The Many Meanings of God

God, gods and divinity have many faces. In creativism, God is not a personal God but the nontheistic presence of goodness: truth, love and creative action.

The many faces of divinity

Around the world, there are many concepts of divinity which are contradictory though together they inform our understanding. Some believe in a single divine being such as God, or two or more divine beings such as the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Others believe in a divine state, such as Brahman or the Tao, or a divine principle, such as Goodness or Unity. The divine is often identified too with nature, as in pantheism and panentheism. And there are numerous other ways of explaining divinity, reflecting the amazing sophistication of human thought. Especially notable are the trends toward more abstract conceptions, more identification with nature, and more emphasis on the divine as being within the world rather than apart from it.

God as Superman

The idea of the divine as a super person is helpful to many but a concept that today seems immature. There are various reasons why people think this way. It is more than simple anthropocentrism or need for a father figure, which is a failure of imagination: there is reason to think, for example, that the divine is not merely a “state” but an active will, which implies mind, and therefore by extension a kind of personhood. But in practice the idea of the divine as a person is limiting and therefore invalid, if we accept the premise that the divine (or ultimate reality) is the absolute which transcends all limits. We humans have evolved to the level of abstract thought and should be able to see our highest reality in that vein. If we retain the idea of a personal God, that should be a purely personal choice, a matter of convenience rather than necessity.

God as ultimate goodness

Identifying divinity with perfection leads to the conclusion that divinity is goodness. So, we may say that God is that part of ultimate reality which we can call ultimate goodness. To be clear, this is not identifying God with all of ultimate reality, but only that part which we might say is “good.” This is distinct from an Asian view of divinity, which places all of life in the one basket where divinity is a reflection of life in its entirety. This view can be accommodated by recognising, in effect, a God beyond God: a kind of divinity which is beyond good and evil and which might be called our source – to use theologian Paul Tillich’s phrase “the ground of all being.” The idea of divinity simply as goodness is of more practical value to us, for it makes a perfect foundation for ethics and ongoing evolution.

The forms, reach and potency of goodness

To say that God is ultimate goodness is theoretically satisfying but it does not in itself give us an everyday feel for the precise nature of this goodness. If the divine is seen as a person, it is easier to grasp, easier to relate to. This is why there is still value in seeing the divine in particular individuals, such as Jesus or Gautama Buddha. Seen as a pure abstraction, the divine becomes cold and meaningless. Hence it is better if we relate to the divine as an everyday presence in our lives, something that we can see whenever there is a practical manifestation of goodness. This still leaves as an open question the idea of the divine as an entity with its own mind – its own consciousness and will. If the concept of a single invisible mind overseeing the Universe is too much to accept, we may instead adopt the idea of a mind embedded collectively in all creation. We may also accept the notion that we ourselves are part of goodness – we contribute to goodness and draw nourishment from it. Goodness (God) is not a power but an immense influence in human lives, and indeed the Universe as a whole.

The constituents of goodness

If we understand God as ultimate goodness, to extract the full value from this concept we need to interpret goodness as broadly as possible. We need to include the non-moral virtues as well as the moral. Indeed the domain of goodness spreads far beyond virtue in the usual sense of that word. Goodness, or God, is right order (truth) combined with right relationship (love) in creative action. Love and truth represent two fundamental conditions of life: that everything is bound (love) and in balance (truth). Love may be understood as the goodness two parties perceive in each other; love is thus subjective. Truth on the other hand is the objective goodness that a third party observer might perceive. And if God is truth and love joined in creativity, God may also be seen as divine necessity, for truth and love may both be regarded as “necessary” for the existence and continuation of the Universe.

And now, for a poet’s perspective, read Cathedral

We may choose to call the source of the universe “God” but there is a better option, which is that “God” can be seen as the all-encompassing ultimate reality which is the source of the universe, the ground of all being. However, this idea is not much help in everyday living. It is too broad.

The narrower idea of God as ultimate goodness equips us better to meet the challenges of life. Seen this way, “God” is quite simply all the goodness in our lives: the perfection that can be discerned in everything we do and everything we encounter. “God” is thus not a glorified person but a presence. Goodness, or “God,” is right order (truth) joined with right relationship (love) in creative action. This is the essence of the theology of creativism.

Suggested further reading

Armstrong, Karen. 2009. The Case for God. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Benedikt, Michael. 2007. God Is the Good We Do: Theology of Theopraxy. New York: Bottino Books.

Hunt, Rex A.E. and John W.H. Smith, eds 2013. Why Weren’t We Told? A Handbook on ‘Progressive’ Christianity. Salem, Oregon: Polebridge Press.