Ontology of God is now a book:
Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.by Dorian Scott Cole. Description. .
My premise is that the things that God asks of us, seem to me to be a window into what God is all about. In creating a construct of characteristics of God (an ontology of one particular kind of relationship) this would seem to me to be a key type of relationship to explore.
This could be a completely false assumption on my part. Perhaps in exploring this we would be seeing a very small part of God - part of something so boundless that we can't fathom it. I'm sure this is so. But perhaps we can clarify just this much in this way.
My reasoning goes like this: People use many nouns. to describe the relationship between God and man. On the one hand, the relationship is perhaps unbounded, and it isn't up to individuals to put restrictions on God. On the other hand, naming relationships is rather anthropomorphic, and perhaps is only an attempt to understand God through the vision of our own limited experience. (For example, calling God "he" or "she" (as some ancients did) is probably a cultural and linguistic limitation (as in the French language in which all nouns have a sexual identity). To be limited to a human male role is probably a gross understatement of comprehension. Yet would the genderless "it" be any better? Perhaps we have no word that is adequate, except, "God," which is an inadequate symbol that points back to our own limited experience and understanding.
Would God even fit into a category? The term "Most High," is used widely and historically as a descriptive term for God. "Father" and "mother" are other terms that represent both a relationship and a category. Even the word, "friend," has been used (in the Christian Scriptures) to describe a relationship with God.
Which designation would work best? We know very little about some entity capable of bringing the universe into existence. But if we pare away all of the other attributes of God that we can know very little about, and focus on the relationship between God and man, perhaps the noun/category "leader," can be applied adequately.
In the nouns that describe our relationship with God, "leader" seems like the more appropriate choice for this inquiry, for this reason: The things that are important to a leader are reflected in what that leader asks of others. That reflection tells us the characteristics of the leader... God..., to an extent.
For example, the leader of a corporation will set policies, monitors, and sub-leaders in place, covering sales, marketing, product management, manufacturing, support, etc., to make sure that it is known what the market wants and make sure that a quality product is manufactured, delivered, and revenue collected (sales, marketing, accounting). The requirements that the leader places on the company reflect what is important to the leader.
This same analogy works for government, education, health care, religion, and even nonprofit and volunteer organizations, and any other human enterprise. It seems to me this analogy would work for trying to identify important characteristics of God.
Leaders set not just essential requirements, but also many requirements or responses. These cover such diverse things as staffing that places surplus people back in the organization or on outplacement; charitable contributions; care for the environment; etc.
We can't see everything that a leader does, and it is difficult to interpret the individual actions of a leader since we aren't privy to specific motivations, except in the broader context of something like "love," and "responsibility."
So the narrow window that we have into seeing characteristics of God, logically inadequate or not, is through the requirements that God places on us.
Do we know if this characterization of God as a leader is correct? Would some other word be better?
God seems to perform the role as a guide to mankind - but simply a guide does not have the responsibility of forgiveness, chastisement, and judgment of conduct. A leader may embody some of these qualities, with limited scope.
A "Lord," as many commonly call God, does not convey the idea of choice and free will that we commonly imply in our relationship with God. A "Lord" carries the idea of "master" and "authority" - one who is "over" others. The relationship is one who commands and expects obedience - he is not a guide or a "friend" or necessarily even a leader. The title, Lord, describes the one who creates and has all power, but not necessarily the relationship in evidence that we are looking at.
Titles have come down to us through history to describe God in terms of traditional functions and roles of Kings and similar roles. Titles are very narrow. We are better to think outside titles to a wider category that doesn't pigeonhole God in some narrow concept of what God is. So I have chosen the category "leader."
The word leader encompasses the idea of one who is "over" others, or at least due allegiance and respect. It encompasses enough of the idea of "power," without emphasizing it. Yet leaders typically do not command (although some, such as military leaders, must), but lead more so by invitation, by example, by listening, by inspiring, and by empowering others. We know enough about effective leadership to, in an anthropomorphic spasm, try to use this term to understand a bit more about God.
Second, I am exploring this relationship in a wide context. Is God the God of the universe and the world, or simply a tribal God who only leads a minority of people called Christians or Muslims or Jews? Most religions believe that there is only one "High God," who is God of everyone - the same high God that most religions worship. God is revealed to people in the way he chooses, and he can't be held captive by any group. We believe that he cares for all people, and that it is not within him to favor a few and respond to the majority in a callous way, but rather through love that is caring and rescuing. So this article looks at a variety of religions to see what ancient religions can tell us about God.
