If God is spirit (John 4:24), then God is not an entity existing in space and time, as we human beings are. We humans are existents, bound in space and time during our brief lives. God, on the other hand, appears to be nothing more than a concept, an invention of the human imagination, whose nature and character changes with each religious group and/or individual. Hence, it appears that God, however conceived, has no independent existence, which exactly corresponds to those ideations of the human mind.
The rationale for this surprising statement is self-evident when viewed from the perspective of the history of world religions. Each religion (and there have been a lot of religions through human history) conceives God differently, yet the adherents of this or that religion believe that God is actually just like what they conceive. In short, they believe their view is the only accurate and true view that captures the essence of God. But, alas, different understandings of God exist in other religions and the adherents of these other religions likewise think that their understanding of God is actually how God is.
For example, there is no one biblical understanding of God. There are various views of God in the Christian and Jewish Bibles. Describing each of these ways of understanding God as different is based on the recognition that the Bible is a collection of diverse texts representing the historical evolution of two different religions Israelite and Christian. The authors in the Bible can only be held responsible for what that they wrote. This idea may be difficult to accept because modern users of the Bible tend to treat the Bible as a unified text rather than what it is—a collection of largely originally unrelated texts By treating the Bible as a unified and harmonious text readers tend to develop composite images of God (which themselves are also different).
Here then, necessarily briefly, are three different ways God is represented in the Biblical texts.
God the Giver of Tribal Laws: Principally, the Mosaic Covenant, which is found in Exodus 19-23 and Leviticus. Ancient Israel is directed to keep the laws which have been given by God through Moses. The obligations to which each party is committed are stated in Leviticus 26: The tribe of Israelites, 26:3-5; Yahweh, 26:6-13. And if Israel breaks any of these laws, there is a penalty: Leviticus 26:14-33. Would anyone doubt that the God credited with promulgating the tribal laws takes obedience to his commands completely seriously?
God the Merciful and Compassionate: The book of Hosea is permeated by the theme of divine compassion. It is at one and the same time a story of Yahweh's steadfast love for Israel, and Hosea's love for the prostitute Gomer, whom he married at God's direction (Hosea 1:1-2). She bore three children (Hosea 1:4-8) of whom Hosea was presumably not the father (Hosea 2:4-5). Gomer abandoned the family to take up again a life of prostitution, and Hosea at God's direction bought her back (Hosea 3:1-5), just as Yahweh refuses to abandon his people Israel (Hosea11:1-12). The dominant image that emerges from the book is the love and faithfulness of Yahweh in the face of Israel's unfaithfulness and abandonment of Yahweh (Hosea 4:1-19).
God the Capricious and Unjust: The Book of Job comes in two parts: a prose prologue (1:1-2:13) and epilogue (42:7-17), and a central poetic section (3:1-42:1-6). The central section is concerned with showing that not all suffering is the result of sin. The prologue, however, casts God as a capricious Eastern potentate who allows Satan to submit Job to every kind of suffering short of taking his life, even though God knows that Job is a righteous and blameless man (Job 1:1). There was no reason for Job to suffer except to settle a casual dispute between God and Satan as to whether Job served God in his own self interest (1:8-12; 2:3-6).
In each of these "types" I have described what seems, far and away, to be the prevalent tone of how that writer views God's character. Vestiges of other views may still be seen in each text, however. For example, the major chord of Ecclesiastes seems to be God the Distant and Disinterested Creator. The view of this writer is that although God is the creator of all, God has little to do with the creation. Nevertheless, one does still find vestiges of a kind of secular view of God (3:17-18; 7:18; 8:12-13), and even a bit of traditional piety (12:13-14). Nevertheless, God is not really a major concern in human life, and the ponderings of the author bring him virtually to the edge of despair.
My point in this essay is this: God is who we think or believe God to be. If there is a Deity, apart from the inventions of our minds, how would we ever come to the knowledge of that apparently completely unknown figure? Do we pick the one with which we are most comfortable and claim that figure as true God? Or do we simply stay with the understanding of the God of our childhood?
How does it seem to you?
Charles W. Hedrick