God has been a subject of numerous debates in philosophical and theological circles across the world. Buzzle sheds light on some interesting philosophical questions about God and the debates that have ensued.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
God is the all-seeing, all-pervasive, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient power that most of us tend to believe in, more or less. Despite the fact that none of us have ever seen God (and most of us do not even claim to have seen Him), it is an undeniable truth that we do turn our heads towards Him in times or crisis and troublesome situations. And our belief in Him tends to get stronger and stronger as our problems begin to sort out one by one. God is worshiped in different religions around the world in various forms and avatars, in various ways, and by various names. However, the purpose of worshiping Him remains the same throughout―seeking aid in difficult situations, and then thanking Him for making life easy for us.
Over the ages, philosophers and scientists across the world have been constantly debating on the issue of God. Many a time, His very existence has been doubted. Believers, however, continue to be firm on their views, and therefore, whether or not His existence is proven, He will continue to be venerated and revered as long as people will continue to believe in Him. And the belief in Him, we can rather surely say, will never cease to exist as long as the Universe continues to be there.
Philosophical Debates Concerning God
God has been one of the favorite subjects of debates and discussions in the philosophy community, Numerous interesting theories have been put forth by various people on this issue, but unfortunately, none of them have been able to find solid ground till today. While the world remains divided between believers and non-believers, theists and atheists, we, at Buzzle, have attempted to discuss some of the fundamental issues about God and His existence. Let’s begin.
Does God exist?
◆ As mentioned above, this is the most important and fundamental question about God. Till today, several people are known to have argued both for and against God’s existence, but no one has been able to land on a conclusive answer to the question.
◆ Bible says, “… because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists …” (Hebrews 11:6).
◆ Moreover, the Hindus who worship several anthropomorphic images of their deities also stress on the idea that faith is an extremely necessary factor in order to believe that God indeed exists.
◆ There is a very popular saying in Hinduism which says, “If one believes, there is God. If one doesn’t, then it is just a stone.”
◆ Therefore, it is necessary to believe that a particular object or an invisible force does indeed help in a situation of need.
◆ On account of this, it seems but impossible to prove the existence or non-existence of God, and He will continue to exist and not exist for believers and non-believers, respectively.
Who is God?
◆ So, if we assume that God indeed exists, the very next question that arises is about His appearance, nature, and character. Different religions perceive God in different ways, but all of them portray Him as an all-encompassing, benevolent being, who keeps showering His favors on believers, and punishing the sinners.
◆ First and foremost, to consider God as a male/female entity seems to be a little unwise. While the word “He” is commonly used to refer to God, it should be noted that He is perceived as an absolute entity, a Supreme Reality, by most religions.
◆ In Christianity, God is an eternal being who is both creator as well as preserver of the Universe.
◆ Muslims believe in the God named Allah, who holds all powers to create, sustain, and rule the world. Allah is not a being, but rather an all-pervasive, all-knowing entity or principle.
◆ Hinduism, owing to the plethora of gods and goddesses in its pantheon, is often referred to a polytheistic faith; however, even here, the main goal of worship is to reach the ultimate, unchangeable reality, which is both within as well as beyond the world. This reality, called Brahman, is a self-existing principle and is viewed as the source of all universal creation.
◆ On the other hand, Buddhism, one of the heterodox faiths, has a very interesting take on God. While the Buddha himself completely rejected the presence of a Supreme Creator, some variants of the Buddhist faith do accept that there is a primordial entity that connects one part of the Universe to the other. This entity is regarded as a timeless realm, wherein the processes of creation and dissolution go on continuously.
◆ It is very important to note that although the religious scriptures do describe God in a particular manner, He may be perceived by people in their own unique ways. Therefore, while some people regard God to be their friend, others regard Him as their guide/teacher, and some others consider Him as a positive energy that sets the wheels of life in motion.
If God exists, why do good people have to suffer in their lives?
◆ This is yet another extremely difficult question to answer in theology. We know that there are “good” and “bad” people in the world. The former are known to be extremely virtuous, whereas the latter are known to be full of vices. But if such is the case, why is it that God makes both of them suffer equally?
◆ The Bible very affirmatively states that there are no “good” people in the world. The Christian holy book will tell you that each and every one is tainted with sin, that he/she has committed some time or the other in life. While the faithful and unquestioning believers might accept what the Bible says at face value (it is good to do so in certain ways), some others might come up with their own set of questions.
◆ The very first question that arises is that, if we go by the Bible and accept that there are no “good” people, does it mean that there are no “bad” people as well? After all, good and bad are two sides of the same coin.
