My apologies to anyone who feels hurt by my title. It would have been safer for me to avoid this subject entirely, but I’m convinced that it matters a great deal. So, let’s get to it:
The word “God” has become confusing, distracting, and counterproductive. It carries immense baggage, and it’s time we let it go.
Please understand that this is not an angry-atheist argument. I am not, in fact, an atheist. This is an argument for clear communication, for human understanding, and even for spiritual development. The word “God” is a problem, and I think it’s crucial that we face that fact.
And by the way, I think Jesus would agree with me.
Who Is God?
Ask a dozen clergymen to define God, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers. Ask a random person on the street, and you’ll get a ball of confusion.
Is God the all-seeing being? Does he control every molecule in the universe? Did he merely put the universe into motion? Is God a he? A she? An it? Does God send people to hell? Does he merely allow them to go to hell? Does he forgive everyone? Does he save everyone? Does he decide in advance who is saved and who is damned? Does he share his complete nature with holy men?
A long list can be made of such questions, and all of them – as answered by both yeses and noes – are used to define “God.”
A word with no fixed meaning is a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding. And if we link to that word a choice between eternal torture and eternal bliss, those misunderstandings involve the highest stakes imaginable.
Can you see how this sows immense trouble in the world? Can you see how it poisons even well-intended theology?
Whoever’s to blame for making “God” unusable in our time, the word clearly is unusable. The only logical choice is to let it go. Forcing a single definition upon the entire world is a practical impossibility.
So, I think we should stop using this word. It’s fine as a generalized appeal to an ultimate – “God bless you,” “Thank God,” and so on – but it’s inadequate for meaningful discussion.
Jesus and God
Here are a few lines of theology to support this argument:
If you count all the times Jesus refers to “God” in the gospels, it comes to 173; for “father,” it’s 167, roughly equal. This is significant by itself, because the people Jesus spoke to expected him to say “God.” The scribes and pharisees, for example, almost never use the word “father.” Even the disciples seldom used it. Jesus alone used the word with any frequency.
But here’s where it really gets interesting: If you count only the times Jesus was speaking to his disciples, you get “God” 78 times and “father” 115 times. That’s a significant difference; when speaking to his students, Jesus used “father” roughly 50% more frequently than “God.”
So, when I say that Jesus didn’t much like using the word “God,” I have some basis for saying so.
Now, with that detour into theology complete, let’s return to the subject of retiring “God.”
What Then Shall We Say?
Laying “God” aside, what to say instead is simple: We say things that convey clear meanings. If we mean “creator of the universe,” we say “creator of the universe.” If we mean “controller of everything,” we say “controller of everything.”
Here are a few suggestions:
Creator: I like this one because it removes truckloads of theological implication. Our universe clearly came from something (unless we turn back to a belief in spontaneous generation), and nothing we see could have made what we see. So, saying “creator” may not describe much about the nature of this being, but it is very clear on the central act of the being. That provides a context for a conversation. If we specify “creator,” we at least begin on solid ground.
Father: Father is a reasonably good word, meaning “from whom we’ve taken our existence.” In a Christian context, this can also be used as in “Jesus’ father.” Again, it doesn’t imply too much and it provides a clear starting point.
Author of life: This is fairly close to “father,” but it focuses on all life – on the essence of life, whatever that may actually be – and not on any one life-form.
Source: Another fairly useful term, with a meaning like “father,” though broader.
Yahweh: For biblical conversations, this one actually works. It veers too closely to the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many people, but it does approximate the name that appears in the Hebrew Bible. Disagree with the Witnesses all you like, but at least this word refers to a specific being.
Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t suggest using “King” or “Lord,” since they imply some kind of violent dominator. I’d like to see humanity outgrow that.
What you do with this will be your choice, but I think it needed to be said. Discussions centered on “God” are more or less doomed at their start these days, making discourse on spirituality an inarticulate mess, or even a minefield. Tradition isn’t worth that price. It’s time to let “God” go and get specific.
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If you’ve enjoyed Free-Man’s Perspective or A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, you’re going to love Paul Rosenberg’s new novel, The Breaking Dawn.
It begins with an attack that crashes the investment markets, brings down economic systems, and divides the world. One part is dominated by mass surveillance and massive data systems: clean cities and empty minds… where everything is assured and everything is ordered. The other part is abandoned, without services, with limited communications, and shoved 50 years behind the times… but where human minds are left to find their own bearings.
You may never look at life the same way again.
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