Defining God featuring Walt

"God" is a generic word we often use when we specifically mean YHWH, but what exactly does "God" mean and how can we express this to others to see the similarities and dissimilarities of what we believe and who we worship.

Season 1 Episode 1


15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.1 Peter 1:15-16 KJV

Time
00:00:57Ree:Hey guys! Welcome to the PSALMS to God podcast. Today we're going to be talking about the concept of defining God; this has been a concept—or a question—that I found is particularly important as we're talking to people who don't necessarily hold the same views that we do. Being that, I asked one of my good friends to come and join me to have this conversation, because I know for a fact that we have very different views on religion, and consequently, on God and who God is. So, without further ado, I want to introduce you guys to my friend Walt. Tell us a little bit about you.
00:01:41Walt:I am not religious.
00:01:46R:😂
00:01:47W:I'm going to go ahead and put that on the table for context, because I think that is going to come into play in the conversation today.
00:01:55R:Of course, of course.
00:01:58W:And I'm an academic.
00:02:00R:OK.
00:02:01W:And, I don't know, anything else will come out as it comes out.
00:02:05R:😂OK. I promise no trick questions! So, I guess the first thing that I want to jump into is when you hear people say "god" what is your first instinct or reaction—like what do you think they're talking about?
00:02:28W:
Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Ashley Knedler
So, because I live in the United States—particularly the Southern United States—I usually assume people are talking about the Christian conceptualization of God. And then, I usually start from that frame of reference, where if I do not know anything else about them, I usually think they're talking about god in the sense of a religion that believes in one god; I believe it's monotheism. So that's usually where I go, initially. I think they're talking about an all-knowing, all mighty, powerful being outside of our realm of reality...that is aligned with whatever religion they practice. But I usually see that it's from the perspective of Christianity given that the United States is...the likelihood that that being the dominant religion in our country right now—I'll use the word dominant.
00:03:25R:Yeah, statistically I think in the world, in general, the largest religions are Christianity and Islam,[1] which either way you're going to get the monotheistic, all-knowing, all-powerful God figure.

But one of the things that I have encountered is that... I feel like people just throw out the word "god," and even from a Christian standpoint, I feel like people kind of are doing their own thing. The attributes that they may assign to God, kind of fit their own personal beliefs—I guess if you will. As you said, like you generally assumed that they mean Christian because that's the dominant religion in the US. I found, as a Christian myself, when you talk amongst Christians how they describe God may change slightly whether you're talking to somebody who's Baptist or Catholic or Jehovah's Witness or Mormon. E,ven within denominations maybe depending on how conservative or liberal they are. From an outside point of view, have you ever noticed this?
00:04:56W:Have I ever noticed how people define it differently?
00:04:59R:Yeah—or maybe how they talk about God that seems like they're defining it differently.
00:05:06W:Oh definitely. So, actually that reminds me of one of my—probably my more favorite—quotes on religion, that I think sums up kind of what you're saying. So, like, have you ever heard when people say "you can safely assume you've created god in your own image when it turns out that god hates all the same people as you?"[2]
00:05:24R:Yes.
00:05:25W:So I do think people have the tendency to use a definition that makes the most sense and is the most advantageous to the way of life they live and the context in which they live. I think that comes out in all the different denominations or religions when they're trying to explain what god means in their context. People typically don't define god in a way that would put them at the short end of that stick.
00:05:53R:Exactly. Of course, from a Christian standpoint we are supposed to be made in the image of God[3] not the other way around; but like you said I think we see that people start to try to define their own version of God based on their lifestyle, or to promote their ideas—or whatever ideas and philosophies, lifestyles, whatever it is—that is conducive to them. Like you said, as long as, they're on top of that scenario that's what they consider their god to be; but I don't think that that's how we're supposed to be defining God. Obviously, I speak from a Christian standpoint, but even for other religions there are texts. Each religion has its own text and within that text there should be some sort of description or frame of reference for God's character, or for the god that their serving's character. I would think that that's where most people would go. Obviously, for people like yourself, you might not, but would you agree that's where we should find that information?
00:07:12W:If you are a member of a religion, I would assume that the text you are relying on gives you enough hints to begin framing god. But I think...because language so limiting. If you think of god as something beyond human understanding and beyond our realm, our ability to describe it still is limited by the language we have. So, I think that the description you're going to get from the text is still going to be influenced by the fact that we have a very limited language; and you're going to get a different description depending on the language. But I would say that yes, the words in the book—in whatever version you're looking at—probably will provide you with some frame of reference, but I think that would likely be different depending on what language you're linking about, what scriptures you're looking at, how you're interpreting the text, which text you're deciding to include or exclude in your definition. So I could say, even people who have the same book could come to a very different conclusion as they're trying to make sense of what god is based on the things they're reading—or not reading.
00:08:20R:Right, I definitely agree, and I think you brought up two points that are really important. One being language and I think that no matter how hard we try as humans we cannot comprehend who God is—fully, at least—because that is a big concept. It's bigger than we are, and if we could understand that then we wouldn't have any problems but obviously we do. So I don't think that we can really get to the nitty-gritty details of that. I think that you also brought up the issue of picking and choosing and reading certain things not reading other things. I guess I shouldn't just say picking and choosing, because sometimes it's a matter of just having not got to that point yet, or having a different understanding; because as you grow in your relationship with God, understandings will change and how you interpret things will change—which also changes how you view God. So, I think that's important, but I also think that it's important for us to come to some sort of baseline concept of how we see God's character. I think it's important for those of us who believe and when were ministering to other people.

So the very beginning, when I asked you about defining God, the first words you kind of threw out were monotheism, all powerful, all knowing, things like that. What I would ask now is, are there any other things that stand out in your mind, specifically from a Christian ideal or when you're talking to people who you perceive to be Christian, what else would you think that they're attaching to God or what would you be expecting them to be attaching to God or traits and character?
00:10:13W:So I think, so when I think of religion...So I usually assume alot of times people don't call themselves deist.[4] But when I think of religions I'm really talking about people who fall into the category that you would classify as theism.[5][6] So where they think of God not only as the creator of the universe but also the sustainer of the universe. They think that God is personal.
00:10:37R:Right
00:10:38W:Where you can pray to God. God is interfering, intervening, controlling, directing—whichever terms you what to use to describe it—in behalf, or in the things that are kind of going on. Whereas there are different conceptualizations where they might not consider god the creator or they might not consider god to be interfering or sustaining in any way, shape, or form. So I think that's one of the common conceptions across the religions would be that the god you're talking about is the reason the universe is here, but is also responsible to the ways in which the universe is functioning now. And I think that once you get outside of those religions those two characteristics aren't necessarily guaranteed to be there.
00:11:26R:OK. So, you also brought up to words that I was going to get to, eventually—or I guess phrases—when you say a personal God and theist. I think that's also one of the things that I wanted to bring out in this conversation: is that not only are we not always all talking about the same God but we don't necessarily have the same concept of God. And so, I have friends who are agnostic leaning towards theism and agnostic leaning towards atheism and I've noticed amongst them that there is—there are—these beliefs that God is not, like, a personal God, where you have somebody that you can pray to or that He's answering prayers and actively involved in caring about what happens to us and who we are and things like. They think that—I don't know—I guess they think that there was this force that created everything and now it's just observing or has moved on. I'm not 100% sure what they believe, exactly, but I do know that there is a definite difference in those concepts: of being a personal God that you can pray to versus something else. I definitely think that changes how we see God. Obviously, omnipresence, omniscience, things like that, are tied to Him being a Creator, but they're also tied to Him being personal and having stake in what happens to us.

