My concept of truth, or even of God, cannot, by necessity be the same as yours. It is individual, personal, and directly related only to your own consciousness or concept of what God may be. And, if we are evolving, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, then our understanding or comprehension of any existential being defined as 'God' must needs change also. It is unavoidable.
That is why so many people have dropped out of conventional religion, because the narrow confines of its teachings cannot allow for the individual expansion of consciousness.
Is God Evolving?
Some might consider it a 'sin' to put forward the concept that God, as an existential being, (assuming we believe that God exists) might actually be imperfect, and is evolving through his creation. Or that God is already perfect, but is unable to express that perfection in the world as it currently stands. It might be a fair argument. It's also been said that if you want proof of God, then look all around you. Religious people have often used this argument to represent God as the Creator and that all of the visible and invisible world around us was made by Him/Her.
But if that is so, I'd say that the world of Nature, as beautiful as it can be, is still far from being a kindly, gentle place where spring lambs gaily gambol and butterflies sip nectar. Animals kill other animals, insects devour one another, plants choke each other out. There is another, darker, 'survival of the fittest' side, a Darwinian world where only through the struggle of competition can any living thing make any progress.
So, could it be that God is only as good as the world we see around us, warts and all? Is it possible that God is incomplete, a work in progress, and that we, as human beings are the sum total of that expression of God on Earth. When we improve, evolve, become Enlightened, God can then reveal him/herself more fully and express more of that Love which Jesus spoke of? Maybe God can only express Itself in part, through Creation, due to the limitations of human consciousness?
Worlds within Worlds
Your physical body is composed of countless trillions of cells. Anatomically, each cell has its own organelles, which are microscopic structures within the cell casing that are analogous to the larger organs in the whole body itself. They are micro-organs. Each cell is a singular, functioning unit, that breathes, feeds, excretes and reproduces, and the entire body is made up of trillions of such units, each expressing particular functions.
At the atomic level, these same cells are composed of even finer structures, and we know them as atoms, complete with whirling electrons, spinning around a central nucleus, resembling the passage of planets around the sun. In life, each person expresses in a similar way. As the Greeks said, "As above, so below." The microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm and vice versa.
Each complete human body is of course an individual. Billions of us are walking about on planet Earth living individual lives. Although individuals, we are all connected to a greater whole, like the trillions of cells in the human body, and each one of us makes up the Body of Humanity. In that sense, we are part and parcel of one great, living entity or organism called Humanity.
We can clearly see, when we look at the world, that this Human Body (the Human Race as a whole) is not fully functioning, is not whole and not completely developed.
There is a theory that only when a greater mass of individual human units become Enlightened shall we then see a true change in the world. That change may herald a manifestation of God; a manifestation of what God actually is. It means that our concept of God must necessarily be imperfect too, and therefore God can only pour its expression through the filter of the Human Race as it currently stands. The water may be from a pure source, but could it be that the dirty filter causes the contamination?
Be the Change
If a Buddha appears, or a Christ, it is like a single cell that attains perfection in the greater body of which it is composed. That cell may have a knock-on effect onto other cells, producing some kind of evolutionary progress which changes the direction of the greater whole.
Gandhi rightly spoke of being the change that you want to see in the world. This of course, makes so much sense, as all simple truths do. But we don't see that truth until someone, like an awakened cell, sends the signal to all the other cells that something is happening inside them and that we all need to recognise it within us. It's only a simple message, but when it goes out, everyone who receives it with an open heart responds with 'yes, of course, now I see.'
The Humanists have a philosophical maxim, "Good without God" which expresses that they believe in humanity and in expressing the best of human values without hiding behind the religious shield which claims to know all truth. It is goodness for the sake of goodness, not to buy our place in Heaven. It has no pretence or hope of being 'saved' and is a belief that only by treating one another well can the human race thrive.
If we want to know God, or get anywhere closer to knowing God, let's start again, by admitting that we don't know but keeping the mind and heart open to the possibility that one day we might. It may start by performing your duty as best you can every day, as Plato advised, and living in harmlessness as the Hindu teachings advocate, not just towards human beings, but towards all beings. It echoes Jesus' words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
We are not there yet, and until we are, we cannot know what God is. We can only speculate.
© 2017 S P Austen
S P Austen (author) from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada on February 24, 2017:
Thank you Paul, and for the rating. I personally believe in an existential God of some sort, but don't pretend to explain it. I do however, feel that with the developments in Quantum Physics for example, we are slowly getting closer to understanding what God may be and the true nature of reality. As we evolve, so will our understanding.
Paul K Francis from east coast,USA on February 24, 2017:
I think that it is our ideas of God that are evolving, and that there just may be some kind of perfection at the base of reality, the perfection and reality of which God is the leading representative. I enjoyed reading your insightful article. Have a great day.