Most Americans today say they believe in God. But we cannot seem to agree on which one.
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In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law: “In God We Trust” became the national motto.
A little less than a century earlier, it appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864 during the Civil War, when it was used as a rallying cry in the Union to emphasize attachment to God.
Go back another century, and the words were printed on the colors of Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania militia.
Through all the major mile markers of U.S. history, a higher power has been invoked. We secured independence, maintained unity, and built our wealth while bearing an inscription of His name.
And if Americans followed the trend of most every nation blessed with liberty, peace and the comforts of prosperity, they would have ditched their belief in a supreme authority a long, long time ago.
“No rich country prays nearly as much as the U.S., and no country that prays as much as the U.S. is nearly as rich,” The Atlantic reported.
“America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship has puzzled international observers and foiled their grandest theories of a global secular takeover. In the late 19th century, an array of celebrity philosophers—the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud—proclaimed the death of God, and predicted that atheism would follow scientific discovery and modernity in the West, sure as smoke follows fire.”
Well into the 21st century, the American public still has not given up its divine beliefs. A 2017 Pew poll found 90 percent of Americans believe in some kind of higher power, with 56 percent professing belief in God as described in the Bible.
When compared to other historically Christian nations, the United States still stands above. Another Pew poll found that 26 percent of Western Europeans said they hold no belief in any divine power. That is 2.5 times the percentage Americans who say they do not believe in a supreme being.
Similarly, predominantly Catholic countries such as Italy, Ireland and Portugal, have a lower belief level than the U.S.
In God we (U.S. citizens) trust? For the majority of Americans, the answer is yes.
But when asked, “In which God we trust?” this unity turns to division.
Among those who say they believe in the deity described in the Holy Bible, most all agree that God “loves all people regardless of their faults,” with 97 percent of respondents holding to that idea. Similarly, 94 percent hold that the Supreme Being “knows everything.”
Cracks in the Bible-believing public’s understanding of Him begin to show with other qualities. Seventy percent say God determines all or most of what happens in their lives. About 50 percent say God administers direct judgment and has punished them in their own lives. Forty percent believe He talks to people.
These notions of God’s personality feed into what Paul Froese and Christopher Bader consider America’s four deities. According to their book America’s Four Gods, there is the authoritative one who is involved in worldly affairs yet administers harsh judgment, the benevolent one who seeks to help people and solve crises, the critical one who watches human affairs from afar but will judge later, and the distant one who set the universe in motion but does not involve himself in anyone’s life.
Each of these views defines how people behave in society, as well as how others should live their lives. For example, “Those who see the deity as an Authoritative God tend to believe that divine laws are immutable and must be obeyed, Froese says, while those who envision a Benevolent God ‘feel they can talk to Him and work things out,’” Pew reported.
Again, the problem is clear. The majority of Americans claim to know, believe and trust the God of the same Bible. Yet the views on what God is like differs wildly.
As a nation, how can we fully trust in God when we cannot even agree on His character and personality?
On its face, the Bible seems to support all theories. He is benevolent. Look at John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
That sounds like a Being who “is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all,” Mr. Froese told USA Today.
The Old Testament appears to back this up: “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).
Yet then there are verses that show God punishes: “God is jealous, and the Lord revenges; the Lord revenges, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nahum 1:2).
Many other Old Testament prophets contain similar language.
Another example is the Flood. After creating mankind and observing worsening sins and behaviors generation after generation, God regretted making it and decided to wipe out all life with a global deluge (Gen. 6:5-7). Only Noah and his family were saved.
The Bible also states that God does distance Himself from mankind: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2).
People who see a distant God perceive His lack of presence today compared to Bible times. God’s Church when it was established in the first century AD featured healings and resurrections (Acts 9:36-41; 20:7-12), earth-shattering miracles (2:1-4), and powerful prophecies being delivered and recorded (Rev. 1:1). In the nearly 2,000 years since then, little if anything notable has occurred to prove to people in mass that God’s hand is directly involved in our affairs.
A problem with all these views, however, is that they are based only on snippets of God’s Word. As with reading one sentence out of a book, summing up all of God’s character through one or two passages in the Bible provides an inaccurate and incomplete picture.
Consider again that more than half of Americans say they believe in the God as described in the Bible. Instead of picking a deity based on a preference or whim, they should know what the entire Bible says about the true God.
As Abraham Lincoln responded to a minister who hoped God was backing up the northern U.S. during the Civil War: “I am not at all concerned about that…But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
Ensuring that Americans know the true God of the Bible requires a thorough search in the scriptures.
The True God
Americans are not the only ones in history to have a plethora of gods—or personal interpretations of divine beings.
