Who, what, why is God?

By Tom Putnam | Oct 29, 2010

Sit outside on a lovely summer evening and watch the sky as the sun begins to set and wonderful colors fill your field of vision. Why does that happen? Why are we here to marvel at it? What does it mean? Does it mean anything?

Science teaches us that our light comes from our star, the sun. At dusk, the sunlight has more atmosphere to pass through. Sunlight becomes separated into colors, like the rainbow. Remember that God created a rainbow as a sign to Noah that he would never bring a great flood to the land again. (But that is getting into what Christians call the Old Testament.) Science teaches us that our atmosphere affects much of what we see as we probe ever further into space beyond the Milky Way, our galaxy.

We perceive that man is a truly unique and marvelous being on our planet. Man has felt that way throughout recorded time. But man, until the 20th Century, believed that there was some being(s) beyond himself who had supernatural powers over him. That being could be an earthly ruler or could be a god somewhere beyond his own location. That god could be in the earth, in the ocean, or in the sky. Those gods gave early man beings who he could blame for his ill fortunes, or praise for his good fortunes. And many of these gods were used to praise for personal/political gain or to blame for undesirable losses. Gods have been very useful to mankind over eons of time.

As time has evolved and man has “developed,” man’s gods became more mature, powerful, developed. Today, there are three great world religions that claim evolution from Abraham, an individual who lived in what is now the Middle East. Judaism was the first, and followers of that religion believed there was only one supreme-being, Yahweh. Gone were the various gods who controlled different aspects of human lives. Yahweh was a God of good, but Jews prayed to him to punish those they considered evil.

A Jewish infant was born “in a manger” in the town of Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. There were astronomical announcements of his birth: a star that rose in the east had settled over Bethlehem and guided followers to that spot. A new religious belief began that the Son of God had been born. To make Jesus of Nazareth a non-mortal, he was declared the result of a virgin birth. Christianity evolved from that era although many Jews denied Jesus as being supernatural, and the Jewish religion endures. It was the Roman Empire that accepted Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, and placed Christianity on its modern religious tract.

Then about six centuries after the birth of Christ, a man lived in what is Saudi Arabia today. He lived around Mecca, a town that served as a trading center in the routes between eastern and western cultures. His name was Mohammad. He was like previous religious prophets, and had many religious experiences and communications with Allah, the name for God in that area. The revelations that he had received became recorded in a document named the Koran and that was the beginning of Islam and the Muslim religion. He, too, claimed to be a descendant of Abraham, from a second son born after the son whom the Jews claimed as their initial patriarch.

Today, we have three Abrahamic religions that are supposed to enable one to live with his fellow man in “relative” peace. The Golden Rule was/is intended to enable man to live together with one another in a peaceful and respectful manner.

Is the rule working?

In what we call the modern world, science is allowing us to probe ever deeper into the universe or into the microscopic beyond what the naked eye can see. Is there a limit to the universe? Are there other creatures, like or more marvelous than man? Is there life after death? If there is, will we be with people we have known on earth? We don’t know, and that might also be painful, unless we practice the Golden Rule. Everything that science teaches us reveals how awesome our perceived surroundings are. In addition, we are awed at the abilities that man is constantly developing himself. Is there no limit? We don’t know.

Early man, and right up to the 20th century, believed that there was a being responsible for the phenomena that he was able to observe. Man used his gods for his own use, be it power, quest for explanations, blame for ill fortune, thank for good fortune, or to seek ill fortune for enemies. His gods were conceived to be used by man.

Science is beginning to open man’s mind to what is really out there, and I suspect that we have hardly made a dent in understanding the cosmos. Man has always thought of a god, gods, in human ways: with a shape, filled with human attributes, attitudes and judgments. In today’s world, consider the lifespan of our earth. Science teaches us that finite objects in the universe eventually are destroyed, struck by other space objects, devoured by their own stars, or disappear into black holes into what? Another universe?. What will happen to humans at that time? Will they still be here? Will they have migrated to other planets, galaxies, universes?

Science teaches us is that there are rules that the results of creation follow, many that we are just beginning to understand, and rules that have not been discovered nor understood. Creation, when understood and explained, does not seem chaotic. There does seem to be a force that can be comprehended, behind which man is blessed to be able to observe and eventually comprehend. It is this intelligence, this power, this supreme being that has given an order to what we observe. Man developed his beliefs to explain what we have observed, and he has placed these creations in the responsible hands of a deity or deities. This makes it possible for humans to comprehend, in terms of our knowledge and understandings, what is observable.

In today’s world, we give that creative force the name of God. Yes there are many that profess atheism; but they cannot deny the existence of an amazing creation in which we live. It is man’s personality that makes him assign blame, give thanks, engage in hate, be awestruck, and love. This amazing force we humans have given the name of God.

To return to the first paragraph in this search, ask why you are seeing what you are observing on that warm and lovely summer evening. Don’t look for a manmade object/person. Look with open eyes at what a true creator can accomplish and be thankful that a being is out there, with you in mind.

Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter's Episcopal Church.





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