Because our understanding of God greatly influences how we think and feel about ourselves and those around us, we should strive to be very clear in our meaning when we use the word God. Millard Erickson writes, "One's view of God might even be thought of as supplying the whole framework within which one's theology is constructed and life is lived" (Erickson 263).
My mother and I have very different definitions of God. My mom's understanding comes from a perspective best described as the New Age worldview, although her understanding is also unique to her, and it seems to vary according to convenience, and with whom she is talking. When she talks with me, she uses the word God in hopes of showing similarities in how we look at things. She knows that God is the essence of my life, but she does not grasp that my view of God is completely different from hers in spite of my attempts to be clear.
When Mom uses the word God, it is a euphemism for the universe, or a universal energy that we are all tapped into. My definition of God comes from my Christian worldview where God is a living personal Spirit. In his book on Christian theology, Bruce Milne describes God this way, "The God of the Bible is emphatically a living God who does things. He is not an impersonal power or energy, but a personal God with a distinct character and nature" (Milne 59).
Mom's definition of God allows for us to be gods ourselves, at least of our own worlds, and that we can somehow create the reality of the world we live in. According to this view we can make our own decisions regarding when we live and die--dying of cancer would be a decision--and we also decide what happens to us afterwards. In my view, God is the one and only all-powerful and all knowing creator, and He loves and cares for us like a perfect father. All decisions about life, death, and eternity are His, and yet He allows us the freedom to choose Him or deny Him, to choose life or death not on our terms, but on His.
How we define the person of Jesus Christ is also relevant to our discussions because in orthodox Christianity we define God as a triune being encompassing three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In our view God, the Son, is Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, and we would further define Jesus Christ as he walked on earth as fully God, and fully man, or God incarnate. Unfortunately, foggy thinking confuses this issue as well. My mom will agree that Jesus Christ is also God, but as we have seen in her view, she and I can be God too. This, of course, completely contradicts what I mean when I say that Jesus Christ is God. To even further complicate things my mom would say that Jesus Christ was an excellent teacher, and I, of course, would agree that Jesus was in fact an excellent teacher. But she does not accept most of Christ's core teachings as true, and she is completely unaware of many others; her statement contradicts her own beliefs.
Although my mom and I have yet to venture into the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, I am very much afraid of what is in store when we do. In Christianity we believe that the Holy Spirit is the third part of the triune God who helps us to understand the truth about God and to understand the Bible's teaching, guiding us in our spiritual development. My mom's worldview believes in something which she calls spirit guides whom she contacts for advice on all sorts of matters. She believes that these guides are disembodied spirits who give advice to humans who contact them. Unfortunately, these spirits sometimes play tricks on their constituents that can lead to disastrous results. In the Christian worldview this sounds dangerously close to demonic activity. I can only imagine how she might try to draw parallels between our beliefs here and how thorny an issue that will be for me.
My mom and I can talk for hours without communicating because we are talking about completely different things while using the same words. Unfortunately, my mom would rather pretend we hold the same view of God than to understand these differences. Some would say, "Just let it drop, she just wants to get along with you," but for me the consequences are too great. Christianity teaches that my mom's very soul lies in the balance of her understanding of God.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506: Baker
Book House, 1992, p 263
Milne, Bruce. Know the Truth. Downers Grove, IL 60515: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1982, p 59.