Words Have (Many) Meanings.

What if your notion of what “God” means to Christians ain’t necessarily so.

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‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

After some time at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu (LCH), I realized that I would need to re-think the meanings of words such as Christianity, Lutheranism, and spirituality. But this post will focus on the following: God, believer, and non-believer.


This image depicts my concept of what I thought all Christians believed was the nature of God:

The Stereotype Christian God
The Stereotype Christian God

God is male, white, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, lives in heaven and sends us all either to Heaven or Hell depending on what we did with our lives.

But people at LCH have expressed several views of the nature of God. Here are three examples:

The Nature of God
The Nature of God

#1 is what I think of as the Christian God, i.e., the transcendent ℹ️ creator of the universe whose spirit lives within us.

#2 is the Panentheistic God, a separate entity that permeates and interacts with the universe.

#3 is the Pantheistic God that is the universe and we exist within it.

What I find interesting about LCH—at least among those that I interact with at Bible Study and Adult Ed—is that there is a willingness to discuss aspects of the nature of God that fall outside of what they might believe.

Another interesting issue is this: For many Christian denominations, God is triune (three-in-one), i.e., a trinity. This is usually characterized as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Ghost).

For example, LCH is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which states the following on their website:

The ELCA confesses the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In our preaching and teaching the ELCA trusts the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. 

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

But do LCH members believe in the triune nature of God? The answer appears to be that some do and some don’t or at the very least have doubts about it. It is also the case that some do not find the issue particularly important.

“Believer” and “Non-Believer”

I don’t believe gods exist but I’m not 100% certain. The label I use for this is agnostic atheist. Usually, I just shorten this to “agnostic”. In addition, there are three other labels that can be used in discussions of belief or non-belief in gods: gnostic theist, gnostic atheist, and agnostic theist. Here’s a handy chart:

Why I am an Agnostic Atheist
Why I am An Agnostic Theist, Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman

With people I know at LCH, I would place them in three of the categories, the exception being gnostic atheist. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t any).

But again, LCH is, to me, remarkably tolerant of both believers and non-believers and the 50 shades of nuance between them.

There are many words used as labels in the paragraphs above: agnostic, atheist, God, Christian. They mean different things to different people. They can even mean different things to the same person at different points in their lives.

One of the important lessons I’ve leaned at LCH—really a reminder— is that labeling and categorizations must be considered carefully when it comes to the complexities of religion, spirituality, and philosophy.

So I’ll try to keep the following in mind:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H. L. Mencken
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By sbaptista

I talk to myself in public.

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