The gentleman and I chatted about politics, the majority religion here, self-appointed prophets, and the greatest question of all, namely 'Who is the living God?"
The gentleman tried to furnish answers from the Qur'an which talk about Allah as the "ever-living, and the sustainer of all things." Yet, I pressed on for more clarity, as in reality there are two possible answers to the question as the law of non-contradiction would not allow a yes answer to both answers.
a. There are persons or gods who are described as "the living god" and in reality are quite dead.
b. There are persons or gods who are described as "the living god" and in reality are quite alive.
As I spoke with the gentleman, I suggested that the answer to this question is a matter of life or death, as a dead god ultimately is more of a figment of the imagination than one who speaks, listens, moves and lives among His people, and has the power over death. [This is a fundamental question as well for believers, as the Apostle Paul noted that the Thessalonians ceased to serve dead idols and came to serve the Living God, and to put their hope in the return of Jesus — who must be quite alive in order to return.].
So what characterizes a true Living God? First we will look at a few examples of supposedly living gods to help focus the question.
Banebdjedet the Egyptian ram-god. Pictured in cut-stone one can see the image of this god of the Pharaohs as a rather virile ram, holding a staff and standing upright. He was called "the living god" as supposedly he fathered Rameses the King of Egypt, in a union with one of the female goddesses. Today, his son Rameses is quite dead, in spite of all of his declarations of living forever, and Banebdjedet is frozen in stone.
King Cyrus and his hungry idol. In the apocryphal story Bel and the Dragon, the King is rather upset when Daniel suggests that the king's idol is just a life-less piece of stone. The king retorts and says that the idol eats large quantities of food and drink every day, and so must be alive. Daniel proposes a challenge and at the end of it the priests and their families who had a secret entrance to the temple of the idol, and enjoyed a lot of food are exposed. The king declares his idol to be a fake living god.
Ptolemy and the Rosetta Stone. The Greek ruler of Egypt around 200 B.C. left his name in history with the Rosetta Stone which facilitated the translation of hieroglyphics. The stone talked about ceremonies to honor Ptolemy and he is described as "the living god" in three different languages. Three languages and an ancient preserved stone where not enough to keep this mighty ruler alive.
In each case, the description 'living god' was given to someone or something as a projection of the human imagination. Yet all humans have the knowledge that life must come from somewhere, and that life must endure somehow. On this point the gentleman and I could agree, as each of us were living, breathing people, who in fact had given life — to a small degree — to our own children.
The Biblical picture of "the Living God"
A quick word search will show that this term is used about 30x in the Bible, and it can be found between the Book of Deuteronomy to the Book of Revelation.
These cases show a God who gives life in creation and in re-creation, who lives with His people, who defends His own honor, is more powerful than death, affirms life, and cannot be a product of human imagination as all gods produced this way, ultimately serve their creators, whereas this Creator puts unequivocal demands on humans.
[In a future conversation I would like to carefully examine the assertions by some who have observed that the life of Muhammad in parallel to the Qur'an suggests that Allah of Islam is simply a creation in the mind of Muhammad as his alter-ego to justify ideas like having multiple wives, marrying Zainab and needing a revelation to do so, and so forth.]
A few Biblical highlights:
YHWH says that He is "I AM who I AM", that is to say He is not defined by humans. This stands in sharp contrast to the idols described in Isaiah 40-55 who are defined by humans and even have to have life put into them.
YHWH is the source of all life and does not need any other god to create with Him. This stands in sharp contrast to the Egyptian creation stories.
YHWH speaks, lives among His covenant people, hears their cries for help, responds to them and carries them. Contrast this with dead idols who neither speak, nor listen, and need to be carried.
YHWH defends his own honour as the Living God, and the mockers Goliath and Sennacherib with their dead gods, also lie dead when the battle is done.
YHWH not only says that he lives forever, He does. He does not need his followers to continue to give him life by their assertions of such, but He is self-living. Not only that, whatever He says, He does, whatever He promises happens, and whatever He predicts comes true. No other god has this track record.
God, the Father is called the living Father, Jesus is called the resurrection and the life, and the Spirit is called the life-giving Spirit. It is this Trinity which comprises the true Living God who is no monad like the solitary gods of other religions, but a living, interacting relational community of persons.
This Living God breathes life into the dead hearts of humans and makes them alive to Him. Collectively He brings them together to form living stones, and makes them into the temple of the "Living God." It is His presence with His people that differentiates this God from all others. Just as He dwelled with His people in the tabernacle, so He dwells, through His Spirit in the church and in the lives of His people.
The Living God as the sovereign over history can return His people back to Paradise in the new heavens and the new earth, in the city of the "Living God." Because He is alive forever, He can do this. Because He is the source of all life, including regeneration life, He can do this. Because Jesus has shown the victory over death, this eternal life is assured. No other god can do this.
The Living God will come in judgment to vindicate his honor, to vindicate His people, and to execute justice.
All of these characteristics are hugely comforting for those who are in Christ. However, we return to the gentleman.
Does the gentleman with whom I had the conversation, serve the "Living God?" Biblically speaking, I would suggest not. Rather, the so-called "living god" he serves what I believe is a figment of someone's imagination, not unlike the Superman of the movies, who is in the final analysis, just a bunch of computer 1's and 0's, or a recycled Egyptian ram-god Banebdjedet.
But think about this. The man's eternal destiny is based on some kind of hopes that this figment will save him at the judgment day. As I closed the conversation with him, I suggested that there is no more cruel hope, than a false hope. May the Living God open his eyes.
PS. How would you define the Living God to this man? After all he might be your neighbor.