In the world of Ancient Israel, the Jews refrained from calling God by a specific name. They often used descriptive terms beginning with the generic "El" for God, such as "God is good." El means (most high) "God," and is not a name. The word "God" (most high) is a term, not a name. Christ, who likely spoke Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew, was in a sea of cultures and people who probably used the word "Allah" for God, or the Greek word "Theos." For more information on names of God, see God Titles.
Christ himself used the word "Abba," translated father, which is closer to the word leader than to the word Lord. However, some may have the opposite perspective, depending on their experience with fathers, so the word father can be misleading. So the word leader seems a better choice.
To avoid negative and narrow conceptions, I will simply use the larger category, leader, with a "leader / follower" role, whose relationship we are exploring. I would describe the leader / follower roles as, a leader typically has four major concerns:
Leaders have wide latitude in their style, and this is reflected in the multitude of views that people have of leaders. Some people view God as a very personal God who communicates with and helps them every day. Others view God as a very impersonal God who created the world in some way, and then left it up to us to make it work. Either way, the leader is still the leader.
Leadership is an uncertain and undefined concept, descriptive rather than definitive, and the description encompasses a broad range. The characteristics of the leader and of the followers dictate variations in leadership style. Some people and situations require autocratic leadership, and some require democratic. My personal preference is to bring people to the point that they can independently assess situations and create effective solutions. But leadership styles aside, dedication to the objectives set by the leader is imperative.So, in choosing the word leader as a vehicle for exploring the relationship between God and man, while it might seem misleading, it does leave the door open for a variety of conceptions about what leadership is, and how it varies.
The thrust of my thesis is in three areas that God is about:
It seems obvious that to get a group going in one direction requires that everyone be going in the same direction. If everyone goes their own separate way, the only result is chaos. In a chaotic situation, two people pull the cart one way to get it out of the mud, while the third person pulls in the opposite direction since it is better suited to him and he feels no commitment to working with others.
While an organization can find many ways to employ individual talent, address dissenting opinions, etc., for any organization to accomplish anything, a direction has to be prescribed and everyone has to move in that direction, and has to continue moving in a concerted effort.
Similarly, the very first thing that God requires of man is allegiance to Him. On an organizational level, if people make no personal commitment to follow God and stay the course, then God's leadership and the course of the follower are ineffective and irrelevant.
On an individual level, personal change of any kind, such as changing habits, overcoming addiction, learning better ways of doing relationships - all require commitment.
Once allegiance to God is accomplished, God turns people's direction toward their treatment of and relationship with other people.
We can see the allegiance aspect in action in tests of commitment. Abraham was made to wait until his late years before having children. He was then asked to give that child up, and then when Abraham did so, God relented and gave Abraham back his child.
As Moses led followers in the wilderness, for over 40 years the group was led, instructed, and cared for, tested, and purged of those who lacked allegiance and commitment.
As new groups of early Christians began to form unique communities to try to understand and live their interpretation of a Christian life style, those who held back (Ananias and Sapphira), were purged and made an example of. These actions seem harsh to us, and seem isolated to the early developmental stages of the movement when high commitment was crucial. Yet some testing of our commitment comes to all of us... I usually fail. I can understand the format, just not perform the particulars.
As religions progress from their formation through history, their statements about God improve as their understanding improves. One of the earliest questions in the Bible arose after Cain had slain his brother Able. Asked of Able's whereabouts, he queries, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Much of the Bible explores that question.
The allegiance aspect is also very clear in the code of conduct (laws, just society, treatment of others), as shown in the next heading, The code of conduct.
1. Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians; Their History, Culture, and Character, The University of Chicago Press, paperback 1971 (1963), pp 79 - 87.
3. Armstrong, Karen. The Battle For God - A History Of Fundamentalism, Ballantine Publishing Group, paperback 2000, pp 42 - 43.
My intention in these articles of research is not that of the religious reformist (reformists try to go back to the original, thinking that we have somehow lost the path and are trying to get back on it). Experience is a great and valuable teacher, improving our understanding of the past and needs for the future. A experience grows so do our understanding and concepts. My approach is to try to understand from our rich heritage what the original spirit (intent) of things was in addressing needs and objectives in the past, clear away the muddle of unnecessary things that grows up around these, and then reconstruct, adapt, and create so that we have ways of addressing current and future needs. The approach is deconstructive, reconstructive, progressive, adaptive, and creative.
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