Chapter 1 of God Is...
Humans have always wrestled with questions like “How did we get here?” and “What should we be doing?” and “Where are we going?” Their pursuit of answers often led them back to fundamental issues such as whether God exists and what God is like. They framed in different ways the ideas they came up with.
Twisted paths back to Eden
Throughout history, people built their religious concepts on their desires to understand human origins and the purpose of life. In their own ways, they wanted to make contact with and relate to the Source of human life – and, presumably, the Authority over human destiny. Unfortunately, the human inability to understand spiritual reality perfectly gave rise to disagreement and more questions:
- “Pantheism (Greek pan, ‘all,’ and theos, ‘God’) A term coined by John Toland (1670-1722), literally meaning ‘everything God.’ The view is that God is all and all is God. It differs from ‘panentheism,’ which views God as in all” (Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1996, p. 199). Pantheists saw God as being all that is, including all the forces and laws behind the universe. They depersonalized God and interpreted both good and evil as divine.
- Polytheists believed in many gods. Each of these gods could help or hurt, but none held absolute power. Polytheism was the basis of many Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman forms of worship, and of the spirit and ancestor worship found in many tribal cultures.
- “Theism (From Greek theos, ‘God’) Belief in a god. Also belief in one God (monotheism) in contrast to belief in many gods (polytheism)” (Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, p. 279).
- Monotheists embraced a personal deity as the source, sustainer and goal of everything. Three of the world’s most influential religions are monotheistic – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three claim their descent from Abraham.
Does God exist?
Historically, every culture has had a sense that God exists. Atheism does not provide satisfactory answers to humanity’s questions about who we are and why we exist. Atheism cannot explain purpose, or distinguish between good and evil. Atheism has no authority, no proof of its philosophical assumptions.
We see nature all around us, and science equips us to investigate the natural world. But science cannot explore the supernatural world. We cannot search for God with microscopes or deep space probes. If we are to know God, God must reveal himself to us. We want to know what the Creator is like, what his purpose is, and what must happen for us to come into harmony with him. So how does God reveal himself to us?