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September 12, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

It is Labor Day and I am back in Tampa after a delightful stay with my daughter and her husband on the Jersey Shore.  I flew to Jersey on Friday the 14th of August and so was privileged to hear my daughter preach.  In a sermon on Paul speaking to the Philosophers of Athens she mentioned a fact I was aware of, but had given little time to, either in writing or teaching.  Grace observed that we are seeing today a generation that knows very little about God.  Many have come from homes where there was no religious teaching or even an awareness of God’s existence.  Like the philosophers of Athens any discussion of God comes to them as a subject “unknown.”

It occurred to me that in a religious column addressed to a general audience it might be helpful to discuss the nature of God, at least from the Judeo Christian perspective.  We have on our coinage and paper money the motto “In God we Trust.”  It is assumed that we know what that means, and in a generation or two in the past that was likely true.  It is doubtful that it is as widely understood in our generation.

There is a difficulty in approaching the subject.  There are different ideas about God coming from different religious traditions.  Hinduism and Buddhism are pantheistic.  Much of the New Age thinking is likewise pantheistic.  Simply stated pantheism is the belief that everything (pan) is god (theism).  Pantheism can take several forms.  In Hinduism and Buddhism the material world is simply an allusion.  Everything is actually non-material or spiritual.  Atheism rejects the spiritual and limits all existence to time, space and matter.  Matter is eternal.  They don’t call it “god,” but it is all that exists.

World views creep into our popular culture.  A classic example is the “Star War” series.  There is a clear theology behind the story that goes largely unrecognized.  God is labeled “the Force.”  The force has two aspects represented by Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  They are labeled the light side and the dark side of “the force.”  One is understood as good and the other as evil.  This “force” is impersonal.  No one prays in the “Star War” series because there is no one to talk to.  One can only tap into the energy of the universe which is largely understood as spiritual.  Whether matter actually exists is left an open question.  Everyone understands, or is supposed to understand, that “The Empire” is evil and that the “Jedi Knights” are good.

My children never wanted to watch movies with me because I always looked for the underlying message in the film and ruined the story.  Nevertheless there is a problem with the “Star Wars” scenario.  Although the Jedi are considered good and the Empire is considered evil there is no real basis for this kind of a moral distinction.  Both are simply a part of what exists.  The moral distinction is smuggled into the script from the Judeo Christian world view, which does have a basis for such a distinction.  There is nothing in the “Star Wars” framework that would permit us to call Darth Vader “evil” or Luke “good.”

This series will look at the idea of God from a biblical point of view.  When Moses asked God “What shall I call you?”, the answer was tell the people my name is “YAHWAH.”  In Hebrew this is a form of the verb “to be.”  God was saying to Moses tell them I am the God who exists as distinct from the gods of Egypt who do not.

Even if a person rejects the existence of God, it should be helpful to understand just which god they don’t believe in.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END- whs