When talking about philosophy, defining terms is absolutely crucial. I may have ignored that necessity already in this blog, causing some amount of confusion; so I believe that it is time to start filling in those gaps. When talking about religion, there are a few absolutely crucial terms to define, one of which is the word “God.” The following should be a fairly orthodox Christian explanation of the definition of the term “God.”
To begin, we must differentiate between the word “God,” and the word “gods.” The latter is a term for finite creatures of great power who either control or represent the quintessence of elemental or ideological forces such as the earth, the sea, wisdom, justice, fate etc. In popular usage, it may also refer to someone who is very talented, famous, or who is adored by many people, as in “Justin Bieber is a pop god.” (It pains me even to use him as an example). The word “God,” refers to the God of monotheism. The Greek pagans had gods; Muslims pray to God.
So, obviously, as a Christian, I will be defining the word “God.” Let’s start with the popular definition of the term. I think that when many use the word “God,” their usage indicates that they mean a being of great power and ability; who can mold and shape reality; and who cannot die. When reviewing common usage, however, I think it becomes evident that many people think of God as being finite. Phrases like “I don’t want to bother God with that,” “He’s too busy to worry about that,” “Don’t do that in the church where God can see,” etc. seem to indicate that the popular conception of God is of a very powerful but limited being who has a limited amount of focus, power, attention, time, reach, and sight. This is a God who you can get away from, trick or manipulate. In other words, it seems to me that when most people say “God;” what they mean is “god.”
Traditional Christian theology cringes at the thought. For traditional orthodox theology, the idea of God necessarily includes concepts of omnipotence (power to do anything), omniscience (knows, sees and hears all things), omnipresence (exists in all physical locations at the same time), infinitude (limitless in power, scope, and being), and eternity (exists above time). Additional, but lesser known traditional attributes include impassability (cannot be affected), immutability (cannot change), and perfection. If a “god” is powerful but limited, then Christian tradition is definitely talking about “God.”
The Christian Bible clarifies, anchors, and corrects the concepts of traditional Christian theology. The Christian God is certainly described as all-powerful (“for man this is impossible, but for God all things are possible”), omniscient and omnipresent (“’Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’”) and eternal (“a thousand days is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years”). According the Bible, God is holy (from the Hebrew qadash “set aside for a particular use,” “special,” or “other”) meaning God is categorically different from the rest of creation. God created the Heavens and the Earth, but further, He sustains and preserves His creation moment by moment. The Bible certainly agrees with Platonic notions of a God who is unchanging; it might prefer the term faithful, for the God of the Bible can change, respond and move, grieve and rejoice. The most important Biblical idea of God, however, is that He is love.
In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the face of God to humanity, he is the ultimate revelation of the character and nature of God. In Him we see the grace and forgiveness of God; but also the just and righteous wrath of a holy and sinless God. The ultimate revelation of who God is, though, is the cross. This is where we see the suffering face of Christ, the self-emptying, and loving sacrifice of a transcendent God who voluntary descends into the mess of human life, committing to us, and dying for us. In Christ we see that God is one who would lay down His life for His friend.