The Finite God

In A God of Infinite Possibility on August 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Chapter 4 – A God of Infinite Possibility

To define God is to make God finite.
This is inevitable. It is in our nature as humans to use language to define, and definition is – by definition – to make things finite.
It is also in the nature of humans to define things personally, based on our own experience of them. Contrary to what most people seem to believe, dictionaries do not regulate definition. The best they can do is to record commonly understood denotative meanings at the particular time of the dictionary’s compilation and publication. They cannot record connotative meanings, and they are continually revising and updating the denotative ones. They can, also, record the origin and evolution of words as much as they are understood, but that is only useful in knowing how a word has acquired some of its meaning, not in understanding what it means to each of us separately. And definitions have two effects; they do not simply define what something is, but also define what it is not.
For most of our language, this is sufficient. As long as you and I share a general understanding of what a table is, then we can make use of one without serious complications. I can ask you to put something on a table that is somewhere within our common field of present experience and you can do that successfully.
But much of our experience of the world requires language for things that aren’t so clearly delineated. God is one of those things. If you ask me whether I believe in God and I say that I do, I have not told you anything about what I actually believe. I have only told you that I believe in something and I choose to call that something God.
Often, we don’t even really know our own definition of God. This isn’t all that surprising. We also don’t always know our definitions of things like Freedom, Patriotism, Love, Truth, or a thousand other complex and personal concepts, feelings and human qualities and characteristics. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that our definitions of these things are changeable; and they are primarily expressed not in words, but in actions. Our definition of God isn’t simply contained in some words we recite, but in how we behave in the world. Still, the words are important. If we try to write down a definition of God we will find that the words begin to get us into trouble with ourselves as we try to sort out what is included and excluded by our definitions.
Is God, for instance, masculine? If not, then what does it mean to talk of “God the Father?” If so, then does that not mean that the feminine is not God? It is possible to talk of God the Father as one aspect of God, but that requires more specificity. Are we really praying only to the masculine aspect when we say “The Lord’s Prayer?” And do we have prayers to the feminine aspect as well? If the tri-partite God is “Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost),” where is the feminine in that definition? Is the Holy Spirit feminine? There’s nothing to indicate it. Doesn’t this definition suggest that the Mother, the Daughter are “not-God?” If your answer is “of course the mother and daughter are part of God,” but you continue to pray only to God the Father, then your definition of words and your definition of action are at odds.
And, conversely, if you pray to the Goddess does that mean that your definition of the divine excludes the masculine? If so, then why do you use a term which is the diminutive form of the masculine? A goddess is a feminine god, which only makes sense if a god is by definition masculine. If god is a neuter, genderless noun, then goddess has no reference point in its definition.
This is also a problem for the atheist. The term literally means “without god.” But what does that mean without a clear definition of the god or gods one is without? An atheist is, by the use of that term, defined by what he does not believe rather than by what he does believe. This may be why so many atheists seem to spend all their time trying to argue the non-existence of God, rather than offering a clear, common definition of what they believe. Of course, there is no single definition of what an atheist believes, because atheists are as diverse as deists, but at least god-believers often have specific communities of people with similar enough beliefs to create a sense of common definition. There are humanists and rationalists and agnostics and scientific realists, and so forth, but none of these is necessarily incompatible with a belief in some kind of God.
We might also ask ourselves whether the God we believe in is the same today as it was at some point in the past. What did you believe God to be when you were a child? Has that perception of God changed? How? Why? If you no longer believe in God, do you really mean that you no longer believe in the God of your childhood and have not found a suitable replacement; except, perhaps, a rationalist rejection of all the god-definitions you know or can imagine?
The point is that we all believe in something. We have some set of primary definitions and core perceptions that guide our actions, our choices, in the world and help us to find our own truth in the universe. It is therefore, important to take the time to articulate those beliefs and perceptions, to say what our truth is. Otherwise we are simply throwing labels around, names that don’t really mean what we think they mean.

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