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Unit 2: GOD THE FATHER

     You and I have a choice! We may view the universe as an accidental creation, something that occurred by chance; or, we may view the universe as a deliberate, intended creation. Some believe the first way, others believe the second; and, even others suspend belief.

     “Atheism” is not an evil expression. It is simply a denial of the existence of a personal God (or a creative intelligence) which brought the universe into being. All reality is a mysterious accident whose origin is unknown. If its origins are ever discovered, it will be from scientific studies, and the origin will be some kind of non-personal object or process.

     It may be a surprise for you to learn, however, that some atheists do use the word “god.” They believe that the feelings of love within people are of ultimate importance, deserving the label “god.” Such atheists are found attending some forms of worship, and a few are ordained as clergy; for them, all of the words used in prayers, Bible readings, and other aspects of worship are poetic, designed to nurture people’s feelings of love. For them, the goal of worship is to establish affection among human beings at times of worship and in daily life; the poetry of religious rituals can move individuals toward this goal.

     Christians are generally “theists,” not “atheists.” Theists believe in a creative intelligence, a personal power, also labeled “God.” Many words have been used throughout history to refer to God. Scientists, philosophers and theologians have used “First Cause,” “Designer,” “Great Architect,” Supreme Being,” “Creator,” and so on.

     Many great Americans, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were a certain type of theist whose beliefs are called “deism.” They believed in a God as architect of the universe. But, they did not believe that revelations have occurred through particular events or that the Bible and worship are fundamental. Deists believe that correct reasoning by individuals would lead them to accurate conclusions about life. Jefferson and Franklin did not oppose the use of the word “God” or organized religions, but they insisted that no one particular interpretation of “god” or religion would become the official religion of the nation. Collaboration between government and religions, however, was acceptable, such as the use of paid chaplains in the armed services, in state legislatures and in Congress itself. Many citizens assume wrongly that the word “God” used by some of the nation’s Founding Fathers was within a Christian theological context.

     Christianity is another form of theism. For Christians, God is not only the architect, creative intelligence, etc., but also Someone who actively loves His creatures. “Father” is used to warm and personalize the Christian experience of the Creator. Throughout 2,000 years Christians have not viewed God as indifferent and unconcerned, but like a loving parent, watching over, nudging, urging, and holding his children accountable. Many of the experiences which convince Christians of the Creator’s father-like relationship with the universe are found in the Bible. However many individuals are also convinced of God’s fatherly love, because of their own experiences.

     The word “father” is used instead of “mother,” because of the customs of the Hebrew people, where the word originated for Jews and Christians. If the same experiences had occurred in a different culture, “mother,” might have been used. When Christians pray “Our Father,” they are not praying to a male figure, but instead to the caring, parent-like Creator of the universe. Some contemporary Christians try to avoid using either “father” or “mother” in reference to God, in order to escape restrictive human categories; others continue to use ”father” with the understanding of its basic intent of personalizing God.

     An issue confronting theists, especially Jews and Christians, for nearly 4,000 years is this: If the Creator really designed the universe well and is so caring, how can he allow earthquakes (and other natural disasters) and illnesses that afflict innocent human beings? Why do the innocent suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?

     Although no one has arrived at a fully satisfactory answer, one cautious proposal is this: The universe is still evolving, still being created; the Creator uses evolution as the method for developing reality. Events such as earthquakes are natural occurrences as evolution takes place. Diseases also occur as evolving natural processes are refined.

     When human beings call an event of nature “harmful” or “evil,” we are evaluating it from strictly a human viewpoint. In the over-all scheme of things, apart from human judgments, natural disasters and the biological processes that cause illnesses are part of a developing or evolving nature. We can wonder why the Creator doesn’t use a different process, one which doesn’t appear to harm His creatures, but none of us can know the mind of God. (This doesn’t mean that we have to be fond of the method by which creation is evolving, though!)

     In any case, this proposal in no way suggests that people harmed by a natural disaster or by disease are being punished by God.

     In biblical thought the universe belongs to God, and he develops it according to his wisdom, which is certainly beyond human understanding. In a real sense, we are all God’s guests and ought to enjoy the world according to his intentions and purposes. The universe is not ours to ruin by exploitation and destruction of natural resources. Furthermore, as creations of God, human beings belong to the Creator, like a child belongs to a parent. Humanity belongs to God, not just as his property, but as his children, as inheritors of a trust, as stewards of our world, and as each others’ brothers and sisters.

     It is legitimate to ask whether there are any proofs that God exists, or are we just creating a God in our imaginations? Is “God” like a child’s imaginary friend? To deal with the issue of “proof,” we must ask first what is meant by “proof?”

     I suspect we’ll find that “proofs” are usually supports for a given conviction, belief, theory or hypothesis. Except for the narrowest of laboratory sciences, proofs for anything are rather elusive.