Merriam Webster definition of god [7]
So. I actually looked up the definition of God in the dictionary—Merriam-Webster, if you want to check behind me—and it says "the being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe"[7] and of course this is just one of the definitions. It's the first definition, which I think means it's the most widely used definition. The thing that stood out to me in the definition, is the concept of goodness, and I think that's really the point where people would start to differ in their opinions. I think most people when you say power or wisdom we have some vague understanding that seems to be on the same page, but when you start talking about good—good versus bad or something like that, that's when we really start to see things differently. So, how would you apply that definition to god or how do you think that that's applied to God.
00:14:10W:So I, moreso, I would probably describe myself as agnostic; probably slightly leaning toward being a deist. So, the concept of a personal god is the farthest removed from the conceptualization I have. If you ask me to personally explain that.
00:14:29R:OK.
00:14:30W:So, I don't necessarily attach goodness to god. Because it's almost like, if we assume for the conversation that we just know there is a god[8] that is beyond human understanding, outside of things we consider worldly. To consider something that exists in that space as either good or bad—it kind of seems limited. It's like if you were to consider gravity or something good or bad. Like, it would be outside of those concepts, in my opinion. Like when you say good or bad those are very relative ways of thinking about something. Where I don't think they, like it's hard for to think of something that is inherently good or inherently bad. Where I think in some religions I understand why that is the way to think about it, but that's kind of where it gets fuzzy, in my opinion. I don't know if I answered your question or not. 😂
00:15:25R:
You did, you did...and I think that's exactly why I wanted to bring that point, because I think when we're talking—those of us who are believers,[9] when we're talking amongst ourselves or even when we start talking to somebody from a different religion, we do have these concepts of things that are inherently good or inherently bad and those things may be different within each religion or within each person's understanding of their own religion, but as we start to talk to people like you, or people who are atheist, as well probably, you start to lose that concept of absolute good or absolute bad or inherent goodness and inherent badness. I think that's definitely something that we should be mindful of, you know.
00:16:21R:So, for instance, Biblically speaking, there is a verse in Matthew, chapter 19, where somebody approaches Jesus and they call him good; and Jesus's response to this person is why do you call me good, and He informs this person that the only good person or the only person that should be attributed the word good is the Father in Heaven.[10] So, we have from that Biblical point of view that goodness is attributed to God, so definitely from a Christian standpoint I see where this dictionary definition ties into how we define God and who we see God is. I think that for us it would be very, very difficult to take out, because for us God is the author of goodness; but of course, someone like you might see that differently. Right?
00:17:23W:Yeah. I think it kind of depends. So, like in that context, if you're using goodness as a noun, I think that's different than if you're only thinking about it as an adjective that can modify something else. Because if you think of a person... So to think of a person as good or bad, is a very permanent state. That is kind of different than you might say, the action someone took was good or someone did bad, but you might be able to separate that from the person themselves.
00:17:51R:Yeah, so I definitely see the danger of directly applying a permanent state of good or bad to a person, but I think it's slightly different when you put it in the context of God. At least from my point of view, because I have a Christian or biblical understanding of God, where God is not changing, that means that he can be in a permanent state, and that permanent state is goodness. But I definitely agree with everything you said when it comes to people. I know that one of the problems we have within the church is this idea of assigning the label of good or bad to people and that it's usually based on actions or of that person's specific actions. So, we meet a person and they're doing something that we perceive to be sinful, and instead of condemning the action the whole person is condemned. That's a problem, especially when you take into consideration that we live in a society where certain sins are seen as more severe or more sinful than others—and whether that's right or wrong and all the discussion on that is a topic for a whole 'nother episode—but, you know. there's definitely that idea. When you add that in, people start to treat people differently when they find out that they've done this or that thing even though everybody's doing something that's bad at some point in their life. That prevents productive conversations from happening and I don't think it gives out the spirit of love or the spirit of God, in my opinion.
00:19:31R:That kind of brings me to another question that I wanted to ask you. So one of the things that I've always felt like, is that when we behave in what I would consider an ungodly manner or when we are rude and unbecoming towards people, I feel like people take away from that that this is how God told us to behave and that changes their perspective on God. Would you agree or do you think that our actions have nothing to do with how people see God?
00:20:04W:I think it depends on the person. So I think there are some people who only—like if your only conception of God is through an authority figure that is acting as a mediator, or moderator, or middle person between you and God, then you will have, well your conceptualization is going to be very painted by it. Or if you only go by what someone else has told you, then still your conceptualization is going to be filtered through that person's lens.
00:20:43R:Correct.
00:20:44W:I think, because I would consider it a social construct in the way that regardless of your conceptualization, it's been mediated by someone else, because it's not like we live in a vaccuum where no one talks about religion and you don't see religion and you just kind of came to the conclusion on your own. So, it's likely the product of observing people who are religious leaders or identify with religion—the cultural elements of religion that are just in the air, so you might not even think about it, but there is a lot of cultural elements or sayings or beliefs or the way we talk about things, or the way we phrase things that are also associated with religion. I think when you pull all those things together, all of them are going to influence what how see as god, what you see as god, what you see as not god. And then I think that you can start to form a more independent opinion, but at the end of the day I think it's still going to be influenced by other people.
00:21:39R:So, I guess I feel like because I'm speaking from a Christian point of view, and we are the dominant religion in the United States, that there's this extra burden and responsibility that is present here. Because like you said, you know, I'm from the South you're from the South there is not necessarily interaction with people from other religions. Growing up I did have a few friends who were Muslim, but I was probably in college before I met somebody who was atheist, or somebody who admitted to being atheist, and you know, I've learned about totally new things and new religions when I left. So, I understand how we, being the dominant religion, we have this amplified platform or this amplified ability to reach people, and I think that when we don't use it or misuse it that that can cause an issue or problem. And I think that those of us who are aware what we believe in—because there are some people who aren't very sure what they believe in or are following the traditions of their family and they don't really know why; I think, you know, even for us there's a journey to understanding what it is that we believe—but once we do know what we believe, I feel that there is this responsibility to try to express it or articulate it in a way that glorifies God as opposed to detracts from God, and I think that is the thing that I would be concerned about.
00:20:44W:So let's take a different point of view. So, I also think there is danger in trying to articulate certain beliefs around this concept, because language is so limiting. So I think sometimes people run into those contradictions when they're trying to explain, in the language they have, a concept that did not originate in the language they have. So there might be certain things as it relates to your spirituality or religion that you can't put into words because the English language might not allow you to. Like there are some things you can say in Spanish that you can't say in English, that you can't say in another language. So I do think there are some instances where, because we have that pressure to articulate, or to explain, or to defend, or to justify exactly what we believe, people end up in situations where, whether or not, they just might not have the words to actually explain the situation they're talking about. And I don't...I think some people...if you're going to be religious, I think you have to be comfortable with that, because if you could articulate every single thing, that means your religion would have to be small enough to fit in the confines of the English language. There's even things in science that we have to create more words for to try to get closer to what's hard to describe. So, I would imagine if the things the religion is professing are true that we should expect the language people have to also prove to be limiting in many instances. But I don't know, I think... But people want answers, because it's not like you can say "well just trust me."
00:25:04W+R:😂
00:25:05R:That's definitely a valid point. I mean, I think it goes even deeper than that, though, because you know I'm looking at one of my Bibles—and it's not even a study Bible, which for those who don't know study Bibles usually have added text into it to help you understand what you're reading—and this Bible is about 2200 pages, and that's a lot of text to get through. So, you know it's really hard to just have all of this in your head and understand it all at one point, just in that frame of reference. So, obviously, you know, this is written in Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic. So like you're saying, being able to fit all of that into English, conceptually, is virtually impossible. But also on top of putting those languages together and you know doing the translating and getting that understanding from it, there's also the fact that it was written in a different time period to different people, at a different time. And we have to try to understand that as well.
00:25:44R:I definitely see how having people speak on things that they can't necessarily verbalize or they don't understand, can make you know people look crazy or hypocritical; and that's definitely not something we want. We have to be okay with saying I don't know. So I agree with you that you have to be comfortable with that.
00:26:36R:But I do think that we should be able to refine our definition a little bit. At least be able to come into some understanding of what we think. So I might say something like God is love, right?
00:26:51W:Um hm.
00:26:52R:Of course, if we go back to what we were talking about earlier about language, then we would also come to the same conclusion that it's almost equally troublesome trying to define what love is as it is to define what or who God is—which, from my understanding of God makes sense because like I said, I believe that God is love; so if it's hard to explain God, it's hard to explain love. But I do think that if I, as a believer, am fixing my context of who God is around this concept of love, then I think that changes how I'm able to have a conversation about God, and about who God is, with other people. Granted when I talk to you, your definition of love might be different, and of course, that is going to reflect your different views of who and what god is. And that will also change from person to person, but at least I would be solid in what I'm thinking and how I'm expressing it to you. Personally, I feel like having nothing to attach to God is dangerous, that's when people make things up, if that makes any sense
00:28:11W:Yeah. So are you familiar with the idea of a conceptual metaphor?
00:28:14R:Let's go ahead and define it for everybody.
00:28:18W:OK. So, I'm giving you the non-academic, wikipedia definition.
00:28:23R:😂
00:28:24W:But it basically talks about when you try to "[understand] one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another."[11] So like when you say "God is love," what the theory is suggesting is that—and it's from a book called Metaphors We Live By,[12] that is kind of from the discipline of linguistics and really goes way way back and makes the argument that there are very few things we can understand without comparing them to something else. So like, up, down; there are some very very primitive things that you could describe without having to compare it to something else, but for most things you have to use something else that you understand in your explanation.

