May 5, 2008

The Experiment Going Awry: Attributes of God

There are a number of places where this experiment of belief can go awry, as we have already mentioned. I think one of particular note is given in the following question: what if someone attempted the experiment of faith, but believing in a God that had different attributes than God really has? What if they believed that He had to react in a certain way or do something, when He really didn’t have to?

People form a spectrum: from those who find it very easy to believe to those who find it difficult to believe. For those who find it very easy to believe, inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations don’t seem to hinder their belief. Such inaccuracies may lead to varying beliefs in God, a topic that will be addressed in later posts. For many, insofar as they have peer support, tradition, or desperation, they can look beyond or accept what I would call inaccuracies in God’s nature, and still find peace. I am not one of those people.

What about those for whom it is difficult to believe? For these, belief in something inaccurate may become as detrimental as not believing; the seeming inconsistencies or misrepresentations create a hostile environment for the more skeptical person who wishes to know God, or if God is real. In fact, it may bring them to depression, apathy, hate, total unrest, and even, in some cases that I have heard, suicide. This is not to say that those who find it easy to believe don’t suffer from negative side effects of misguided belief. But for the critical thinker, an inaccurate, inherently difficult view of God will make nurturing belief like planting a seed on asphalt. It’s not that the seed was bad to begin with; rather, the environment in which it has been placed is unsuitable.

It may be like the following analogy: the experiment gone awry through inaccuracy is like telling someone that if they believe a cat is a dog, that cat will be a dog. And when they find out that it doesn’t respond like a dog, when they believe it is, they will experience serious confusion. This is to say nothing of one believing that the cat is the popular flying spaghetti monster of Bobby Henderson.

I want to assure the reader that as a religious believer, one has to consider the many religious views that have been expressed by those who believe in God, who may have tried a similar experiment and failed, or who may have encountered other obstacles with this approach. Previously, I gave an analogy:

As an analogy, if God wants to paint a picture in our minds using bright oranges, reds, greens, and violets, but all we’re letting Him work with in our minds is gray (because we think that gray is the only thing He can use), the intended picture may come out sadly monochromatic; even if He does give us something of a painting, it is likely our restrictions on the answer that distort the picture.

I have found this particularly accurate. When I have been thinking about the way I think things should be, in my own closed-mindedness, if I pray to God and ask for guidance and direction and get something different than what I calculated, I feel betrayed. I feel that God has turned His back or that He neglected to take something into His planning. If I can recognize that I might not be right and let Him use whatever color He so chooses in the analogy of my beliefs, He undoubtedly and consistently gives me ideas and answers that far surpass my logical claims from before. God will not force us (or He would have done a lot more of that early on) to believe in Him, but will work with the tools that we make available to Him in our minds. If we can search in open-mindedness, He will have more to work with.

Why does it matter that we have the attributes of God correct? God, in all cultures as far as I know, expects that humans have some level of holiness or righteousness: some elements of character or behavior or experiences that are desirable. This holiness is usually a reflection of what God is. If a believer believes God is just, he/she also should want to be just. If a believer believes God is merciful, he/she also should want to be merciful. If a believer believes that God likes vanilla ice cream the best, then he/she also should like vanilla ice cream.

Obviously, from that last example, we have reason to question the extent to which some may take God’s characteristics. But if we do know His characteristics, it does help us understand what He wants us to become. As far as I know, most religions honor their God as being perfect, by some definition, and they try to acquire those attributes that they feel best reflect who God is. So, the greater the accuracy we have towards views of God, the greater the ability to apply this belief and experiment of belief.

The next number of blogs will reflect this intent: I wish to explain some of the attributes of God with the hope of making believing clearer.

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