     Think of someone that you believe loves you. Can you prove beyond doubt that the love is actually there? Isn’t it theoretically possible that the behavior you perceive as love is just an act? However, without absolute proof, at some point in a relationship, we become convinced that the love is really there; we are persuaded — even though theoretically we might be wrong.

     Very little, if anything, in this world can be proven or confirmed with absolute certainty. Instead, we have explanations and interpretations. We have explanations in psychology, in economics, among the physical sciences, and even in mathematics. And, we have conflicting explanations in each area, too; Freud interpreted human behavior one way, and Jung another way. One economist explains the causes of inflation one way, and another economist a different way. The same is true for physicists and other such scientists. Each scholar experiences the evidence, the very best evidence available, and offers an explanation or interpretation.

     Imagine that a Being appears suddenly in front of a group of normal people. The Being announces that he is God, and miracles are performed. Afterwards conflicting explanations/interpretations of what happened would be offered by members of the group. One member might explain the event as a hallucination, another a clever trick, another an unexplainable event, and another might propose that the Being was God. No such spectacular occurrence would lead only to the one conclusion that the Being was God. As is the case with most matters, we are left with what we find persuasive, and that will be our explanation.

     All persons must decide for themselves whether they are persuaded to be atheists or theists, whether the universe is an accident or a deliberate creation, just as all persons must decide other issues for themselves. If you are moved by a sunset at the Grand Canyon, will you say “That’s a beautiful hunk of rock” or in the words of Psalm 95, “Come, let us sing to the Lord. Let us shout for joy to the rock for our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, a great King before all gods. In his hand are the caverns of the earth and the heights of the hills are his, also. The sea is his for he made it and his hands have molded the dry land. Come, let us bow down and bend the knee and kneel before the Lord, our Maker. For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice.”

[For readers inclined toward scholarly presentations, please read essays about God in the “Biblical Thought,” “Kirkpatrick,“ and Cherbonnier subsites. Also, in the “All Handouts” subsite there are several brief articles about “proof.”]


from Owen C. Thomas and Ellen K. Wondra, Introduction to Theology. 3rd ed. (2002)

     

God as Personal

An immediate implication of the foregoing is that God is personal, since personhood or selfhood is involved in spiritual life, or is identical with spiritual life, looked at from one point of view. Nothing comes through more clearly in the Bible than that God approaches humanity in a personal way in the divine words and acts. In revelation, God confronts us as an "I." Brunner has pointed out that more than one thousand sentences of the Bible begin with the divine "I." The personal character of God is underlined by the ideas of the name and face of God. God's personal approach to humanity culminates in the divine approach through the man Jesus. But, in this analogy, elements of finiteness in human personhood, such as birth and death, cannot be applied to God. This raises the difficult problem of conceiving of nonfinite or infinite personal reality. The only personal reality we know directly is finite. Because of this difficulty, some theologians have asserted that God is suprapersonal (beyond personhood). But others have responded that all concepts claimed as suprapersonal are in fact subpersonal or impersonal. Gollwitzer states, "The personal way of speaking is unsurpassable for Christian talk of God ... There exists alongside the personal way of speaking only the impersonal and sub-personal way, but not a supra-personal one."5

            The theological issue here is that God is self-revealed as personal, and yet God is not a finite object, limited by space and time, but rather non-finite or infinite. Thus any attempt to state the infinite personhood of God must not stress the infiniteness in such a way as to fall into subpersonal categories.

            The concern to transcend the personal often derives from the presupposition that the more abstract a concept is, the more spiritual it is, and the more concrete or personal, the less spiritual. From the point of view of the Bible, the opposite is true, as we have seen above. The concrete, anthropomorphic, personal way of speaking about God is sometimes said to be primitive and naive, but it is the only way personal reality can be spoken about, and it is therefore a necessity in our language about God.

            If it is objected that analogical application of the term personal to God is too anthropomorphic, one can reply that application of the term personal to humanity is too theomorphic. Only God is truly personal, truly free and responsible, whereas human beings are personal only by way of analogy to God's personhood. Our personhood is only a reflection or image of the divine personhood, and we come to realize our true personhood only through our relation to God.6

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5. Gollwitzer, Existence of God, 188f.
6. Ibid., 196f.; Barth, C.D.. II/1: 248ff.

     (It would be useful to read “God The Father” in the portion of the “Outline” below, from Prayer Book page 846.)

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God the Father

Q. What do we learn about God as creator from the revelation to Israel?
A. We learn that there is one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

Q. What does this mean?
A. This means that the universe is good, that it is the work of a single loving God who creates, sustains, and directs it.

Q. What does this mean about our place in the universe?
A. It means that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and to care for it in accordance with God's purposes.

Q. What does this mean about human life?
A. It means that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God.

Q. How was this revelation handed down to us?
A. This revelation was handed down to us through a community created by a covenant with God.

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