So like if, because you can't give me a literal definition of God, so like when you say "God is love," what you're doing is basically relying on my understanding of love to enable you to explain something that you'd be unable to explain. But one of the interesting things about the theory is it talks about how they're inherently limited. So when you say "God is love," you're not being literal to the sense that everything about love is also true about God. You're more so saying there are certain things about love, that if I tried to explain love, you'd say I think those things are also true about God, but there would reach a point where you would say those things about love are not true about God. I think that's another instance where because we're so limited by language, like we have to rely on those metaphors.

So if you ask someone to say what god is, they're going to give you a bunch of different metaphors, that they're like ok, because these are the tools they disposal from a conceptual stand point. So, they might say god is love, they might say god is power, they might say god is something else. I think they would start to rely on the other things they do have a stronger grasp of to start trying to paint this picture for you. And I don't know if we necessarily think about language in that way sometimes, but it's an interesting read. It's not about religion per se, but it kind of goes through this idea and is making this argument for the conceptual metaphor and kind of in explaining how we're thinking of time or we're thinking of arguments, all of those things are understood in relation to other things, but we don't necessarily point them out as metaphors as we would if we were in an English class, where we're explicitly saying this is a metaphor, where we're using them all the time to try to explain things like this.
00:30:48R: So, I would definitely agree that we use conceptual metaphors to express the things that we can't quite put into words, and that it's something we use frequently within our conversation. But I would like to throw out there and add to the statements that you made that, you know, when you say that if I say that God is love that there are love that I would not apply to God—I cannot think of anything that applies to love that does not apply to God. I would be hesitant to say that there's absolutely nothing; the mathematician and me understand that you know proving something like that is a little bit tricky, but like I said I can't think of anything that I would use to describe love that I would not describe God as. And I think that for anybody who's using a conceptual metaphor this same issue would come up, I don't think anybody would say "blank is blank" if they could think of something where "blank was not blank." If that makes any sense?
00:31:57W:Yeah. So the person doing the speaking probably wouldn't. It's moreso the listener. So like if you say "God is love" in my head I might pull up a different idea of love than you and then I might start thinking that what you said was incorrect, not realizing that you weren't being literal in the sense that they are one and of the same.
00:32:17R:OK. That makes... I can see how, I can definitely see how from a perspective where we have different definitions of love—like I think it goes back like you said about language and how we communicate—I can definitely see how you would come to that conclusion though, I do, when I say God is love I do mean they are one and the same. Because—
00:32:46W:Do you think there are... So when somebody makes the statement that love is war, do you think that is a valid statement?
00:32:56R:Hm...well there's actually a Contemporary Christian song called "Love is War."[13] I guess, you know, I'm not really sure if you're asking me if I agree with the statement "love is war" or the concept that if love is...if God is love and love is war then God is war, but I would definitely say that I do agree that there is a sense of war. I do agree that war can be associated with love and in that nature I also agree that war can be associated with God and the reason is that, you know, the entire concept—from a Biblical standpoint—the entire concept of life is about this war, the war of good and evil, with God being the good. And from a love situation, I agree that when you're, when you love someone you fight for them and so I do think that God fights for us so those intertwine.
00:33:55W:What if someone said love is God?
00:33:57R:That's an interesting question, yeah. I see where you're going with that. 😂 I do...OK, so, I think this goes back to when we were talking about language because like you said we all have different definitions of love just like we have different definitions of god, but at the end of the day I think that when we show love to one another we are reflecting God; we're showing the image of Him which is how He created us. Which is—shameless plug—where the series will be going. But—
00:34:33W+R:😂
00:34:36R:But I, I do think that when we say love is God, I think that the reason I would not say it that way is because of like you said we do have different definitions of love. And so I think, that from a human standpoint saying that love is God emphasizes love over God and because we typically think of love from a human point of view, I feel that it gives a leeway that I don't particularly feel comfortable giving. I don't know if that makes sense. Which is why I generally say God is love, to frame love around God as opposed to God around love, if that makes any sense.
00:35:25W:Yeah. It's interesting, because this paper I pulled up and it was saying that. So, in metaphoric theory it talks about the source and the target. So the example they give is God is Father.
00:35:35R:OK.
00:35:35W:So they were saying there are some instances where the source and target can be reversed. So like in this... but they're saying they represent two different metaphors, not a single metaphor. So it's like you were saying, if you said God is Father, or father is god...
00:35:49R:Right.
00:35:50W:Those represent two different things in your head.
00:35:52R:Yes.
00:35:53W:And that's why I was saying that while it might feel like you're saying they're one and one, there is something about your conceptualization of both that does not actually make them one and the same. That's why I think the frustration comes from if someone says father is god, you're like that means something different than saying God is Father or love is god or God is love. Because, the second one you're using to tell you something about the first one; it's going to raise different things. So, like if you say that love is god, now you're using things you know about God to describe love, which can get you into problems.
00:36:28R:Right.
00:36:29W:Where if you say "God is love," you're using things—the good things you know about love 😂—to highlight certain elements of God, which is slightly different.
00:36:38R:Correct, which I think, basically, the whole conversation boils down to language is complicated and tricky—
00:36:48W:Yeah.
00:36:48R:—which is why it's basically almost impossible for us to just settle on a definition of God and who God is.
00:36:57W:Yeah, it's interesting, because this paper is...Let me see, I can acutally tell you what paper I'm looking at so you can actually have some kind of context, but it's called "Metaphors for God: Why and How Do Our Choices Matter for Humans?: The Application of Contemporary Cognitive Linguistics Research to the Debate on God and Metaphor."[14] But one of the visualizations they show, to kinda make the point and I didn't realize that's where this paper was going until I started scrolling down and saw the picture, but they were showing how you map the two different ones together. Where if you have God is Father or father is god, they're saying on one end, if you think God is Father, you might come to the conclusion that God is male, who is more powerful than and nurtures human beings. So, if I say your understanding of what a father is helps you understand that this is a powerful being that is also nurturing. Where if you went the other direction, you might know that God is powerful, all-knowing, and loving, and forever. So like, if you said "father is god," you might say "oh now father is these things that I'm pulling from God."

