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The Nature of God

The term God is usually taken to mean the supreme, ultimate, omnipotent, omniscient force which transcends the entire universe. The major religions further assign the quality of absolute goodness to God. This raises a paradox - if God is both all powerful and all good why is there evil in the universe in the form of pain, suffering, war and injustice? The existence of such things suggests that God either has insufficient power to prevent them, or that rather than being all good He is but a neutral observer of His creation.

Alternatively, earthly existence and all events contained within, however tragic and momentous they might seem from our current perspective, have minimal significance against the boundless backdrop of all reality. Each incarnation is but a small step along the path of spiritual evolution. God may be likened to a teacher. He does not want us to suffer, but he does want us to learn, and each obstacle faced is a lesson to be mastered. Man was granted limited freedom of the will that he may experience triumph and disaster and maybe learn from these things.

The idea of God was first recognized when early man appealed to unknown superior forces over matters of survival such as the success of the day's hunt, or the fertility of the land. The first gods were closely linked to natural phenomena such as the rising of the sun or the changing of the seasons. It is remarkable that different religions that developed independently have so much in common. God, and religion, were subsequently hijacked by the establishment as a means of keeping control and order through the promise of heaven for the obedient and the threat of hell for the rebellious. The will of man rather than that of God continues to dominate much organized religion.

Beliefs about God may be divided into four broad categories. Theism is a belief in God based on faith or revelation, it forms the basis of much religion and mysticism and typically views God as a personal and benevolent entity continually intervening in the universe to safeguard the welfare of His creation. Deism is a belief in God deduced from a process of logical reasoning, the deist God has typically left the universe to its own devices following creation. Atheism is a positive rejection of the existence of God. Agnosticism is the belief that knowledge about the existence or nature of God is inevitably beyond human reach, and that speculation on such matters is meaningless.

The sceptic may reject revealed knowledge, but if the mind is non-physical then why should it not have access to knowledge by non-physical means; and if it is assumed that God is more than physical why shouldn't awareness of Him occur in a similar way. The philosopher Rousseau said "The more I strive to prove the infinite Being of God the less do I understand it. But I feel that He is. That is enough for me". Shakespeare expressed it more simply in the words of Hamlet "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-62) devised the argument in favour of belief in God (or originally Roman Catholicism) known as Pascal's wager. Essentially this states we cannot ever know for sure about the existence of God but believing in Him is something like an insurance policy. If we believe and we're wrong, we'll end up dead anyway, just like the unbelievers; but if we don't believe and it turns out that there is a God then we may be denied the prize of eternal life - therefore it's safer to believe.

One of the areas of agreement between science, mysticism and religion is the belief in a finite beginning to the physical universe known variously as the "big bang" or creation. In a universe operating largely on the principle of cause and effect it seems reasonable that there would have been some initial cause, a role commonly attributed to God.

The argument from design seeks evidence for God in the hypothesis that the degree of order in the universe suggests it is the product of intelligent design, and hence an intelligent designer. Fundamental physical constants are precisely the right values required to keep the whole thing ticking over. Of course it could be argued that the fact that we're here at all means that this must be the case, but that makes it no less amazing that we are here.

The idea of God certainly exists in the minds of men, giving weight to the view that He exists in reality; there is rarely smoke without fire. Vast amounts of resources and human effort have been expended in the building of elaborate churches and temples dedicated to the worship and glory of God. Many millions throughout the world engage in worship as members of organized religion while millions more offer silent prayer. Can a mere fairy tale continue to have such profound influence?

If there is a purpose to all existence, then that purpose must have been provided by some intelligence which we may as well call God. The alternative to there being a purpose is that mankind is no more than a speck of dust blowing helplessly in the cosmic winds for all eternity.

The concept of God has always provided explanation for the unexplainable, initially for phenomena such as night and day, the motion of the stars, eclipses etc. As man's knowledge grew the role of God changed, prompting the materialists to cynically describe a "God of the gaps", i.e. a mere filler of the holes in contemporary science. However twentieth century science has provided more questions than answers, theories of relativity and quantum mechanics reveal that the deeper we look the more mysterious reality becomes. At sub-atomic level determinism breaks down leaving some things as not only unknown, but unknowable.

The truly great scientists have always recognized some greater reality beyond the reach of their theories. Towards the end of his life Sir Isaac Newton likened himself to "a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me". Albert Einstein said "To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the centre of true religiousness". Physicist Stephen Hawking believes that if we find a unified physical theory we would then turn to the question of why we and the universe exist. He writes "If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God".

The Christian religion plays a major role in the British constitution and way of life. There is hardly a town or village without a church or other place of worship. The Church of England, one of our wealthiest institutions, is traditionally led by the reigning monarch. Its senior officials sit in the House of Lords and may participate in the legislative process. Religious study remains a compulsory subject within state schools. In British courts of law oaths are sworn on the Bible in God's name.

With seeming arrogance the Bible proclaims that man alone was created in the image of God, but doesn't man possess a tiny spark of divinity in the freedom of his will? By exercising his will man can alter ever so slightly what would otherwise have been; but as man's power is limited, so God's is limitless. If nothing else the concept of God as a symbol of the absolute and infinite can only assist man to place his own finite existence in perspective against the whole of reality.

In time of life threatening crisis even the most cold-hearted and hard-headed may appeal, in hope more than belief, to an unseen super-force. Even the most materialistic atheist had better hope there is some form of God, for with no God there is neither purpose nor meaning, and without these he is nothing.

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