◆ Moreover, what may hold good for one person, may be extremely bad for the other. This, in turn, suggests that the implications of “good” and “bad” vary from one person to another. This is probably the reason all human beings have to undergo pain and suffering at different times in their lives.
◆ Several mythologies of the world tell us that even God could not escape suffering, despite being extremely virtuous. However, with respect to man’s sufferings, theologians the world over have been constantly debating God’s characteristic of benevolence.
Does He really punish sinners?
◆ This is yet another tricky question with respect to God’s nature. As the famous proverb goes, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” In simple terms, it means that good deeds yield good results, and bad deeds yield bad results.
◆ This is what most religions around the world teach us, and God, as an all-knowing entity, has a very significant role to play according to religious scriptures. He favors or punishes people, depending on the deeds that they perform.
◆ If God is taken to be an all-benevolent aspect, His favors might not invite many debates. However, His acts of punishing the sinners is one of the most debated subjects in theological circles. We have several world religions that take an altogether different view on the issue from one another. Let us, for instance, compare the positions taken by Christianity and Hinduism.
◆ As mentioned before, Christianity does not believe that there are any “good” people in the world. Furthermore, it is also believed that Christ died in order to wash away the sins of His followers. Therefore, whatever deeds had to be punished (past, present, and future), have already been done so. Therefore now, none of the Christian adherents will have to face punishment for their sins (Romans 8:1).
◆ Owing to this, Christianity’s position on sinners is rather moderate. It is believed that God has to discipline his followers from time to time, in order to eliminate sin from their lives. It should be noted here that discipline is different from punishment―both may be equally painful, but discipline symbolizes God’s love and leads to repentance; however, punishment symbolizes God’s rage and may eventually lead to destruction.
◆ The holy scripture of the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita, on the other hand, maintains that punishing the sinner is extremely necessary to make the world a good place to live in. Lord Krishna says, “Whenever there is decay of righteousness in the world and the rise of unrighteousness and sin, I will manifest myself for the protection of the Good and the destruction of the sinners.”
◆ According to the Hindu holy book, if sinners are not punished at a proper time, they will go on committing more and more sins, and then a day will come when there will be no good left in the world. Moreover, some sins are so big, that it is just not possible to overlook/forgive them. Therefore, Hinduism holds that punishing the sinners is often a necessity.
◆ Generally, we tend to link the person’s suffering with God’s punishment, in which case, it may be said that God indeed punishes sinners. But again, answering this with surety is a difficult task as “sin” means different for different people.
If God’s Will prevails, don’t we have Free Will?
◆ “Will of God” is a theological concept, which states that God has his own plans for humanity, and He makes humans do or not do things and/or to behave in a particular manner, in order to execute His plans. The concept exists in all major religions of the world, where God enjoys the supreme status.
◆ This indirectly means that we, humans, do not possess any Free Will. The term “Free Will” refers to the unique capacity that all rational agents (humans in this case) possess, which aids them to decide their course of action for themselves. The atheists particularly hold that humans have Free Will, and that there is no divine intervention that determines the course of their actions.
◆ Staunch theists across the world, however, completely deny of the existence of Free Will. They argue that God governs all the happenings in the Universe. Humans and the other living beings have no role to play in the universal processes, apart from following the Will of God. It is He who makes you do “good” and “evil”, and also makes you think in the manner that you do.
◆ This argument is based on the belief that God is the creator, preserver, and destroyer of the Universe, and therefore, only He has the right to command the world. And because human beings are also God’s creations, even they have to function according to His Will; there is no scope for any other option.
◆ It is not that the religions do not accept that there is indeed Free Will. However, each one of them have their own way of looking at it. In Judaism, Free Will is considered to be an inherent characteristic of the soul, but in order to use it without constraints, one’s soul has to unite with God. On the other hand, Free Will does exist, but never on its own. A divine commanding power is required, in order to make it exist.
Did God create evil?
◆ One of the most haunting questions in the philosophy of religion pertains the problem of evil. Theologians and philosophers have been putting forth various arguments on the issue right from how to recognize evil to whether “evil” exists at all.
◆ Considering the popular belief that pertains to God being the creator of everything that exists in the Universe, the most feasible argument to put forth would be that He did indeed create “evil” the same way that He created “good”. Both these aspects go hand-in-hand, and since time immemorial, the Earth seems to have been in caught amidst pandemonium that results from the clash of “good” and “evil” (at least most mythological accounts tell us about the triumph of good over evil).