And I think that's where it does get real tricky, because whenever we say "god is," whatever we put after the is, is bringing things about that and aligning it with whatever our conceptualization of god is—and we're going to use a lot of different metaphors. Because like they said, it might be father, it might be love; this other one has god is rock, god is a fortress, god is a shepherd. And like to different people, some of them might say all of those are true. And they all mean very different things, which is why one of the things I was saying is that the language around it is interesting. If you're figuring out when you're making the explanation, like what words are you choosing to use, and I don't know if we necessarily give it that much thought usually.
00:38:43R:Yeah, I definitely agree with this. I think that, like we've been saying, I don't think we really think about what we're saying when we say it. I think we, 'cause we know what we mean and we know what we believe, but we don't necessarily think about how that's going to be perceived by other people and what they're going to take away from what we're saying and how their opinions and ideas are shaping their understanding of what we're defining.
00:39:12W:Yeah it's interesting. You should look at this paper. This looks like an interesting paper. 😂
00:39:17R:😂Yeah I'll definitely check it out.
00:39:19W:So there's a long list. It has: father, king, watcher, planter, husband, rock, shield, fortress, shelter, light,—😂—deliverer, redeemer, king—
00:39:33R:Yeah, that doesn't really surprise me, because all of the things that you're mentioning are also mentioned as traits of God in the Bible.
00:39:40W:Yeah, that's what this section is talking about; it is: looking at how the Hebrew Bible maps God to different metaphors. And the columns it looks at is—and that's another thing about the metaphors is, the theory would suggest that even with all these different metaphors, they're actually in align, they just highlight different things. So this figure or table that I'm looking at would suggest that when you're thinking about god, you think about protection and sustenance, mutual asymmetrical relationships, physical control, changing of state, essence, authority, and then also like the power to punish. And like, they have metaphors that would align with, depending on which element of god you're trying to highlight, you would say. So if in your dominant conception of god you're like god is an authority figure, you might say "god is a king, god is the judge, god is lord, god is master, god is father. Where if you were trying to think of, highlight some other element, you might start leveraging other metaphors. You might say god is a refuge, like that tells me something different than if you say god is king.
00:40:50R:I think that, just to summarize what we've been talking about, we've been talking about metaphorical conceptions*mdash;or conceptual metaphors. We've been talking about how language makes it difficult to specifically define what we mean when we say God or what our idea concerning God is, and I think it's definitely an interesting topic. I think it's something to think about as we talk to each other and as we talk to other people, and just as we think about God in our own beliefs or disbeliefs.

Is there anything else you wanted to add that maybe we didn't get to, or we didn't cover?
00:41:30W:Yeah, so I'll take the question in the opposite direction and tell you what god is not. So there's a book called The God Delusion. So, are you familiar with the concept of "god of the gaps?"
00:41:43R:No
00:41:45W:So it's basically this tendency for people to, in the absence of being able to articulate what god is, they start just putting god anywhere they have problems explaining something. So, like, let's say for example, you don't know why it rains; you might have the tendency to say it rains because of god. So when you, so like when people talk about god of the gaps, they're talking about that fallacy, that when you're trying to assume that an act of god as an explanation of an unknown phenomenon. And the reason that falls apart is, it basically puts god at contention with science in a way that as we know more science, your god becomes smaller.
00:42:25R:I would disagree, on the basis that, even though I can give you a scientific explanation of how rain comes to be, from a Christian standpoint—or I would wager some most people who believe in any form of God standpoint—that God is still the authoritative figure behind that. So, it rains because God allows it to rain.
00:42:58W:Yeah, so I would say that's different than saying it's raining because god... and I guess that's where it get's tricky. But I do think it's a danger—from a logical standpoint, it is a very dangerous position to say that god is only the things we cannot understand. So, in your definition it's not saying it's the things we can't understand, you're just saying that regardless of whatever it is, God is in control.
00:43:20R:Yes.
00:43:21W:That is, yeah, so that is different than saying because we don't know what it is, god must be behind it. You're saying that even if we know what it is, God is still behind it.
00:43:32R:Yes. Yeah, I had to just put that out there 'cause I couldn't let it stand where it was, just in case there were misunderstandings across from people listening. But aside from that I agree with you, because I get what you're saying that if we're only allowing God to be the things that we can't explain ourselves or that we don't know how to explain, then over time that will cause people to disbelieve, which—
00:44:03W:Yeah and I think that when some people are trying to figure out what god is, they end up in that space of: "god is the things I can't explain." And that's a dangerous space to be in—
00:44:15R:Right, right.
00:44:15W:from a knowledge standpoint.
00:44:16R:Yeah, I definitely think that we're seeing this play out in society right now, and I think we have seen it play out in society, historically. Probably for a very, very long time, but definitely since the Age of Enlightenment as people started to study science more, and started trying to explain things more concretely, we had to reshape how people are defining God; because people can explain more things, or at least we think we can explain things...
00:44:47W:Yeah, because some people might think they only see god where they don't understand something.
00:44:52R:Um hmm.
00:44:53W:So like in your instance, you might see the rain and still see God. Someone else might only see god where they don't have science to lean on, and if you get in that position you are putting god and science in direct opposition.
00:45:06R:I think that's definitely a good point.
00:45:08W:So if I can't tell you what god is, I am comfortable saying that god is not the gaps.
00:45:13R:😂
00:45:16R:That is a great point. Thank you for bringing that up, 'cause I think that's definitely an important thing to put out there, and to meditate on.

Was that your final thought?
00:45:28W:Yeah, and then just encourage people to think. Find the words that they think mean the most and make the most sense, and be intentional. I think that's where a lot of people, a lot of the arguments and disagreements and stuff comes into play is when people are talking past each other, relying on language when language is going to fail them undoubtedly. And then just not being comfortable asking people what they mean
00:45:57R:Definitely. And I definitely, definitely, definitely want to second that last part. Definitely ask what people mean,[16] and also don't be offended when people ask you what you mean, and be okay with explaining, and be okay with saying I don't know. because I think that we get ourselves into trouble trying to explain things you don't know.
00:46:21W:Yeah. People don't like to say "I do not know."
00:46:24W+R:😂
00:46:25W:It's some powerful words.
00:46:26R:Yeah, but I think there were that we need to be comfortable with.

So that's all we have for today's episode. Walt, thank you so much for joining in and sharing your opinion and for bringing up some points that I might not have thought about before the conversation. Listeners, I hope that all of this was valuable to you and that you enjoyed the discussion. If so please subscribe, that way you will get notified as soon as new content comes out. You can also go to the website for more information at www.psalmstogod.com and if you would like a transcription of this particular episode and/or you're looking for links or citations for some of the information that we discussed and referenced previously the episode, the specific episode will be at www.psalmstogod.com/defining-god. It was great to talk to you guys, hope you will be back next time. See you again.
00:00:57

Ree

Hey guys! Welcome to the PSALMS to God podcast. Today we're going to be talking about the concept of defining God; this has been a concept—or a question—that I found is particularly important as we're talking to people who don't necessarily hold the same views that we do. Being that, I asked one of my good friends to come and join me to have this conversation, because I know for a fact that we have very different views on religion, and consequently, on God and who God is. So, without further ado, I want to introduce you guys to my friend Walt. Tell us a little bit about you.
00:01:41

Walt

I am not religious.
00:01:46

Ree

😂
00:01:47

Walt

I'm going to go ahead and put that on the table for context, because I think that is going to come into play in the conversation today.
00:01:55

Ree

Of course, of course.
00:01:58

Walt

And I'm an academic.
00:02:00

Ree

OK.
00:02:01

Walt

And, I don't know, anything else will come out as it comes out.
00:02:05

Ree

😂OK. I promise no trick questions! So, I guess the first thing that I want to jump into is when you hear people say "god" what is your first instinct or reaction—like what do you think they're talking about?
So, because I live in the United States—particularly the Southern United States—I usually assume people are talking about the Christian conceptualization of God. And then, I usually start from that frame of reference, where if I do not know anything else about them, I usually think they're talking about god in the sense of a religion that believes in one god; I believe it's monotheism. So that's usually where I go, initially. I think they're talking about an all-knowing, all mighty, powerful being outside of our realm of reality...that is aligned with whatever religion they practice. But I usually see that it's from the perspective of Christianity given that the United States is...the likelihood that that being the dominant religion in our country right now—I'll use the word dominant.
00:03:25

Ree

Yeah, statistically I think in the world, in general, the largest religions are Christianity and Islam,[1] which either way you're going to get the monotheistic, all-knowing, all-powerful God figure.

