God can be seen as beyong human understanding meaning that he is hard to describe. To describe him people often use pictures, symbols and symbolic language. They also might describe him as "not" being like something.
Things that God is called in the bible:
Shepherd, warrior, judge, king, father and mother hen. These are human things so can limit him to human qualities, making him seem less than God. This way of explaining God is called anthropomorphism.
He can also be described as: omnipotent - all powerful, omniscient- all knowing, omnibenevolent- all loving, omnipresence- all present, transcendence- above all and immanence- within all.
Some christians will see god as impresonal and mysterious while others will see him as very personal.
Analogy, Myth and symbol
Analogy is using words symbolically to suggest something else. This means that words don't mean the exact same thinga s normal when they are used to describe God. Saying "God is good" is different from saying "my dad is good".
Myths are stories which aren't factually true but have important spiritual truths. We often have to work out the meaning of myths. Many christains think that the creatioin stories are myths. They explain why the world was created but not actually how the world was created.
Symbols are also ways of explaining things that otherwise might seem unexplainable. Christians use relgious symbols to represent things such as the cross.
Is God male or female?
God only appears physically in the bible once but he is generally referred to as a "he" in the bibe. It is said that no one ever see's God "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live". Jesus referred to God as "Father". He is seen as the father of everything as he was the creator of everything. Many aspects of God do seem feminine.
Being made in the "image of God" doesnt mean that men or women are exactly identical to him, just that we have similar characteristics. This could mean that God is neither a male or a female.
Christains try to explain God in different ways. Christians believe that God has three parts- The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirt. This means that there are three ways of God being God, not that there are three Gods.
God the Father is the transcendent creator, God the Son is Jesus who came to live on earth and lived as a human, and The Holy Spirt is immanent and is the part of God that inspires and guides Christians.
Christians think that God is the first cause and the reason that everything exists. They also think that he continues to sustain and control it.
Reasons why Christians believe in God- Argument 1
The ontological argument
This is a lingusitic argument first put forward by St Anselm of Canterbury. The argument says that God must exist because our definition for him is so perfect and without him actually existing we wouldn't be able to come up with a definition that was so perfect.
It has some reasoning but has some problems as it is saying that e can know the nature of a God that we don't know.
The cosmological argument
This argument says that God must exist because the universe has to come from somehwere. Aquinas argued that something cannot come from something, someone must have brought the universe into existance- and that someone was God.
He also said that God is the necessary being meaning that God cannot not exist.
Christians might also say that God was the thing, or person, that caused The Big Bang.
The teleological argument
This argument says that the world must have had a creator because it is too complicated and a too fine balance to have happened by chance. This was shown by Paley's watch. He said that if you were walking in a field and came across a rock you would think that it had just got there by a chance. If you came across a watch you would think that it was there because someone put it there as it is a too complicated thing to just turn up. The world is like the watch with God as the creator.
Darwin challenged this argument by saying that everything would have started out as quite simple but got more complicated through natural selection. Natural selection is the idea that everything gets more complicated because animals and plants are more likely to survive if they have characteristics that make them more suited to the environment. This means that they have an increased chance of having offspring and passing on their good characteristics. He didn't however come up with how everything was created.
As an argument against Darwin Christians came up with the theory of intelligent design. They said that everything was too complicated and must have been created by a something or a high intelligence rather than by natural selection.
The Argument from experience
Some people say that we can experience God either through miracles, having prayers answered or through meditation.
People have said they have felt a God like presence or have heard him speak- therefore he must exist.
The moral Argument
This argument says that we know right from wrong and we must have got this knowledge from somehwere and that somewhere is God.
Newman said that we must have got our conscience from somewhere and that somewhere is God. He said that God gave it to us because he wanted us to be able to do good.
Our sense of guilt can also be said as gotten from God because there would be no other place that we could get it from.
All these arguments don't prove that God does or doesn't exist as they don't have any scientific proof.
Reasons why people don't believe in God
Atheists don't believe in God because they think that there is no reliable evidence for his existance. They would say that people should only believe in thing that they have good evidence of.