◆ Theists, however, would not agree that God may have created “evil”. They would rather argue that when God is a good and positive entity, why would He create something completely contradictory to His own nature. Creation of “evil” would only disrupt and disturb God’s plans about the smooth functioning of the Universe.
◆ Bible holds the view that God did not create “evil”, but has allowed it to exist alongside “good”. It is then up to the humans to choose their option, and perform their deeds accordingly. It further states that “evil” does not exist at all. It is just the absence of “good” that we, humans, have termed as “evil”.
◆ No matter what arguments have been put forth regarding the issue, it is true that “evil”, at least on principle, does exist in the world. And irrespective of whether God has created it or not, it is due to the existence of “evil” that we know the value of “good”. Moreover, it is also due to “evil” that we choose to worship God, rather than being obligated to do so. But the question still remains, and we would probably never be able to answer it.
Does He really answer prayers?
◆ Another major debate with respect to God is that, if He does exist in this world (or some other), whether or not He answers all the prayers of His worshipers. Furthermore, considering that he is all-benevolent and that all the living beings are equal in His eyes, theologians have been arguing whether the prayers of non-believers and wrongdoers/sinners are also answered by God.
◆ The basic problem with the very issue of the God’s answering of prayers lies in the belief that He wants us to pray to Him, in order to get what we may want. And this belief, in a way, contradicts the very “definition” of God―the all-powerful, almighty, all-pervasive, omnipotent, compassionate, and so on. Atheists have argued that if He is all this and more, why in the world would He make humans want certain things, in the first place.
◆ You may come across many people in the world, belonging to different religions, who might claim that God indeed answers their prayers. In fact, why hear stories of the God’s greatness from others. Hasn’t it ever happened that you desperately wanted something in life, so you prayed to God, and your wish was ultimately fulfilled? If you are a theist, your belief in God would become stronger after such an incident; however, if you are a rationalist, you might dismiss the entire occurrence as a mere coincidence.
◆ Furthermore, the possibility of Him answering the non-believers’ prayers can be negated by simply stating that a non-believer will not pray to God. However, what can be inferred when we see the wishes of the sinners/wrongdoers being fulfilled? At this juncture, it is important to note that we know that God has answered our prayers when we get something we desperately wished and prayed for. So, the major problem with God answering the sinners’ prayers (if He does) is that He is being unfair to the others.
◆ Theologians argue that God doesn’t have to be entirely fair after all. He has his own plans to execute and so, the prayers are also in adherence to His plans. Those prayers which He apparently doesn’t answer may not be fitting into His plans. However, humans only come to understand the basic reason behind the rejection of their prayers afterwards, sometimes even after several years (or not at all), in which case, he/she might be “annoyed” with God.
Does God make mistakes?
◆ This question pertains to the integrity of God, and is therefore, a very sensitive subject of debate. Bible and most other religious texts from across the world will tell you that “God makes no mistakes”, and that everything He does, has a specific, predetermined purpose. So, the outcome of His “deeds” is already known to Him. Therefore, there is no question of making mistakes.
◆ The tales of gods and goddesses from the ancient Greek and Roman mythologies; however, tend to stand in complete contradiction to this at times. These myths give us several instances, wherein the gods and goddesses did indeed make mistakes/commit sins at times, and interestingly, they were also often punished. There are several tales even in the Hindu mythology, which tell us how one of the gods made a big mistake, and how he/she was punished by another, superior God.
◆ One of the main arguments about this issue pertains to taking the larger picture into consideration. Most theists agree that God is the “know-it-all” entity. So, even if He does something that seems like a big mistake in the present, the repercussions of the same may indeed turn out to be favorable to humankind in the future. That is to say that God’s actual intention(s) behind doing a certain thing may be difficult to gauge, but they eventually do pay off.
◆ From the ethical point of view, what might seem to be a mistake to one individual, might hold good for the other. So, while a sinner might feel that by punishing him, God is making a great mistake, the person who has had to suffer the effects of his sins, may feel relieved that God has finally answered his prayers. It is owing to this that most theologians hold a view that God’s deeds cannot be measured on one particular scale. He knows what He is doing, and even if any of His deeds harms somebody, it is ultimately aimed at the betterment of the human race and the Universe.
◆ Moreover, believers also opine that we humans are extremely lowly beings, and so it is almost impossible to comprehend the actual motives of God while doing certain things. What we can only do is, as the Bhagavad Gita says, “Perform your deeds, but do not think about their fruits”. God will take care of them (which, obviously, the atheists don’t agree to).
Can He be questioned?