But one of the things that I have encountered is that... I feel like people just throw out the word "god," and even from a Christian standpoint, I feel like people kind of are doing their own thing. The attributes that they may assign to God, kind of fit their own personal beliefs—I guess if you will. As you said, like you generally assumed that they mean Christian because that's the dominant religion in the US. I found, as a Christian myself, when you talk amongst Christians how they describe God may change slightly whether you're talking to somebody who's Baptist or Catholic or Jehovah's Witness or Mormon. E,ven within denominations maybe depending on how conservative or liberal they are. From an outside point of view, have you ever noticed this?
00:04:56

Walt

Have I ever noticed how people define it differently?
00:04:59

Ree

Yeah—or maybe how they talk about God that seems like they're defining it differently.
00:05:06

Walt

Oh definitely. So, actually that reminds me of one of my—probably my more favorite—quotes on religion, that I think sums up kind of what you're saying. So, like, have you ever heard when people say "you can safely assume you've created god in your own image when it turns out that god hates all the same people as you?"[2]
00:05:24

Ree

Yes.
00:05:25

Walt

So I do think people have the tendency to use a definition that makes the most sense and is the most advantageous to the way of life they live and the context in which they live. I think that comes out in all the different denominations or religions when they're trying to explain what god means in their context. People typically don't define god in a way that would put them at the short end of that stick.
00:05:53

Ree

Exactly. Of course, from a Christian standpoint we are supposed to be made in the image of God[3] not the other way around; but like you said I think we see that people start to try to define their own version of God based on their lifestyle, or to promote their ideas—or whatever ideas and philosophies, lifestyles, whatever it is—that is conducive to them. Like you said, as long as, they're on top of that scenario that's what they consider their god to be; but I don't think that that's how we're supposed to be defining God. Obviously, I speak from a Christian standpoint, but even for other religions there are texts. Each religion has its own text and within that text there should be some sort of description or frame of reference for God's character, or for the god that their serving's character. I would think that that's where most people would go. Obviously, for people like yourself, you might not, but would you agree that's where we should find that information?
00:07:12

Walt

If you are a member of a religion, I would assume that the text you are relying on gives you enough hints to begin framing god. But I think...because language so limiting. If you think of god as something beyond human understanding and beyond our realm, our ability to describe it still is limited by the language we have. So, I think that the description you're going to get from the text is still going to be influenced by the fact that we have a very limited language; and you're going to get a different description depending on the language. But I would say that yes, the words in the book—in whatever version you're looking at—probably will provide you with some frame of reference, but I think that would likely be different depending on what language you're linking about, what scriptures you're looking at, how you're interpreting the text, which text you're deciding to include or exclude in your definition. So I could say, even people who have the same book could come to a very different conclusion as they're trying to make sense of what god is based on the things they're reading—or not reading.
00:08:20

Ree

Right, I definitely agree, and I think you brought up two points that are really important. One being language and I think that no matter how hard we try as humans we cannot comprehend who God is—fully, at least—because that is a big concept. It's bigger than we are, and if we could understand that then we wouldn't have any problems but obviously we do. So I don't think that we can really get to the nitty-gritty details of that. I think that you also brought up the issue of picking and choosing and reading certain things not reading other things. I guess I shouldn't just say picking and choosing, because sometimes it's a matter of just having not got to that point yet, or having a different understanding; because as you grow in your relationship with God, understandings will change and how you interpret things will change—which also changes how you view God. So, I think that's important, but I also think that it's important for us to come to some sort of baseline concept of how we see God's character. I think it's important for those of us who believe and when were ministering to other people.

So the very beginning, when I asked you about defining God, the first words you kind of threw out were monotheism, all powerful, all knowing, things like that. What I would ask now is, are there any other things that stand out in your mind, specifically from a Christian ideal or when you're talking to people who you perceive to be Christian, what else would you think that they're attaching to God or what would you be expecting them to be attaching to God or traits and character?
00:10:13

Walt

So I think, so when I think of religion...So I usually assume alot of times people don't call themselves deist.[4] But when I think of religions I'm really talking about people who fall into the category that you would classify as theism.[5][6] So where they think of God not only as the creator of the universe but also the sustainer of the universe. They think that God is personal.
00:10:37

Ree

Right
00:10:38

Walt

Where you can pray to God. God is interfering, intervening, controlling, directing—whichever terms you what to use to describe it—in behalf, or in the things that are kind of going on. Whereas there are different conceptualizations where they might not consider god the creator or they might not consider god to be interfering or sustaining in any way, shape, or form. So I think that's one of the common conceptions across the religions would be that the god you're talking about is the reason the universe is here, but is also responsible to the ways in which the universe is functioning now. And I think that once you get outside of those religions those two characteristics aren't necessarily guaranteed to be there.
00:11:26

Ree

OK. So, you also brought up to words that I was going to get to, eventually—or I guess phrases—when you say a personal God and theist. I think that's also one of the things that I wanted to bring out in this conversation: is that not only are we not always all talking about the same God but we don't necessarily have the same concept of God. And so, I have friends who are agnostic leaning towards theism and agnostic leaning towards atheism and I've noticed amongst them that there is—there are—these beliefs that God is not, like, a personal God, where you have somebody that you can pray to or that He's answering prayers and actively involved in caring about what happens to us and who we are and things like. They think that—I don't know—I guess they think that there was this force that created everything and now it's just observing or has moved on. I'm not 100% sure what they believe, exactly, but I do know that there is a definite difference in those concepts: of being a personal God that you can pray to versus something else. I definitely think that changes how we see God. Obviously, omnipresence, omniscience, things like that, are tied to Him being a Creator, but they're also tied to Him being personal and having stake in what happens to us.

So. I actually looked up the definition of God in the dictionary—Merriam-Webster, if you want to check behind me—and it says "the being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe"[7] and of course this is just one of the definitions. It's the first definition, which I think means it's the most widely used definition. The thing that stood out to me in the definition, is the concept of goodness, and I think that's really the point where people would start to differ in their opinions. I think most people when you say power or wisdom we have some vague understanding that seems to be on the same page, but when you start talking about good—good versus bad or something like that, that's when we really start to see things differently. So, how would you apply that definition to god or how do you think that that's applied to God.
00:14:10

Walt

So I, moreso, I would probably describe myself as agnostic; probably slightly leaning toward being a deist. So, the concept of a personal god is the farthest removed from the conceptualization I have. If you ask me to personally explain that.
00:14:29

Ree

OK.
00:14:30

Walt

So, I don't necessarily attach goodness to god. Because it's almost like, if we assume for the conversation that we just know there is a god[8] that is beyond human understanding, outside of things we consider worldly. To consider something that exists in that space as either good or bad—it kind of seems limited. It's like if you were to consider gravity or something good or bad. Like, it would be outside of those concepts, in my opinion. Like when you say good or bad those are very relative ways of thinking about something. Where I don't think they, like it's hard for to think of something that is inherently good or inherently bad. Where I think in some religions I understand why that is the way to think about it, but that's kind of where it gets fuzzy, in my opinion. I don't know if I answered your question or not. 😂
00:15:25

