Click here for previous session

Just as Arab Christians identify God as “Allah,” and just as the Bible employs ther royalplural both in pronouns and in the proper name Elohim, Western Christians can 

adopt the same practice without compromising their creed. But faith need not depend on
such issues, when there remains a more relevant point to ponder: Regardless of His name,
how does God command mankind to understand Him?

Understanding of God
Those who agree with us may not be right, but we admire their astuteness. —Cullen Hightower

 

The Jewish understanding of God is relatively concrete, despite the vast
differences between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Hasidic Judaism in other
matters. Throughout Judaism, the One­ness of God remains the primary attribute of the
Creator, followed by many others, including justice, love, mercy, omniscience,
omnipresence, omnipotence, sovereignty, truth, wisdom, self­existence, goodness,
holiness, eternity, and the even more tricky concept of infinity. Furthermore, Jews
consider God incomprehensible, for God’s attributes transcend those of His creation.

 

The Jewish attributes of God carry over into Christian definitions as well,
although God’s One­ness suffered in the transformation from the strict monotheism of the
apostolic age to the mysticism of the Trinity. Coming out of one corner is the Trinitarian
understanding of three entities in One—a concept bounced off the ropes and
body slammed by Unitarian challenges. Indeed, how could substances with opposite polarities (i.e., mortality/immortality; with beginning/without beginning;
mutable/immutable, etc.) possibly exist in one entity? Why did Jesus Christ ascribe his
miraculous works exclusively to God and not to any divinity of his own, if he was in fact
a partner in divinity? And why did he testify to having received his gifts from God if he
and the Creator are co­equal? (For relevant verses, see John 3:35, 5:19­23, 5:26­27,
10:25, 13:3, 14:10, Acts 2:33, 2 Peter 1:17, Rev 2:26­27.)

 

The doctrine of God being three, but One, that is to say three ­in ­One, lives up to
its label of a religious mystery. Although many profess belief, none can explain it in
terms a healthy skeptic can understand. The struggle to explain how “the created” can
possibly equate to the Creator is ages­old, as are the other mysteries of Trinitarian belief.
Cutting across such issues, the most common Christian image of God is the “big man in
the sky,” much like the aged, white­bearded and flowing­robed representation preserved
in Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco in the Sistine chapel. The fact that this image is not at all
dissimilar to the ancient Greek representation of Zeus has not gone unnoticed, and many
object, and not just on the basis of the second commandment (which forbids “any
likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in
the water under the earth …”—Exodus 20:4­5).