The Greeks had the same problem, particularly those in Athens where the apostle Paul confronted a crowd of devotees. After recognizing their religious zeal and the many deities they worshipped, he highlighted one in particular: “As I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown god. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).
The apostle, realizing that this was the true God mixed among idols and false ideas, sought to help the Athenians recognize Him: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands” (vs. 24).
As Paul had to reveal this Being to the Greeks, those who proclaim to believe in the God of the Bible must get to know Him through the book He has inspired—the Bible.
It starts at the beginning.
Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Already, this establishes that God is not amorphous: He is an actual Being who made physical matter as well as all the laws that govern it such as gravity, magnetism and time. Colossians 1:16-17 states, “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him.”
God is an invisible spirit (John 4:24) and is not confined to physical boundaries. Yet this does not mean He is a blob that permeates the universe. Genesis 1:26 states that humans were created in God’s image and likeness. He has features just as humans do (Rev. 1:14-16; Ezek. 1:26-28).
God is the most dynamic of all beings. The Bible reveals God’s true qualities—His character—as holy and perfect (Matt. 5:48). Later in His Word, God is described not only as having love, but also as being love (I John 4:8, 16).
The Creator ponders each and every situation and decides the absolute best way in which to act. He is wonderful, mighty and fair (Isa. 45:21), as well as comforting, merciful, faithful and forgiving (II Cor. 1:3; I John 1:9).
Although often described as one God, the Bible reveals that God is actually a family currently composed of two members: Father and Son.
Notice what God said in Genesis: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (1:26). In this verse, the pronouns “Us” and “Our” are used in direct reference to the original collective Hebrew noun for God, elohim.
Further, John 1 states, “In the beginning was the Word [meaning “spokesman”] and the Word was with God [the Father], and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (vs. 1, 14). The Word, who later became Jesus Christ, was in the God Family with the Father before the creation of time. This same Being was with ancient Israel throughout Sinai: “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:4; Psa. 18:1-2).
This truth is contrary to the common belief that God is a three-in-one being, composed of the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—a doctrine the Bible simply does not teach. It also goes against the idea there is only one divine Being.
The Godhead currently consists of two distinct Beings. There is a reason for this, and it has all to do with both how you view God and your relationship with Him.
A Father and Many Sons?
The Creator knew physical human beings would have a difficult time comprehending an invisible Being. To assist them, He placed clues throughout the Bible—we could call them fingerprints—that identify what He is like.
One of these fingerprints is His names. The pages of His Word are filled with various ways we can refer to Him. Each reveals an element of His character.
There is the Hebrew Jehovah, which is translated as Lord. This refers to God’s inherent eternal life. He wants us to know that He is supreme and has no beginning or end, in contrast to our temporary existence.
Elohim was cited earlier. That word is often translated “God” or “Lord” in the King James Version. Recall this is a plural term that shows God is a family.
Further proving this is one of the most common names for God in the New Testament: the Father. Christendom has honed in on this term, but few understand the full implication of the title.
For one, God wants us to view Him as a father in the truest sense. He has love for and wants to provide for His children.
Jesus Christ stated in Luke 11: “For every one that asks receives…If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (vs. 10-13).
God also has high expectations for those under Him. In Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant, who violently demanded his debtors pay him even though his master pardoned him of a great debt, Jesus warned: “So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt. 18:35). In the parable, the master delivered the greedy servant “to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (vs. 34).
The Father’s desire to see growth in His children can include stern or severe correction, as the apostle Paul showed in Hebrews 12: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives…we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” (vs. 6-10).
Here, Paul revealed the ultimate reason for God’s role as a Father. To understand it, we must notice another name for the other member of the God Family. Read Romans 8:29, “For whom He [God the Father] did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
This shows Christ is the firstborn among many brothers. A firstborn of many requires a second born, a third born, and so forth. Paul further explained in Hebrews 2 that Jesus is “bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (vs. 10).
At this point, there should be no mistaking God the Father’s intention to have children. He wants many more individuals to follow Christ’s path into His Family.
In other words, He wants mankind to share in His perfect character and even His eternal glory! Naturally, you would want to know more about this—and the Bible is filled with much more proof. Our book The Awesome Potential of Man contains all the details you will need.
Now, think back to Paul’s sermon on “the unknown God” to those in Athens. After identifying the true God, he told them what to do: “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27).
If Americans—particularly those who profess to believe in the God of the Bible—truly understood God’s identity, then “in God we trust” would be so much more than a motto. It would be their mission—to seek Him as children to a Father, to seek to grow in His character, and to someday seek to be a part of His Family.
In which God should we trust? There is just one option!