The would say that everything in the universe can be explained without using God, therefore he doesn't exist. They would also say that the world could have just come around by chance, without God making it and that himans, animals and plants could have just adapted and envolved to live in it.
They would also say that God can't have created the world as it has lots of faults- evil, earthrquakes, floods etc. so a perfect God cannot have created it.
A further argument would be that if God had full control over us and creatd us why did he make us imperfect? Why not just make us perfect the first time and have us not struggle and reduce the evil in the world. This means that if God does exist he is either not omnipotent (all powerful) or not omnibenevolent (all loving)
A mircle is something out of the ordinary that seems to defy the laws of nature. Christians would say that mircles are caused by God as it seems that they couldn't be caused by anything that lives on the earth.
Natural laws don't mean that something has to behave the way it does, only that it normally does. This could mean that sometimes things don't follow the laws of nature perfectly. This could be because God wants to make them act differently or just because it happened.
Aquinas defined miracles as something done by God whcih is different from the way things normally happen. He said there are three types of mircles:
1) Ones that God did that nature couldn't do, e.g. walking on water
2) Ones that God did that nature could do but not in that order- recovery from paralysis
3)Ones done by God that nature could do but God did without using the forces of nature e.g. recovering from a cold or flu
Jesus perfomed a lot of mircles such as walking on water, rising from the dead, calming a storm or the feeding of the 5000
Some Christians say that it isn't important whether the miracles in the New Testement were real or not, just the spritual message that they give.
Miracles are still thought of by Christains as doing's of The Holy Spirit. Some people believe that there are Christian faith healers but some illnesses and diseases just come and go: headaches etc.
Christian Beliefs about Jesus
Christians believe that Jesus is Lord. They see him as part of God but also the son of God. They believed that Jesus was God in human form. To describe this they used the word incarnation. This meant that God did know what it was like to be human and so can take an active role in people's lives.
Jesus was a guide and a teacher. His life is seen by Christains as perfect God like behaviour and attitudes.
They see his death as important because he was God in human form. It also creates the problem of God being eternal. If Jesus is God then Jesus shouldn't have died because he was eternal. Christains explain this by saying that he died to take away sins and make it possible for people's sins to be abel to be forgiven. They believe Jesus did this so that God and humanity could be at one. This is called atonement.
Jesus didn't stay dead, he rose from the dead and returned to his father for eternity. The resurrection is important to Christains because it improves that there is life after death. The resurrected Jesus wasn't a ghost, he was so real that his disciples ate and drank with him. He appeared for 40 days after resurrecting before returning to his father. They believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead- Judgement Day.
Christian Beliefs about the Holy Spirit
Christians believe that after his resurrection Jesus told his disciples that when he left them he would send the Holy Spirit to them.
They believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the world and that the power of the Holy Spirit gives them guidance, faith, hope, understanding and the strength to live up to Jesus' teachings. They also think that it is what gives people special gifts such as to be able to heal people and that it makes them able to spread love.
The soul is described as the non-physical part of the body. Christians believe that everyone has an immortal soul meaning that it doesn't die when the body dies and moves on with them. Christians believe that it is the soul which separates humans from animals as most Christians believe that animals don't have souls although some disagree with it. Some Christains believe that when the bible says that God created humans in the image of him it means that we are spiritually the same and it is the soul that makes us the same. Christains believe that humans got the soul from the "beath of life" from God.
Concepts of life after death
Some people believe that after death there is nothing and that it is the end of your existance. Christains on the other hand believe that there is a heaven and a hell. This means they are more likely to worry about death as they think they are going to be judged on whether they ahve lived a good enough life to go to heaven or not.
Other people believe there is a life after death in the form of ghosts or other supernatural existance.
Heaven, hell and purgatory
Most Christians believe that Hell is where people who haven't lived a good enough life go. Here they suffer eternal punishment. Others Christians believe that people who aren't Christains will go to hell.
Roman Catholic Christians believe in purgatory which is a place where good Christians who have stilled sinned go until they are fully cleansed of their sins and in a ready state to go to heaven. Some believe that most people will spend time in purgatory and that if people try for people in purgatory they will get out sooner.
