Concepts of the Divine and Ultimate Reality
Instructions: In the following examples, several different interpretations of the Absolute are presented. Read the introduction to each example. Look at the associated reading material and images, and then answer the questions below.
Example 1 – Judaism & Christianity (God):
In the Judeo-Christian scriptures God reveals himself in both the creation and his dealings with his people. Michaelangelo Buonarrotti’s famous fresco on the walls of the Sistine Chapel in Rome depicts the creation of the stars and planets and so emphasizes the power of God.
Read: Psalms 103 and 104 (NIV translation) (Links to an external site.)
View image of Michaelangelo Buonarotti’s Fresco (1511) ” Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants” (Links to an external site.) Double click on the image to enlarge.
Example 2 – Hinduism (Brahman):
In Hindu thought, Brahman is the Absolute. Though beyond immediate sense experience, Brahman is expressed in a multitude of forms that can be perceived by human sense. The most important of these are Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Sustainer), and Shiva (the Destroyer). In the passage below Krishna grants the Hindu warrior prince Arjuna a divine vision in which he reveals His spectacular unlimited divine form. Krishna is the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
Read verses 9-20: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11 (Links to an external site.)
View: Vishnu (Links to an external site.), Vishnu surrounded by his avatars (Links to an external site.), Krishna revealing sublime truth to Arjuna (Links to an external site.)
Example 3 – Islam (Allah):
Allah is an Arabic word that means “the God.” Allah is the one and only God, though He has many names. The followers of Islam, known as Muslims, are very careful to avoid making images of God. As a result, their worship places (mosques) have no images or statues, as might be found in other religions.
Read the Qur’an Chapter 2 (The Heifer), verses 255-258, 268-269, 284: The Qur’an, Chapter 2 (Links to an external site.)
Read: The Islamic conception of God (Links to an external site.)
Example 4 – Daoism/Taoism (Dao/Tao):
In the ancient Chinese religion of Daoism, also now known as Taoism, the Dao (Tao) is the Divine “force” which creates through non-creation and holds the universe together through “non-action” or “actionless action” The passage below describes the nature of the Dao.
Read the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) Chapter 14: Dao De Jing, Chapter 14 with commentary (Links to an external site.)
This link provides an English translation of the text followed by an explanation of the text and an alternative translation.
For some background on Daoism read: What is Daoism (Taoism)? (Links to an external site.) and What do Daoists believe? (Links to an external site.)
6.1. From your reading of the religious texts above, describe in detail the different ways in which the Absolute is described in each of the religions. (16 points)
Instructions: Study the connections between the concept of the Divine and the ways religions deal with the problems of evil and suffering. Read the introductions, study the materials, and answer the questions below.
One of the main concerns of most religions is dealing with the interrelated problems of suffering and evil. Suffering often is seen as occurring in two forms: (1) there is “natural” suffering which is simply a part of living (i.e., disease, aging, etc.); (2) there is “caused” suffering which occurs because of the misdirected intentions of human action, thought, or desires (i.e., greed, warfare, gluttony, murder, etc.).
Example 1 – Judaism:
Job is a poetic text in which suffering and evil is explored. Most religions, including Judaism, offer a variety of answers to the question of the origin of evil. How to understand suffering, how to face evil and suffering, and what is required from the faithful, righteous believer in God are central questions in the book of Job.
Read the Hebrew Bible: Job 1:1-2:13 (Links to an external site.)
Read: Genesis 3:1-19 (Links to an external site.) and review: Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Links to an external site.)
View: Albrecht Dürer. Job and His Wife (c. 1504), Oil on panel (Links to an external site.)
6.2. In Genesis 1:31 God looks at creation before the Fall of Adam into sin (Genesis 3) and finds it to be very good. Since the Fall, evil and suffering are a reality. What do the passages from Genesis 3 and Job 1-2 tell us about how evil and suffering came into the world? (6 points)
6.3 How is the presence of evil in the world compatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing God? Explain your answer. (6 points)
Example 2 – Daoism/Taoism:
The following is a well-know story from Taoism, which puts a different slant on the question of suffering. In reading it, you should not understand “the Creator” as the personal, willful, active Creator God found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Instead, this is the unknowable, mysterious, impersonal, “passive” Tao.
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