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The Meaning of "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance

  • Joseph Farinaccio,
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The action by California's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2002, which ruled that use of the word "God" as cited in the Pledge of Allegiance somehow violated the Constitution, evoked strong emotions from many Americans. Large numbers of people apparently felt the court had gone too far this time in the application of its secular doctrine of church-state separation. All across our country diverse groups of citizens, including members of the U.S. House of Representatives, assembled together to recite the Pledge in order to symbolically show their disapproval with the opinion of the judges from California.

Public affirmation of our citizen's faith in God is as old as our nation's colonial founding. But such actions by a judicial system that has self-consciously separated itself from Christian precepts shouldn't surprise us. Modern man assumes that man alone has ultimately given birth to his own religious thoughts and actions, which are basically cultural expressions of any given group's collective interpretations of spirituality. It inevitably then becomes man's responsibility to define and impose the limits in which these beliefs may be expressed in the public square. In the Christian view this is nothing more than the continuous effort of fallen man to define his own boundaries by ignoring the fact that life must continuously be lived with reference to God.

This event serves to remind Christians that the expression of God in the Pledge means any number things to different people, depending upon their worldview. The great tide of religious diversity within our nation pressures Christian believers to redefine familiar words and symbols so that they fit within whatever relativistic context individuals prefer.

America was founded as a Christian nation. The majority of Americans probably had a very good grasp of the meaning of the word God in colonial times as well as the early years of our republic. Despite the existence of an assortment of denominations and independent churches, the First Great Awakening had saturated America with a Reformational theology and worldview. Some historians have estimated that Calvinist doctrines influenced as much as 75% of the church-attending population.

The matter of defining God is of no small consequence. A nation's institutions, including its political system, are tied to its people's view of Reality. There should be no more basic belief among the people of any nation than the notion that God has revealed Himself to mankind throughout history as recorded in the Bible.

According to scripture God is not some kind of mystical "Star Wars" type of force or influence. He is a personal Being. He possesses the attributes of intelligence, self-consciousness and self-determination. (Ex. 3:14-20, 20:2; Jn 14:9) While there is only one God in the sense that there is no other or higher Supreme Being (Deut. 4: 35-39, 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60) this same God exists as three co-dependent, co-eternal and co-substantial persons. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost..." (Gen. 1:26, 3:22; Matt. 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:14) This is a mystery to our finite minds in the sense that no one may fully comprehend it. Yet there is no logical barrier to believing in the Trinity or Godhead. No one can demonstrate that they have examined all possible evidence pertaining to the question of God's nature in order to rule out the Trinity as a metaphysical reality. That is something no one can do because of his or her finite creaturely limitations.

Many people simply view God as some great big grandfather type of figure who hovers above us all somewhere, observing the events of the world but not really able to do much about them. Accordingly, this kind of Deistic being supposedly loves all people in the same way and cheers everyone on towards their "salvation" with the possible exception of really "evil" people like Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Ladin. With this kind of a god in mind human beings seek to pursue their ultimate destiny on their own terms.

In contrast, to view this scripture portrays the one true God as exercising control over all things. (Heb. 1:3) He is active in the affairs of man and is pleased to save those people whom He has reserved for Himself from the foundation of the world. (Romans 8:29-33) There is no such thing as chance, fate, blind luck, fortune, Mother Nature, or impersonal laws of nature — there is only God's Providence.

The God of the Bible is absolute. There is nothing that He is dependent upon outside of Himself. (Ex. 3:14; Jn. 5:26) On the contrary, everything that exists in the cosmos, including man, is dependent upon God's Being. Nothing in the cosmos is God, nor is God anything in the cosmos. (Gen. 1:1)

God is omnipotent (all-powerful with respect to His own nature) (Gen. 18:14; Job 42:2), omniscient (has exhaustive knowledge of all the facts and their relationship to each other) (Psalms 136:5; Prov. 3:19-20; Heb. 4:13), and omnipresent (not a part of anything in space yet not absent from any part of space) (1 Kings 8:27; Acts 17:27). God is holy (without any moral defect, failure or imperfection of any kind) (Isa. 6:3-5). He is sovereign ruler, governor, judge and owner of the cosmos and every creature in existence, including man (Matt. 19:26; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalms 24:1).

The Bible's portrayal of God is quite different than views held by other religions. For example, orthodox Hinduism teaches that all Reality exists as one eternal substance. Buddhism teaches that there is no supreme personal being of any kind so it is essentially an atheistic religion. There is no Creator-Creature distinction in either Hinduism or Buddhism. Muslims, on the other hand, see God as both personal and supreme but not as a Trinitarian Being. This is not a minor detail, for in Islam the teaching is that Allah transcends finite creatures, including man, but is also so far from man that Allah does not relate to anything within man's experience. This places the Islamic god far out of the reach of the very ones that seek to worship him.

While these theological details about God are not a comprehensive list of God's attributes as revealed in the Bible there are enough of them discussed here to draw attention to the fact that most people do not now think of God in terms of these distinctive truth-claims. These teachings reflect the historical and traditional Christian understanding of God found within Christianity from its beginnings. This is the view of God contained within the historic creeds of Christianity such as the Apostle's and Athanasian Creeds. It is this God and only this God who should be referenced in the Pledge of Allegiance.

  • Joseph Farinaccio

Joseph Farinaccio is a Christian writer and public speaker from New Jersey. The Christian apologetic Faith With Reason is his first book. He lives in Pennsville, NJ with his wife Joni and their two children. They are members of the Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear, Delaware. He is curently at work on another book and speaks to College/Youth and Church audiences on Christianity and world religion.

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