The views and imaged of heaven have changed over time. It used to be described as a magical place with angels and clouds. It might also be seen as the perfect place for the person that is there and is a state of mind. Christians don't allow cremation and want people to be buried ebcause it means that they can go to heaven.
Salvation, redemption and the suffering of Christ
Christians believe that God judges people on how they have lived their life and how they have shown concern for other people. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats shows that people who care for others will receive external life but those who ignore suffering will go to hell.
Christians believe that they will recieve salvation and redemption through devotion to Jesus. They also believe that God has set standards for people's behaviour which are found in the teachings of the bible. Most people won't be able to reach these standards but if they pray for forgiveness and have faith they won't be sent to hell.
There are two types of judgement in Christianity. One is called General Judgement when God passes his final sentence of humanity as a whole as well as indivduals.
The other is Particular Judgement which is the judgement given to every soul when someone dies. According to Catholics this judgement allowed the soul to go either straight to heaven, hell or purgatory.
When a Christian is dying a Christian minister may visit them to help them prepare for death. This may include confessing sins.
A funeral service normally takes place in a church and the body is either buried or cremated (although this is unlikely as they believe if you burn the body you cannot go to heaven). Black is the traditional colour for funerals although the church may be covered in flowers to represent the new life that the person will get (the after life). Candles are lit to remind people that Christians were saved because Jesus is the light of the world.
The smoke on the candles represents the soul and prayers going up to heaven.
A grave stone is palaced at the site of burial for family members to visit.
God and the Devil (Satan)
Christians believe that everything God created is good. This leads to the question of if God is goos then why is there evil in the world. Some Christians would say that the evil in the world is caused by the Devil. He works against God, encouraging people to do evil things. This doesn't answer why God lets the devil exist or why he doesn't stop us from doing evil things. Some people would say that there is no such thing as the devil and that it is just peoples choice to do evil things.
Christians believe that God is a lot more powerful than Satan and therefore good is stronger than evil. They also believe that people have free will to decide what they want to do, therefore those that choose to do evil things are responsible for their actions are have to face the consequences. The choice to be evil if they want to be could be seen as a test from God to see if someone should be able to go to heaven or not.
Christains will have exorcises to remove the devil from places.
People who do evil things today might be seen to have a mental illness.
The original sin is when Eve ate the fruit from the tree whch God had told them not to eat from. At this point the serpent was the devil. Some people believe that as humans were made in the image of God before this sin they were immortal but when Eve created sin this went.
Concepts of natural and moral evil
moral evil: this is the deeds or behaviour of peopel which are seen to be cruel and uncaring
natural evil: things that are natural events that can be seen as evil- for example volancoes. People might now think that some natural evil is caused indirectly by humans such as through climate change. People who are victims of these events often aren't guilty so it is often questioned why God is punishing them.
Approaches to why there is evil and suffering
Some people might say that a good God wouldn't allow evil and suffering. This could mean a few things:
- God doesn't exist
- God isnt all good
- God isn't all powerful
Non believers might say that humans have a choice on how they behave. They can either be good or bad.
This leaves Christians with two main questions about evil
- How can a good God let evil exist?
- it is clear God loves humans so how can he let us suffer from natural disasters
It is important to think about the story of Job, who has a lot of suffering thrown at him by God and yet he still stays faithful. He is then rewarded by God. This shows that evil and suffering could just be a test from God.
Coping with Suffering
Christains believe that Jesus was completely free of sins but still gave his life to repent others sins, showing that God also has had human suffering.
When suffering Christians often pray to God to help them or give them strength although they accept that he doesn't always answer prayers and believe that whatever happens God will choose what it best for them.
At the times of the New Testement many people thought that illness and suffering were punishments for sins that they had commited.
Reasons for moral behaviour
Christains try to live by God's wishes found in the bible and Jesus' teachings. God is perfectly good therefore Christians should aim to be the same. The Ten Commandments shows how God wants people to behave and give Christains rules.
The bible is an obvious place to look for how God wanted Christians to behave. Sometimes it is hard to apply the bible to every day situations and some wouldn't be acceptable to do now a days such as women remaining silent in churches.
