Beanery Online Literary Magazine

May 19, 2008


—written by Joe F. Stierheim

For thousands of years man has believed in a deity (or deities). The beliefs have taken many forms but all have hinged on one concept and that is that man can successfully define God. Before one can worship any entity, one must decide of what that entity consists. The first definitions were probably of obvious things—a tree, a mountain, the sun. They could have been natural phenomena, perhaps storms or earthquakes.

When man began to conceive of God as being less a physical object or phenomenon and something that is more ethereal such as an intelligence or source, definition got trickier. That didn’t stop man. He poured his whole heart and soul (pun intended) into the problem. He prided himself on being able to construct a definition of God that grew more and more elaborate and exacting with each effort. And there the problem began.

Inevitably, since man was, and is, composed of separate groups that are not necessarily compatible with one another, the way that God was defined by each group varied one from the other. In order that it might better worship, serve and obey God, each group sought to define more exactly the nature, expectations and desires of God. The more exactly and completely each group defined God, the greater the differences became.

If, as is often the case, a group believes that its definition of a deity is the one and only God in the universe, it follows that all other definitions of God are false, or worse, demonic entities. If the group’s definition of God requires it, all followers of another definition of God must be shunned or, in the extreme, eliminated.

But, in reality, can man really define God and how accurately can that be done? Over history, any group’s definition of God changes. Assumedly, later definitions are more accurate, but why is that assumed to be true? Perhaps earlier definitions are truer; perhaps neither definition is correct. More often than not, our definitions of God, accurate or not, have caused more trouble than benefit.

Suppose we did not attempt to define God at all. Suppose we left Him as a concept, an all-knowing intelligence that watches over the earth and wants only good for His people.

That concept is at the root of most major religions and should cause no disagreements. If we defined God no further than that, what would be the harm? It would save us activity that is of questionable value, and free us to put our energies to a more useful purpose, that of bettering the state of the world and our relationship to it and to each other.

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  1. Beyond divine attributes, do we mean the same thing when we use the word “God”? I bet there are family resemblances, at best.
    In case you are interested, I’ve just posted on this question at

    Comment by A Free Spirit — October 25, 2009 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  2. […] DEFINING GOD […]

    Pingback by A Daily Online Lenten Study Guide: Day 14 « Carolyncholland’s Weblog — March 4, 2010 @ 3:23 am | Reply

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