◆ This one is another delicate question that demands quite a thought. Most ardent believers may declare that no one in the whole Universe is supposed to question God, simply because, we humans do not possess the aptitude to argue with Him. How can we possibly question God, when we can never understand the way He thinks? Moreover, believing in God involves complete dedication and surrender to God. This totally negates the possibility of Him being questioned by us.
◆ But on a positive note, there is actually no harm in asking questions to God. I mean, think about it. Most of us consider God as a teacher and guide, so who else can be a better “person” to ask questions and doubts than Him. Moreover, considering that He is the all-seeing, all-knowing force, one can be pretty sure that He will be more than happy to answer queries, because ultimately, it is His superiority that is going to be proven.
◆ Most religions hold the view that God indeed can be questioned. Theologians state that the question here, is not whether He can be questioned, as that is indeed possible for everyone. On the contrary, a thought should be given to the manner in which God can be questioned, or the kind of questions that can be asked. That is to say that insincere questions, which are not asked respectfully or with a pure heart, may not be entertained by God at all.
◆ When one delves deeper into the issue, another query arises―does God answer our questions, and how can we know about it? Staunch believer or not, we have to say that there is no way of finding out if God has actually answered our queries. We may find answers to our questions sometime in the future, or all of a sudden. At such a time, we may come to believe that God might have answered; however, atheists and rationalists hold that these are mere coincidences, and do not have to do anything with God.
Do we need “middlemen” to reach God?
◆ The term “middlemen” here refers to ever single human agency, that claims to be a mediator between humans and God. Presence of a mediator means that one cannot reach God or communicate with Him on his/her own, but rather has to go via the agency. While the priests have always been looked upon as mediators since the ancient past, there is also another creed of “god-men”, which includes, apart from the mystics, individuals who claim to have divine visions and/or an ability to communicate with God.
◆ The question is whether laymen like us can approach God directly. Most religious scriptures have a common answer that states that there stands no one in between the Almighty and His believers. This, in a nutshell, means that it is possible for each and every single person to venerate and communicate with God directly, without any intervention of the supposed “go-betweens”.
◆ There is a group of theologians who strongly hold that every human being is equal in the eyes of God, and therefore, each one has the same rights. So, His doors are open for every person who goes to Him with a good heart. The Tantric faith completely rejects the whole idea of god-men and even priesthood, saying that such practices corrupt the entire motive behind religion and God. They believe that God cannot be reached via someone, He is everywhere around you; in fact, you can never be separated from Him.
◆ In the last few decades, several of these so-called god-men have risen to popularity, with many of them having a huge fan-following. While many claims made by such people haven’t been proven till date, we do get hear several controversies about them and some of their affluent followers. Many opponents also often claim of these god-men making enormous fortunes by fooling people in the name of God (some of them are extremely well-versed with spiritual and religious scriptures).
◆ Although more often than not, many of these controversies fail to find a solid evidence, it should be noted that following a good spiritual leader may help enhance one’s knowledge; however, only an individual can decide the kind of relationship he/she may share with God.
Why should God be worshiped?
◆ Perhaps the most controversial question, which rationalists and atheists have been asking from time to time throughout the ages is that if God is an omnipresent entity, what is the need to worship Him. His characteristic if being omnipresent makes Him present everywhere every time. This also means that, He is present is all the things which surround us, but also in our own selves. And, if He is present in us, there may be no need of worship as then, worshiping Him would mean worshiping ourselves.
◆ It is vital to mention at this juncture that the Upanishads, ancient Hindu treatises on knowledge and philosophy, shed light on the God’s omnipresence in a very unique and interesting manner. One of the hymns say, Ahaṁ brahmāsmi (I am God), Tat Tvam Asi (and so are you). In a nutshell, it means that God resides in each and every being, and that nothing can happen without Him.
◆ But then, the basic question about worshiping Him remains. The Christian faith holds that God commands worship because He is the only one in the entire Universe who is worthy of it. Therefore, by worshiping God we are, in fact, worshiping His greatness, power, and ability to control earthly affairs.
◆ What is worship after all? Worship is the act of honoring a particular object/person/entity by paying homage and giving due respect. By venerating God, we do all this, and also pray for our smooth and successful lives. It is; however, rather unfortunate that some of the so-called believers tend to remember God only when they are desperately in need of something, and forget Him when they are contented, which according to the Bible, is not the right way to worship God as “They that worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).
These were just some of the numerous questions about God, which haven’t been able to find a concrete answer as yet. But they are as subjective as they seem and are always open to interpretations, which is why the debates seem endless. Irrespective of whether we find solid answers to these questions or not, believers as well as non-believers have their own, unique take on the issue of God, which will continue to shape our society in years to come.