They also follow the teachings of Jesus They have faith in Jesus and as the son if God his life must be a good example to follow.
People often say they know what to do because they are following their consceince. Sometimes people feel they can't do something because their conscience won't let them. A conscience isn't an easy thing to define.
it could be people working through a question in their head and deciding what they think is best to do and what is the wrong thing to do. On the other hand and what most Christians would believe it could be the voice of God telling people what they should be doing.
Non believers don't get their ideas of morals from the bible so have to get their idea of morals from other places.
Scientific theories about the origins of the world
Cosmology and evoultion have both been scientific theories for the origins of the world. They have also been seen by some as a threat to relgion.
Cosmology is concerned with the origins or the universe and is based on science not religion. The Big Bang theory suggests that there was a big explosion that caused the universe to form.
The theory of Evoultion was presented by Darwin. It suggests that everything started from a single cell and that humans came from apes after adapting. Those that were most suited to the environment survived while those not suited to the environment didn't. Lots of people didn't like this idea because they didn't want to have come from apes. A geologist argued that fossils were placed by God to test the faith of Christains.
Some people still believe in the creation stories. Another argument is the purpose of the world. Religion says that the world was created for us while science leads us to believe that we evolved to fit the world.
Some people believe that God was the cause of whatever created the world, therefore science and religion are right.
Christian teachings about the origins of the world
Genesis has two creation stories. The first account shows God creating the world bit at a time. day one he created ligh and dark, day two he created land and water etc. The Roman Catholics believe that he created the world out of nothing but other Christians believe that there were already materials there that he used to create it with. This is important because it might explain why there is evil in the world. If God created it from something then there might have already have been evil in that, therefore God didn't create evil.
In the second creation story is the one with Adam and Eve. God made humans before he made animals and plants. He also made Adam from dust and breathed the breath of life into him (his soul).
The relationship between scientific and Christian
The conflict between science and religion is more important to the religious people that believe that the bible is the exact words of what happened. This view points means that only one can be right, science or religion.
The time of creation worked out from the bible was many of billions of years after the date science has come up with.
Lots of Christains see the creation stories as myths rather than being completely factual. This means they contain important truths; that God is responsible for the creation of work, but not that those stories are how it actually happened. They may believe that science explains how and religion explains why. Lots of people believe that God caused the Big Bang.
Some Christians are still strongly against the evoultion theory and in some aprts of USA it is illegal to teach it in schools
the place of humanity in relation to animals
In the first creation account animals are made before humans and then the humans are told to "rule over" every living thing on the earth. In the second account Adam is told to name all the animals therefore giving hi poewr over all of them. Animals are shown as clearly different from humans. Animals were created in the same way as plants but humans were different. Humans have free choice over how they treat them.
We can be seen as stewards of the world, meaning we should use the animals to our advantage while treating them fairly.
Attitudes to animals and their treatment
Most people in the world disagree with animal crultey whether they are relgious or not. Non believers often think that it as the most advanced species we have a duty to be stewards to the animals and look after them.
There is disagreement between Christians as to whether animals should be used in the testing out chemicals. Some believe that it is ok yo use them if it is for medical reasons however most believe that as humans creation we shouldn't test on animals.
The church of england say- "development in science, medicines and technology should be monitored in the light of Christian ethical principles" in other words strict rules should be followed when involving animals in testings
Methodist Church- say that we shouldn't use animals for testing at all because they are Gods creation
Quakers- we shouldn't test on animals as it reflects on us as people and consequently God.
In terms of food, non believers and believers can be vegetarian. Most Christians don't have a problem with eating meat as after the flood God said that everything was the humans to eat.
Christians believe that at the time of creation humans were made stewards of the world. Most Christians believe that as creastions of God all life, including animals, is scared. Most Christians, however, don't think that animals have souls, but they still respect all life and want to look after it. Jesus also taught us that God does care about animals as well as humans and some Christians do believe that animals have souls.
Christianity teaches that people should only take from the world what they need and shouldn't be concerned with the material wealth of it. We shouldn't take advantage of the world, animals and rescourse that we have.
Some Christians have joined charities such as Greenpeace to try to demonstrate Christian stweardship.