Ree

You did, you did...and I think that's exactly why I wanted to bring that point, because I think when we're talking—those of us who are believers,[9] when we're talking amongst ourselves or even when we start talking to somebody from a different religion, we do have these concepts of things that are inherently good or inherently bad and those things may be different within each religion or within each person's understanding of their own religion, but as we start to talk to people like you, or people who are atheist, as well probably, you start to lose that concept of absolute good or absolute bad or inherent goodness and inherent badness. I think that's definitely something that we should be mindful of, you know.
00:16:21

Ree

So, for instance, Biblically speaking, there is a verse in Matthew, chapter 19, where somebody approaches Jesus and they call him good; and Jesus's response to this person is why do you call me good, and He informs this person that the only good person or the only person that should be attributed the word good is the Father in Heaven.[10] So, we have from that Biblical point of view that goodness is attributed to God, so definitely from a Christian standpoint I see where this dictionary definition ties into how we define God and who we see God is. I think that for us it would be very, very difficult to take out, because for us God is the author of goodness; but of course, someone like you might see that differently. Right?
00:17:23

Walt

Yeah. I think it kind of depends. So, like in that context, if you're using goodness as a noun, I think that's different than if you're only thinking about it as an adjective that can modify something else. Because if you think of a person... So to think of a person as good or bad, is a very permanent state. That is kind of different than you might say, the action someone took was good or someone did bad, but you might be able to separate that from the person themselves.
00:17:51

Ree

Yeah, so I definitely see the danger of directly applying a permanent state of good or bad to a person, but I think it's slightly different when you put it in the context of God. At least from my point of view, because I have a Christian or biblical understanding of God, where God is not changing, that means that he can be in a permanent state, and that permanent state is goodness. But I definitely agree with everything you said when it comes to people. I know that one of the problems we have within the church is this idea of assigning the label of good or bad to people and that it's usually based on actions or of that person's specific actions. So, we meet a person and they're doing something that we perceive to be sinful, and instead of condemning the action the whole person is condemned. That's a problem, especially when you take into consideration that we live in a society where certain sins are seen as more severe or more sinful than others—and whether that's right or wrong and all the discussion on that is a topic for a whole 'nother episode—but, you know. there's definitely that idea. When you add that in, people start to treat people differently when they find out that they've done this or that thing even though everybody's doing something that's bad at some point in their life. That prevents productive conversations from happening and I don't think it gives out the spirit of love or the spirit of God, in my opinion.
00:19:31

Ree

That kind of brings me to another question that I wanted to ask you. So one of the things that I've always felt like, is that when we behave in what I would consider an ungodly manner or when we are rude and unbecoming towards people, I feel like people take away from that that this is how God told us to behave and that changes their perspective on God. Would you agree or do you think that our actions have nothing to do with how people see God?
00:20:04

Walt

I think it depends on the person. So I think there are some people who only—like if your only conception of God is through an authority figure that is acting as a mediator, or moderator, or middle person between you and God, then you will have, well your conceptualization is going to be very painted by it. Or if you only go by what someone else has told you, then still your conceptualization is going to be filtered through that person's lens.
00:20:43

Ree

Correct.
00:20:44

Walt

I think, because I would consider it a social construct in the way that regardless of your conceptualization, it's been mediated by someone else, because it's not like we live in a vaccuum where no one talks about religion and you don't see religion and you just kind of came to the conclusion on your own. So, it's likely the product of observing people who are religious leaders or identify with religion—the cultural elements of religion that are just in the air, so you might not even think about it, but there is a lot of cultural elements or sayings or beliefs or the way we talk about things, or the way we phrase things that are also associated with religion. I think when you pull all those things together, all of them are going to influence what how see as god, what you see as god, what you see as not god. And then I think that you can start to form a more independent opinion, but at the end of the day I think it's still going to be influenced by other people.
00:21:39

Ree

So, I guess I feel like because I'm speaking from a Christian point of view, and we are the dominant religion in the United States, that there's this extra burden and responsibility that is present here. Because like you said, you know, I'm from the South you're from the South there is not necessarily interaction with people from other religions. Growing up I did have a few friends who were Muslim, but I was probably in college before I met somebody who was atheist, or somebody who admitted to being atheist, and you know, I've learned about totally new things and new religions when I left. So, I understand how we, being the dominant religion, we have this amplified platform or this amplified ability to reach people, and I think that when we don't use it or misuse it that that can cause an issue or problem. And I think that those of us who are aware what we believe in—because there are some people who aren't very sure what they believe in or are following the traditions of their family and they don't really know why; I think, you know, even for us there's a journey to understanding what it is that we believe—but once we do know what we believe, I feel that there is this responsibility to try to express it or articulate it in a way that glorifies God as opposed to detracts from God, and I think that is the thing that I would be concerned about.
00:20:44

Walt

So let's take a different point of view. So, I also think there is danger in trying to articulate certain beliefs around this concept, because language is so limiting. So I think sometimes people run into those contradictions when they're trying to explain, in the language they have, a concept that did not originate in the language they have. So there might be certain things as it relates to your spirituality or religion that you can't put into words because the English language might not allow you to. Like there are some things you can say in Spanish that you can't say in English, that you can't say in another language. So I do think there are some instances where, because we have that pressure to articulate, or to explain, or to defend, or to justify exactly what we believe, people end up in situations where, whether or not, they just might not have the words to actually explain the situation they're talking about. And I don't...I think some people...if you're going to be religious, I think you have to be comfortable with that, because if you could articulate every single thing, that means your religion would have to be small enough to fit in the confines of the English language. There's even things in science that we have to create more words for to try to get closer to what's hard to describe. So, I would imagine if the things the religion is professing are true that we should expect the language people have to also prove to be limiting in many instances. But I don't know, I think... But people want answers, because it's not like you can say "well just trust me."
00:25:04

Walt + Ree

😂
00:25:05

Ree

That's definitely a valid point. I mean, I think it goes even deeper than that, though, because you know I'm looking at one of my Bibles—and it's not even a study Bible, which for those who don't know study Bibles usually have added text into it to help you understand what you're reading—and this Bible is about 2200 pages, and that's a lot of text to get through. So, you know it's really hard to just have all of this in your head and understand it all at one point, just in that frame of reference. So, obviously, you know, this is written in Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic. So like you're saying, being able to fit all of that into English, conceptually, is virtually impossible. But also on top of putting those languages together and you know doing the translating and getting that understanding from it, there's also the fact that it was written in a different time period to different people, at a different time. And we have to try to understand that as well.
00:25:44

Ree

I definitely see how having people speak on things that they can't necessarily verbalize or they don't understand, can make you know people look crazy or hypocritical; and that's definitely not something we want. We have to be okay with saying I don't know. So I agree with you that you have to be comfortable with that.
00:26:36

Ree

But I do think that we should be able to refine our definition a little bit. At least be able to come into some understanding of what we think. So I might say something like God is love, right?
00:26:51

Walt

Um hm.
00:26:52

Ree

Of course, if we go back to what we were talking about earlier about language, then we would also come to the same conclusion that it's almost equally troublesome trying to define what love is as it is to define what or who God is—which, from my understanding of God makes sense because like I said, I believe that God is love; so if it's hard to explain God, it's hard to explain love. But I do think that if I, as a believer, am fixing my context of who God is around this concept of love, then I think that changes how I'm able to have a conversation about God, and about who God is, with other people. Granted when I talk to you, your definition of love might be different, and of course, that is going to reflect your different views of who and what god is. And that will also change from person to person, but at least I would be solid in what I'm thinking and how I'm expressing it to you. Personally, I feel like having nothing to attach to God is dangerous, that's when people make things up, if that makes any sense
00:28:11

Walt

Yeah. So are you familiar with the idea of a conceptual metaphor?
00:28:14

Ree

Let's go ahead and define it for everybody.
00:28:18

Walt

OK. So, I'm giving you the non-academic, wikipedia definition.
00:28:23

Ree

😂
00:28:24

Walt

But it basically talks about when you try to "[understand] one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another."[11] So like when you say "God is love," what the theory is suggesting is that—and it's from a book called Metaphors We Live By,[12] that is kind of from the discipline of linguistics and really goes way way back and makes the argument that there are very few things we can understand without comparing them to something else. So like, up, down; there are some very very primitive things that you could describe without having to compare it to something else, but for most things you have to use something else that you understand in your explanation.

