God: Conceptions of God

The general conception of God may be said to be that of an infinite being (often a personality but not necessarily anthropomorphic) who is supremely good, who created the world, who knows all and can do all, who is transcendent over and immanent in the world, and who loves humanity. By the majority of Christians God is believed to have lived on earth in the flesh as Jesus (see Trinity). In the Hebrew Bible the concept of God is not a unified one. The attitude of believers to this apparent inconsistency has generally been that God, unchanging, revealed Himself more and more to Israel.

Scholars belonging to the rational schools of the 19th cent. developed a view of the Bible as primarily a history of Judaism that evolved naturally without the benefit of divine intervention in the world. They see a series of stages in which God was first held by the Jews as simply the head of a tribal pantheon, then gradually assumed all the attributes of God's fellow divinities, but was still worshiped more or less idolatrously. Gradually, according to these scholars, the Jews considered their God as more and more powerful until they believed God creator and ruler of all humans though preferring Israel as God's chosen people.

God's attributes of goodness, love, and mercy these critics consider as very late in this development. More recent scholars have refuted this latter position, seeing these very qualities in the God of the Exodus. Although the idea of God, through its long acceptance by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, has come to be associated with the concept of a good, infinite personality, in recent times the name has been extended to many principles of an utterly different sort; thus, a philosopher may consider the unifying concept in his philosophy (e.g., cosmic energy, mind, world soul, number) as God.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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