So like if, because you can't give me a literal definition of God, so like when you say "God is love," what you're doing is basically relying on my understanding of love to enable you to explain something that you'd be unable to explain. But one of the interesting things about the theory is it talks about how they're inherently limited. So when you say "God is love," you're not being literal to the sense that everything about love is also true about God. You're more so saying there are certain things about love, that if I tried to explain love, you'd say I think those things are also true about God, but there would reach a point where you would say those things about love are not true about God. I think that's another instance where because we're so limited by language, like we have to rely on those metaphors.

So if you ask someone to say what god is, they're going to give you a bunch of different metaphors, that they're like ok, because these are the tools they disposal from a conceptual stand point. So, they might say god is love, they might say god is power, they might say god is something else. I think they would start to rely on the other things they do have a stronger grasp of to start trying to paint this picture for you. And I don't know if we necessarily think about language in that way sometimes, but it's an interesting read. It's not about religion per se, but it kind of goes through this idea and is making this argument for the conceptual metaphor and kind of in explaining how we're thinking of time or we're thinking of arguments, all of those things are understood in relation to other things, but we don't necessarily point them out as metaphors as we would if we were in an English class, where we're explicitly saying this is a metaphor, where we're using them all the time to try to explain things like this.
00:30:48

Ree

So, I would definitely agree that we use conceptual metaphors to express the things that we can't quite put into words, and that it's something we use frequently within our conversation. But I would like to throw out there and add to the statements that you made that, you know, when you say that if I say that God is love that there are love that I would not apply to God—I cannot think of anything that applies to love that does not apply to God. I would be hesitant to say that there's absolutely nothing; the mathematician and me understand that you know proving something like that is a little bit tricky, but like I said I can't think of anything that I would use to describe love that I would not describe God as. And I think that for anybody who's using a conceptual metaphor this same issue would come up, I don't think anybody would say "blank is blank" if they could think of something where "blank was not blank." If that makes any sense?
00:31:57

Walt

Yeah. So the person doing the speaking probably wouldn't. It's moreso the listener. So like if you say "God is love" in my head I might pull up a different idea of love than you and then I might start thinking that what you said was incorrect, not realizing that you weren't being literal in the sense that they are one and of the same.
00:32:17

Ree

OK. That makes... I can see how, I can definitely see how from a perspective where we have different definitions of love—like I think it goes back like you said about language and how we communicate—I can definitely see how you would come to that conclusion though, I do, when I say God is love I do mean they are one and the same. Because—
00:32:46

Walt

Do you think there are... So when somebody makes the statement that love is war, do you think that is a valid statement?
00:32:56

Ree

Hm...well there's actually a Contemporary Christian song called "Love is War."[13] I guess, you know, I'm not really sure if you're asking me if I agree with the statement "love is war" or the concept that if love is...if God is love and love is war then God is war, but I would definitely say that I do agree that there is a sense of war. I do agree that war can be associated with love and in that nature I also agree that war can be associated with God and the reason is that, you know, the entire concept—from a Biblical standpoint—the entire concept of life is about this war, the war of good and evil, with God being the good. And from a love situation, I agree that when you're, when you love someone you fight for them and so I do think that God fights for us so those intertwine.
00:33:55

Walt

What if someone said love is God?
00:33:57

Ree

That's an interesting question, yeah. I see where you're going with that. 😂 I do...OK, so, I think this goes back to when we were talking about language because like you said we all have different definitions of love just like we have different definitions of god, but at the end of the day I think that when we show love to one another we are reflecting God; we're showing the image of Him which is how He created us. Which is—shameless plug—where the series will be going. But—
00:34:33

Walt + Ree

😂
00:34:36

Ree

But I, I do think that when we say love is God, I think that the reason I would not say it that way is because of like you said we do have different definitions of love. And so I think, that from a human standpoint saying that love is God emphasizes love over God and because we typically think of love from a human point of view, I feel that it gives a leeway that I don't particularly feel comfortable giving. I don't know if that makes sense. Which is why I generally say God is love, to frame love around God as opposed to God around love, if that makes any sense.
00:35:25

Walt

Yeah. It's interesting, because this paper I pulled up and it was saying that. So, in metaphoric theory it talks about the source and the target. So the example they give is God is Father.
00:35:35

Ree

OK.
00:35:35

Walt

So they were saying there are some instances where the source and target can be reversed. So like in this... but they're saying they represent two different metaphors, not a single metaphor. So it's like you were saying, if you said God is Father, or father is god...
00:35:49

Ree

Right.
00:35:50

Walt

Those represent two different things in your head.
00:35:52

Ree

Yes.
00:35:53

Walt

And that's why I was saying that while it might feel like you're saying they're one and one, there is something about your conceptualization of both that does not actually make them one and the same. That's why I think the frustration comes from if someone says father is god, you're like that means something different than saying God is Father or love is god or God is love. Because, the second one you're using to tell you something about the first one; it's going to raise different things. So, like if you say that love is god, now you're using things you know about God to describe love, which can get you into problems.
00:36:28

Ree

Right.
00:36:29

Walt

Where if you say "God is love," you're using things—the good things you know about love 😂—to highlight certain elements of God, which is slightly different.
00:36:38

Ree

Correct, which I think, basically, the whole conversation boils down to language is complicated and tricky—
00:36:48

Walt

Yeah.
00:36:48

Ree

—which is why it's basically almost impossible for us to just settle on a definition of God and who God is.
00:36:57

Walt

Yeah, it's interesting, because this paper is...Let me see, I can acutally tell you what paper I'm looking at so you can actually have some kind of context, but it's called "Metaphors for God: Why and How Do Our Choices Matter for Humans?: The Application of Contemporary Cognitive Linguistics Research to the Debate on God and Metaphor."[14] But one of the visualizations they show, to kinda make the point and I didn't realize that's where this paper was going until I started scrolling down and saw the picture, but they were showing how you map the two different ones together. Where if you have God is Father or father is god, they're saying on one end, if you think God is Father, you might come to the conclusion that God is male, who is more powerful than and nurtures human beings. So, if I say your understanding of what a father is helps you understand that this is a powerful being that is also nurturing. Where if you went the other direction, you might know that God is powerful, all-knowing, and loving, and forever. So like, if you said "father is god," you might say "oh now father is these things that I'm pulling from God."

And I think that's where it does get real tricky, because whenever we say "god is," whatever we put after the is, is bringing things about that and aligning it with whatever our conceptualization of god is—and we're going to use a lot of different metaphors. Because like they said, it might be father, it might be love; this other one has god is rock, god is a fortress, god is a shepherd. And like to different people, some of them might say all of those are true. And they all mean very different things, which is why one of the things I was saying is that the language around it is interesting. If you're figuring out when you're making the explanation, like what words are you choosing to use, and I don't know if we necessarily give it that much thought usually.
00:38:43

Ree

Yeah, I definitely agree with this. I think that, like we've been saying, I don't think we really think about what we're saying when we say it. I think we, 'cause we know what we mean and we know what we believe, but we don't necessarily think about how that's going to be perceived by other people and what they're going to take away from what we're saying and how their opinions and ideas are shaping their understanding of what we're defining.
00:39:12

Walt

Yeah it's interesting. You should look at this paper. This looks like an interesting paper. 😂
00:39:17

Ree

😂Yeah I'll definitely check it out.
00:39:19

Walt

So there's a long list. It has: father, king, watcher, planter, husband, rock, shield, fortress, shelter, light,—😂—deliverer, redeemer, king—
00:39:33

Ree

Yeah, that doesn't really surprise me, because all of the things that you're mentioning are also mentioned as traits of God in the Bible.
00:39:40

Walt

Yeah, that's what this section is talking about; it is: looking at how the Hebrew Bible maps God to different metaphors. And the columns it looks at is—and that's another thing about the metaphors is, the theory would suggest that even with all these different metaphors, they're actually in align, they just highlight different things. So this figure or table that I'm looking at would suggest that when you're thinking about god, you think about protection and sustenance, mutual asymmetrical relationships, physical control, changing of state, essence, authority, and then also like the power to punish. And like, they have metaphors that would align with, depending on which element of god you're trying to highlight, you would say. So if in your dominant conception of god you're like god is an authority figure, you might say "god is a king, god is the judge, god is lord, god is master, god is father. Where if you were trying to think of, highlight some other element, you might start leveraging other metaphors. You might say god is a refuge, like that tells me something different than if you say god is king.
00:40:50

Ree

I think that, just to summarize what we've been talking about, we've been talking about metaphorical conceptions*mdash;or conceptual metaphors. We've been talking about how language makes it difficult to specifically define what we mean when we say God or what our idea concerning God is, and I think it's definitely an interesting topic. I think it's something to think about as we talk to each other and as we talk to other people, and just as we think about God in our own beliefs or disbeliefs.

Is there anything else you wanted to add that maybe we didn't get to, or we didn't cover?
00:41:30

Walt

Yeah, so I'll take the question in the opposite direction and tell you what god is not. So there's a book called The God Delusion. So, are you familiar with the concept of "god of the gaps?"
00:41:43

Ree

No
00:41:45

Walt

So it's basically this tendency for people to, in the absence of being able to articulate what god is, they start just putting god anywhere they have problems explaining something. So, like, let's say for example, you don't know why it rains; you might have the tendency to say it rains because of god. So when you, so like when people talk about god of the gaps, they're talking about that fallacy, that when you're trying to assume that an act of god as an explanation of an unknown phenomenon. And the reason that falls apart is, it basically puts god at contention with science in a way that as we know more science, your god becomes smaller.
00:42:25

Ree

I would disagree, on the basis that, even though I can give you a scientific explanation of how rain comes to be, from a Christian standpoint—or I would wager some most people who believe in any form of God standpoint—that God is still the authoritative figure behind that. So, it rains because God allows it to rain.
00:42:58

Walt

Yeah, so I would say that's different than saying it's raining because god... and I guess that's where it get's tricky. But I do think it's a danger—from a logical standpoint, it is a very dangerous position to say that god is only the things we cannot understand. So, in your definition it's not saying it's the things we can't understand, you're just saying that regardless of whatever it is, God is in control.
00:43:20

Ree

Yes.
00:43:21

Walt

That is, yeah, so that is different than saying because we don't know what it is, god must be behind it. You're saying that even if we know what it is, God is still behind it.
00:43:32

Ree

Yes. Yeah, I had to just put that out there 'cause I couldn't let it stand where it was, just in case there were misunderstandings across from people listening. But aside from that I agree with you, because I get what you're saying that if we're only allowing God to be the things that we can't explain ourselves or that we don't know how to explain, then over time that will cause people to disbelieve, which—
00:44:03

Walt

Yeah and I think that when some people are trying to figure out what god is, they end up in that space of: "god is the things I can't explain." And that's a dangerous space to be in—
00:44:15

Ree

Right, right.
00:44:15

Walt

from a knowledge standpoint.
00:44:16

Ree

Yeah, I definitely think that we're seeing this play out in society right now, and I think we have seen it play out in society, historically. Probably for a very, very long time, but definitely since the Age of Enlightenment as people started to study science more, and started trying to explain things more concretely, we had to reshape how people are defining God; because people can explain more things, or at least we think we can explain things...
00:44:47

Walt

Yeah, because some people might think they only see god where they don't understand something.
00:44:52

Ree

Um hmm.
00:44:53

Walt

So like in your instance, you might see the rain and still see God. Someone else might only see god where they don't have science to lean on, and if you get in that position you are putting god and science in direct opposition.
00:45:06

Ree

I think that's definitely a good point.
00:45:08

Walt

So if I can't tell you what god is, I am comfortable saying that god is not the gaps.
00:45:13

Ree

😂
00:45:16

Ree

That is a great point. Thank you for bringing that up, 'cause I think that's definitely an important thing to put out there, and to meditate on.

Was that your final thought?
00:45:28

Walt

Yeah, and then just encourage people to think. Find the words that they think mean the most and make the most sense, and be intentional. I think that's where a lot of people, a lot of the arguments and disagreements and stuff comes into play is when people are talking past each other, relying on language when language is going to fail them undoubtedly. And then just not being comfortable asking people what they mean
00:45:57

Ree

Definitely. And I definitely, definitely, definitely want to second that last part. Definitely ask what people mean,[16] and also don't be offended when people ask you what you mean, and be okay with explaining, and be okay with saying I don't know. because I think that we get ourselves into trouble trying to explain things you don't know.
00:46:21

Walt

Yeah. People don't like to say "I do not know."
00:46:24

Walt + Ree

😂
00:46:25

Walt

It's some powerful words.
00:46:26

Ree

Yeah, but I think there were that we need to be comfortable with.

So that's all we have for today's episode. Walt, thank you so much for joining in and sharing your opinion and for bringing up some points that I might not have thought about before the conversation. Listeners, I hope that all of this was valuable to you and that you enjoyed the discussion. If so please subscribe, that way you will get notified as soon as new content comes out. You can also go to the website for more information at www.psalmstogod.com and if you would like a transcription of this particular episode and/or you're looking for links or citations for some of the information that we discussed and referenced previously the episode, the specific episode will be at www.psalmstogod.com/defining-god. It was great to talk to you guys, hope you will be back next time. See you again.

Footnotes and References

  1. Conrad Hackett and David McClendon. "Christians remain world’s largest religious group, but they are declining in Europe". Pew Research. April 5, 2017
  2. This quote is by Anne Lamont.
  3. Genesis 1:26-27
  4. "Deism". Merriam Webster; visited December 2018
  5. The major difference between theism and deism is that theist believe God is actively involved in His creation whereas deist do not.
  6. "Brewer's: Theist, Deist, Atheist, Agnostic". Info Please; visited December 2018
  7. "god". Merriam Webster; visited December 2018
  8. Oh man, that's a can of worms there. I think the whole point of the journey as a Christian is to go from not knowing, to believing, to knowing that there is a God. I didn't push this idea during the conversation because it is outside of the scope of this episode and would have hijacked the conversation, but maybe I'll talk about it in future episodes or blog posts. Let me know in the comments section if that's something you're interested in.
  9. I probably should have been more specific when I was speaking, but when I said "believers" I meant Bible believers.
  10. Matthew 19:16-17
  11. "Conceptual Metaphor". Wikipedia; visited December 2018
  12. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago Press; 1st edition. April 15, 2003.
  13. Hillsong UNITED. "Love is War". YouTube. February 27, 2013
  14. Mary Therese DesCamp and Eve E. Sweester. "Metaphors for God: Why and How Do Our Choices Matter for Humans?: The Application of Contemporary Cognitive Linguistics Research to the Debate on God and Metaphor". Pastoral Psychology, vol 53, No. 3. January 2005
  15. Yeah, that was a lot of definitely's in a row. I'll try not to do that in future podcasts 😅
  16. If you're wondering about the capitalization and non-capitalization throughout the transcript, I tried to only use "God" in Walt's speech when I think he was talking about my conceptualization of God, since most of the time he (and I in some cases) was talking about a general concept of god and not necessarily talking about YHWH specifically.

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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